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Fascinating Aztec perspective on the Conquest of Mexico.
on October 15, 2011
This account uses narratives written by Aztecs and other native american groups around Mexico (the Aztec capital city) conquered by Cortes in the 1500s, presenting a perspective unknown to most.
I grew up in Mexico City surrounded by evidence of the Aztecs as well as the Spanish, without a clear understanding of what happened to create the cultural mixture I saw there. As an adult, I read portions of a number of accounts of the conquest of Mexico, all based on Spanish sources.
When you read these things, you're struck with amazement that they could happen and you wonder how much was only the Spanish interpretation of what they were told. Did the Aztecs really think the Spaniards were gods? Did Cortes and his men really just march into Mexico City as guests and then take Moctezuma captive? What were each of the groups thinking in this clash of opposing cultures?
The Spanish, (for religious reasons?), wiped out most Aztec records, which were written in picture form. Their general propaganda treated Cortes as a hero. But when I was growing up, there was a strong movement towards painting Cortes as a weak, crippled, diseased man -- a disgusting figure. There are murals that portray him this way. And in the middle of the city, the rediscovered Templo Mayor stands mostly underwater, with roughly 8 feet protruding, as a silent testimony to the culture wiped out in the conquest. I was left with the question, "What happened?"
I was fascinated and moved as I read "Broken Spears". They spoke of terrible omens... they were expecting tragedy. They were aware of the Spanish ships the moment they landed and the Aztec emperor sent envoys to watch them, and later to communicate with them. The unfolding story may sound stark and boring to those who haven't studied the conquest of Mexico, but to me it filled in a vital missing piece.
It doesn't matter whether these stories are eye witness accounts or not because they paint the Aztec impression of the conquest vividly. They didn't understand the revulsion and horror the Spaniards must have felt at their human sacrifices, but they were appalled at the senseless slaughter Cortes's men and allies engaged in.
This is not a book for a weak stomach. Some of the descriptions are graphic. Some of the pictures show chopped off limbs and heads.
It's not a masterpiece of excellent writing, either. That is not what makes this book valuable. It invites you into the heart of the Aztecs before their pride was broken and their people subjugated.