Nahua Authority in Colonial Mexico
While King Carlos I of Spain struggled to suppress the Protestant Reformation in the Old World, the Spanish turned to New Spain to promote the Catholic cause, unimpeded by the presence of the “false” Old World religions. To this end, Osowski writes, the Spanish “saw indigenous people as necessary protagonists in the anticipated triumph of the faith.” As the conversion of the indigenous people of Mexico proceeded in earnest, Catholic ritual became the medium through which indigenous leaders and Spaniards negotiated colonial hegemony.
Indigenous Miracles is about how the Nahua elite of central Mexico secured political legitimacy through the administration of public rituals centered on miraculous images of Christ the King. Osowski argues that these images were adopted as community symbols and furthermore allowed Nahua leaders to “represent their own kingship,” protecting their claims to legitimacy. This legitimacy allowed them to act collectively to prevent the loss of many aspects of their culture. Osowski demonstrates how a shared religion admitted the possibility of indigenous agency and new ethnic identities.
Consulting both Nahuatl and Spanish sources, Osowski strives to fill a gap in the history of the Nahuas from 1760 to 1810, a momentous time when previously sanctioned religious practices were condemned by the viceroys and archbishops of the Bourbon royal dynasty. His approach synthesizes ethnohistory and institutional history to create a fascinating account of how and why the Nahuas protected the practices and symbols they had appropriated under Hapsburg rule. Ultimately, Osowski’s account contributes to our understanding of the ways in which indigenous agency was negotiated in colonial Mexico.
“Edward Osowski focuses on a regional set of Nahua Constantines, who, with their conversionary moments generations behind them, sought to lead by example—through patronage, public demonstrations of devotion around chosen holy images, ritual good works and alms-collection schemes, and a jealous guardianship of indigenous roles in the pious parading of Christian membership and privilege. Osowski’s study banishes older views of a uniformly disoriented native society, trudging drunk and leaderless into the colonial new order, duped into demeaning collaboration and the limits of social-climbing. His stress upon a self-legitimizing indigenous nobility, and upon the calculated and instrumental aims of these protagonists, raises vital questions that ought to stimulate new lines of research into Nahua Christian expression, not least those exploring what such vibrant religious membership and shared devotions included, and what they felt like to a widening and multi-ethnic body of participants." —Kenneth Mills, University of Toronto, and co-editor of Colonial Latin America: A Documentary History