Politics

FIGURE 5. Lord 9 Lizard and Lady 12 Deer seated on the thrones, the mat, from page 12 of the Codex Selden.

FIGURE 5. Lord 9 Lizard and Lady 12 Deer seated on “the thrones, the mat,” from page 12 of the Codex Selden.

The basic unit of Ñudzavui social life in the Postclassic and colonial period was the ñuu, “settled place” or “town.” Larger ñuu, or polities created by the unification of several ñuu through marriage alliances, were called yuhuitayu. The Ñudzavui political landscape was divided and dominated by dozens of these yuhuitayu kingdoms. Each yuhuitayu was typically centered on an elite residence, a religious center, surrounding agricultural lands, and the dwellings of commoners.5

Ñudzavui polities were jointly ruled by a king and queen, often referred to as a “cacique” and a “cacica” (both are Arawakan terms that the Spaniards borrowed from the peoples of the Caribbean and subsequently applied to indigenous rulership throughout the New World). In Dzaha Dzavui, a male ruler was called the yya, a female ruler the dzehe yya. Depictions of Ñudzavui kings and queens in the screenfolds typically depict a ruling couple seated together on thrones and a mat (Figure 5). These images, as well as extensive historical evidence, suggests that king and queen ruled together. For example, the Dzaha Dzavui term for “kingdom,” yuhui tayu, is a compound word composed of yuhui, “mat” or “couple” and tayu, throne. Thus the image of a king and queen seated together on thrones and a mat symbolically depicts them as seated in rulership over their polity. Because of the importance of co-rulership, it has even been argued that Ñudzavui “kingdoms” are more accurately described as “coupledoms.”6

The relationships among the dozens of factionalized yuhuitayu that dotted the Postclassic landscape of the Mixteca were in constant flux, bridged by marital alliance and severed by warfare. The Ñudzavui screenfolds provide records of the shifting relationships of these noble houses over the course of 800 years (circa 940 to circa 1560). Indeed, as the Dominican friar Francisco de Burgoa surmised in the seventeenth century, the genealogies recorded in the screenfolds were used by Ñudzavui elite for political legitimization, serving as documents of elite “greatness and vanity.”7

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5 Spores 1967, 91-104; Terraciano 2001, 103-105.

6 Terraciano 1994, 393.

7 Burgoa 1989 [1670], 210.