3615 - "Sacred Dialogues in Colonial Tlaxcala: Martyrs, Saints, and their Discontents"

The story of three indigenous Christian boys of Tlaxcala martyred in the late 1520s was first told by the Franciscan chronicler Fray Toribio de Benevente Motolinia in his Spanish language Historia de los indios de la Nueva España. From that time forward other clerical authors celebrated their lives and deaths. Motolinia and others like him were addressing Spaniards; they sought to make the boys into heroes personifying the triumphs of the Faith among Mexico’s Nahuas. A different audience was targeted by the Franciscan linguist Fray Juan Bautista, who around 1600 transformed the boys’ stories into a multi-chapter alphabetic Nahuatl text. Fray Juan believed that the newly fashioned didactic Nahuatl version of the boy martyrs’ stories would spread (or perhaps create) the boys’ veneration among the indigenous people. In designing a literary tool intended to bridge cultures, Bautista and his indigenous aides altered, embellished, and refashioned the stories so that they would speak more vividly to a Nahua audience thought by many clergy of the time to be weak Catholics. The complicated process of translation and transformation (linguistic and cultural) was and is ripe with significant ethnohistorical issues. The reborn text alerts us not only to the goals and prejudices of the Catholic clergy, but also to possibilities of indigenous interpretive agency. Did the boys’ stories begin to speak with a Nahua rather than a Spanish vocie? If so, how could the Christian lessons in the tales have been (re)imagined by Nahua listeners in light of their own cultural expectations? Did the boys enter indigenous consciousness as heroes worthy of memory, celebration, and spiritual emulation? Or would their acceptance be complicated by the realities of cross-cultural encounters replete with misunderstandings, dissonant language, and non-Christian beliefs?

Palabras claves: Nahuas, boy martyrs, sacred dialogues, Tlaxcala

Autores: Haskett, Robert (University of Oregon, Ud States of Am / USA)


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