How do people meaningfully occupy the land? In sixteenth-century Mexico, Aztec and Spanish understandings of land formed the basis of their cultural identities. Their distinctive conceptions of land also established the traumatic character of cultural contact. As Philip P Arnold maintains, central to Aztec meanings of land were ceremonies to Tlaloc, god of rain, fertility, and earth. These ceremonies included child sacrifices for rain and corn, priestly auto-sacrifices at lakes, mountain veneration, and ancestor worship. What unifies these ceremonies, contends Arnold, is the Aztec understanding of food. By feeding deities of the land, human beings could eat. Seeing the valley of Mexico as Tlalocan (the place of Tlaloc) and characterising it as an 'eating landscape' illustrates an Aztec mode of occupying land. At the same time, Arnold demonstrates that the very texts that open a window on Tlaloc ceremonies were created by Spanish missionaries. Particularly important was Sahagn's Florentine Codex, which -- as was the case with the work of other ethnographers -- was intended to destroy Aztec ceremonies by exposing them through writing.
Using texts to reveal a pre-Columbian past, therefore, is problematic. Arnold therefore suggests an alternative reading of the texts with reference to the material environment of the Valley of Mexico. By connecting ceremonies to specific water courses, mountains, plants, and animals, Arnold reveals a more encompassing picture of Aztec ceremonies, revealing the gap between indigenous and colonial understandings of land. Indigenous strategies of occupying land in Mexico focused on ceremonies which addressed the material conditions of life, while colonial strategies of occupying land centred around books and other written materials such as Biblical and classical texts, ethnographies, and legal documents. These distinctive ways of occupying Tlalocan, concludes Arnold, had dramatic consequences for the formation of the Americas. Filling a gap in the coverage of Aztec cosmology, Eating Landscape brings hermeneutics to archaeology and linguistic analysis in new ways that will be of interest to historians of religion and archaeologists alike.<
Philip P Arnold