Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco

Colonial Counterpoint: New World Texts as Sites of Encounter, 1492-1800

Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco

Like the Codex Tulane, the Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco is an indigenous text designed to cement the vicarious belonging of a community to an illustrious lineage.  In this case, the language is not pictorial but alphabetized Nahuatl, and the illustrations are highly Europeanized with only a few native pictorial elements, such as footprints to represent a journey.  Also, of particular note, and in contrast to the Codex Tulane, the foundational tale is post-contact, establishing the Spanish conquest-and not primordial times-as the point of origin.

The Mapa de Cuauhtlantzinco or Códice Campos is a circa 1855 watercolor copy of an earlier painted lienzo previously kept in the village of San Juan Cuautlancingo located just outside the city of Puebla.  The Mapa relates a local 16th century account of the exploits, efforts, and aide of the cacique, Tepoztecatzin, and three fellow leaders to Cortés and his contigent as they marched toward the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán.  The introduction of Christianity to Cuauhtlantzinco and other surrounding villages is a second major theme of the manuscript.

José Vicente Campos discovered the existence of the original oil paintings comprising the Mapa in 1836.  Shortly thereafter, and with the assistance of townspeople, Campos returned to make Spanish translations of the Nahuatl texts.  Frederick Starr later photographed the paintings before fire destroyed several of them.  The layout of the panels below (reading left to right starting at the top left) recreates the order in which Starr first saw the paintings recounting the encounter of the caciques with the Spanish conquerors.

Layout of the Map of Cuauhtlantzinco panels

The Mapa, however, should not be taken as an accurate history of events and personages.  In the same vein as other mapas and lienzos attributed to, copied, and shared among towns throughout the Puebla-Tlaxcala region, this document was likely drawn up by descendants of Cortés’ collaborators during the late Viceregal period to promote themselves as early and equal allies.  A recorded legacy of military deeds and religious conversion on the side of the Spanish was essential for indigenous elites and their descendants to support their claims to the Spanish Crown for the promised rewards of land, privileges, and exemption from tribute payment to conquistador residents in New Spain.  The translation of the Nahuatl text on panel 27 makes this emotional plea by Cacalotzin (baptized Jacinto Cortés and pictured on panel 26, above left) explicit:


You, who have received this precious and distinguished document, this is the royal letters-patent of the grant of lands which he gave us, who have to instruct others by our example and by the Christian doctrine, which has taught us to embrace the faith we profess; greatly appreciate this gift, respect and love your Pueblo, instruct your elders and fathers; never fail in respect for my kin and relatives:  recognize in this document the title to my royal office and nobility, and to my landed property, which I merited by my sweat and efforts.