What Happened in Cholula? A Tlaxcalan Perspective

The Battle of CholulaFrom Muñoz Camargo, Historia de Tlaxcala (Tlaxcalan)

[In evaluating this source, one must consider several factors. First, the Tlaxcalans allied with the Spaniards. Muñoz Camargo was a mestizo who married into the Tlaxcalan nobility long after the conquest. He wrote this piece at the end of the sixteenth century when even the Tlaxcalans were having doubts about Spanish rule. Other indigenous accounts, notably Sahagún's Florentine Codex, are believed to be written versions of oral traditions of men and women who were present at the time, and thus are arguably primary sources. Muñoz Camargo was born in 1529, after the events he described. In other words, although this account has sometimes been used as a primary source and certainly gives another indigenous interpretation of what happened in Cholula, most historians would consider it a SECONDARY SOURCE, which is, in fact, a very biased secondary source. In examining the image from the Lienza de Tlaxcala, which was produced around the same time as Muñoz Camargo's history, think about whether it is better described by referring to this source or the primary sources you have. How do the brief excerpts from this history change your perception about what you thought you saw in the image? What does the process of reading this text after examining the image tell you about the interpretation of visual sources in general? Would your conclusions apply to all sources? Note: I have divided the text into paragraphs for readability although the original is mostly contained in a single paragraph.]

[Muñoz Camargo begins his chapter on the events in Cholula with a long discussion on the complete faith that the Cholulans had in their god Quetzalcoatl. In his perspective, they believed that Quetzalcoatl could easily defeat the Spaniards, who, they believed, were stupid or crazy because they trusted "those sodomites from Tlaxcala, who are nothing but women." Additionally, they shouted: "What will become of you lost souls (traitors)? We are waiting, and you will see how our god Quetzalcoatl will punish you!"]

They shouted these and other similar things because they believed that the enemy would be burned by bolts of fire which would fall on them from the skies and that great rivers of water would flow from the temples of their idols, which would drown the Tlaxcalans and their friends [the Spaniards]. This produced no little fear and fright because the Tlaxcalans believed that all would happen as the Cholulans said [it would], especially because the priests of the temple of Quetzalcoatl proclaimed it. But when the Tlaxcalans heard the Spaniards call out to Saint James and saw them burn the temples and throw the idols to the floors, profaning them with great determination, and when they saw that the idols could do nothing, that no flames fell or rivers flowed, they understood the deception and fell in [to an understanding] of how it was all falsehoods and lies.

[At this point in the narrative, Muñoz Camargo backtracks to explain that the Tlaxcalans had sent messengers to the Cholulans to encourage them to ally with the Spaniards, partly because they had nothing to fear, partly because the Spaniards possessed superior weapons made of "white metal." They also explained how the strangers had weapons that "could shoot fire and fierce animals."]

But instead of taking this good advice, the Cholulans flayed the face of Patlahuatzin, the [Tlaxcalan] ambassador, a person of high esteem and valor. They did the same thing to his arms, which they flayed to his elbows, and they cut off his hands in such a way that they dangled. In this cruel way, they [sent him off] saying: "Return and tell those of Tlaxcala and the other beggars, or gods, or whatever you say that they are, that this is how we invite them to come." This is how the poor man returned, in great agony, which caused great horror and grief in the republic because he was one of the gentlest and handsomest men in the land. . . . Patlahuatzin died in the service of his homeland and republic, where his fame is eternal among the people, who keep his memory alive in their words and songs.

The Tlaxcalans were indignant because of this vile treatment [of Patlahuatzin], for it had never [before] occurred, since all ambassadors were traditionally respected and honored by foreign kings and lords, to whom they communicated [news of] peace, wars, and other events that took place in the provinces and kingdoms. Thus, with indignation, they said to Cortés, "Most valiant lord, we wish to go with you in order to seek vengeance [against Cholula], for its wickedness and audacity, and to destroy that nation and its province. A people so pernicious and obstinate, so wicked and tyrannical, if for no other reason than this, deserve eternal punishment, for they have not given us thanks for our good advice, but have scorned us and despised us for our love of you." Cortés responded with a severe continence: "Have no fear; I promise you revenge [against] them." [He kept his promise] and waged a cruel war [against the Cholulans] in which great multitudes were slaughtered, as is recorded in the chronicles of the conquest of this land. ...

[At this point in the narrative, the author repeats what the Cholulans believed would happen if the Spaniards and the Tlaxcalans attacked them, principally, that they would be saved by their god Quetzalcoatl. But nothing worked.]

Desperate, most of those men who died in the war of Cholula cast themselves and also hurled the head of Quetzalcoatl [from the temple pyramid], for this was an ancient custom, for they were rebellious and contemptuous and ungovernable and died contrary to the way of other nations, [that is, they] died [on their] heads. Ultimately the mass of [the Cholulans] died in despair, by killing themselves.

When the battle of Cholula was finished, the Cholulans understood and believed that the God of the white men, who were his most powerful children, was more virtuous than their own. Our friends, the Tlaxcalans, seeing themselves in the midst of the battle and the massacre, called upon the apostle Saint James, shouting his name in loud voices: "Santiago!" And to this day, the Tlaxcalans continue to invoke Santiago.

[This passage continues with Muñoz Camargo's description of how the Tlaxcalans continued to help the Spaniards on their march to Tenochtitlan and how they inspired fear wherever they went.]