Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Quinatzin Map

Quinatzin Map, leaf 1 (top panel), ink and color on amatl, circa 1542.
Quinatzin Map, leaf 2 (center panel), ink and color on amatl, circa 1542
Quinatzin Map, leaf 3 (bottom panel), ink and color on amatl, circa 1542.

The Quinatzin Map charts the Chichimec migration more allusively than either the Tlohtzin Map or the Codex Xolotl. In the Quinatzin’s top leaf, where the narrative begins, the painter sets the action in a wilderness, a spaceless landscape, like the one that opens the Tlohtzin. Flora, fauna, landscape elements, and Chichimecs inhabit the upper two-thirds of the leaf, and the humans are fully integrated into the natural world. At top center, a Chichimec couple and their infant child have taken shelter in a mountain-cave. While the cave and the family group indicate origins—of life and of a dynastic lineage—the mountain as a sign denotes the founding and continued existence of a place and its toponym. Iconographically, family and setting bring to mind autochthony and deny foreignness and migration. But in this instance the lack of name and place signs belies the specificity implicit—and expected—in any account of civic foundations or genealogy.

In addition to the family in the cave, several Chichimecs people the landscape that surrounds the mountain; but, in contrast to the opening scene of the Tlohtzin, none is drawn as a migrant who is traveling in search of a new home. The scene lacks spatial or temporal coordinates, and it specifies neither the identities of the men and women nor the relationships among them. Armed with bow and arrow, like the man in the cave, the figure of a male Chichimec hunter appears twice, once to the right and once to the left of and below the mountain, where he shoots and hits a deer. Given that deer appear twice—one deer just shot and one pierced by an arrow and in its death throes—and are almost certainly to be read as one animal seen at two different moments in the course of the hunt, it is probable that the two hunters are likewise to be understood as one man. The man in the cave and the hunter may be the same man, too. At a minimum there must be two Chichimec men, as two appear together near the center of the panel, where, still holding digging sticks, they flank the corpse bundle of a woman whom they have just buried. Another, living, woman appears at the right, where she sits next to a raging fire into which she seems to have cast a serpent. Unnamed and ambiguous like the male figures, the three Chichimec females depicted in the panel may represent one, two, or three characters.

Because of their anonymity, the Chichimecs can and perhaps should be interpreted in light of what they do collectively rather than of who they are individually. From the cradle to the grave, the men and women here satisfy physical needs. They provision themselves with shelter, sustenance, and fire, but their shelter is a cave, their sustenance, raw meat from the hunt, and their fire, undomesticated by the practical and ritual uses of the hearth and its three stones. The Chichimecs communicate with each other by means of gestures rather than verbal language—there are no speech scrolls here—and the nuclear family is the only apparent social unit. They bury rather than cremate their dead, and to dig a grave they use what in trained hands would serve as an agricultural implement. In short, the Chichimecs enjoy a minimally civilized life, one no longer explicitly pictured as nomadic, but one not yet urbanized. Although they may no longer be nomads, these men and women still more closely resemble the animals that they pursue and whose skins they wear than the Toltecs—and Toltecized Chichimecs—seen along the bottom third of the Quinatzin’s top leaf.

Like the Codex Xolotl’s first map and the Tlohtzin Map, the Quinatzin divides space between Chichimec wilderness and Toltec cities and civilization. Cultural practices rather than place signs or historical agents and events here distinguish one sphere from the other. There is only one toponym on the panel, the now almost imperceptible curved mountain sign of Culhuacan at the lower-right corner (separated from the Chichimec wilderness), where, too, markers of time and personal identity are absent. Wilderness and city describe states of being more than geographic locations or ethnic history. Manifest in personal and social customs, the transformation of Chichimecs into Toltecs describes the trajectory from barbarism to civilization as well as from anonymity to identity. Once discerned, the theme of acculturation and the visual pun (the head of the dying deer and the sound scrolls of its death cries) on the eponymous hero’s, Quinatzin’s, name sign (a deer’s head with speech scrolls) permit an informed reader to situate the mountain-cave in the Quinatzin’s top panel at Tlatzalan-Tlallanoztoc and to identify the Chichimec family it houses as Tlohtzin, his wife, and their infant son, Quinatzin, who would one day found the city of Tetzcoco.  In the Codex Xolotl page/map 2 and the Tlohtzin Map, this episode is not part of the migration itinerary but of the Chichimecs’ postmigration settlement in the Valley of Mexico and their gradual assimilation of Toltec urban culture. By beginning with Tlohtzin at Tlatzalan-Tlallanoztoc, the Quinatzin painter underscores the substitution of the cultural for the physical journey and the destination for the route. The process of becoming fully human and thereby civilized assumes the same catalytic role as the ancestral migration, and the latter becomes a metaphor for the former: what is mapped is not so much spatial as cultural boundaries.

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