Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Becomes a Legend Most

There's a legend about the founding of Querétaro which - since we're sure we've mentioned it before - we'll condense considerably, but basically there was a battle pitting the Spaniards and their Otomi indian allies against the Chichimeca indian holdouts - a battle of great interest to us because it was fought on the spot that is now the world headquarters of Burro Hall Enterprises. So, long legend short, at the climactic moment of the battle, the heavens darken and a brilliant white cross of fire appears in the sky, along with Santiago, the patron saint of Spain atop a majestic steed, heralding a Spanish victory, at which point the savages laid down their arms, converted to Christianity, and everyone got smallpox and died, the end.

Which is fine - who doesn't like a good creation myth, right? Except that while this story is repeated everywhere, especially in tourist literature, we have yet to see any serious accounts of what actually happened. The jumping-off point for the following screed is this: we've started perusing ("reading" would vastly overstate our abilities) "The History of Querétaro" by Manuel Septién y Septién, an historian of some reputation here. The book was recently re-issued by the government, and the forward describes it as "magisterial" and "authoritative." (The fact that those words are applied to a book of under 220 pages tells you all you need to know about the quality of scholarship around here.) It certainly is thorough; you may, like us, be disappointed to learn that there is no evidence that woolly mammoths ever inhabited the city, though they did live in nearby San Juan del Rio [p. 20].

And there, on page 39, is the flying, flaming cross and the airborne Santiago. "And with this marvel ended the fight between the Christians and the Chichimecas, and the leaders of the conquering army took possession of the site in the name of the King of Spain."

Can we posit something here? That, perhaps - just perhaps - this is not how it fucking happened? Do we even have to explain why we find this explanation unsatisfactory? The really frustrating thing is that, this is not some ancient legend deciphered from cave paintings - this happened in 1531! The Renaissance was in full swing. Henry VIII was King of England. Machiavelli was writing "The Prince." Is it really possible that an accurate account of the founding of a major New World city should prove so elusive?

Anyone who can point us to a non-fairy-tale version of the Battle of Burro Hall (what, we don't get to add our own spin to the legend?) is invited to do so in comments.

18 comments:

Bob Mrotek said...

I imagine that you are already familiar with this site but just in case you aren't:

http://eloficiodehistoriar.com.mx/?cat=8

Burro Hall said...

Thanks - I wasn't aware of it. But still, its version of the founding of the city retells the same story. Labels it as a "myth" propagated by the Franciscans in the 18th Century, based on local traditions, etc, but doesn't offer a non-mythical alternative.

Bob Mrotek said...

Yes, but it says that the myth was fabricated at the beginning of the 18th century which would be around 1700. The Franciscans are great guys (and my favorites) but the Jesuits are the ones who could really communicate with and pacify the natives...people like Gonzalo de Tapía at the end of the 16th century. I think you need to look earlier and among the Jesuits for the answer :)

Burro Hall said...

I suppose I could delve into the manuscripts of the 16th C. Jesuits, but my larger point here is that I really shouldn't have to look any farther than a serious, modern book titled "The History of Querétaro."

Anonymous said...

Saludos from Guadalajara

Well Maybe this will help.

Inconsistencias en la leyenda fundacional de la ciudad de Querétaro ...........

http://books.google.es/books?id=tv7QECsZ98YC&pg=PA49&lpg=PA49&dq=fundacion+queretaro&source=bl&ots=ey1n4eNwLz&sig=oUnS08vWWfyznA2Z30ShdYCdXtQ&hl=es&ei=oG0USvKJAqektAPRxbngDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6#PPA43,M1

Anonymous said...

As a BC grad, I'd think you might be quite pleased to delve into the work of your brothers. They are your people.

Burro Hall said...

Excellent find, Anonymous Guadalajaran, but still - lots of detail on how the legend grew and changed, but no definitive account of what really happened in the first place.

I'm guessing the truth isn't that interesting - that the Spanish beat the Chichimecas like they owed them money, end of story. It would just be nice to know that for sure.

Bob Mrotek said...

Mr. Burro, I'll bet that the truth is interesting and has yet to be brought to light. I discussed the matter with my colleagues and we formed a committee and guess what...we appointed you as the person who should delve into the matter find out what really happened and report back to the rest of us :)

Burro Hall said...

I accept the appointment with gratitude and great humility. My early investigations are pointing towards an army of monkey-powered robots and a shining, heroic knight astride a milk-white steed, bearing a striking resemblance to your humble correspondent. Laugh if you must, but I have no doubt that in the year 2509, queretano schoolkids will be reading about San Pancho de Brooklyn, el fundador de nuestra ciudad.

Anonymous said...

That will be a hard sell since you won't get on a horse!

M

Burro Hall said...

I'll be on a horse as much as Santiago was on that day.

Bob Mrotek said...

So, does that mean you are going to chop heads?

Burro Hall said...

Well, yeah - duh! But none that I wasn't already planning to chop. Queretaro needs a firm hand on the tiller

Jorge Arturo said...

Well in school, thought me the legend and a "real" version, in which Conin, or Fernando de Tapia, negotiated with indians and spaniards to stop the hostilities, and he did won the battle in a bloodless situation, for that he was rewarded as noble spaniard and governor of the city, with the cristian name of Fernando de Tapia.

That is what I remember, that is why Conin is in the entrance of the city.

Anonymous said...

Many towns in new Spain were formed during the early colonial period through the reducciones policy, where existing indigenous communities were concentrated in larger settlements in order to control and exploit the indigenous population. The reducciones policy is tied to the encomienda institution whereby the Spanish soldiers were given the right to extract tribute from the local population in areas that they had conquered and settled. So the story of a battle and a cross in the sky is a dramatic rendering of the encounter of Spanish soldiers with local inhabitants in the region that was to become known as Queretaro. The dramatic story was necessary for the Spanish in order to qualify for becoming an Encomiendero and receiving the tribute from that area. In return the Spanish encomendero would take on the responsibility to convert the local indingeous population to Christianity, this was done by inviting one of the religious orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits and others) to work in their area. Later on this process has been reinterpreted and cast as creation myths that helped the evangelization of the natives people, where the local indigenous traditions and beliefs are mixed with Christian symbols.

One of the oldest descriptions of the foundation of Queretaro is the Relación de Queretaro (1582) and that one does not incorporate flaming crosses and flying saints. These elements are later additions and reflects a process found in many other places in central Mexico. The first story from Relación de Queretaro describes a relatively peaceful process: Un indio llamado Conni (ruido) de nación otomí y natural de Nopala, era pustecatl o mercader, y se ocupaba en contratar con los chichimecas, fronterizos de la provincia de Xilotepec. Ganada la ciudad de México por los españoles, y avanzando estos hacia al Norte, Conni, para huir de los extranjeros, reunió hasta treinta personas de las familias de sus siete hermanos y hermanas, yendo todos a asentarse en una cañada por donde pasa un arroyo, media legua de donde hoy se encuentra la ciudad: al sitio llamaron andamaxei, el mayor juego de pelota. Vivió Conni tranquilo algunos años en su retiro, al cabo de los cuales apareció Hernán Pérez de Bocanegra, encomendero de Acámbaro en la provincia de Michoacan, quien a fuerza de buen trato y de agasajos supo ganarse la voluntad del otomí, hasta el grado de reconocerle éste como a señor, y prometerle que se haría cristiano: Bocanegra, asentadas estas capitulaciones, se volvió para Acámbaro, en busca de un religioso que doctrinase a los nuevos neófitos. Entretanto los chichimecas quisieron destruir aquella colonia, que ya constaba de unas doscientas personas, a pretexto de que trataban con los castellanos; Conni lo supo a tiempo, y tuvo arte no solo para sosegarles, si no aun para persuadirles que se diesen a los españoles. En aquella sazón retornó Bocanegra con el religioso prometido: ambos fueron cordialmente recibidos, y otomíes y chichimecas fundaron la ciudad de Querétaro, nombre que vino, de que en la primera visita de Hernán Pérez, los tarascos que le acompañaban llamaron al lugar Querenda (peña), de donde derivó decir a la población Queréndaro (pueblo de peña), y corrompido el vocablo se dijo Querétaro. Conni recibió en el bautismo el nombre de don Hernando de Tapia, muriendo hacia el año de 1571: la relación le prodiga muchas alabanzas, atribuyéndole grandes virtudes y los adelantos de la población.

Burro Hall said...

Now THAT'S a response. Many thanks. Can I ask you to clarify a few things?

1) If I'm reading that correctly, there was no battle at all? Conin basically just talked the Chichimecas into submitting to the Spaniards?

2) You say "The dramatic story was necessary for the Spanish in order to qualify for becoming an Encomiendero." I'm confused who it was necessary for. You mean, if the Spanish soldiers wanted the ecomiendero from the Spanish government, they had to make up the story of the cross and the saint to tell to the Spanish government (or whoever was in charge here at the time)? So, instead of being a myth told to the natives, it was a myth told to the Spanish government? And, if so, why would the Spanish government need to be told a mythical story? Many other regions were settled without burning crosses and flying saints, correct?

Lazlo Lozla said...

Another legend that is taught in Mexican schools is the founding of Mexico City, with the Aztecs finding an eagle devouring a serpent, as their god told them they would.
Be talks about bringing civilization, exporting democracy or simply God-given rights, the big powers have always showed a need to justify their actions, both to themselves and to the defeated.

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to know whether there was a battle or not. The relaciones are among the earliest sources to the history of the conquest. The relaciones were mainly written by monks and some like Relación de Michoacán (approx. 1540) were written shortly after the Spanish takeover and included testimonies from eyewitnesses. Most of these sources tell the winners version of the story and it does in some cases entail a gentleman type of diplomatic approach where the newcomers would persuade the local native communities to enter into an agreement. But the old axiom that "war is a continuation of diplomacy using other means" was also applied. This was seen with Cortés in Tenichtitlan and Pizzaro in Peru. On the hand the Spaniards needed the local native communities to sustain their colonies with tribute, produce and labor, so they were also preoccupied with demography. The encomienda system was a model that had developed during the reconquista in Spain where military groups would reconquer people and lands from Los Moros. The encomienda was granted by the Spanish crown to the leader of the military group that had successfully reconquered a territory. In Mexico the encomienda system followed the same pattern as back home in Spain so soldiers would report back to Spain regarding their conquests in order to qualify as Encomendero (Cortes was granted a large territory and the title Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca). Since the goal was to obtain the encomendero title many of these accounts were full of exaggerated stories of the achievements of the Spanish soldiers so as to appear that what they had done was extraordinary. The mythical element of the contact/conquest is found all over the Americas. The historian Matthew Restall asks the question: "Why is Conquest history so ridden with myths? According to the anthropologist Samuel Wilson, we seek to distance ourselves of the Contact and the Conquest because of the tragedy it contains. "It is politically safer and emotionally less taxing", suggests Wilson "to blur history into myth and thereby confine it." This argument helps to explain not only the modern perpetuation of Conquest myths, but also their development in the Conquest period itself. That these myths can be found alive and well in both the sixteenth and the twenty-first centuries should not surprise us; after all, as Wilson points out, we are still living in the "contact period."" Seven myths of the Spanish conquest, Oxford University Press 2004, p. 131.