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Indigenous Ware or Spanish Import? The Case of Indígena Ware and Approaches to Power in Colonial Mexico

  • Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría (a1), Hector Neff (a2) and Michael D. Glascock (a1)

Abstract

For the last two decades, archaeologists have believed that a ceramic type known as Indígena Ware was an imitation of European majolica, produced by colonial Nahuas in Mexico City for lower-class Spanish families. Ideas surrounding the production and consumption of Indígena Ware, as well as majolica in general, have been based on the concepts of Spanish domination and indigenous acculturation. These ideas emphasize European interests in displaying high-value imports to obtain distinction along racial and class lines, and fail to consider indigenous strategies for obtaining power through craft production and display. We begin by critically evaluating the stylistic, iconographic, and technical evidence archaeologists have used to suggest that Indígena Ware was an indigenous product. We present the results from neutron activation analysis of 250 ceramic sherds indicating that Indígena Ware forms its own compositional group, different from Aztec pottery and Spanish majolica, and suggest that Indígena Ware is most likely a Spanish import. The problems this ware presents for classification reveal the limitations of locating power exclusively in the hands of the Spanish and point to ways in which we could overcome this theoretical problem for the study of colonialism in Mexico.

Luego de la conquista de México, los españoles comenzaron a importar mayólica europea y fundaron fábricas de mayólica en México. A la vez, los indígenas continuaron produciendo cerámica de acuerdo a las tradiciones alfareras precolombinas. Durante las últimas dos décadas los arqueólogos han creído que un tipo de cerámica colonial conocido como “Indígena Ware” (“Loza Indígena”) es una imitación de la mayólica europea, producida por indígenas durante el siglo dieciséis en la Ciudad de México y usada por familias españolas de clase baja. La Indígena Ware es muy parecida a la mayólica en términos de forma, acabado de superficie, color y técnica de vidriado. Sin embargo, gran parte de las ideas sobre la producción alfarera en el México colonial, incluyendo la producción de Indígena Ware y la mayólica, así como el consumo de éstas, tienen como base los conceptos de dominación española y aculturación indígena. Estos conceptos enfatizan los intereses de los colonizadores Europeos, incluyendo sus estrategias clasistas y racistas de obtener distinción mediante el consumo de material cultural europeo (en este caso la mayólica), e ignoran por completo las estrategias indígenas para obtener poder social mediante técnicas similares de consumo de material cultural. En este artículo presentamos evidencia que indica que es muy probable que la Indígena Ware sea una loza de importación española, incluyendo los aspectos morfológicos de las vasijas, y evidencia de manufactura y de los motivos decorativos. A la vez presentamos evidencia sobre la composición química de 250 fragmentos de mayólica, cerámica azteca colonial, e Indígena Ware obtenida mediante análisis de activación neutrónica. El análisis indica que la Indígena Ware forma su propio grupo de composición química distinto a todos los grupos químicos conocidos en Mesoamérica hasta hoy, y de la mayólica importada de España. Mediante el análisis tipológico y químico de la Indígena Ware sugerimos que ésta es una cerámica de importación europea. Al tomar en cuenta un tipo de organización de producción e importación de cerámica distinto a los patrones conocidos mediante los documentos históricos, invitamos a refleccionar sobre las limitaciones de los conceptos basados en la dominación española y la resistencia y aculturación indígena y a formular maneras de sobreponer dicho concepto en el análisis histórico y arqueológico del México colonial.

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Indigenous Ware or Spanish Import? The Case of Indígena Ware and Approaches to Power in Colonial Mexico

  • Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría (a1), Hector Neff (a2) and Michael D. Glascock (a1)

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