Penn Library

CULTURAL READINGS: Colonization & Print in the Americas


A New World of Words: Amerindian Languages in the Colonial World

Daniel J. Slive, Coordinator of Reader and Bibliographic Services, The John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island

Originally presented in conjunction with an exhibition held at the John Carter Brown Library, February 14 - May 1, 1997

Do not cite without permission from

Note: Links in this essay refer to related pages in the exhibition.

"Language has always been the companion of empire."
-- Antonio de Nebrija, Gramática sobre la lengua castellana, 1492.

The difficulties of communicating across cultural, ideological, and linguistic boundaries played a role in relations between natives and Europeans throughout the colonial period. In addition to negotiating practical matters such as trade and the control of territory, Europeans also wished to communicate theological concepts for the purpose of converting Indians to Christianity. These various aspects of colonization contributed to the documentation and utilization of Indian languages in texts printed both in Europe and the Americas.

The early publication of Amerindian languages, in the form of word lists and brief vocabularies, appeared in accounts of voyages and travels and other records of colonial expansion. These initial word- gatherings eventually expanded into more comprehensive vocabularies and dictionaries. Missionaries, who often spent years in a region learning the local language, collaborated with native speakers to create dictionaries and grammars. These books were intended to train others in speaking the indigenous languages in which they would proselytize. In addition to language-learning tools, doctrines, catechisms, confession manuals, and devotional works were also printed in Indian languages to assist in the instruction and conversion of indigenous peoples.

One of the enormous difficulties was the transcription of indigenous languages into written form using the roman alphabet. In contrast to the majority of published Indian language works listed here, Section VI, "Indian Language Texts: Other Representations," presents a brief selection of native American modes of recording information. While these texts offer a glimpse of pre-contact indigenous life, it is important to note that these artifacts are also seen through the lens of Europe and colonial America, with its printing presses and distinctive print culture.

I. First Impressions

1. Pietro Martire d'Anghiera. De orbe novo decades. Alcalá de Henares, 1516.
A member of the Council of the Indies and chronicler for the Spanish Crown, Peter Martyr produced the first official history of the New World. Appended to the 1516 edition, edited by the Renaissance humanist Antonio de Nebrija, is a five page "Vocabula Barbara" including words from the Antilles.

2. Antonio Pigafetta. Le voyage et navigation faict par les Espaignolz es Isles de Mollucques. . . . Paris, [1525].
Pigafetta's account of the Spanish expedition around the world from 1519 to 1522, under the command of Ferdinand Magellan, includes brief lists of words heard in Brazil and Patagonia.

3. Jean de Léry. Histoire d'un voyage fait en la terre du Bresil, autrement dite Amerique. La Rochelle, 1578.
Léry was a French Calvinist minister who lived in the Rio de Janeiro area in 1556-1557 during an unsuccessful attempt at French colonization in Brazil. A colloquy between a Frenchman newly arrived in Brazil and a native serves as an introduction to the Tupinamba language, including basic grammatical rules and words and phrases useful for travellers.

4. Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga. La Araucana. Madrid, 1590.
Alonso de Ercilla was a courtier and soldier who fought in the Spanish wars against the Araucanian Indians of northern Chile. His epic poem records the history of these battles and the eventual defeat of the natives. In the preface to the first part, published in 1569, Ercilla explains particular terms "which because they are of Indian origin, are not well understood." In the 1590 edition, which incorporates all three parts of the poem, the poet expanded this small list into a glossary of "words and names, which although of indigenous origin, are heard and used so often in that region, that they have not been translated into Spanish."

5. Jacques Cartier. Discours de voyage fait par le Capitaine Iaques Cartier aux terres-neufues. Rouen, 1598.
A brief vocabulary of the Huron language consists of words for the numbers one through ten and names of parts of the body. It is appended to an account of Cartier's first voyage to New France in 1534.
This French edition itself represents a series of translation processes, since the text was first published in Venice in 1556 as volume three of Ramusio's Navigationi et viaggi. That Italian translation had in turn been based on an unpublished French manuscript.

6. Pablo José de Arriaga. Extirpacion de la idolatria del Piru. Lima, 1621.
Arriaga, a Jesuit missionary, wrote about the eradication of idolatry in the Andes following his experiences as a visitador, investigating manifestations of indigenous worship. His manual included a glossary of 64 words, including terms and objects related to ritual practices.

7. William Wood. New Englands prospect. A true, lively, and experimentall description of that part of America, commonly called New England. London, 1634.
Intended to "enrich the knowledge of the mind-travelling Reader, or benefit the future Voyager," Wood's New Englands prospect was the first printed detailed account of the geography and natives of Massachusetts. The five-page Indian vocabulary predates Roger Williams's A Key into the language of America by 9 years and John Eliot's "Indian Bible" by 27 years, although both men may have assisted the author in the compilation of this "small nomenclator."
Wood writes that "their language is hard to learn; few of the English being able to speak any of it, or capable of the right pronunciation, which is the chief grace of their tongue . . . They love any man that can utter his mind in their words, yet are they not a little proud that they can speake the English tongue, using it as much as their own, when they meet with such as can understand it, puzzling strange Indians, which sometimes visit them from more remote places, with an unheard language."

8. Joannes de Laet. L'histoire du nouveau monde ou Description des Indes Occidentales. Leyden, 1640.
Included in this French edition of Laet's Beschrijvinghe van West-Indien are vocabularies of Amerindian languages not found in the earlier Dutch edition. The linguistic material is mostly derived from Giovanni Battista Ramusio's 1556 compilation of documents concerned with European expansion entitled Terzo volume delle Navigationi et viaggi.

9. Antonio de León Pinelo. Epitome de la biblioteca oriental i occidental, nautica i geografica. Madrid, 1629.
This first edition of the first bibliography of Americana included a table of the 44 languages represented by the cited works, with annotations indicating where those languages were spoken. León Pinelo includes 23 Amerindian languages in his list, concluding with five languages spoken in New Spain: Tarasca, Totonaca, Zacapula, Zapoteca, and Zoque.

II. Dictionaries and Vocabularies

10. Alonso de Molina. Aqui comiença un vocabulario en la lengua Castellana y Mexicana. Mexico, 1555.
The earliest printed dictionary of any Amerindian language, Molina's vocabulary is arranged alphabetically, translated from Spanish into "Mexicana" or Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. The author came to Mexico as a child soon after the Conquest and served as an interpreter between the first missionaries and the natives. In addition to this vocabulary, he also wrote other works in Nahuatl, including a grammar, a Confesionario breve, a Confessionario mayor, and a Doctrina christiana.

11. Domingo de Santo Tomás. Lexicon, o Vocabulario de la lengua general del Peru. Valladolid, 1560.
The author of this Quichua vocabulary was a Dominican priest and the first bishop of Charcas in Peru. The volume also contains his Grammatica, o Arte de la lengua general de los Indios de los reynos del Peru, the earliest grammar of the Quichua language.

12. Gabriel Sagard. Dictionaire de la langue huronne, necessaire à ceux qui n'ont l'intelligence d'icelle, & ont à traiter avec les sauvages du pays. Paris, 1632.
The first printed Huron dictionary was issued as part of Sagard's Le grand voyage du pays des Hurons. The author was a Recollect lay-brother who spent ten months in New France in 1624. His work is considered one of the most informative texts on the Huron language and a major source regarding the Recollect missions from 1615 to their expulsion from New France in 1629.

13. Roger Williams. A key into the language of America: or, An help to the language of the natives in that part of America, called New-England. London, 1643.
The earliest book devoted to an Amerindian language printed in English was also the first book published by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. Dictionaries, vocabularies, grammars, and religious works had already been produced for the native languages of Spanish America and New France, but this was the first such book generated in the British colonies.
The phrasebook is comprehensive in its treatment of Narragansett Indian life. Williams attempted to cover everything from the essentials of food, clothing, and shelter to customs, government, religion, commerce, and natural history. The author observes in the section on travel that the Narragansetts "are joyfull in meeting of any in travell, and will strike fire either with stones or sticks, to take Tobacco, and discourse a little together."

14. Raymond Breton. Dictionaire caraibe-françois, mesle de quantité de remarques historiques pour l'esclaircissement de la langue. Auxerre, 1665.

15. Charles de Rochefort. Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l'Amerique... Avec un vocabulaire Caraïbe. Rotterdam, 1658.
Father Breton, a French Dominican who served as a missionary on the island of Dominica, compiled this Carib-French dictionary. A small portion of his work appeared earlier in a 13-page "Vocabulaire Caraïbe," published in Rochefort's Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l'Amerique... Avec un vocabulaire Caraïbe. In the latter work, however, the words were arranged by subjects rather than alphabetically.
Bound with this copy of Breton's Carib-French dictionary is the author's French-Carib dictionary of 1666. In addition, the Dominican wrote a catechism (1664) and a grammar (1667). All of these Carib language books were printed in Auxerre, France.

16. Antonio Ruiz de Montoya. Vocabulario de la lengua guarani. Santa María la Mayor, 1722.
This Guarani vocabulary was printed by the Jesuits' mission press in Paraguay, which operated between 1700 and 1727. It was excerpted, with revisions, from the 1640 Madrid edition of Ruiz de Montoya's Arte, y bocabulario de la lengua guarani. The mission press also published an edition of the author's Arte de la lengua guarani in 1724.

17. Johann Anderson. Herrn Johann Anderson, I. V. D. und weyland ersten Bürgermeisters der Freyen Kayserlichen Reichsstadt Hamburg, Nachrichten von island, Grönland und der Strasse Davis. Hamburg, 1746.
The appendix of this description of Iceland and Greenland consists of a brief vocabulary, a grammar, and some statements of Christian faith and prayers, all in Danish, German, and the Eskimo language, except for the grammar which excludes Danish. The work was reprinted in German the following year and was also translated into Dutch, Danish, and French by 1750.

18. M. D. L. S. Dictionnaire galibi, présenté sous deux formes. Paris, 1763.
Compiled chiefly from the manuscripts of the Jesuit Pierre Pelleprat, a missionary in Guiana, this dictionary is variously attributed to Simon Philibert de la Salle de L'Etang and M. de la Sauvage. Earlier published Galibi vocabularies by Antoine Biet (1664) and Paul Boyer (1654) were also incorporated. It was issued as part of the Chevalier de Préfontaine's Maison rustique, a guide for successful emigration to Guiana, and was also published as a separate work. The author expressed his confidence that the dictionary would be one of the "principal sources of success" for the colony.

19. Jonathan Carver. Travels through the interior parts of North America, in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768. London, 1778.
In the chapter entitled "Of their Language, Hieroglyphicks, &c," short vocabularies and numerical terms are given for the "Chipéway" and "Naudowessie" languages. Carver, a British captain in the Seven Years War, claimed the former "appears to be the most prevailing [of the natives of North America]; it being held in such esteem, that the chiefs of every tribe . . . speak this language alone in their councils, notwithstanding each has a peculiar one of their own." At least a dozen English editions, plus French, German, and Dutch translations of Carver's Travels, were published before 1800.

III. Grammars and Instructions

20. Ludovico Bertonio. Arte y grammatica muy copiosa dela lengua aymara. Rome, 1603.
Bertonio was a Jesuit missionary who served in the Lake Titicaca region of Peru. He had also published in the same year a more concise Arte breve de lengua aymara, which he felt was insufficient for learning the language but could serve as an introduction to this version. In addition to these grammatical works, he also wrote a confessionario and a vocabulario in Aymara.

21. Luis de Valdivia. Doctrina christiana y cathechismo en la lengua allentiac, que corre en la ciudad de S. Juan de la Frontera, con un Confessonario [sic], Arte, y Bocabulario breves. Lima, 1607.
In addition to printing numerous works in Nahuatl and Quichua, printers in Mexico and Peru also published works for the conversion of natives who lived beyond the borders of the Aztec and Inca empires. For the Allentiac language of the Cuyo region of northern Argentina, the Jesuit Valdivia wrote one of the few studies ever made of the language, accompanied by a short vocabulary, confession, catechism, and Christian doctrine.

22. Melchor Oyanguren de Santa Inés. Arte de la lengua Japona. Mexico, 1738.
The printing of language-learning materials in Mexico extended beyond locally spoken dialects to include this grammar printed for missionaries preparing to work in Japan. Not having access to any oriental typefaces, the Japanese words were printed phonetically using roman type.

23. Ildefonso José Flores. Arte de lengua metropolitana del reyno Cakchiquel o Guatemalico. Antigua, 1753.
Authors of Amerindian grammars often remarked that the sound of the native languages could not be adequately conveyed using standard roman typefaces. In his Cakchikel grammar, Flores attempted to introduce additional symbols to convey the proper pronunciation.

24. Horacio Carochi. Compendio del arte de la lengua mexicana. Mexico, 1759.
This second, abridged edition of Carochi's Arte, included additions by Ignacio de Paredes, sometime superior of the Jesuit seminary at Tepotzotlan and rector of the college of San Andrés in Mexico. The copperplate engraving of St. Ignatius of Loyola instructing the peoples of the world also served as the frontispiece to Paredes's 1759 Promptuario manual mexicano, a work containing 52 sermons and 40 moral discussions in Nahuatl.

25. Andrés Febrés. Arte de la lengua general del reyno de Chile. Lima, 1765.
The Jesuit Andrés Febrés compiled this manual for learning the Araucanian language during his first years as a missionary among the Indians of northern Chile. In addition to the grammatical instruction, the work includes a dialogue between two caciques, the Christian doctrine, a brief dictionary, and an extensive vocabulary.

26. Thomas Gage. The English-American his travail by sea and land: or, A new survey of the West-India's. London, 1648.
Gage, an Englishman, spent a dozen years in Mexico and Guatemala after joining the Dominican order in Spain. Published after his return to England and his renunciation of Catholicism, his "new survey" was immensely popular as the first extensive account of the Spanish colonies in the New World published in the seventeenth century. The book went through four English editions and was also translated into German, Dutch, and French before 1700. Printed at the end of his book are "Some brief and short rules for the better learning of the Indian tongue called Poconchi, or Pocoman, commonly used about Guatemala and some other parts of Honduras."

27. John Eliot. The Indian grammar begun. Cambridge, 1666.
With the assistance of a native interpreter, Eliot wrote this introductory grammar to the Massachuset language for the officers of The Society or Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America. The printer, Marmaduke Johnson, had also assisted in the production of the New Testament (1661) and the Bible (1663) in the same native language.

28. David Zeisberger. Essay of a Delaware-Indian and English spelling-book, for the use of the schools of the Christian Indians on Muskingum River. Philadelphia, 1776.
Zeisberger was born in Moravia in 1721 and served as a missionary in North America from 1740 until his death in 1808. In addition to this introduction to the Delaware language, he also produced a trilingual dictionary in German, English, and Delaware.
The author expressed dissatisfaction with this publication of his work as four articles in his original manuscript (including reading lessons, conjugation examples, the Delaware numbers, and a short history of the Bible) were omitted and apparently replaced with the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and a short litany, all in Delaware and English.

29. Daniel Claus. A primer for the use of the Mohawk children. London, 1786.
After introducing alphabets and vocabularies, the remainder of this primer is devoted to Christian doctrine and prayers, with the English and Mohawk languages on opposite pages. The engraved frontis-piece of Indian children in a classroom represents the intention of the work stated on the title page: "To acquire the spelling and reading of their own, as well as to get acquainted with the English, Tongue." Claus, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Canada for the British goverment, also translated The order for morning and evening prayer, and administration of the Sacraments, and some other offices of the Church of England into Mohawk.

IV. Sacred Texts

30. Juan de la Cruz. Doctrina christiana en la lengua guasteca co[n] la lengua castellana. Mexico, 1571.
Juan de la Cruz's Doctrina christiana is the most profusely illustrated book printed in Mexico in the sixteenth century. The text contains 73 separate woodcuts, some used multiple times to bring the total number of illustrations to 130. Nearly all of the illustrations had been used previously, either in Maturino Gilberti's 1558 Thesoro spiritual en lengua de mechuaca[n] or Pedro de Feria's 1567 Doctrina christiana en lengua castellana y çapoteca.
Created expressly for this work, however, were the woodcuts of hands. The insertion of type-printed labels on the fingers allowed this mnemonic device to be used throughout the book to assist the teaching of religious concepts such as the Sacraments, the Seven Deadly Sins, and, as shown here, the Ten Commandments.

31. Catholic Church. Province of Lima. Provincial Council (1583). Confessionario para los curas de Indios. Ciudad de los Reyes [Lima], 1585.
This trilingual Confessionario, written by order of the Provincial Council of Lima of 1583-1584, was the second book printed in Lima. Written in Spanish, Quichua, and Aymara, it provided missionaries with texts enabling them to conduct confessions in two of the languages spoken in the Inca Empire. This copy is bound with two other early trilingual religious works: Tercero cathecismo y exposicion de la doctrina christiana, por sermones (Lima, 1585) and Doctrina christiana (Lima, 1584).

32. Bernardino de Sahagún. Psalmodia christiana. Mexico, 1583.
The Franciscan Fray Bernardino de Sahagún was assisted by four Nahua scholars in producing this hymnal, the only Nahuatl songbook printed in Mexico during the colonial period. The hymns were mostly derived from the liturgy and lives of the saints. The native assistants' participation included translating texts from Spanish and Latin, refining the friar's Nahuatl, and typesetting.

33. Juan Perez Bocanegra. Ritual formulario, e institucion de curas, para administrar a los naturales de este reyno. Lima, 1631.
The kinship diagram of the Inca genealogical system indicates the general rules for both acceptable and prohibited marriages: relatives may marry only at the generation of great-great-grandchildren. While representing native Andean concepts and terms, the shape and form of this diagram (without the specific Quichua terminology) may also have been based on medieval European traditions for constructing genealogical models. This bilingual manual for priests administering to Indian populations in the Andes includes instructions on conducting baptisms, confirmations, the eucharist, and confessions.

34. Samuel de Champlain. Les voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada. Paris, 1632.
Champlain's account of his voyages to Canada, and his review of other earlier French expeditions to the Americas, is considered the principal source for the early decades of French expansion to the New World. Appended to this edition of Les voyages are two religious texts translated into Canadian Indian languages. Enemond Massé's L'Oraison dominicale traduite en langage des Montagnars de Canada is a collection of short religious instructions, such as the Ten Commandments shown here, translated into Montagnais. Diego de Ledesma's Doctrine chrestienne... en langage Canadois is in the Huron language.

35. Luis Lasso de la Vega. Huei Tlamahuiçoltica omonexiti in ilhuica tlatoca Çihuapilli Santa Maria Totlaçonantzin Guadalupe. Mexico, 1649.
This relation in Nahuatl records the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the native laborer Juan Diego in 1531. In addition to these early appearances, the first miracles attributed to the Virgin are also narrated. The engraving represents Diego's audience with Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, who ultimately accepted the story of Divine Intervention after seeing the Madonna's image on the Indian's mantle.

36. Antonio de Araujo. Catecismo brasilico da doutrina christãa. Lisbon, 1686.
Used by the Society of Jesus since the Order was first established in Brazil, Father Araujo had edited this catechism in the Tupinamba language for its initial publication in 1618. This second edition, lacking some passages, was edited by Father Bartolomeu de Leão. "Poemas brasilicos," a short selection of verses composed by Father Christovaõ Valente, and advice on pronouncing the text are also included.

37. Lodovico Vincenzo Mamiani della Rovere. Catecismo da doutrina christãa na lingua brasilica da naçáo Kiriri. Lisbon, 1698.
These songs in the Kiriri language of Brazil were intended for native choir-boys. Mamiani's Catecismo also includes essential teachings and prayers such as the Ten Commandments, the Pater Noster, and the Ave Maria. The texts are presented in Kiriri and Portuguese in parallel columns.

38. Bible. Massachuset. Eliot. 1663. Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe up-Biblum God. Cambridge [Mass.], 1663.
The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Indians in New England was responsible for one of the landmarks of early printing in the British colonies. The "Eliot Indian Bible" is the first Bible printed in the New World, and the first example in history of the translation and printing of the entire Bible into a new language (Massachuset) as a means of evangelism. Eliot had previously produced the New Testament in the Massachuset tongue, also printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1661. In all of these achievements he had the assistance of native translators.

39. Martin Luther. [Kleine Katechismus. Delaware and Swedish] Lutheri catechismus, öfwersatt på American-Virginiske språket. Stockholm, 1696.
Luther's Der kleine Catechismus was translated into the Delaware, or Lénni-Lenâpé, language by the Swedish missionary Johan Campanius and edited by his grandson Thomas Campanius Holm, the first Swedish historian of the colony of New Sweden. The work was printed at royal expense, expressly for the purpose of converting the Amerindian population. In addition to the religious teachings, the volume also includes a glossary of Delaware words.

40. Johann Beck. Die leste Mensch-Sohns-Tage d. i. Unsers Schöpfers und Heilandes Jesu Christi. Utrecht, 1759.
The narrative of Jesus Christ's Passion was adapted and translated from German into the Greenland dialect of the Eskimo language by Beck, a Moravian missionary in Greenland. His translation of 133 hymns is also found in this volume.

41. José Agustín Aldama y Guevara. Alabado en lengua mexicana. Mexico, 1755.
This broadside in Nahuatl is a religious hymn that honors the Virgin of Guadalupe, whose apparition aided friars throughout the colonial period in their attempts to convert the native populations. The author's Arte de la lengua mexicana, a synthesis of earlier grammars, was published in Mexico in 1754.

42. Bernhard Havestadt. Chilidúgu sive Res Chilenses. Westphalia, 1777.
Havestadt, a Jesuit who lived in Chile for twenty years, hoped to promote knowledge of the Araucanian language, which he thought to be superior to all others, much as he believed the Chilean Andes to be greater than all other mountains. The work includes an Araucanian grammar and vocabulary, a catechism in prose and verse, organ music to accompany the poetic catechism, and the author's diary of a journey taken in Chile in 1751-1752.

43. Church of England. [Book of Common Prayer. Mohawk. 1787] The book of common prayer and administration of the sacraments, and other rites and ceremonies of the church, according to the use of the Church of England. London, 1787.
The first translation into Mohawk of The Book of Common Prayer was printed in New York in 1715, with later editions appearing in 1769 and 1780. This first illustrated edition, printed in parallel Mohawk and English, was revised by Daniel Claus, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Canada for the British government, and printed for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel with a preface provided by Charles Inglis, the first Bishop of Nova Scotia. In addition to this frontispiece of George III's reception of the Mohawk delegation to London, the volume contains eighteen engravings depicting biblical themes.

V. Secular Texts

44. Johann Friedrich Fritz. Orientalisch- und occidentalischer Sprachmeister. Leipzig, 1748.
The Lord's Prayer in eight Amerindian languages, including Mexicana and Poconchica shown here, are given in Fritz's study of languages and alphabets from around the world. These language specimens are included with other examples from Europe, Asia, and Africa. This copy is bound with the author's earlier linguistic study, Neu eröffnetes in hundert Sprachen bestehendes A.b.c. Buch, oder Gründliche Anweisung printed in Leipzig in 1743.

45. Mexico. Don Francisco Xavier Venegas de Saavedra... Ayamo moyolpachihuitia in Totlatocatzin Rey D. Fernando VII. Mexico, 1810.
This government broadside printed in Nahuatl declares the cessation of tribute payments by the Indians of Mexico to the King of Spain. The decree was enacted in reaction to the Hidalgo revolt of 1810, which had wide support among the native population.

46. Argentina. Decreto. La Asamblea general sanciona el decreto expedido por la Junta Provisional Gubernativa. Buenos Aires, 1813.
This quadrilingual document of Argentina's General Assembly ratifies the September 1, 1811 decree of the Junta Provisional Gubernativa that freed the Indians from church-related tributes and encomienda and mita obligations. It is printed in double-column format on 2 sides in Spanish, Aymara, Quichua, and Guarani.

47. Lorenzo Hervás. Catálogo de las lenguas de las naciones conocidas, y numeracion, division, y clases de estas segun la diversidad de sus idiomas y dialectos. Madrid, 1800-1805.
Hervás's six-volume catalogue of languages from around the world includes one book devoted to the Americas. The author classifies and documents languages and dialects spoken throughout the hemisphere. In the chapter on New Spain, for example, Hervás lists 45 indigenous languages spoken in the region. (For a comparison, see Antonio de León Pinelo's Epitome de la biblioteca[item 9], listing 23 Amerindian languages for the Americas which had been documented by 1629.)

VI. Indian Language Texts: Other Representations

48. Raimondo di Sangro. Lettera apologetica dell'esercitato accademico della Crusca contenente la difesa del libro intitolato Lettere d'una Peruana per rispetto alla supposizione de' quipu scritta alla Duchessa Di S****. Naples, 1750.
Born to one of the most powerful noble families of the kingdom of Naples and educated by Jesuits, Raimondo di Sangro devoted his life to mechanical invention, study, and writing. The multi-color letterpress printing seen below the engraving on this fold-out plate was produced by a process he invented. The Enciclopedia Italiana says of him: "his bizarre and acute genius, helped by a little charlatanry, yielded him a reputation throughout Italy and beyond."
In this book Sangro defends Lettres d'une peruvienne, published anonymously by Madame Graffigny in Paris, 1747. Her novel consists of thirty-eight letters supposedly composed by the Inca Princess Zilia to her lover Aza and written on quipus. These Incaic mnemonic devices are constructed of cords, usually about two feet in length and composed of various colored threads. The word quipu itself means knot, and by a system of color-coding the threads and making patterns with the knots, the Incas recorded statistical information. Sangro erroneously believed that the quipu was a writing system, and defended Madame Graffigny from detractors of her fiction. In this he was off the mark; nevertheless, his book is the earliest full study of quipus.

49. Melchisédech Thévenot. Relations de divers voyages curieux. Paris, 1672-1674.
Thévenot's Relations, issued in five parts between 1663 and 1696, contains accounts of exploration and travel in various parts of the world. The fourth part, shown here, includes a woodcut facsimile of the Codex Mendoza, which had first been reproduced in Samuel Purchas's Purchas his pilgrimes, printed in London in 1625.
This pictorial representation of Aztec history and customs was originally produced by Mexican illustrators, with inscriptions by missionaries, for the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza of New Spain in the first half of the sixteenth century. The wide scope of the codex, in Purchas's words, was a combination of "Historie, yea a Politicke, Ethike, ecclesiastike, Oeconomike History, with just distinctions of times, places, acts, and arts." In addition to the codex, Thévenot included "Relation du Mexique," a translation and abridgement of Thomas Gage's 1648 The English-American his travail by sea and land.

50. Alexander von Humboldt. Researches, concerning the institutions & monuments of the ancient inhabitants of America. London, 1814.
The English translation of Humboldt's Vues des Cordillères et monumens des peuples indigènes de l'Amérique represents two of 23 volumes in which he recorded his explorations of Latin America between 1799 and 1804. This English printing contains 22 of the 69 original illustrations including views of nature, archaeological remains, and Aztec statues and calendars. Humboldt also reproduced images from Latin American pictorial manuscripts located in European collections, such as those in the Vatican Library and the royal library in Dresden.

51. Antonio de León y Gama. Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras. Mexico, 1792.
León y Gama, whose writings contributed to the reconstruction of Mexico's pre-Hispanic past, describes and analyzes two massive carved stones discovered in 1790 during a construction project in Mexico City's Plaza Mayor. One is the Sun Stone or Calendar Stone, an immense basalt disk representing the Aztec astronomical system, with other calendaric and cosmographical symbols included.

Exhibition Contents | Introduction | Essays | Bibliography & Links

Last update: Monday, 05-Oct-2015 00:01:19 EDT
Send mail concerning this page to: