Introduction of Horses in New Spain

Fray Diego Durán, 1570’s.

Early nineteenth-century facsimile.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Durán, Diego. “De como el Marquis del Valle Don Hernando Cortes. . . salio a conquistar las demas Provincias . . .” [Cortés and Soldiers Confront the Indians]. In La Historia antigua de la Nueva España. 19th Century. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Facsimile. November 2018. Library of Congress.


Horses have become an iconic characteristic of the Plain Indians of North America. There is an assumption that these people were always mobile through their access to horses. In reality, these long-sedentary societies were disturbed by Spain’s introduction of horses. This mobile beast gives the Plains Indians their iconic tradition of being nomadic. The introduction of horses caused different native nations to come into conflict, not only with each other but with the labor force on Spain’s territories. In reaction to the intersection of various races, the colonial government created a system to label backgrounds. The racial hierarchy that the Spanish developed was an attempt to reassert their dominance after their inability to maintain their monopoly on horses that they initially enjoyed over the Indians.

A painting from Fray Diego’s manuscript depicts the symbolism of the horses that the Spanish brought into colonial territories. This manuscript was made in the 1570’s and was not published until the 19th century. In Fray Diego Duran’s manuscript, he recorded his observations of the Indian’s society. In one of his sections, he includes a colored depiction of the confrontation between the Mexica and the powerful Spanish forces of Hernando Cortés (1485–1547) during his campaign of 1519–1521. Understanding that Fray Diego Duran was a Spanish Dominican priest, it follows that he would depict the Spanish as the superior people in the confrontation. The “history of the Indians” manuscript was likely tailored for the nobles and learned men in Spain who were not able to experience first-hand the New World. The history could also be for the patrons that financially backed the trip. In the piece, horses are leading the Spanish in the fight against the Indians. For the Spanish, this symbolizes that they are justified in invading the Indian’s land. In. Spain, horses were notable elements of heroic traditions. They represented the honor and valor of the rider and thus a sign of nobility. This sign of nobility translated into New Spain, and thus the natives that began riding horses gained status. With the Spanish losing their sign of nobility, they had to turn to a racial hierarchy to reassert their dominance. The introduction of horses was the impetus for the Spanish to create the infamous racial hierarchy. Furthermore through horses we see that once technological advancements are distributed among different people, the divide among them are minimized.




Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Mann, Charles. 1493. New York: Vintage Books, 2011.

Fray Diego Durán, La Historia antigua de la Nueva España, 19th Century facsimile, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, November, 2018, Library of Congress.

Black Drink and Native American Alcohol Use

Theodor de Bry, Belgium, 1590
Copperplate engraving
Getty Research Institute

Jacques Le Moyne was a French artist and cartographer who in 1564 traveled to an ultimately unsuccessful French colony in modern-day Florida. Much of his fifteen-month stay in Florida was spent with the native Timucuans. He spent this time creating depictions of the Timucuans and making maps of the area (near present-day Jacksonville). Unfortunately, in 1565 during a Spanish siege on the French fort, Fort Caroline, Le Moyne lost the majority of his work. After sailing back to France and eventually settling in England as a Huguenot refugee, Le Moyne recreated many of his drawings from memory. Shortly after his death in 1588, his drawings were acquired and reproduced as engravings by Theodor de Bry.


De Bry’s engravings are questioned for their veracity due to their dubious connection to Le Moyne’s original drawings, but, despite their likely embellishment, they cannot be understood as complete fabrications of Timucuan culture. This particular engraving depicts a Timucuan chief preparing his soldiers for battle by preparing black drink. Black drink is a name used for various ritual drinks used by Native Americans. It usually contained a relatively large amount of caffeine or a small amount of alcohol by today’s standards.


There exists a strong cultural association between Native Americans and a biological predisposition to alcohol abuse, but modern studies are challenging that conception. Instead, scholars are looking at other factors that may have contributed to an increased rate of alcohol consumption among Native Americans in comparison to non-Native Americans. One of the factors that may explain this discrepancy is the prominence of these black drink rituals.


In pre-Columbian America, alcohol use was strictly ritualistic. Also, as we have stated previously, the alcohol content of black drink and other alcoholic beverages in pre-Columbian America was much lower than that of the alcohol brought over by Europeans. When stronger European alcohol became available in relative abundance Native peoples had no infrastructure in place for its regulation. Native Americans’ higher incidence of binge drinking may be linked to the historical use of alcohol as a ritualistic spiritual aid. This is just one of the many possible explanations for the high prevalence of Native American alcoholism. Some scholars even suggest that alcohol use evolved into a method of protest for Native Americans.


The stereotype of the drunken Indian is a prominent and harmful one for Native Americans. It paints Native Americans as immoral pleasure seekers who would rather escape from reality than adjust to the ever-changing modern world. Yes, alcohol use played a part in the decline of the Native American, but its overuse by Native Americans can be explained by a variety of cultural factors, including the nature of Native American use of black drink and other psychoactive substances. 




Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, and Dina Gilio-Whitaker. “All the Real Indians Died off” : And 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. Boston : Beacon Press, [2016], 2016.


French, Laurence Armand. “Psychoactive Agents and Native American Spirituality: Past and Present.” Contemporary Justice Review 11, no. 2 (June 2008): 155–63.


“Le Moyne de Morgues, Jacques (1533-1588), Artist and Cartographer | American National Biography.” Accessed December 9, 2018.


“Theodor de Bry | Admiranda Narratio Fida Tamen, de Commodis et Incolarvm Ritibvs Virginiae : Nvper Admodvm Ab Anglis. . . (1590) | Artsy.” Accessed December 10, 2018.

Peyote and Diabolism in New Spain

Huichol Figure of Elder Brother

Unknown artist, Mexico. c. Late 1800s.

Clay and pigment.

Central American Ethnographic Collection, American Museum of Natural History.

Figure. Place: American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York. Donor: Lumholtz, Carl, Dr..

PROVENANCE: Figure collected by Dr. Carl Lumholtz during a trip to northern Mexico in the 1890s, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. Acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in 1894 from donor Dr. Carl Lumholtz.

Psychedelic plants are not often associated with religion. Indigenous peoples of the Americas, however, have utilized the hallucinogenic cactus peyote in religious ceremonies for centuries. This figure depicts Elder Brother, known as the god of peyote to the Huichol Indians of Mexico. Though this figure was created in the late 1800s, the use of peyote in indigenous religious practices is believed to have begun as early as 4220 BCE. In the seventeenth-century, peyote practices were interrupted with the arrival of the Spanish in what would be known as New Spain. While peyote practices of most native peoples came under attack by Spanish colonists, the Huichol people escaped Spanish rule by fleeing to nearby mountains. This figure is an important symbol of the indigenous religious beliefs which the colonists feared and attempted to suppress. 

Spanish colonists attributed the psychological effects of peyote to the work of the Devil. Peyote contains mescaline, a compound resembling LSD that places users in a state of altered reality and induces visual hallucinations. While the indigenous peoples believed that these effects were instances of contact with religious figures, the Spanish believed that these visions were about the Devil or came directly from him. Colonists also viewed peyote as a vehicle for idolatry. They concluded that the plant was either treated as a god or as an instrument through which the native peoples worshiped the Devil. Furthermore, the Spanish feared that the indigenous peoples could harness the Devil’s power, which they encountered in their use of peyote, to perform witchcraft in retaliation against colonial rule.

The colonial fear of peyote was heightened with the realization that the cactus could also affect the Spanish people. Not only had Spanish colonists begun to use peyote, but a fusion of Christianity with peyote rituals had also resulted in new syncretic practices. Although Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples alike claimed that they used peyote to see Christian figures, the combination of Christianity with presumed diabolical influence was seen as heresy by leaders of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition’s distaste for the native peoples’ religious use of peyote culminated in the 1620 peyote ban. However, this would not be the last time that a decree regarding peyote use was issued. Throughout the early twentieth century, Christian missionaries still fought to eradicate any remaining peyote use in the United States. In response, Native Americans formed the Native American Church to protect their right to use peyote in religious ceremonies. Peyote was once again banned when declared a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. It wasn’t until 1993 when Native Americans were granted the right to use peyote for religious purposes. Part of what is so notable about the history of peyote is how its perception by Spanish colonists still impacts its sociopolitical status in modern American society.

Works Cited:

Alarcón, Ruiz de, Hernando J. Richard Andrews, and Ross Hassig. Treatise on the Heathen Superstitions that Today Live Among the Indians Native to this New Spain, 1629. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984, 43.

Cervantes, Fernando. The Devil in the New World: The Impact of Diabolism in New Spain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Curatorial Notes on Figure. Mexican & Central American Ethnographic Collection. American Museum of Natural History. New York, New York. Accessed on December 8, 2018.

Dawson, Alexander. “Peyote in the Colonial Imagination.” In Peyote: History, Tradition, Politics, and Conservation, edited by Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Clancy Cavnar, 43-62. Santa Barbara: Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2016.

Halpern, John H., Andrea R. Sherwood, James I. Hudson, Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, and Harrison G. Pope. “Psychological and Cognitive Effects of Long-Term Peyote Use Among Native Americans.” Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 58 (2005): 624-631.

Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia. “Peyote: The Divine Messenger.” Season 2, Episode 2. Produced by Hamilton Morris and Bernardo Loyola. Viceland. December 2017.

Lewis, Laura A. Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

MacLean, Hope. “The “Deified” Heart: Huichol Indian Soul-Concepts and Shamanic Art.” Anthropologica 42, no. 1 (2000): 75-90. doi:10.2307/25605959.

“Outlawing of Peyote by the Spanish Inquisition.” In “Peyote and the Mexican Inquisition, 1620.” By Leonard, Irving A. American Anthropologist, New Series, 44, no. 2 (1942): 324-26.

Smythies, J. R. “The Mescaline Phenomena.” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3, no. 12 (1953): 339-47.

A Double-Edged Drum: The Power of the Drum from Africa to America

Akan Drum
Unknown creator, Ghana, c. 1735
Carved wood and deer skin.
The British Museum

PROVENANCE: Thought to have been made by the Akan people of present day Ghana; brought to America aboard slave ship; obtained in Virginia by the Rev. Clerk on behalf of British Collector Sir Hans Sloane; part of founding collection of The British Museum, 1753.

This drum originated from West Africa in the Akan region of Ghana and was brought on a slave ship to the Virginia colony c. 1735. It is one of the oldest surviving African-American objects. While the carved wood is from the cordia africana, a tree from West Africa, the deer skin is North American. This indicates that the drum was used in its new home.

Drums have played a central role in Africa throughout history. Generally the sound of the drum was an announcement, such as declarations of wars or celebrations. In his autobiography The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings the formerly enslaved African Olaudah Equiano described Africa as a nation of dancers and musicians and emphasizes the use of drums. Within a community where everyone speaks the same drum language drums can have rhetorical impact. Since drum language is specific to a community and only accessible to ‘in-group’ members, drumming contributed to the formation of personhood and group identity.

Slavers were likely to lose up to one-half of their human ‘cargo’ during the middle passage. It was in their economic interests to keep the slaves alive and healthy. The Akan Drum was likely used in the practice known as ‘dancing the slaves’. Ship doctors believed nostalgic melancholy was the cause of diseases and recommended dancing as an antidote.

The threat of violence under which slaves ‘danced’ turned music and dance into tools of subjugation. Slavers made the dancing into a form of entertainment for personal enjoyment. The ship captains’ declarations that ‘white men’ had to be obeyed enabled the slavers to use the rich legacy of African drum-dance culture to create and image of blackness and whiteness, in which blacks were the subjugated and whites the subjugators.

Female slaves were kept on the main deck of the ship where they were vulnerable to the sexual predation of the slavers. The forced dancing became a twisted form of foreplay for rape. Refusal to participate resulted in severe punishments. A young African girl on the slave ship Recovery was tortured and killed for refusing to dance. In the complete annihilation of the ‘cargo’ the slavers went against their economic interests. The girl denied the slavers power and pleasure by rebelling against the racial script of subordination they had written for her. The slavers had to destroy her in order to take back control of her body.

The use of African music, dance, and instruments on the slaves ships allowed slaves to preserve homeland traditions. Dance became an integral part of the daily lives of slaves in North America. During Saturday night dances slaves would dance to the beat of the drum and talk about the freedom they had possessed in Africa. Dance practices of the slaves became intertwined with resistance and survival.

Music and dance culture of the slaves contributed to the formation of group identity and self-esteem. This threatened the system of slavery, which relied on the complete oppression of slaves. Masters’ fear of the communicative power of drums was confirmed by the Stono rebellion of 1739 in which rebels used a drum to signal each other. Slaves were subsequently banned from using drums.

The same drum which beat for subjugation could beat for rebellion. Slavers manipulated the culturally vital African Drum to subjugate black slaves through dance. The power of an instrument like the Akan Drum to communicate and unify persisted from Africa to North America. The drum became a double edged sword which slavers used to subjugate slaves and slaves used to rebel against the system of subjugation.


Akan Drum. Early 18th Century. Carved wood and deer skin. The British Museum, London. November 13, 2018.

Anku, Willie. “Drumming Among The Akan and Anlo Ewe of Ghana: An Introduction.” African Music Vol. 8, No. 3 (2009): 38-64.

Aubrey, Thomas. The Sea-Surgeon, or the Guinea Man’s Vade Mecum. London, 1729.

Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Bokor, Michael J. K. “When the Drum Speaks: The Rhetoric of Motion, Emotion, and Action in African Societies.” A Journal of the History of Rhetoric Vol. 32: No. 2 (2014): 165-194.

Cruikshank, Isaac. The Abolition of the Slave Trade Or the Inhumanity of Dealers in Human Flesh Exemplified in Captn. Kimber’s Treatment of a Young Negro Girl of 15 for her Virjen (sic) Modesty. 1792 April 10. Etched Print. Library of Congress, Washington D.C. In Ring Shout, Wheel About. Champaign: University of Illinois, 2014, 43.

“Dance among Slaves.” Gale Library of Daily Life: American Civil War. November 16, 2018.

Emery, Lynne Fauley. Black Dance From 1619 to Today. Princeton: Princeton Book Company, 1988.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Group, 2003.

Mallipeddi, Ramesh. “‘A Fixed Melancholy’: Migration, Memory, an the Middle Passage.” The Eighteenth Century Vol. 55: Nos. 2-3 (2014): 235-253.

Neely, Paula K. “Akan Drum.” Dig Into History Vol. 20, No. 5, (May-June 2018): 57.

Thompson, Katrina Dyonne. Ring Shout, Wheel About. Champaign: University of Illinois, 2014.

The Portrayal of Black Identity in Casta Painting

No. 4. De español y negra, nace mulata

Andrés de Islas, Mexico, 1774

Oil on canvas

75 x 54 cm

Museo de América, Madrid

de Islas, Andrés. No. 4. De español y negra, nace mulata (From Spaniard and Black, a Mulata is Born). 1774. Oil on canvas. Museo de América, Madrid. In Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, 116.

Andrés de Islas produced this painting in Mexico as part of a series of casta paintings that introduce the Black African-Spaniard lineage. Although the purpose for commissioning such paintings are not well understood, casta paintings are theorized to have served as a souvenir for wealthy European audiences. This enabled them to have a unique glimpse of colonial life. In effect, this painting would have been a part of a series that depicts the racial hierarchy of Latin America.

Islas introduces the concept of Black African-Spaniard lineage in this painting by depicting a violent domestic encounter between a Black African woman and a Spanish man. In this conflict, the Black African woman grabs the hair of a Spanish man and is about to strike him with a kitchen utensil. In response, the Spanish man expresses shock while protecting himself from getting injured. In the midst of this conflict, their mulatto daughter pushes on her mother’s leg. In the painting, Islas highlights the various exotic fruits and vegetables in Latin America by comparing them to the oddity of the Spaniard-Black African couple and their mulatto daughter.

In the seventeenth century, elite members of society exerted great power over those of African descent and enforced rigorous laws after Africans incited a mass riot in 1611. In the eighteenth century, the elite members of Latin American society saw that the categories of the Latin American caste system were deteriorating. However, they commissioned paintings which continued to illustrate a taxonomy of castas that was no longer functioning. Appealing to a foreign audience, Europeans and elite members of Latin American society may have commissioned a casta painting like this one to enforce the ideals of a deteriorating casta system and maintain exclusive economic privileges.

In doing so, they resisted the social advancement of Africans, who were acquiring the power to purchase whiteness and attain social mobility. Elite members of society responded in protest to this and complained that those of African descent were “people who in our houses one would not give a seat”.[1] To express their fear of those of African descent, the elite commissioned paintings that displayed them in unstable domestic settings. Moreover, to emphasize the debased social dynamic that a household with one of purely African blood could create, Islas juxtaposes this painting with more stable households characterized by familial members who produce children with fair skin.

[1] Ann Twinam, “Purchasing Whiteness,” in Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America, ed. Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O’Hara (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 152.


Carrera, Magali. Imagining Identity in New Spain. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.

Katzew, Ilona. Casta Painting : Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

Twinam, Ann, “Purchasing Whiteness,” in Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America, ed. Andrew B. Fisher and Matthew D. O’Hara. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009, 141-165.


The Chocolate Cup

De español y negra, mulato, 6. (detail)

José de Páez, Mexico, ca. 1770-1780

Oil on canvas

Private collection

de Páez, José. No. 4. De español y negra, nace mulata (From Spaniard and Black, a Mulata is Born). 1774. Oil on canvas. Museo de América, Madrid. In Casta Painting: Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004, 24.

This detail is a part of a casta painting produced by José de Páez in Mexico. In the painting, a woman of African descent is being depicted as a preparer of hot chocolate for her Spanish husband. This hot chocolate would be served in a jicara or chocolate cup that was used specifically for drinking hot chocolate. This detail is an example of how chocolate and the chocolate cup would become associated with women who were the common preparers of the beverage.

Hot chocolate was a beverage that was the most universally embraced by European settlers of the New World. Colonial writers almost unanimously praised the beverage and declared that it was “the healthiest and most sustaining food in the world”.[1] Since the consumption of chocolate constituted European’s first exposure to the caffeine, it is likely that Europeans thought chocolate was stimulating and beneficial to one’s health. Hot chocolate, in fact, became immensely popular to the point that it was considered a geographically appropriate substitute for wine.

In the mid-sixteenth century, chocolate consumption was widespread because there was a shortage of Spanish women in the New World. This shortage motivated settlers to depend on indigenous women for meal preparation. However, when colonial settlement was established for a few decades, chocolate was seen as a drink that was favored by women in particular. With this association, Europeans’ attitudes towards indigenous women as welcomed preparers of chocolate transformed into a fear of the power they could exert with the product.

For Europeans, their reliance on indigenous women to prepare, serve, and drink chocolate transforms into a fear of their spirituality. Chocolate became associated with sexual witchcraft and had aphrodisiac qualities that women took advantage of to exert power over the men in their lives. Women were therefore placed on Inquisition trials by the Church for preparing and using of chocolate as a mechanism for controlling men’s sexuality. While clergy members like the English priest Thomas Gage privately prepared and consumed chocolate for themselves, the Church fearfully condemned women’s use of chocolate in a contradictory manner.


[1] Rebecca Earle, The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 131.


Earle, Rebecca. The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Few, Martha. “Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Guatemala.” Ethnohistory, vol. 52, no. 4, Fall 2005.

Gage, Thomas. The English American: A New Survey of the West Indies, 1648. New York: Routledge, 1928. Accessed October 8, 2018.

Norton, Marcy. Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures: A History of Tobacco and Chocolate in the Atlantic World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.

Khipu in New Spain

Unknown maker (Inka),
c. 1400-1532.
Cotton or wool cords, knotted, twisted and dyed. 85 x 108 cm.
Cleveland Museum of Art

While very few remain in the present, Khipu were very important and widespread bureaucratic tools of the Inka Empire (c. 1418-1572). Made of cotton or wool cords, khipu were organized along a primary cord that housed a series of pendant cords, which could in turn host up to 10-12 layers of subsidiary cords. Khipu communicated numerical data from the provinces of the empire by delineating particular values on the basis of cord color, knot type, and placement.

Citizens of the empire were organized into units of 10, 50, 100, and furthermore up to the total population of each of the 80 provinces. Each of these units had an appointed leader. The organization of khipu follows this model, with the smallest subsidiary cords representing the smallest data set and the primary cord the conglomerate of data.

Only specialized scribes – selected by officials for their integrity and talent – were allowed be khipumayaq, or khipu makers. Furthermore, the ability to read and interpret khipu was a specialized skill. These khipumayaq worked in specific teams to ensure that all data sets were counted by multiple officials. Each khipumayaq team was only responsible for and able to read and create a section of the total khipu, in order to maintain checks and balances. Additionally, each team inspected the work of the team before them. For these reasons, the Spanish census makers who observed khipu being used in the sixteenth-century emphasized its reliability and accuracy.

Khipu were transported back to Cusco along the Inka Empire’s sophisticated system of roads and runners. These runners transported the khipu and were able to communicate numerical data to different provinces and officials.

Because khipu is an unconventional system of accounting, it was considered sufficient evidence by the Spanish of the lack of civilization in the Andean region to justify the subjugation of the Inkan people into the encomienda system. Due to the specialized nature of its construction and limited legibility, Spanish surveyors regularly classified khipu as less than a writing system. Because it needed to be recited by khipumayaq, khipu was also closely associated with the oral tradition, which was considered an unreliable source of information by western audiences. Spanish writers also compared the khipu to women’s prayer beads.

While the Third Lima Council’s order to destroy “idolatrous” khipu in 1583 may have played a role in their scarcity today, recent scholarship suggests a civil war immediately before the Spanish conquest is probably a more substantial reason for their absence. Their early disappearance would also explain why the Spanish failed to recognize khipu’s significance.



Brokaw, Galen. A History of the Khipu. Cambridge Latin American Studies, 2010.

Cobo, Bernabé. History of the Inca Empire: An Account of the Indians’ Customs and Their Origin, Together with a Treatise on Inca Legends, History, and Social Institutions. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.

de la Vega, Garcilaso. Royal Commentaries of the Yncas. Translated by Clements Markham. England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2010.

Harvard University. “What is a Khipu?” Khipu Database Project. Last modified September 2018.

Image from: Artstor. “Inka Khipu (Fiber Recording Device).” Artstor Digital Library. Accessed Dec. 6th, 2018.;prevRouteTS=1544122826172