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Tobacco, Reform, and Violence in Eighteenth-Century Papantla, Mexico
By Jake Frederick
Sussex Academic PressCopyright © 2016 Jake Frederick
All rights reserved.
A Geographic and Historical Biography of a C'achiqu'ín
In the hot and rugged Tierra Caliente of northern Veracruz, between the wall of the Sierra Madre Oriental to the west and the undulating coastal plain stretching east to the Gulf of Mexico, Papantla sits as a historic border town between two major ethnographic regions. Twelve miles north of Papantla the Rio Cazones represents the southern limit of the region known as the Huasteca, an area of tremendous biodiversity encompassing parts of the modern states of San Luis Potosí, Hidalgo, much of northern Veracruz, as well as small parts of Puebla and Queretaro. The region is named for the Huastec people, who have occupied the area since the first millennium BCE. The Huastec are "linguistically allied to the Mayas," and are credited by some archeologists with bringing Maya culture as far north as Tamaulipas. Prior to European colonization, the region was also home to native populations of Otomíe, Nahua, Tepehuán, Teenek, Totonac, and Pame peoples. Extending from the coastal lowlands to the dry, cool slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental, the Huasteca is home to nearly every type of plant found in Mexico. At the southern border of this region is the Tecolutla River basin, with the Rio Cazones to the north and the Rio Nautla to the south. Papantla, along with the nearby ruins of the ancient city of El Tajín, dominates this area, which forms the northern limit of the ethnographic region of Totonacapan. For at least 900 years the area has been home to the Totonac ethnic group, speakers of the Totonac language. Totonacapan extends inland to Zacatlan in the Sierra de Puebla and south to Cempoala. Being right along the frontier of these two areas, Papantla is something of an ethnographic border town, at times included in studies of the Huasteca, but distinct in its Totonac heritage.
Papantla sits on another border as well, a geologic confluence, where tertiary, volcanic, and superior cretaceous stone all unfold onto the surface landscape, forming steep and short hills, averaging roughly 200 meters above sea level. The town clings to the hillsides and fills the gullies of terrain that has aptly been described by historian Emilio Kourí as a "landscape of nooks and crannies." Waters falling down the steep eastern slope of the massive Sierra Madre Oriental carve arroyos around the numerous hills that crowd the Tecolutla Basin. Surrounding Papantla these arroyos collect into the Tecolutla river, which, having settled into the relatively gentle slope of the coastal plain, meanders south of the town on its way to the Gulf. The area is wet, with nearly 1,200 millimeters of rain each year, two-thirds of which fall during the rainy season between the months of June and October, draining rapidly through the limestone and chalk soils. In the first half of the twentieth century, Papantla averaged just sixty clear days per year. In June the average temperature is thirty-two degrees. The combination of heat and humidity make this an extremely verdant environment, with tropical forests of large papery leaved plants covering the terrain in lush year-round growth. Since its first settlement, through the nineteenth century, the thick vegetation and heaving terrain rendered travel through this area very difficult.
The density of growth does not, however, mean that Papantla is particularly fertile. Like many jungle environments, the topsoil is thin. The nutrients of the land are tied up in vegetation, and successful agriculture demands concerted effort on the part of the local populace. It is only through farming technologies such as swidden, or slash-and-burn, agriculture and double-cropping, that indigenous peoples made the Tecolutla Basin and the area around Papantla into a productive region for such staple crops as corn. Pre-Columbian farmers cleared and then burned forest plots to create cultivable areas. Corn was harvested twice a year, in April and October. Local farmers also cultivated beans, peppers, fruits, vegetables, cotton, and tobacco. While the milpas (individual or family farming plots typically given over to corn) were productive, the verdant nature of the region enforced a strict work regimen on farmers, who needed to continuously tend their fields, weeding and fighting off encroaching forest growth. However, the soil in the Papantla region could only sustain limited agriculture. Milpas carved out of the forest suffered significant declines in productivity each year, and soon had to be left uncultivated while the soil replenished its nutrients. This agricultural limitation meant that people of the area could only farm about one-fifth of their land at any given time, while the rest lay unused in various stages of recovery. As a result, each family required about twelve hectares of tillable land to sustain themselves and their communities. The area therefore has historically maintained a low-density population, a condition that prevailed throughout the colonial era. The Totonac population tended to reside near their fields rather than in concentrated villages. As late as the nineteenth century, observers noted the tendency of the Totonac to only rarely visit town. This was first and foremost a rural region of small-scale agriculturalists. Throughout its history, the environment surrounding Papantla kept the population thinly settled, lacking "true cities or even sizeable towns until well after 1900."
The Papantla Totonac did benefit from considerable animal diversity in the area, much of which formed part of the local diet. The locals hunted martens and rabbits, and caught fish in the Tecolutla River. The region also had a particularly large variety of birds, being at the confluence of two major north-south migratory routes. Residents ate wild parrots and macaws, and raised turkeys. Prior to European incursion and extensive cultivation, the area was also home to deer and peccary, and at higher elevations jaguars prowled the forests. Following the arrival of Europeans, new animals entered the ecosystem. Juan de Carrión noted in 1581 that the area already supported an abundance of Spanish chickens. As early as 1610 there was a cattle ranch within the parish of Papantla, though ranching never became a significant commercial practice. Spaniards also conducted some small-scale horse ranching in the lowlands of the Tecolutla Basin. By 1787, geographic chronicler Antonio de Alcedo noted that the area around Papantla had become home to numerous pigs, another Old-World import.
The Indigenous Past: From El Tajín to Santa María de Papantla
The 1785 "discovery" of the ruins at El Tajín, thirteen kilometers west of Papantla, by a patrol of the resguardo de tabaco (tobacco guard), stimulated an interest in the ancient inhabitants of the area that has never abated. The occupation of the area that would one day be the site of Tajín began at least as early as the second millennium BCE. Construction of the city's ceremonial centers began sometime around CE 100. Following the decline of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico in the sixth century, Tajín expanded in size and importance. Recent scholarship dates El Tajín's apogee between 650–1,000 CE. At its height, prior to the twelfth century, the ancient city boasted more than 160 structures and an estimated population of between 15,000 and 30,000, much higher than that of Papantla at any time during the colonial era. It remains unclear who exactly were the builders of El Tajín. Totonac presence at the site appears only to have corresponded to the last period of Tajín's occupation, between CE 900 and 1100. Between CE 1100 and 1200 Tajín went into decline, finally being abandoned by the thirteenth century.
Legendary Totonac history provides various — and at times somewhat extravagant — accounts of the Totonac past. The earliest records of Totonac history are drawn from the works of Franciscan friars Bernardino de Sahagún and Juan de Torquemada. These chroniclers recorded a tradition claiming that the Totonac originally migrated to the area from somewhere in the north. They then occupied Teotihuacán for a time, building both the temples of the Sun and Moon. Sometime thereafter they made their migration to Veracruz. After the fall of Tula in CE 1165, the Toltec people migrated to the area of Totonacapan, suggesting that the Totonac could make the ever-popular claim of being descendants of the supposed model for civilizational achievement in central Mexico, the Toltec. Mid-twentieth century accounts closely matched those recorded by Torquemada in his 1615 Monarquía Indiana. During interviews conducted in the 1950s, anthropologists Isabel Kelly and Angel Palerm found that Totonac lore asserted that Tajín had originally been a Totonac site (a claim unsupported by archeology), which was then abandoned as the result of an invasion of Chichimec and Teochichimec peoples who then subjugated the Totonac. Though some legendary claims, such as Totonac construction of Teotihuacán lack evidentiary support, other features of Totonac lore are supported by archeological study. Archeologists have found that the supposed timing of these legendary invasions agrees well with the collapse of Tajín in the twelfth century; and linguistic evidence also supports possible Chichimec and Teochichimec influence on the Totonac. Papantla itself appears to have been founded around CE 1200, likely as a result of forced migration from farther west. Nahuas from central Mexico also settled in Totonacapan, predominantly in the highlands of the Sierra Madre Oriental, but also in pockets in the Gulf Lowlands. Consequently, by the sixteenth century, Papantla was a bilingual center of Totonac and Nahuatl speakers. The Totonac population of the colonial era was likely a fusion of several repeated migrations into the area. In the worlds of Kelly and Palerm, the population of Totonacapan "probably in blood, in culture, and perhaps language," shows the influence of many successive waves of invaders into the area.
After the founding of Papantla at the beginning of the thirteenth century, this northern area of Totonacapan appears to have enjoyed two centuries of relative autonomy, subject to no outside dominion. This isolation was probably the result of power struggles taking place to the west in the Valley of Mexico, the relatively low population of the region, and its lack of particularly valuable commodities. However, once the Mexica established dominance over the Valley of Mexico and the Triple Alliance (Aztec Empire) formed in the 1420s, Totonacapan faced invasion from the outside yet again. Moctezuma Ilhuicamina (1440–1469) initiated campaigns in the Huasteca and in southern Totonacapan, extending Aztec power to the Gulf Coast. Mexica tribute demands were severe and contributed to a long-term animosity between the Totonac and the Mexica. The uninviting terrain of the Tecolutla Basin appears to have exempted Papantla from the expansionist interest of the next three emperors. This autonomy came to an end with the ascension of Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (1502–1520). Moctezuma Xocoyotzin turned away from the Huasteca and aggressively attacked Totonacapan. During his reign, many Totonac centers fell to Aztec dominion, including Papantla in the north and Cempoala in the south. The Mexica conquest of Totonacapan was unlike the earlier incursions of the Chichimec and Teochichimec, which had been followed by settlement of the invading peoples. Beyond garrisoning troops and emplacing a Nahua governor, the Aztecs showed little interest in settling the area. Nonetheless, this new subjugation would have profound effects in the near future. Aztec conquest of Totonacapan was a military endeavor focused on the extraction of wealth. The Totonac were forced to pay tribute that included cotton, corn, chiles, salt, feathers, jaguar and deer skins, turquoise, jade, vanilla, chocolate, and slaves.
Just as the Totonac were enduring the increased predation of the Aztec Empire, Spaniards were making their presence known on the Mesoamerican coast. It is likely that word of the Spanish incursion spread soon after the arrival in Yucatán of castaways from the wreck of a ship returning to Santo Domingo from Darién in the Isthmus of Panama in 1511. In 1517 Francisco de Córdoba led an exploratory expedition as far as Champoton in western Yucatan. In late summer 1518 Juan de Grijalva ventured along the Gulf Coast as far as north as Tampico. By the time of Cortés's 1519 expedition, Spaniards had more or less accurately surveyed the entirety of the Veracruz coast. Such investigations did not go unnoticed by the Totonac. Although there is no evidence of direct contact between the Totonac and Spaniards before the arrival of Cortés in Totonacapan, the Totonac were aware of the presence of this new force before Cortés's landing, as the Mexica had been receiving reports of Spanish presence along the coast well before Cortés made landfall at Veracruz. When the Cortés's expedition did land, the Totonac of Cempoala greeted this mission relatively warmly, no doubt partly as a result of the rancor that the Totonac felt toward their recent conquerors, the Mexica. According to Bernal Díaz del Castillo, the cacique of Cempoala complained bitterly to Cortés about Moctezuma's depredations. By capitalizing on Totonac discontent over the increasing demands of the Mexica, Cortés secured the Cempoala Totonac as his first native allies in the conquest of the Aztec Empire. The Totonac experience of the conquest was thus unusual (albeit not unique) in that they voluntarily became part of the Spanish empire without direct experience of Spanish assault. 150 kilometers farther north of Cempoala, the Papantla area appears to have come under Spanish rule early the following year, well before the fall of Tenochtitlan. It was likely at this point that the town was refounded as Santa María de Papantla.
Though the Totonac forged a relatively amicable relationship with the Spaniards during the conquest, the Spaniards showed little interest in the region surrounding Papantla. In the immediate wake of contact, the Spaniards made an effort at missionizing among the Totonac, but those endeavors were limited and predominantly focused on areas other than Papantla. Christianity first came to the Totonac with Cortés in Cempoala in 1519. After orchestrating an alliance between the Cempoala Totonac and his own mission of conquest, Cortés insisted on putting an end to traditional Totonac religious observation, including idol worship and human sacrifice. Before continuing his march toward Tenochtitlan, and over the protestations of the Cempoalans, Cortés sent soldiers to the top of the city's central temple, where they destroyed the idols and had the temple walls cleansed of blood. Cortés subsequently directed the instruction of native priests in Christianity, and oversaw the baptism of eight maidens who had been awarded to Cortés by his new native allies. The Franciscan missionary Juan de Torquemada later memorialized the event as "the first act of the Christian religion in New Spain." Four years later in 1523, Franciscans missionaries arrived, and ten years after that, in 1533, the Augustinians. However, the sparse settlement of northern Totonacapan meant that missionaries had to traverse great distances over difficult terrain to bring their message to the people of the Papantla area.
The challenge of accessing the relatively small and dispersed population of natives was soon made much worse by cataclysmic population loss among the Totonac at the hands of Old-World diseases. As the port of entry for Spaniards coming onto the continent, the Gulf Coast suffered repeated waves of devastating epidemics. In 1520, smallpox arrived from the Caribbean on board the ships of Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition to arrest Cortés. Noble David Cook, in his history of disease and the conquest noted that by 1531, Veracruz was being called the "tomb of the Spaniards" because of the concentration of disease in the city. Though Spaniards succumbed to disease, it was the unexposed populations of natives, rather than the Spaniards, who suffered the truly horrifying effects of successive epidemics. By 1549 typhus was in Veracruz and the surrounding environs, and before another decade had passed influenza had infected the city. The tropical conditions of the Tierra Caliente fostered the spread of these diseases, and according to N. D. Cook this region suffered particularly high mortality. In 1815 Colonel Juan Camargo y Cavallero reported that "there is no doubt that more people die in Veracruz than in any other part of the kingdom." One early estimate of the population of Papantla and its surrounding district claimed that it had supported 60,000 natives in 1519. In 1550, Papantla and its 15 estancias were home to only 1,684 people. Though initial population estimates across the Americas were frequently gross overestimations — the figure of 60,000 people is assuredly exaggerated — it is clear that Papantla, like the rest of the Tierra Caliente suffered devastating demographic collapse in the generations following the conquest. Shelburne Cook and Woodrow Borah identified a population of only 423 individuals in Papantla in 1568. Such terrible losses among an already sparse population further frustrated the efforts of missionaries to proselytize among the Totonac. By 1567 the Franciscans ceased their work among the Totonac.
Excerpted from Riot! by Jake Frederick. Copyright © 2016 Jake Frederick. Excerpted by permission of Sussex Academic Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
CHAPTER ONE: A Geographic and Historical Biography of a C'achiqu'ín,
CHAPTER TWO: Los Ausentes: The Ethnic Landscape and Reflections on 1787,
CHAPTER THREE: "Cachípat, Cachípat ... Get him, Get him" Collective Violence and the Uprising of 1736,
CHAPTER FOUR: "Tobacco for Snuff or Tobacco for Smoking, It is all Vice" Bourbon Reforms and the Uprising of 1764,
CHAPTER FIVE: "Kill That Dog of an Alcalde Mayor" Repartimientos and Uprising in 1767,
CHAPTER SIX: A Fractured Pochguin Local Factionalism and the Uprising of 1787,