Huejotzingo Codex

Date: 1531
Owner: Library of Congress
Source Type: Images


The Indians living in Huejotzingo presented this document to the conquistador Hernan Cortes in 1531 for use in a legal dispute with the Spanish Crown over the excessive tribute being exacted from them. It was hand painted by Indian artists on amalt, a native American paper made from tree bark, and used traditional Mesoamerican pictographs to depict the types of tribute which they were forced to provide. As one of the groups that had allied with Cortes against the Aztecs at Tenochtitlan, the Huejotzingo people had cause for complaint about their subjection. The paintings show the Indians providing the viceroyalty with bricks, stones, woven cloth, food, and even slaves.

Perhaps the most interesting element in the Huejotzingo Codex is on page one, which shows a banner made of gold and feathers depicting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Not only is it significant that Iberian religious symbols were co-opted a mere ten years after the conquest, but the banner was made with gold and feather-work, an indigenous medium. Hybridization of culture, ideas, and technology apparently occurred very quickly in the post-conquest era.

This document, and the cultural and technological hybridization it embodies, is an important reminder that European explorers and settlers were not the only group that had to come to grips with a strange new world. While the "discovery" of America was key to the evolution of European science and technology, it had an even larger impact on that of Indian groups. Although many Indian technologies merged with European ones, others were destroyed or forgotten, and much of the Mesoamerican way of understanding nature has been forever lost. For both Europeans and Indians, post-1492 America was undoubtedly a New World.

CITATION:  Huejotzingo Codex, on Amatl paper, 1531. Harkness Collection, Special Collections, Library of Congress.