Monday, March 18, 2013

No calpollis in the Toluca Valley?

Aztec calpolli temple
The calpolli was an important social institution in Aztec central Mexico. It was a group of households living in proximity who shared economic and other resources. In the countryside, calpollis were villages and in cities calpollis were neighborhoods. There were two sizes or levels of calpolli - a small calpolli (ca. 20 households), several of which were grouped together into a large calpolli (ca. 150 households). Calpollis typically had a temple and a market. They were made up of commoner households, who selected a council to made decisions and run the organization (e.g., to assign plots of land among the farming families).

In the State of Morelos, where I worked prior to Calixtlahuaca, there is abundant documentation of the presence and importance of calpollis. A series of detailed census lists (house-by-house interviews)  were recorded in Nahuatl in six communities in Morelos, and these provide the most detailed accounts of calpolli organization from anywhere in central Mexico. The sites I excavated in Morelos matched up very closely to the size and structure of calpollis in these documents. In my current book, I identify the calpolli as a major source of the stability, success, and prosperity of the communities I excavated in Morelos.

Calpollis at Cuexcomate, in Morelos
When we started working at Calixtlahuaca, many of us assumed that calpollis were present in this area as well. Some historians talk about calpollis in the Toluca Valley, although there are no detailed  descriptions of them. Last week I started wondering if perhaps the people of Calixtlahuaca and the Toluca Valley lacked calpolli organization, and that this fact (if true) might help explain some of our findings. I have now almost convinced myself that this was indeed the case. Here is my reasoning so far.

First I checked the major books and article on social organization in the Toluca Valley at the time of the Spanish conquest. If calpollis were present, these historians would mention it. But the only time calpollis were mentioned in these works was when authors were talking about general patterns of social organization in central Mexico, not about specific places in the Toluca Valley.

Then it occurred to me (this afternoon) that perhaps if we did not have the Morelos census data, it might be harder to identify calpollis in Morelos. If that were the case, then the missing calpollis in the Toluca histories might not mean very much. So I took a spin through the major works on 16th century social organization in Morelos. I found that these authors regularly talked about calpollis, even when they were not drawing on the census documents. I found a few quotes from documents that mentioned calpollis. So, unlike the Toluca Valley, many historical studies of Morelos had identified calpollis, independently of the census documents. This strengthens the argument that if calpollis had been present and important, there would be more discussion of them in the 16th century documents.

Then I realized that I needed to check the major literature on the Aztec calpolli in general. Sources like Lockhart and Carrasco had surprisingly little to say about specific calpolli apart from the Morelos census data. But a major paper by Luis Reyes García (1996) listed lots of examples of the use of the term calpolli. In fact, he has a whole list and discussion of mentions of the calpolli in central Mexico outside of Mexico City. The towns are scattered all over Morelos, Puebla, and Tlaxcalla, with a single occurrence in Toluca (in 1533). But it turns out that the lone Toluca calpolli reference describes communities of commoners who moved into the Toluca Valley from the Basin of Mexico after the Valley was conquered by the Mexica emperor Axayacatl. Not surprisingly, these migrants kept their native calpolli organization when they settled in Toluca. That leaves only one possible mention of a calpolli in the Toluca Valley, from a document from Zinacantepec in 1574, cited in an article by Megged. The context is not clear from his article, however.

On the basis of this quick review, it looks to me like the calpolli was not a regular unit of social organization in the Toluca Valley and Calixtlahuaca in Postclassic or early colonial times. This is by no means a firmly-established finding, and I will keep trying to test it; my next step is probably to talk to some of the historians who know the Toluca documents well.

But if this finding holds up, what does it mean? Right now I will only say that the lack of calpollis would suggest that local social organization at Calixtlahuaca was very different from the patterns I found in Morelos. And now it is time for all of us project members to think about the possible implications of this for our understanding of Calixtlahuaca.

Some sources on the calpolli

Carrasco, Pedro  (1972)  La casa y hacienda de un señor tlahuica. Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 10:235-244.

Hicks, Frederic  (2010)  Labor Squads, Noble Houses, and Other Things called "Barrios" in Aztec Mexico. Nahua Newsletter 49:13-21.

Lockhart, James  (1992)  The Nahuas After the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Reyes García, Luis  (1996)  El término calpulli en documentos del siglo XVI. In Documentos nahas de la Ciudad de México del siglo XVI, edited by Luis Reyes García, Celestino Eustaquio Solís, Armando Valencia Ríos, Constantino Medina Lima and Gregorio Guerrero Días, pp. 21-68. CIESAS, Mexico City.

Smith, Michael E.  (1993)  Houses and the Settlement Hierarchy in Late Postclassic Morelos: A Comparison of Archaeology and Ethnohistory. In Prehispanic Domestic Units in Western Mesoamerica: Studies of the Household, Compound, and Residence, edited by Robert S. Santley and Kenneth G. Hirth, pp. 191-206. CRC Press, Boca Raton.