Conquerors' hopes dashed

December 16, 2004

Dutch researcher Florine Asselbergs has discovered the Spanish conquering of Guatemala portrayed on an indigenous painting. This sixteenth-century panel had scarcely been investigated up until now and provides a detailed overview of the battles and the landscape. It is an important find, as relatively little is known about the conquest of Guatemala.

Asselbergs studied the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan, a panel of more than two by three metres from the Quauhquecholteca, an indigenous people from Central America. Until recently, scientists thought that the painting represented campaigns of conquest by the Quauhquecholteca and Spaniards through Central Mexico. However, the researcher established that the document portrays a campaign of conquest through Guatemala by the Spanish conqueror Jorge the Alvarado in 1527-1529.

In about 1400, the Quauhquecholteca settled in present-day San Martín Huaquechula, to the south-east of Mexico City. By fighting with the Spanish, the indigenous people hoped to rid themselves of the tyranny of the Aztecs and to gain their own land and riches. They described their military successes in pictograms in paintings such as the Lienzo de Quauhquechollan. Not long after this however, the Spaniards brutally overruled all of the peoples in Central America, including the Quauhquecholteca.

The painting depicts a landscape with roads, rivers and places where battles and the associated events are marked. It forms an extremely detailed and unique indigenous report of an otherwise scarcely chronicled period, and is also the oldest map of Guatemala. The painting is housed in a museum in Puebla, Mexico.

The Spanish conquest of Central America has mostly been studied using reports from Spanish chroniclers. Indigenous stories and pictures have nearly always been ignored. Therefore, the historical perspective of the conquest has a strong European bias. A study of indigenous sources is necessary to gain a more balanced picture of events during the conquest.
Further information:

Dr Florine Asselbergs (UL, Onderzoekschool voor Aziatische, Afrikaanse en Amerindische Studies - CNWS)
t: 31-71-527-2171 (secretariat),
The doctoral thesis was defended on 2 December 2004, supervisors Prof. Maarten Jansen and Prof. Willem Adelaar

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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