Thwarting the Clergy

The Indians, he complains, seemed always to find new ways to thwart even the best efforts of the clergy, including himself as the investigating emissary of the Holy Office, hiding their supplies of ololiuhqui in secret places, not only because they were afraid of discovery and punishment by the Inquisition, but for fear that ololiuhqui itself might punish them for having suffered it to be desecrated by the touch of alien hands. Always, he reports, the Indians seemed to be more concerned with the good will of ololiuhqui than the displeasure and penalties of the clergy. Moreover, they often pretended to cooperate in the denunciation of "idolatry" only so as to better conceal its practice. The following story of such a denunciation, involving a woman who had some ololiuhqui in her possession and several of her relatives, will serve as an illustration.

It seems that the woman had been involved in a domestic quarrel and one of her male relatives had admitted to Ruiz de Alarcon that she owned a basket filled with the sacred seeds. Ruiz de Alarcon wanted to check the house immediately, but his informant asked if he might be allowed to do it alone, for he knew her hiding places and would be able to determine quickly if the ololiuhqui and all the other things he had denounced were still in the house. Ruiz de Alarcon agreed and let the relative do the searching alone; the man soon returned to report that the basket was nowhere to be found. Ruiz de Alarcon had the woman and her sister placed under arrest and after questioning them "with all diligence" for an entire day, they finally admitted that at the first sign of danger they had quickly removed all the ololiuhqui from the oratory and divided it into many small segments, each to be carefully secreted in a different place:

When she was asked why she had denied it so perversely she answered, as they always do, "Oninomauhtiaya," which means, out of fear I did not dare. It is important to indicate that this is not the same fear which they have for the ministers of justice for the punishment they deserve, rather (it is) the fear that they have for this same ololiuhqui, or the deity they believe resides in it, and in this respect they have their reverence so confused that it is necessary to have the help of God to remove it; so that the fear and terror that impedes their confession is not one which will annoy that false deity that they think they have in the ololiuhqui, so as not to fall under his ire and indignation. And thus they say (to it), "Aconechtlahuelis," "may I not arouse your ire or anger against me."

This particular round of investigations completed, the good friar returned to Atenango, seat of his benefice in what is now the state of Guerrero. Here,

... knowing the blindness of these unfortunate souls, to remove from them such a heavy burden and such a strong impediment to their salvation, he began to preach at once against ololiuhqui, ordering the vines that grew along the river to be cleared away, and casting quantities of the confiscated seed into the fire in the presence of its owners. With this, he writes, "Our Lord was served." The Indians, predictably, didn't see it that way at all, and when he soon fell seriously ill, they promptly credited the ailment to the displeasure of ololiuhqui,

... for not having revered it, it being earlier angered by what I had done to it: this is how blind these people are.

He recovered and to prove the Indians wrong, he chose a solemn feast day to assemble the entire beneficio for another, more impressive burning of ololiuhqui. He ordered an enormous bonfire built, and into it,

... with all of them watching, I had almost the totality of the said seed which I had collected burned, and I ordered burned and cleared again the kind of bushes where they are found.

Alas, the old ways persisted:

Such is the diligence of the devil that it works against us, for by his cunning we find each day new damage in this work, and thus it is good if the ministers of each jurisdiction are diligent in investigating, extirpating and punishing these consequences of the old idolatry and cult of the devil...

As Wasson (1967a) notes, throughout these references of early Colonial times

... there runs a note of somber poignancy as we see two cultures in a duel to the death—on the one hand, the fanaticism of sincere Churchmen, hotly pursuing with the support of the harsh secular arm what they considered a superstition and an idolatry, and, on the other, the tenacity and wiles of the Indians defending their cherished ololiuhqui. The Indians seem to have won out. Today in almost all the villages of Oaxaca one finds the seeds still serving the natives as ever present help in time of trouble, (pp. 339-340)

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