A Piece of Mexican 17th Century Literature Returns to Mexico

Three volumes of hand-written, indigenous accounts that vividly describe the history of pre-Hispanic Mexico are on public display in the country’s capital after returning to the country from London.

The Chimalpahin codex was long part of the archives of the British and Foreign Bible Society. But Christie’s auction house says it facilitated the purchase of the 17th century manuscript by Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute earlier this year.

The auction house says the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City began publicly displaying the manuscripts Thursday.

Christie’s says the manuscripts are written in Nahuatl and Spanish and contain largely unpublished accounts about native life, society and politics. They belonged to the famed library of Don Carlos Siguenza y Gongora, one of the first great intellectuals born in New Spain.

Chimalpahin wrote on the history of Mexico and other neighboring nations in the Nahuatl and Spanish languages, but the majority of his works have not survived. The most important of his surviving works is the Relaciones or Anales. This Nahuatl work was compiled in the early seventeenth century, and is based on testimony from Indigenous persons. It covers the years 1589 through 1615, but also deals with events before the Conquest and supplies lists of Indigenous kings and lords and Spanish viceroys, archbishops of Mexico and inquisitors. Chimalpahin recorded the 1610 and 1614 visits of Japanese delegations to Mexico (led by Tanaka Shōsuke and Hasekura Tsunenaga, respectively).

He also wrote Diferentes historias originales (also known as Relaciones originales). This work is a compilation of claims and proofs of nobility asserted by Indigenous leaders of Chalco-Amequemecan. It was written to serve as a judicial guide for the viceregal authorities for the granting of privileges and offices to members of the Indigenous nobility. There are eight of these relaciones. All contain ethnographic, social and chronological information of great value to historians.

His manuscripts came into the possession of Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora. For an account of what happened to these documents after the death of Sigüenza, see Lorenzo Boturini Benaducci.


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