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Viewpoint of the Defeated Turns 50 Years Old
Miguel Leon Portilla. Photo: Mauricio Marat/INAH.

MEXICO CITY.- More than 5 decades have passed by since Miguel Leon Portilla decided, driven by his mentor Angel Maria Garibay, to learn Nahuatl language and study ancient Precolumbian codices, where he deciphered stories about the Conquest from the viewpoint of the overpowered. After some investigation he realized that the manuscripts possessed the defeated spirit and decided to focus research in what today is a paradigm: the viewpoint of the defeated.

The book published in 1959 is part of the University Student Library, and to celebrate its 50 years the National Council for Culture and Arts (CONACULTA), The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National College will conduct a commemorative act with the presence of Leon Portilla at the National Museum of Anthropology (MNA) in Thursday June 25th 2009.

Vision de los Vencidos represents a special circumstance for its author, because he found in the stories a voice that claims: “all of this happened among us, we saw it, we admired it, with this pitiful and sad fate, we found ourselves in anguish”; parting from here, a corpus developed to conform this work that tries, in essence to “give a face to those who had none”.

The UNAM emeritus researcher refers that in hundreds of documents consulted a humanist criteria is found, not from conquerors, but from those who came later, like Motolinia, Olmos, De las Casas and Sahagun, who devoted themselves to gather Nahua and Maya testimonies, so Vision de los Vencidos represents the indigenous chronicles of the Conquest.

Not all manuscripts have the same importance, age or extension, but all helped studying features of the image that chroniclers had about the Conquest: Anonymous Chronicle of Tlatelolco, Bernardino de Sahagun’s Chronicle, codices such as Florentino, Aubin and Ramirez, the Tlaxcala Canvas and many others that gave form to this work, commented the historian.

Leon Portilla considers that among main contributions of his texts is the concept of “the other” or “otherness”, since until before 1950 only manuscripts with conquerors version `were known, such as Hernan Cortes or Diaz del Castillo chronicles. So this study shows disagreements and contradictions of winners.

The historian thinks Jose Vasconcelos was wrong when he said that Mesoamerican peoples left nothing to Universal culture; on the contrary, they are universal. Miguel Leon Portilla concludes that his study pretended no more than “keep the memory” of those who saw and suffered the Conquest.

Writer Jose Emilio Pacheco declared that Vision de los Vencidos is the great epic poem of our ancient tradition, a chant similar to the Troy loss one, with scenes of great realism.

Historian Alfredo Lopez Austin commented that the book impressed him very much when he was a student, “it presents the Conquest in a different way than the traditional, bringing in a voice that had not been listened”.

Archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma affirms that “it is a privilege to give words to the oppressed, whose sources were traduced by Garibay and conformed by Leon Portilla so they could be known in many spheres. These voices can be heard in all its pain and tragedy”.

The 50th anniversary ceremony will count with the participation of specialists Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, Fernando Curiel Defosse and Pilar Maynez Vidal, and will take place in June 25th at 19:00 hours.

National Institute of Anthropology and History | Miguel Leon Portilla | Angel Maria Garibay | Nahuatl | National Council for Culture and Arts | National Autonomous University of Mexico |

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