Indian Women of Early Mexico

A compilation by a number of authors of writings related to Women in early Mexico. One of the books I picked up in Santa Fe at the Alla Book Store and recommended by the owner Jim.

From the dust cover: “…is the first comprehensive collection of substantive essays about indigenous women in prehispanic and colonial North America.

A scholars book, heavy sledding at times but very informative.

These early women were not compliant salves to their husbands, rather their traditions gave them rights, including that of owning property which they defended. There were however definite rules that placed the woman subordinate to the men as evidenced by the following:

“If he lives by your bounty, place him well on your lap, in your protection””When your parents give you a husband, do not be disrespectful to him; listen to him and obey him, and do cheerfully what you are told. Do not turn your face from him and if he does you some hurt, do not keep recalling it. And if he supports himself by your industry, do not on that account scorn him.”

on the other hand:

“When the woman is sick or is already pregnant, it is necessary that her husband favor her, so that the “little” woman may be helped, so that she may not become sick through working. And when the “little” woman gives birth, it is necessary that she be well treated so that she may not have a relapse because of working. Those men who are good of heart treat their spouses very well, take good care of them when they are pregnant or give birth.”

All of this is evidence that prior to the Spanish conquest, there were well-established “norms” of behavior and codes of conduct that were popular and written down.

There is an interesting comment in one of the articles related to what the author refers to as “the moral economy” of the peasant. This connects to the studies elsewhere related to revolution and war, especially Vietnam, that address the attitudes of the lower classes. The author makes the point that the peasant expect 2 basic things: reciprocity and subsistence. By that, the peasant understands that it is required that he support the ruling class with taxes and labor and such, but he expects something in return…mainly security and protection and some measure of justice. At the same time, he expects that he has the right to subsistence, either provided by the ruling classs or provided by his own labor. In other words he expects to be able to provide for his family and that his right to do so will be respected. Failing to provide this bargain, the rulers have no rightful authority. We will see this again, in another form, in the discussion of the Vietnam war and the period prior to 1965…see…<to be written>.

It should come as no surprise that the basic structure of the family was disrupted and revised by the imposition of the rules of the Catholic church. The authors write:

“…colonial society held that all women were weaker than men in moral terms and less resiliant than men to temptation. Yet women were central to the Spanish concept of male honor since a man would be dishonored by the public disclosure of the sexual activities of a sister or wife. Therefore women were deemed to need special protection and especially seclusion to protect their virtue.””The Christian imposition of monogamy was resisted by both men and women; it was often cited as a primary motivation for revolt.”

“…the Catholic church promoted a politics of marriage that rested on the inviolability of the husband’s authority”

and it goes on with the expected disparity of rights associated with violence, adultery etc….

It seems that the general knowledge here is accurate…

This was interesting for background information and some confirmation that things were as bad in some ways as I already thought but that the womn at this time and place were strong enough to fight back at times. There are records of court proceedings and even a revolutionary or two. It is safe to conclude that a mildly sexist society from pre-colonial times was replaced by a significantly more repressive society after the Spanish conquest…..no surprises there.

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