Indigenous Intellectuals: Knowledge, Power, and Colonial Culture in Mexico and the Andes

Abisai Pérez Zamarripa
University of Texas at Austin

Cross-posted from Not Even Past

This collective book is about the role of Indian thinkers as actors who preserved pre-Columbian knowledge within the new social order and recreated it to enforce or contest Spanish imperial rule. The book editors integrated several essays of top historians that explain how indigenous intellectuals in the colonial Andes and Mexico were important for the success of both the Spanish authorities and Indian elites in reaching political power and legitimacy.

Together, the book’s articles offers a comparative perspective of colonial Mexico and Peru focusing on the indigenous scholars’ lives, productions, and epistemological networks. This comparative analysis shows that knowledge production was more culturally and linguistically diverse in Mexico than in the Andes. On the one hand, Spanish prevailed on the Quechua as the principal written medium. This meant the indigenous people of the Andes had to learn a new foreign language to achieve social mobility and the Spanish government could centralize more rapidly its political power in the Andean region. On the other hand, in colonial Peru, Spanish rule gradually marginalized the Inca quipu system –records expressed with numerical terms while in colonial Mexico the Mesoamerican pictographic writing tradition –codex with images and words that recorded all kind of information– rapidly adapted the Castilian alphabet scripture. This exemplifies how the Spaniards were reluctant to utilize the numerical system of the Inca people while they accepted the continuity of the Mesoamerican tradition of communicating whole ideas by combining images and words. In her contribution, Gabriela Ramos suggests that the former centralized power of the Inca empire limited knowledge to very few hands, while in Mexico the fragmented structure of the Aztec empire allowed a linguistic diversity that survived Spanish colonization. Ramos explains how the indigenous language, Quechua, became the lingua franca in colonial Cusco and Lima. The standardization of one language allowed the Spaniards to exert control more effectively, but also allowed natives to use the legal culture to their own benefit. Continue reading “Indigenous Intellectuals: Knowledge, Power, and Colonial Culture in Mexico and the Andes”