Conquest and Colonial Oaxaca

Michel R. Oudijk

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Conquest and Colonial Oaxaca

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas


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The present state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico is particularly known for the Classic-period archaeological site of Monte Albán (100–800 ad) and the presence of multiple indigenous peoples today. However, during the last 500 years, before the arrival of the Spaniards, it was home to many autonomous city-states that were involved in a constant flux of alliances and wars. The alliances were typically formed and consolidated through elite marriages and the exchange of land and/or people to work such lands. The historical relationships between peoples and the ethnolinguistic distribution make it worthwhile to think in terms of an Oaxacan culture area that includes parts of the present-day states of Puebla and Guerrero, rather than in terms of the state of Oaxaca. While this population was and continues to be constituted by at least sixteen different ethnolinguistic groups, this aspect was of no particular political importance, because the alliances and wars were determined by economic, political, and historical motivations. With the arrival of the Spaniards, much of the previous patterns of political maneuvering continued. Thus, local lords decided to reject or join the ever-growing army of Spanish and indigenous allies, based on existing antagonisms with other rulers. Furthermore, the most-important contacts between Spaniards and Oaxacan indigenous lords took place after the emblematic fall of Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 1521. These two aspects have resulted in a relatively peaceful conquest of the region, which obviously does not mean that its effects were less traumatic, particularly considering the disastrous population loss caused by the diseases brought by the Spaniards. As early as 1524, Hernán Cortés incorporated large parts of the Oaxacan culture area into his Marquesado, which resulted in the presence of few Spaniards and the continuation of the pre-Hispanic social and political organization in order to maximize the tributary revenue. At the same time, many of the lords of the city-states quickly adapted to the new colonial society but also continued their policies of intermarital alliances, forming large landholding corporations called cacicazgos. However, the previous city-states now became towns with their own authorities often held by the lower nobility and commoners, which meant a serious erosion of power for the lords or caciques.

Article.  6507 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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