Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pre-Columbian Traditions of Horses

According to the Chronicles of Michoacan, Montezuma sent messengers to Cazonci, the Tarascan king, informing him of the coming of the Spanish and asking for help. When the ambassadors delivered their message the king was troubled. He was puzzled by their claim that the newcomers rode on "deer."

The messengers answered:

Sire, those deer must be something like a story we know in which the God Cupanzieri played ball with another God Achurihirepe, won over him and sacrificed him in a village called Xacona. He also left the later's wife pregnant with his son Siratatapeci. When the son was born he was taken to another village to be raised, as if he were a foundling. As a youth he went bird hunting with a bow and on one of those hunts he came upon a yvana which said to him, "Don't shoot me and I'll tell you something. The one you think is your father is not because your real father went to the house of the God Achirihirepe to conquer, and he was sacrificed there. When Siratatapeci heard this he went to the village of Xacona to get vengeance on his father's murderer. he excavated the place where his father was buried, exhumed him, and carried him on his back. Along the way there was a weed patch full of quail which took to flight. In order to shoot the quail he dropped his father, who turned into a deer with a mane on his neck and a long tail like those that come with the strange people (Eugene R. Craine and Reginald C. Reindrop, eds., The Chronicles of Michoacan. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970, 63-64, emphasis added).

This same account also reports that when the Spanish arrived in central Mexico, "Some called the horses deer, others tuycen, which were something like horses which the Indians made from pigweed bread for use in the feast of Cuingo and to which the fastened manes of false hair" (63-64, emphasis added). Historian Hugh Thomas notes, "The Mexicans may have continued to think of these animals as deer. But perhaps some folk memory may have reminded them that there had once been horses in the Americas" (Hugh Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 178).

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