Shanna Lorenz--Department of Performance Studies--NYU

"Conquest Period Mexica Song as Political Resistance."


Just a few years after the conquest of the Aztec Empire, the first friars to come to New Spain enthusiastically used music to evangelize the Mexica. When the Mexica learned the songs of the Catholic missionaries, it was taken as a sign of Mexica acquiescence to Spanish rule and of their conversion to the Christian faith. In this paper I consider the meaning of song in the pre-conquest Mexica world in order to suggest that by singing the missionaries= songs the Mexica may have, on the contrary, enacted their resistance to Spanish rule. I argue that to grasp the importance of song to the Mexica we must move beyond European derived ideas of representation as metaphor in order to map out a conceptual space that can contend with the very literal embodiment of metaphysical essence that was so central to Mexica representational practices. I suggest that song, mirroring other performance strategies, was used to invoke and embody metaphysical substance, which then became available, for a brief time, to empower ritual participants. For the Mexica, the singing of Christian songs may have been understood as a way to embody the metaphysical substance of the Christian gods so that Mexica singers could be infused with the awesome power of those who had destroyed the Aztec empire. By exploring the role of song as a form of resistance I hope to question the ideological work that is accomplished by histories, like those of the Spanish conquerors, that see enculturation as a sign of political acquiescence.