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Spanish Court Records from Late Colonial Guatemala Catherine Komisaruk* - page 13 / 14





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and testimonies spoken in Spanish by Indians and other non-Spanish individuals as well as Spaniards. As is well known, colonial-era Indians’ knowledge of Span- ish was usually greatest where the Spanish populations were most concentrated, and the proportions of Indians who spoke Spanish generally increased over time. We would expect, then, that Spanish-language records may be useful for the study of indigenous people especially in regions of relatively large Spanish population and in the later periods.

We must be aware of the usual limitation of Spanish sources in relation to indigenous people, that they do not contain key categories of all kinds that existed in those people’s native languages. But a translated version of a culture is better than no version. And Spanish categories for these people who increasingly spoke Spanish and existed in a Hispanic world were no longer something extraneous, but a part of the fabric of their lives. All of the subtle analysis applied to indig- enous social and cultural terminology can be applied to Spanish terminology as well, as I have demonstrated to an extent in the above.

A major potential of late colonial Spanish court records, as suggested by the illustrations above, is to study some of the same kinds of topics and questions that ethnohistorians have studied using native-language sources from other areas in Mesoamerica. In particular, Spanish court records from Guatemala offer some close-up views of the processes of cultural contact and change that have interested ethnohistorians. Through the medium of Spanish, which had become the lingua franca in the Central American capital, the royal judicial records open a window onto daily interactions between individuals of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The Spanish courts’ transcriptions of testimony—about bar-room challenges and brawls, domestic life and disputes, neighborhood gossip and scan- dals, passions and jealousies, people’s problems at work—reveal the intricacies of ordinary relationships between Indians and non-Indians, between Africans and non-Africans. These mundane relationships lie at the heart of postconquest cultural contact and transformations that have largely defined the broad concerns of not only the Mesoamerican ethnohistory movement, but also the social history of colonial Spanish America.

Bibliography Jefferson, Ann F. 2000. “The Rebellion of Mita: Eastern Guatemala in 1837.” Doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Garza Carvajal, Federico. 2003. Butterflies Will Burn: Prosecuting Sodomites in Early Modern Spain and Mexico. Austin: University of Texas Press. Gauderman, Kimberly. 2003. Women’s Lives in Colonial Quito. Austin: Univer- sity of Texas Press. Hill II, Robert M. 1992. Colonial Cakchiquels: Highland Maya Adaptation to Spanish Rule, 1600–1700. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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