João José Reis
Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, slave revolts were frequent and remarkable for their ambitions, success, and diversity of participating elements. Two urban revolts of the nineteenth century were especially significant. First, the Tailor’s Rebellion of 1798, in Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, drew on the assistance of freedmen, people of mixed race, and even craftspeople of Spanish descent. The second was a Muslim-inspired and Muslim-directed uprising of slaves in Bahia in 1835, organized by African-born freedmen and slaves who had attained an Islamic education in West Africa before enslavement. This Muslim revolt is particularly fascinating because of the role of written documents, here deployed as protective amulets, among the members of the slave resistance. This excerpt from a book by a Brazilian scholar attempts to demonstrate the role of the written word in this rebellion, illustrating another, and less frequently recognized, “power” within historical documents.
João José Reis, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, trans. Arthur Brakel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 99–103.
Bernardino de Sahagún
The document included here contains descriptions of the monumental and agonizing events of the Spanish conquest of Mexico from the Aztec perspective. It was compiled at the behest and under the supervision of a Franciscan friar, Bernardino de Sahagún (149—1590). Sahagún had arrived in New Spain, as the territory had been designated by Cortés, in 1529 at the age of thirty. He soon acquired a sophisticated mastery of Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and over the years he collected an invaluable mass of material relating to preconquest life of the native peoples. Beginning in 1547, the material was acquired by native Americans who were taught to write and who recorded the memories of elderly nobles who had witnessed the events. Later, Sahagún put the material together and edited it, finishing his General History of New Spain in 1577. Although the text was compiled under Spanish auspices and given final form by a Spanish Franciscan priest, it nonetheless imparts a sense of how the events of the conquest were perceived by the Aztecs themselves.
Excerpted from The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, edited and with an introduction by Miguel Leon-Portilla (Boston: Beacon Press, 1962), 22–31, 33–35, 40–41, 51–52, 63–68.
This early eighteenth-century painting from the Church of San Pedro in Lima, Peru, radiates Jesuit pride. Flanked by personifications of the four continents in the foreground, the giant Atlas presents the world to St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the order. Other Jesuit saints—St. Francis Borja on the left pedestal, St. Francis Xavier on the right pedestal, and Matteo Ricci, in the background, robed in Chinese-style vestments —represent the order’s missionary and preaching vocations. At the bottom of the painting, the peoples the Jesuits converted kneel in prayer
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
This panel from a temple in the Mayan city of Palenque contains glyphs (forming a caption) and two figures. A captive kneels before a standing warrior who holds a flint spear and wears a war headdress. The large text to the left records an event at Palenque that occurred in 490. The small text above the kneeling figure gives the name of a captive.
Drawing by Linda Schele © David Schele. The Linda Schele Drawings Collection, http://research.famsi.org/schele_list.php?_allSearch=118.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento
The journalist and eventual Argentine president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811–1888) is most famous today for his novel Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism (1845), a sharp and daring satire of the caudillo Juán Manuel de Rosas. His indictment of Rosas, thinly disguised as the biography of another brutal dictator (called Juán Facundo Quiroga), was written while Sarmiento was an exile from the regime. Representing the government of Chile, Sarmiento traveled throughout Europe, North Africa, and North America, observing local political and social conditions closely and comparing them with what he knew of Argentine society. The result is a fascinating travelogue of his impressions of and reactions to the people of the United States, with vivid descriptions of many of its manmade and natural wonders. Nevertheless, his hopes for his native Argentina were never very far from the foreground, as this excerpt reveals.
Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’, Travels in the United States in 1847, trans. Michael Aaron Rockland (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1970), 164–166.