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Indigenous Eroticism and Colonial Morality in Mexico: the Confession Manuals of New Spain

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This article explores the impact of the Conquest on eroticism and the place of the feminine in 16th century indigenous society in Mexico. It shows how this most intimate area of human experience became the battleground of a war that amounted in part to a cultural annihilation. The article analyses one aspect of the missionaries' well-intentioned "battle to save people's souls". Like in previous, internal forms of violent subjugation of one culture by another, the Spaniards destroyed local gods and temples. However, unlike previous "conquerors" who superimposed their beliefs upon local customs, the newcomers demanded a complete eradication of those customs, as if they only could save the Indians by destroying their identity, their culture's relation to reality and their very concept of time, space and of the person. By condemning indigenous erotic practices and imposing unprecedented restraints on them, the missionaries altered the roots of ancient Mexican perceptions of the body and the cosmos. Particuliar attention is paid to the confession manuals, written as an answer to the Spaniards' discovery "that lust was the Indian's most frequent sin". These manuals are considered here as instruments of the alteration of indigenous perceptions. In these manuals the repetition of the same excruciating questions tended to graft guilt onto the Mesoamerican conscience and thus eradicate the Indians perception of eroticism in its sacred and vitalizing dimension. Commentaries of the old song of the women of Chalco attempt to recapture, through the playful voices of women speaking openly, some of the flavor of a very different symbolic universe.


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