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Spanish Court Records from Late Colonial Guatemala Catherine Komisaruk* - page 12 / 14

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KOMISARUK

This explanation complements new research on homosexual behavior in early modern Spain, which shows that homosexuality was hidden by the society’s normative homosociality. Because it was socially appropriate for people of the same sex to socialize and work together without supervision or chaperoning, people did not notice homosexual relationships in their neighborhoods or house- holds.14 Thus, homosexuality may have been hidden by the homosocial behavior that everyone expected. In this light, homosexuality would not have disrupted the society in the same ways that illicit heterosexuality did, and it is not surprising that homosexual relationships are absent from the court records that I have found.

Spanish sources for ethnohistory?

In my research in the AGCA, I have not found court records from the late colonial era written in any indigenous languages. (In the colonial Guatemalan capital, as today, numerous native languages were spoken.) The judicial system was ad- ministered largely by Spaniards, and when the occasional defendant or witnesses did not speak Spanish, the court simply called in an interpreter, and the depo- sition—or a summary of it—was recorded in Spanish. On a few occasions, non- Spanish-speaking plaintiffs appear as victims of crimes, but I did not find any individuals who sued in civil cases through an interpreter. Presumably, non- Spanish speaking individuals would have turned to their local Indian magistrates or parish priest rather than approaching the Spanish judiciary. Cases heard in the Spanish courts originating in indigenous communities were typically filed by the corporate community, with petitions penned by the notary of the cabildo, as in the complaint we have seen from the cabildos of Utateca and Jocotenango regarding doña Manuela Dardón’s labor management practices. Occasionally the priest serving the community petitioned on behalf of its residents, as in the complaint filed by the priest of Jocotenango on behalf of Indian wet nurses.

In all of the court cases described above—including those brought by slaves as well as those surrounding Indian labor—all the litigants and witnesses spoke Spanish, and no interpreters were used. This is indeed the case in the majority of the court records from late colonial Guatemala, though almost certainly Spanish

was only a second language for many witnesses and litigants.15

Nevertheless,

most speakers in the court testified in Spanish. The court records were instigated

14Garza Carvajal, pp. 00–00. I am very grateful to Pete Sigal for explaining this

point to me and referring me to this study. 15In some depositions by people identified as Indians, the court notary included a

descriptor indicating that the person knew Spanish—“india ladina,” “indio bien ladini- zado,” “indio de bastante ladinez,” or “india bien instruida en el idioma castellano”—and did not need an interpreter. But the very fact that the notaries even saw the necessity of making these points explicit seems to suggest that some of the litigants and witnesses, like many Spanish speakers in Guatemala today, also knew a native language. In par- ticular, the phrases “de bastante ladinez” and “instruido en el idioma castellano” connote that Spanish was acquired or learned after the mother tongue. In cases where several indigenous witnesses were interviewed sequentially in the same location, such as in the native pueblo or at a crime scene in the capital, the notary’s inclusion of such notes— sometimes for witness after witness—tends to convey a sense that the witnesses may have been gathered and speaking among themselves in a Mayan language even while the Spanish magistrate and notary carried on the investigation.

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