University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Ethnohistorical Sources

Submitted by mccaffer on Sun, 03/09/2008 - 11:33am

By Geoffrey McCafferty (2008)

Much of the information relating to Postclassic Cholula is derived from ethnohistoric sources recorded soon after the Spanish Conquest. These accounts include indigenous traditions, early observations of culture and religion, and more detailed sources such as notary transactions. As with any historical analysis, however, care must be taken to critically evaluate the motivations of the authors to minimize bias.

Among the important indigenous sources, the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca details the migration of the ethnic Tolteca-Chichimeca groups out of Tollan and ultimately to Cuauhtinchan. In A.D. 1168 (?) they arrived in Cholula, where they met and eventually defeated the Olmeca-Xicallanca group, who are described as having a dual rulership that was centered at the Great Pyramid, Tlachihualtepetl.

Ixtlixochitl described the even earlier migration, when the Olmeca-Uixtotin conquered the quinametin, or giants, and then built the Great Pyramid for their god Ehecatl.

Early chroniclers included conquistadors such as Cortés and Diáz, as well as priests such as Motolinía, Durán, and Sahagún. They described the rich agricultural resources of the area, the methods of house construction and costume, and particularly the religion and temple organization of the Cholultecas. The Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl was taller than the Great Temple of Tenochtitilan. The abandoned Great Pyramid was discussed under the theme of mountain worship, and a shrine to a rain deity, Chiconauquiahuitl, was located on top of the mound.

The most detailed account is that of Gabriel de Rojas, the Spanish official who wrote the Relacion Geografica in 1581. In this invaluable document is a wealth of ethnographic information on indigenous culture, economic production, urban organization, and religious practices. Also included is a plan of the town indicating barrio divisions and churches, that is an excellent complement to the "Codex of Cholula" that depicts both the urban area as well as the regional kingdom.

Other useful sources for interpreting Contact Period Cholula are the notary and baptismal records preserved in local churches. A detailed catalog of early 17th century records is available, with information on land sales and probate inventories. An analysis of church records from San Andres Cholula has been used to construct demographic life tables for the Early Colonial inhabitants.

Site Admin