Découverte de l’Amérique/518e: Pire qu’Attila et Hitler réunis! (The trouble with Columbus)

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Une grande civilisation n’est conquise de l’extérieur que si elle est détruite de l’intérieur. Will Durant 
La manière la plus forte d’adorer Dieu est de lui offrir un sacrifice. […] De plus, la nature nous apprend qu’il est juste d’offrir à Dieu […] les choses précieuses et excellentes, à cause de l’excellence de sa majesté. Or, selon le jugement humain et selon la vérité, rien dans la nature n’est plus grand ni plus précieux que la vie de l’homme ou l’homme lui-même. C’est pourquoi c’est la nature elle-même qui enseigne et apprend à ceux qui n’ont pas la foi, la grâce ou la doctrine […] qu’ils doivent sacrifier des victimes humaines au vrai Dieu ou aux faux dieux qu’ils pensent être le vrai. Bartolomé de las Casas,
The evidence of Aztec cannibalism has largely been ignored and consciously or unconsciously covered up. Michael Harner (New School for Social Research)
Dr. Harner’s theory of nutritional need is based on a recent revision in the number of people thought to have been sacrificed by the Aztecs. Dr. Woodrow Borah an authority on the demography of ancient Mexico at the University of California, Berkeley, has recently estimated that the Aztecs sacrificed 250,000 people a year. This consituted about 1 percent of the region’s population of 25 million. (…) He argues that cannibalism, which may have begun for purely religious reasons, appears to have grown to serve nutritional needs because the Aztecs, unlike nearly all other civilizations, lacked domesticated herbivores such as pigs or cattle. Staples of the Aztec diet were corn and beans supplemented with a few vegetables, lizards, snakes and worms. There were some domesticated turkeys and hairless dogs. Poor people gathered floating mats of vegetation from lakes. (…) In contemporary sources, however, such as the writings of Hernando Cortes, who conquered the Aztecs in 1521, and Bernal Diaz, who accompanied Cortes, Dr. Hamer says there is abundant evidence that human sacrifice was a common event in every town and that the limbs of the victims were boiled or roasted and eaten. Diaz, who is regarded by anthropologists as a highly reliable source, wrote in “The Conquest of New Spain,” for example, that in the town of Tlaxcala “we found wooden cages made of lattice‐work in which men and women were imprisoned and fed until they were fat enough to be sacrificed and eaten. These prison cages existed throughout the country.” The sacrifices, carried out by priests, took place atop the hundreds of steepwalled pyramids scattered about the Valley of Mexico. According to Diaz, the victims were taken up the pyramids where the priests “laid them down on their backs on some narrow stones of sacrifice and, cutting open their chests, drew out their palpitating hearts which they offered to the idols before them. Then they kicked the bodies down the steps, and the Indian butchers who were waiting below cut off their arms and legs. Then they ate their flesh with a sauce of peppers and tomatoes.” (…) Diaz’s accounts indicate that the Aztecs ate only the limbs of their victims. The torsos were fed to carnivores in zoos. According to Dr. Harner, the Aztecs never sacrificed their own people. Instead they battled neighboring nations, using tactics that minimized deaths in battle and maximized the number of prisoners. The traditional explanation for Aztec human sacrifice has been that it was religious—a way of winning the support of the gods for success in battle. Victories procured even more victims, thus winning still more divine support in the next war. (…) Traditional anthropological accounts indicate that to win more favor from the gods during the famine the Aztecs arranged with their neighbors to stage battles for prisoners who could be sacrificed. The Aztecs’ neighbors, sharing similar religious tenets, wanted to sacrifice Aztecs to their gods. The NYT
Specialists in Mesoamerican history are going to be upset about this for obvious reasons. They’re not going to have the people they study looking like cannibals. They’re clinging to a very romantic point of view about the Aztecs. It’s the Hiawatha syndrome. Michael Harner
Some post-conquest sources report that at the re-consecration of Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs sacrificed about 80,400 prisoners over the course of four days. This number is considered by Ross Hassig, author of Aztec Warfare, to be an exaggeration. Hassig states « between 10,000 and 80,400 persons » were sacrificed in the ceremony. The higher estimate would average 15 sacrifices per minute during the four-day consecration. Four tables were arranged at the top so that the victims could be jettisoned down the sides of the temple. Nonetheless, according to Codex Telleriano-Remensis, old Aztecs who talked with the missionaries told about a much lower figure for the reconsecration of the temple, approximately 4,000 victims in total. Michael Harner, in his 1977 article The Enigma of Aztec Sacrifice, cited an estimate by Borah of the number of persons sacrificed in central Mexico in the 15th century as high as 250,000 per year which may have been one percent of the population. Fernando de Alva Cortés Ixtlilxochitl, a Mexica descendant and the author of Codex Ixtlilxochitl, estimated that one in five children of the Mexica subjects was killed annually. Victor Davis Hanson argues that a claim by Don Carlos Zumárraga of 20,000 per annum is « more plausible ». Wikipedia
Certains chercheurs ont émis l’hypothèse que l’apport en protéines des aliments dont disposaient les Aztèques était insuffisant, en raison de l’absence de grands mammifères terrestres domesticables, et que les sacrifices humains avaient pour fonction principale de pallier cette carence nutritionnelle. Cette théorie, en particulier quand elle a été diffusée par le New York Times, a été critiquée par la majorité des spécialistes de la Mésoamérique. Michael Harner a notamment accusé les chercheurs mexicains de minimiser le cannibalisme aztèque par nationalisme ; Bernardo R. Ortiz de Montellano, en particulier, a publié en 1979 un article détaillant les failles de l’analyse de Harner, en démontrant notamment que le régime alimentaire aztèque était équilibré, varié et suffisamment riche en protéines, grâce à la pêche d’une abondante faune aquatique et la chasse de nombreux oiseaux, et que donc l’anthropophagie ne pouvait pas être une nécessité, car elle n’aurait pas pu améliorer significativement un apport en protéines déjà suffisant. Michel Graulich a apporté d’autres éléments de critique. Il affirme que si cette théorie était exacte, la chair des victimes aurait dû être distribuée au moins autant aux gens modestes qu’aux puissants, mais il semble que ce n’était pas le cas ; il ajoute que seules les grandes villes pratiquaient le sacrifice humain de masse, et que ce phénomène n’a pas été prouvé dans la plupart des autres populations mésoaméricaines, dont l’alimentation semble pourtant comparable à celle des Aztèques. Wikipedia
Ces indiens, qui nous apparaissent sous un jour si féroce, ont néanmoins été à l’origine du mythe du ‘bon sauvage’. Alfred Métraux
Il n’y a rien de barbare et de sauvage en cette nation, à ce qu’on m’en a rapporté, sinon que chacun appelle barbarie ce qui n’est pas de son usage ; comme de vray il semble que nous n’avons autre mire de la verité et de la raison que l’exemple et idée des opinions et usances du païs où nous sommes. Là est tousjours la parfaicte religion, la parfaicte police, perfect et accomply usage de toutes choses. Ils sont sauvages, de mesmes que nous appellons sauvages les fruicts que nature, de soy et de son progrez ordinaire, a produicts : là où, à la verité, ce sont ceux que nous avons alterez par nostre artifice et detournez de l’ordre commun, que nous devrions appeller plutost sauvages. En ceux là sont vives et vigoureuses les vrayes, et plus utiles et naturelles vertus et proprietez, lesquelles nous avons abastardies en ceux-cy, et les avons seulement accommodées au plaisir de nostre goust corrompu. Et si pourtant la saveur mesme et delicatesse se treuve à nostre gout excellente, à l’envi des nostres, en divers fruits de ces contrées-là, sans culture. Ce n’est pas raison que l’art gaigne le point d’honneur sur nostre grande et puissante mere nature. Nous avons tant rechargé la beauté et richesse de ses ouvrages par nos inventions, que nous l’avons du tout estouffée. Si est-ce que, par tout où sa pureté reluit, elle fait une merveilleuse honte à nos vaines et frivoles entreprinses. (…) il s’en faut tant que ces prisonniers se rendent, pour tout ce qu’on leur fait, qu’au rebours, pendant ces deux ou trois mois qu’on les garde, ils portent une contenance gaye ; ils pressent leurs maistres de se haster de les mettre en cette espreuve ; ils les deffient, les injurient, leur reprochent leur lacheté et le nombre des batailles perdues contre les leurs. J’ay une chanson faicte par un prisonnier, où il y a ce traict : qu’ils viennent hardiment trétous et s’assemblent pour disner de luy : car ils mangeront quant et quant leurs peres et leurs ayeux, qui ont servy d’aliment et de nourriture à son corps. Ces muscles, dit-il, cette cher et ces veines, ce sont les vostres, pauvres fols que vous estes ; vous ne recognoissez pas que la substance des membres de vos ancestres s’y tient encore : savourez les bien, vous y trouverez le goust de vostre propre chair. Invention qui ne sent aucunement la barbarie. Ceux qui les peignent mourans, et qui representent cette action quand on les assomme, ils peignent le prisonnier crachant au visage de ceux qui le tuent et leur faisant la moue. De vray, ils ne cessent jusques au dernier souspir de les braver et deffier de parole et de contenance. Sans mentir, au pris de nous, voilà des hommes bien sauvages ; car, ou il faut qu’ils le soyent bien à bon escient, ou que nous le soyons : il y a une merveilleuse distance entre leur forme et la nostre. (…) Tout cela ne va pas trop mal : mais quoy, ils ne portent point de haut de chausses. Montaigne
Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is one of the few films that can rightly be described as a journey. The viewer is snatched from the confines (and comforts) of a Hollywood movie and thrown deep into the jungles of Central America. The film itself is a visual masterpiece; shot entirely in a Mayan dialect, Gibson flexes his visual muscles to show rather than tell. Billed as a historical drama, Apocalypto is actually part revenge flick and part chase flick. (…) The plot itself is almost secondary, and little more than an excuse for Gibson to show off his phenomenal film making talents. In addition to the stunning jungle scenes, Gibson treats us to a view of what life in a vast Mayan city may have been like at the height of its culture. Immense pyramids rise out of the foliage; prisoners are sold as slaves and sacrificed in incredibly brutal ways; those not sacrificed are used for human target practice. If you can handle gore (and really, the movie is no more violent–and in some ways, far less so–than, say, Braveheart, which took home 5 Oscars, including Best Picture), do yourself a favor and see this innovative, unique movie. As interesting as the film itself has been the reaction to it by film critics and historians alike. Those who praise the movie almost uniformly mention, if not condemn, Gibson’s infamous anti-Semitic outburst (in the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that « say what you will about him–about his problem with booze or his problem with Jews–he is a serious filmmaker »). Other critics have, curiously, dismissed the film because it doesn’t inform us about some of the accomplishments of the Mayans. « It teaches us nothing about Mayan civilization, religion, or cultural innovations (Calendars? Hieroglyphic writing? Some of the largest pyramids on Earth?), » Dana Stevens wrote in Slate. « Rather, Gibson’s fascination with the Mayans seems to spring entirely from the fact (or fantasy) that they were exotic badasses who knew how to whomp the hell out of one another, old-school. » This is a strange criticism. If you were interested in boning up on calendars, hieroglyphics, and pyramids you could simply watch a middle-school film strip. And who complained that in Gladiator Ridley Scott showed epic battle scenes and vicious gladiatorial combat instead of teaching us how the aqueducts were built? And then there have been the multi-culturist complaints. Ignacio Ochoa, the director of the Nahual Foundation, says that « Gibson replays, in glorious big budget Technicolor, an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans. » Julia Guernsey, an assistant professor in the department of art and art history at the University of Texas told a reporter after viewing the film, « I hate it. I despise it. I think it’s despicable. It’s offensive to Maya people. It’s offensive to those of us who try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own 21st century Western ones but are nonetheless valid. » Newsweek reports that « although a few Mayan murals do illustrate the capture and even torture of prisoners, none depicts decapitation » as a mural in a trailer for the film does. « That is wrong. It’s just plain wrong, » the magazine quotes Harvard professor William Fash as saying. Karl Taube, a professor of anthropology at UC Riverside, complained to the Washington Post about the portrayal of slaves building the Mayan pyramids. « We have no evidence of large numbers of slaves, » he told the paper. Even the mere arrival, at the end of the film, of Spanish explorers has been lambasted as culturally insensitive. Here’s Guernsey, again, providing a questionable interpretation of the film’s final minutes: « And the ending with the arrival of the Spanish (conquistadors) underscored the film’s message that this culture is doomed because of its own brutality. The implied message is that it’s Christianity that saves these brutal savages. » But none of these complaints holds up particularly well under scrutiny. After all, while it may not mesh well with their post-conquest victimology, the Mayans did partake of bloody human sacrifice. Consider this description of a human sacrifice from the sixth edition of University of Pennsylvania professor Robert Sharer’s definitive The Ancient Maya: The intended victim was stripped, painted blue (the sacrificial color), and adorned with a special peaked headdress, then led to the place of sacrifice, usually either the temple courtyard or the summit of a temple platform. After the evil spirits were expelled, the altar, usually a convex stone that curved the victim’s breast upward, was smeared with the sacred blue paint. The four chaakob, also painted blue, grasped the victim by the arms and legs and stretched him on his back over the altar. The Nacom then plunged the sacrificial flint knife into the victim’s ribs just below the left breast, pulled out the still-beating heart, and handed it to the chilan, or officiating priest. » That exact scene, almost word for word, takes place in Apocalypto. After the Spanish conquest, the Mayans adapted their brutal methods of pleasing the gods to coexist with Christianity. Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570 contains the following description from a contemporary source of a post-invasion sacrifice: The one called Ah Chable they crucified and they nailed him to a great cross made for the purpose, and they put him on the cross alive and nailed his hands with two nails and tied his feet . . . with a thin rope. And those who nailed and crucified the said boy were the ah-kines who are now dead, which was done with consent of all those who were there. And after [he was] crucified they raised the cross on high and the said boy was crying out, and so they held it on high, and then they lowered it, [and] put on the cross, they took out his heart. As for whether or not there have been any murals found portraying decapitation, as Prof. Fash complains, heads were certainly cut off in ceremonial fashion by the Mayans. Again, The Ancient Maya: « The sacrifice of captive kings, while uncommon, seems to have called for a special ritual decapitation . . . The decapitation of a captured ruler may have been performed as the climax of a ritual ball game, as a commemoration of the Hero Twins’ defeat of the lords of the underworld in the Maya creation myth. » The protestation against Mayan slavery, is also off the mark: The Ancient Maya repeatedly refers to the purchasing of slaves. The first European contact with the Maya resulted, ironically, in the Spaniards being enslaved. After a shipwreck, Spanish survivors landed on the east coast of Yucatan, where they were seized by a Maya lord, who sacrificed Valdivia and four companions and gave their bodies to his people for a feast. Geronimo de Aguilar, Gonzalo de Guerrero, and five others were spared for the moment. . . . Aguilar and his companions escaped and fled to the country of another lord, an enemy of the first chieftain. The second lord enslaved the Spaniards, and soon all of them except Aguilar and Guerrero died. And it should be remembered that when the Spanish arrived in force, they had little problem recruiting allies as some Mayans fought with the Spanish against their own Mayan enemies. Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest reports that what has so often been ignored or forgotten is the fact that Spaniards tended also to be outnumbered by their own native allies . . . In time, Mayas from the Calkini region and other parts of Yucatan would accompany Spaniards into unconquered regions of the peninsula as porters, warriors, and auxiliaries of various kinds. Companies of archers were under permanent commission in the Maya towns of Tekax and Oxkutzcab, regularly called upon to man or assist in raids into the unconquered regions south of the colony of Yucatan. As late as the 1690s Mayas from over a dozen Yucatec towns–organized into companies under their own officers and armed with muskets, axes, machetes, and bows and arrows–fought other Mayas in support of Spanish Conquest endeavors in the Petén region that is now northern Guatemala. Which is not to say that Gibson’s film is an entirely accurate portrayal of life in a Mayan village. As they say in the business, for the sake of narrative, certain facts have been altered. The conflation of showing massive temples and then depicting the arrival of the Spanish at the end of the film is almost certainly anachronistic. Though Apocalypto is purposefully vague about its time frame, the appearance of Spanish galleons and conquistadors at the end of the film (as well as the sight of a little girl who might be suffering from small pox) suggests the action takes place in the early- or mid-16th century. But according to Sharer, « by 900 . . . monumental construction–temples, palaces, ball courts . . . [had] ceased at most sites, as did associated features such as elaborate royal tombs and the carved stone and modeled stucco work used to adorn buildings . » Almost any historical drama will contain such problems. That being said, it is specious for professional historians and grievance groups alike to argue that Apocalypto is a wanton desecration of the memories of the Mayan people. While it may be an inconvenient fact that the Mayans were skilled at the art of human cruelty, it is, nevertheless, a fact. Sonny Bunch
Gibson’s [scenes are] vital to his larger purposes regarding the exploration of death, consciousness, and transformation” (Maca and McLeod 2007: 4). In essence, Maca and McLeod grasped the enormous metaphors that Gibson was knitting into the film. (…) Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, while it may seem on the surface to be another mindless, violent action epic, with the Maya as unwitting casualties, actually sets out to achieve similar goals: an exploration of consciousness and of modern man’s need for renewal and transformation. Like most films involving or based on native culture yet made by non-natives, Apocalypto is a grandiose and intricately nuanced commentary on white society. Because the hero and the villains are indigenous, however, the film also seeks to explore the basis of our humanity, regardless of race and ethnicity. The artistic devices Gibson uses to communicate his ideas draw heavily on tropes, symbols, and plotlines developed by earlier masters; but he also clearly develops and adopts themes and symbolic vehicles that are basic to myth and ritual. (…) Contrary to what some have concluded about this film, Apocalypto does NOT promote, celebrate or otherwise glorify the Spanish or Christianity; it is quite the opposite really. What is celebrated repeatedly is the jungle, a metaphor for peace, the higher mind and a more evolved consciousness. The jungle is a refuge… a place of understanding……where true creation and novelty may unfold……. The leading writers and directors intentionally play with symbols and meanings as a way to innovate. Not all film makers can do this very well. However, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola, respectively, are two films that set new models……Both are, explicitly and implicitly, antiwar, anti-US imperialism, and anti-colonialism and focus on the evolution of human consciousness…… These two films are at the center of the visual and philosophical mission of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. (…) we can’t help but wonder if the use of the trap in Apocalypto, as a vehicle for awareness, doesn’t also extend to our participation in Mel Gibson’s mission, such that all of us……may have been lured to exactly the space and place of discussion that he intended…. this creates discomfort even to contemplate. Alan Maca and Kevin McLeod
One of the more common struggles within anthropological disciplines is the concept of an emic interpretation (meaning the native or indigenous perceptions), as opposed to an etic interpretation (the perceptions of the observer). In some cases, a “revisionist” will ignore the facts and both the etic and emic interpretations and propose a popular perspective that is void of truth. Some more recent movements such as “aboriginalism” provides a perspective that “Indigenous societies and cultures possess qualities that are fundamentally different from those of non-Aboriginal peoples”. The avoidance of both the etic and emic perspectives will present serious flaws to an investigator and provides ample argument for a strong multidisciplinary approach to anthropological and archaeological research in the establishment of scientific “facts.” One of the more interesting examples of this problem became apparent in the release of the blockbuster film, Apocalypto, directed by actor/director Mel Gibson and produced by Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey, with Executive Producers Ned Dowd and Vicki Christianson. The film spurred a chorus of criticisms and complaints from some critics and members of the academic and native communities, a curious reaction in view of the fact that the film is entirely a work of fiction. In other cases, extraordinary praise and complements came from both critics and academic and Native American communities. A special session was organized at the American Anthropological Association meetings in 2007 entitled “Critiquing Apocalypto: An Anthropological Response to the Perpetuation of Inequality in Popular Media,” which merited being termed a “Presidential Session” sponsored by the Archaeology Division and the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. The obvious glaring flaw is that one would have to assume that it must have been established previously, somehow, that the film was a “perpetuation of inequality.” One of the organizers wrote “Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is one recent example within a history of cinematic spectacles to draw directly upon anthropological research yet drastically misinform its audience about the nature of indigenous culture”. Additional recent movies depicting the past, such as Gladiator (Ridley Scott, director). Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, director), Troy (Wolfgang Peterson, Director), or Gibson’s Braveheart and Passion of the Christ proved extraordinarily successful at the box office (Gladiator, Braveheart, Passion of the Christ), but had similar criticisms of “numerous historical inaccuracies and distortions of fact” from critics and academicians. The fascinating dichotomy of the historical truths and inaccuracies depicted in films and the emic and etic issues involved in popular movies representing the past, and in particular, the case of Apocalypto, has prompted a review of the issues of perception, relativism, revisionism, and truth and demonstrates an important need to re-evaluate anthropological trends and interpretations. In this case, the concept of aboriginalism or “exceptionalism” may have been infused in the criticisms, where it is assumed that “Aboriginal individuals and groups…assume rights over their history that are not assumed by or available to non-Aboriginals ». It is clear that many of the criticisms were a direct reflection of the disapproval of Gibson’s previous behavior, as well as a standing resentment because of the film Passion of the Christ, a movie which seemed to serve as a “pebble in the shoe” for many liberal, atheist, and in particular, Jewish people. In other cases, the criticisms were valid observations of the license taken by Gibson and the film staff in different aspects of the film Apocalypto, much of which was done for aesthetic reasons or for story expediency. One of the more comprehensive summaries of the film, the issues, and interviews as well as a host of conflicting criticisms are found online with Flixster. Some of the quibbling may have been as simple as the disagreement as to whether the High Priest had a frown or a smile on his face when he extracted a human heart in Apocalypto. This is a benign discussion and a shallow argument. A far more serious issue however, is the posture that some scholars and Native Americans have taken, which denies that human sacrifice among the Maya even took place. Such positions fall into concepts of “revisionism,” “aboriginalism,” and “relativism” that signals a threat to truth and understanding of the human saga. (…) The site selected was, interestingly enough, an ancient village site, as detected by numerous Preclassic figurine and ceramic fragments found in the area. The basic idea was to construct a Postclassic city, complete with pyramids, structures with columns, outset stairways, causeways, and residence structures. Indeed, the degree of detail in the city was extraordinary.  (…) The entire set was extraordinary in detail and represented a authentic reproduction seldom, if ever, provided on film sets. For an anthropologist, it was a time machine, because the elements, both organic and nonorganic included in the set were all characteristic of urban and village Maya societies, both past and present. However, since part of the story had to involve opulence and splendor, Gibson chose to have a small portion of the reconstructed city, which was the primary plaza and flanking structures, remain in the Classic period style since they generally were larger structures than those of the Postclassic period. A compromise was reached with the Classic period structures showing age with evidence of deterioration and decay on the buildings. In fact, to accommodate the “reality” of the setting, several of the larger Classic period structures were undergoing “remodeling” into architecture more characteristic of the Postclassic period. Even though the entire city was fictitious, the idea was to replicate the situation like that found at sites such as Cobá, Oxtankah, or Ichpaatun in Quintana Roo, Mexico, where large, earlier Classic and early Postclassic period structures were surrounded by a later Postclassic city. Yet, the primary buildings of the main plaza were designed to more closely resemble Tikal (Guatemala) because of the obvious mani- festations of splendor and cultural achievement. Therefore, some of the primary examples of art and architecture were cobbled together as general, generic Maya images. (…) the film was to be produced in Yucatec Maya, since the story was to have taken place in the general vicinity of eastern Quintana Roo, location of the first Spanish contacts by shipwrecked sailors Valdivia, Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo de Guerrero (1511), and later ship bound contact by Francisco Hernandez de Córdoba (1517) and Juan de Grijalva (1518). It was the relatively small amounts of gold and turquoise objects found among the Maya, a result of trade and contact with the Aztecs, that led to further exploration and organization of the conquest of the Aztecs in 1519 under Hernan Cortés. Furthermore, the Spanish friar, Diego de Landa explains that the Mexica had garrisons in Tabasco and Xicalango, and that the Cocom “brought the Mexican people into Mayapan” and other areas of the Yucatan Peninsula (Landa 1941: 32–36) which would explain the widespread influence that Aztec culture had on the Maya in the Yucatan area. (…) Eastern Yucatan was also selected because it would have been the source of origin for the first contact disease in the continental New World (Small Pox), a point that Gibson wanted to make with a diseased little girl (Aquetzali Garcia) in the film. (…) Upon its release in December 2006, Apocalypto was immediately declared by numerous critics as one of the most outstanding films of its genre and the “most artistically brilliant film” (…) The film was ultimately nominated for three Academy Awards in Makeup, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. According to several insid- ers to the movie industry, the film should also have been nominated for Academy Awards for Costume Design, Cinematography, Foreign-Language Film, and Supporting Actor, but Gibson’s unfortunate statements earlier in 2006 damaged his chances for such nominations (…) In spite of the laudatory recognition of the film, many negative criticisms of the film were forthcoming from members of the academic community, and much of this was conveyed to the press. New York Times writer Mark McGuire noted negative comments from anthropologists and professors at SUNY Albany in an article entitled “Apocalypto’ a pack of inaccuracies”. A letter was written to the monthly bulletin of the Society for American Archaeology (“SAA Archaeological Record”) noting that the film had “technical inaccuracies and distortions in its portrayal of the pre-Contact Maya.” “Anyone who cares about the past should be alarmed” and “Apocalypto will have set back, by several decades at least, archaeologists’ efforts to foster a more informed view of earlier cultures”. Harvard scholar David Carrasco, professor of religious history at Harvard was reported to have claimed that “Gibson has made the Maya into ‘slashers’ and their society a hypermasculine fantasy”, a curious interpretation of the film in light of late Postclassic society throughout Mesoamerica. Archaeologist Traci Ardren (University of Miami) spoke out against the film and was quoted extensively throughout U.S. press releases that Apocalypto represented “pornography” (Ardren 2006). Ardren and others had somehow assumed that the story dealt with the Late Classic Maya and the collapse in the ninth century, as one of the criticisms was that the “Spanish arrived over 300 years after the last Maya city was aban- doned” (?). Maya cities along the coastal areas were fully occupied when the Spanish arrived, with hundreds and in several cases, thousands of buildings recorded for several observed sites. However, in a conflicting argument, Ardren noted that she was aware that the “Maya practiced brutal violence upon one another” and that she had “studied child sacrifice during the Classic period” (ibid). Her fallacious supposition that it was Gibson’s intent to infuse his personal religion was evident in the arrival of the Spanish, which suggested to her that Gibson meant “the end is near and the savior has come” and that “Gibson’s efforts…mask his blatantly colonial message that the Maya needed sav- ing because they were rotten at the core” (ibid). The obvious fallacy here is that her position is based entirely on unsupported assertions. She also implied that Gibson was stating that “there was absolutely nothing redeemable about Maya culture” since there was “no mention….made of the achievements in science and art, the profound spirituality and connection to agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Maya cities”. Such an odd theoretical position is dealt with by several film critics below. While her criticisms were toned down in the special Presidential Session of the American Anthropological Association meeting in Washington, D.C., Ardren noted that: Aquetzali, (the diseased little girl with the prophetic statements) with her Hollywood lesions and Lacandon inspired styling, encapsulates the big budget manipulation of cultural history and fact that has disturbed so much of the academic and activist communities while simultaneously enthralling so much of the movie-going public. The obvious questions here are, how does the diseased little girl encapsulate a “big budget manipulation of cultural history and fact”? How does this disturb academic and activist communities? The little girl had Small Pox, a reality of death brought by the Spanish to Latin America. And, the Lacandon inspired styling was totally intentional, seeing how the Lacandon are Yucatecan Maya speakers who migrated very late in Maya history to the interior heartland. Other criticisms ranged from the presence of a blue and gold macaw (“wasn’t a scarlet macaw within reach of a multi-million dollar budget?”), the use of the eclipse (“fastest eclipse in history”), and slavery (“While the Maya engaged in slavery, the film’s sister vision of massive subjugated labor is shockingly unfamiliar”). These criticisms are curious. The blue and gold macaw was purposely incorporated to display the opulence and extensive trade networks of the Postclassic Maya, who had trading networks as far south as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The eclipse episode would have been disastrous if the audience would have been forced to sit through an entire eclipse time cycle. It is clear from the film that the elite were acutely aware of the solar event, which in reality, they most likely were. I questioned numerous colleagues (Ph.D. level scholars) about when the next eclipse was to occur, and no one could answer, much less a Postclassic populous in a 1511 fictional Maya city. As for slavery, extensive raiding and slave systems existed throughout Mesoamerica during the late Postclassic period. (…) Another curious criticism was the charge that Gibson was using his religious views (i.e., Catholicism) as the “savior” and the “salvation” of the Maya with the arrival of the Spanish. Such arguments indicate an inherent personal prejudice against Gibson. In reality, the Spanish arrival to collect supplies represented a future devastating blow to the Maya, not their salvation, and Gibson and Farhad were fully aware of this. In reality, in addition to a metaphorical “New Beginning,” the segment was designed to provide an avenue for a future sequel, should it be desired, and to explain the separation of Yucatecan speakers into the interior forest to form the Lacandon societies in the sierras of northwestern Guatemala and Chiapas which would have occurred around this time. An even more vehement opposition was voiced by Dr. Julia Gurnsey (University of Texas, Austin) who was “visibly shaken….upset, and not a little angry”. According to the interview conducted by the Austin Statesman, she noted: “I hate it. I despise it. I think it’s despicable. It’s offensive to Maya people. It’s offensive to those of us to try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own twenty-first-century Western ones but are nonetheless valid”. While Gurnsey was totally entitled to her opinion, she was not entitled to change the facts (elaborated below) which characterize the late Postclassic Maya societies of coastal Yucatan. Perhaps one of the more comprehensive criticisms and one that seemed to reflect a majority of the academic resistance was in the March/April 2007 Archaeology magazine which featured an article entitled “Betraying the Maya: Who does the violence in Apocalypto really hurt?” A renowned Maya scholar and colleague noted that the film was “crafted with devotion to detail but with disdain for historical coherence or substance” and that the “film is a big lie about the savagery of the civilization created by the pre-Columbian Maya”. In addition he adds, “Allegory and artistic freedom are well and good, except when they slanderously misrepresent an entire civilization”. In view of the wide public dissemination of these criticisms, it is perhaps worthwhile to explore Freidel’s arguments and compare them to the archaeological, ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and epigraphic facts. According to the criticism, the fallacy was that Gibson did not show the tiered society that Maya civilization represented and “the public deserves a more accurate and sophisticated view of the pre-Columbian Maya, and Gibson ….had the resources, advisors, and talent to have provided it”. (…)The Classic Maya wrote history, scripture, and poetry that contain knowledge of the human condition and spirit, as well as wisdom that compares favorably with that of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other hearths of civilization. Finally, the accuracy of modern depictions of the ancient Maya matters deeply and personally to those of us who care about the millions of people who speak a Mayan language…. In 2007, movie producer/director Mel Gibson “treated” audiences to a spectacularly inaccurate portrayal of ancient Maya civilization (emphasis mine). Called Apocalypto, Maya rulers and priests were depicted as blood-thirsty savages, Maya farmers as hunters and gatherers, and a Spanish galleon drifting somewhere off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula seemed the only salvation available to the Comanche and Yaqui actor, Rudy Youngblood, and his brave young wife and two children. It is easy to lament with Freidel and others the lack of additional examples of Maya achievements in Apocalypto, such as ballgames, written scripts, dances, theater, and extensive trade networks. The sophistication of the cityscape, the economic and social activities visible in the film, the elaborate architecture, and the prognostication of the eclipse in Apocalypto implied an extraordinary cultural complexity. The extensive detail built into the cityscape at Veracruz would have allowed a greater insight into the economic, social, and political sophistication of the Maya, and it is unfortunate that more of the art, architecture, and the detailed cultural remains did not see more film time. Another criticism of some merit refers to the murals that were similar to the Preclassic Maya murals of San Bartolo, Peten, Guatemala which were incorporated into the scene, entirely at the whims of the director and the set designer to accommodate the story line. The use of this art was met with resistance by this author because of the obvious chronological disparity and because there were better Postclassic examples from Chichen Itza. The art, however, was selected for aesthetic reasons because it could be portrayed as large enough and explicit enough to mesh with the story. Furthermore, at the time of filming, it was unsure as to whether any images of the murals would be even used or incorporated into the film after editing. The mural moved the film along by allowing the prisoners to realize their fate without additional scenes of conversation. Additional questions posed by Freidel included phrases like “Were Classic Maya cities the dens of iniquity Gibson envisions?” and “Were city dwellers the blood-thirsty predators Gibson portrays?”. He further claims “Direct predation and slaughter of ordinary people is a reality in some times and places, but it is a slander when attributed to the ancient Maya.” With all respect to the need for cultural sensitivity, the arguments posed by Freidel are entirely subjective and unfounded according to the ethnohistoric and archaeological record. Perhaps it would have been useful to have asked the same questions to Capitan Valdivia and the sailors who were with Gonzalo Guerrero and Jeronimo de Aguilar when, after their shipwreck and landing on an Akumal beach in 1511, they were sacrificed and eaten. Would it have been “slanderous” to accuse the Maya of slaughter when referring to members of the Francisco Mirones y Lezcano expedition into the interior of Yucatan who were sacrificed via heart extractions. A similar fate fell upon the Spanish priests, Fray Cristobal de Prada and Jacinto de Vargas, on the island of the Itza in Peten, Guatemala  as well as Friar Domingo de Vico and his associates in Acalan. Direct captive predation slaughter and sacrifice were inflicted on the occupants of the ravaged villages recorded in murals on the walls of the Temple of the Jaguar and the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza. Furthermore, the Apocalypto story takes place in 1511–1518, the proto-Historic period, not the Classic Maya period 600–700 years previous, a detail that seems to have escaped many of the critics. Freidel commented that the film “juxtaposes ideas about social and political failure from the ninth century crisis” or “collapse ” with the “decadence” of the Postclassic period, and that the “term ‘decadent’ is no longer used to describe that period (Postclassic) by Maya archaeologists”. It is partially true that the film juxtaposes ideas about the ninth-century Lowland Maya collapse, but it also includes ideas associated with the Preclassic “collapse” documented in the Mirador Basin of northern Guatemala. Such perceptions are timeless, particularly since many of the same ills are currently ongoing in many areas of the Maya heartland today. Freidel noted incorrectly that “Apocalypto is wrong from the opening shot of an idealized rainforest hamlet” because he has assumed there were no broad areas in the Maya heartland where a small hunting society could have existed. He based this perspective on his surveys on the island of Cozumel, where “the entire landscape was defined by stone walls”. He suggests that along the entire coast of the Yucatan peninsula “the Spanish encountered people living in towns” (ibid) and that “Gibson’s hunter-gatherers are pure fantasy” (ibid). This fallacious argument belies the fact that there were vast sections of rainforest in the interior of the Yucatan shelf that had absolutely no human intervention since about A.D. 840.  (…) Freidel notes that “While the ancient Maya had their shortcomings (??), including the organized violence typical of civilized people (??), they were remarkable in their achievements, and not just the brutal monsters depicted by Gibson”. The dichotomy of these statements is striking: it is precisely the “shortcomings” that Gibson was using as his metaphor for society, and the “organized violence” is a subjective comment of societies whose level of “civilization” may have begun to deteriorate. Freidel also suggests that, based on artistic representa- tions from sites such as Yaxchilan, Tikal, and Piedras Negras and hieroglyphic texts from Dos Pilas, Uaxactun, Yaxuna, and Waka-Peru, the elite were not predators of common people or peasants. This is a flawed perspective perhaps based on a perceived notion of Late Classic societies, not the terminal Postclassic period represented in Apocalypto. This small detail seems to have escaped many of the critics, despite the presence of smallpox on one of the characters and the presence of architecture in the cityscape that was obviously Postclassic period architecture. The Maya had long been subjected to or had adopted Toltec practices (skull racks), at least by about ad 1000 if not earlier, and had direct contact and influence from the Aztec societies (human sacrifice, use of Tlaloc figures, human consumption, trade, exchange). The shocking element of these criticisms is that they totally disregard the numerous colonial documents and writings of Spanish observers, not to mention the vast examples of archaeological data that support the perceptions that Gibson portrayed in the film. Criticisms asserted that the film was a racist depiction. Yet a TMZ poll conducted on line on March 29, 2007 had 79,395 responses to the question “Is Apocalypto racist?” of which 75% (59,546) replied negatively that it was NOT racist. If such a large proportion of the viewing population did not think Apocalypto was racist, why did so many prominent academicians proclaim that it was? (…) The level of sacrifice depicted in Apocalypto was based almost entirely on ethnohistoric data and archaeological interpretation, which coincides with the contextual cultural behavior noted in terminal Postclassic and proto-Historic Mesoamerica. Aztec influence, well established as a major protagonist of human sacrifices, had penetrated much of the Maya region through elaborate trade and exchange systems as well as outright Mexican settlements in the Yucatecan heartland, a concept blamed on the Cocom family. Outright migrations of Nahuatl-speaking occupants also occurred in the Highlands of Guatemala, and in El Salvador and Honduras. The Spaniards encountered widespread sacrifice among the major linguistic groups outside the Mexica homeland, including the Totonac and Maya areas. For example, the Totonac culture at Cempoala and Gulf Coast region practiced extensive human sacrifice, although they occasionally blamed the misdeeds on the Aztecs.  (…) The unusual numbers of sacrifices in Postclassic Mesoamerica were noted by Duran (1994), who recorded that, during Aztec coronation ceremonies, the ….captives were brought out. All of them were sacrificed in honor of his coronation (a pain- ful ceremony), and it was a pathetic thing to see these wretches as victims of Motecuhzoma. …I am not exaggerating; there were days in which two thousand, three thousand, five thou- sand, or eight thousand men were sacrificed. Their flesh was eaten…… The widespread Mesoamerican sacrificial practices (Aztec, Totonac, Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya) were duly recorded by Spanish observers such as Cortés, Sahagun, Duran, Torquemada, Tapia, Diaz de Castillo, Mirones y Lezcano, Avendaño y Loyala, Cárdenas y Valencia, Cervantes de Salazar, Bernardo Casanova, Villagutierre Soto-Mayor, Cogolludo, and Garcia de Palacios at sites such as the Mexican and Guatemalan Highlands, the Totonac Lowlands (i.e., Cempoala) of the Gulf Coast of Mexico, the Yucatecan Coast or the interior heartland region, showing a broad geographical and chronological consistency in the ritual behavior. The Italian translator and publisher Calvo noted, in his newsletter of 1521–1522 that the initial contact at Cozumel by Cortes observed “…men and people wearing fine-woven cloth and of every color, who practice numerous excellent arts such as gold-and silver smithery and European-style jewelry making, in honor of the idols they adore and to whom they sacrifice humans, cutting open their chests and pulling out their hearts which they offer to them” (the idols)….and that they (the Spanish) “cast them down (the idols) and put in place of them the image of our Lord and the Virgin Mary with the Cross, which they held in great veneration, and they themselves cleaned the temple where human blood from the sacrifices had fallen”. Human sacrifices by the Maya were frequently engaged in times of famine and plagues  or “some misfortune”, a point illustrated in Apocalypto.  (…) The stealth attacks were visible in the village scenes of Apocalypto in minute detail, including the wearing of human mandibles as trophies by the dominant leader of the warring band. The fictitious city in Apocalypto had a Tzompantli with vertical poles as that depicted in Chichen Itza and as described by the Spanish. The Aztec Tzompantli clearly had the perforations on the parietal side of the skull so that the skulls were displayed horizontally. The practice of heart extraction has been explicitly defined by Diego de Landa and numerous other Spanish observers. According to the accounts, a victim was often stripped naked, anointed with a blue color, and either tied to poles and shot with arrows (a scene that had been edited out and not included in Apocalypto), or taken to place of sacrifice (temple), seized by four Chacs, and suffered a heart extraction, throwing the decapitated head and body down the steps of the temple precisely as depicted in the film. However, the level of violence according to ethnohistoric accounts included the fact that the body was recovered at the base of the steps and flayed, with the skin worn by the naked priest with dancing in great solemnity, which was a scene NOT depicted in the film. Furthermore, the exaggerated body pit discovered by the escaping Jaguar Paw in Apocalypto is likely to not have existed because, according to Landa, Duran, and other observers, the victims were eaten, another scene NOT depicted in Apocalypto. However, if mass quantifies of victims were sacrificed similar to Duran’s account of the Aztecs, it is entirely possible that such a pit could have existed due to the excess of human flesh that was not consumed. Lopez-Medel (1612) notes that “Those compelled (for sacrifice) were captives and men taken in the wars they made against other pueblos, whom they kept in prisons and in cages for this purpose, fattening them.” The jawbones on arms were equally depicted in Apocalypto, indicating the level of butchery that accompanied Postclassic warfare. The removal and display of human jawbones is also a pan-Mesoamerican feat which dates as early as the Early Classic, based on burials in highland Teotihuacan and the Lowland Maya Mirador Basin site of Tintal. Freidel purports that the Maya were not predators of common people or peasants. However, Villagutierre records that villages were attacked with some regularity in the sixteenth century (…) The extraordinary detail in the murals from Chichen Itza confirms Villagutierre’s observations and suggests that common people and peasants as well as entire villages were targets for pillage, destruction, sacrifices, and captives. (…) The heavily fortified Postclassic sites of Mayapan, Tulum, Ichpaatun, Oxtankab, Tayasal, Muralla de Leon (Rice and Rice 1981), and three walled Terminal Classic sites of Chacchob, Cuca, and Dzonot Ake in the Lowlands as well as the heavily fortified Highland Maya sites of Iximche, Mixco Viejo, Rabinal, and Cumarcaj indicate the defensive postures of late Maya centers, a concept clearly in line with the social and political conditions of conflict and wars that Gibson was suggesting in Apocalypto. One of the more outstanding reviews of Apocalypto was written by Sonny Bunch (2006), an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard who noted the criticisms from academicians, and pointed out that the facts demonstrated either a complete distortion of reality, or a disturbing incompetence by the academic critics. (…) some of the more salient points of his arguments were that almost all critics mentioned Gibson’s alleged anti- Semitic statement and that the film did not inform adequately about the cultural achievements of the ancient Maya. Bunch notes that: ….This is a strange criticism. If you were interested in boning up on calendars, hieroglyph- ics, and pyramids you could simply watch a middle-school film strip. And who complained that in Gladiator, Ridley Scott showed epic battle scenes and vicious gladiatorial combat instead of teaching us how the aqueducts were built? Bunch also confronts the critics that suggest that the film portrayed “….an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans…..” Newsweek reports that “although a few Mayan murals do illustrate the capture and even torture of prisoners, none depicts decapitation” as a mural in a trailer for the film does. “That is wrong”. It’s just plain wrong, “the magazine quotes Harvard professor William Fash as saying. Karl Taube, a professor of anthropology at UC Riverside, complained to the Washington Post about the portrayal of slaves building the Mayan pyramids. “We have no evidence of large numbers of slaves,” he told the paper. Even the mere arrival, at the end of the film, of Spanish explorers has been lambasted as culturally insensitive….. Here’s Gurnsey, again, providing a questionable interpretation of the film’s final minutes: “And the ending with the arrival of the Spanish (conquistadors) underscored the film’s message that this culture is doomed because of its own brutality. The implied message is that it’s Christianity that saves these brutal savages. “But none of these complaints holds up particularly well under scrutiny. After all, while it may not mesh well with their post-conquest victimology, the Mayans did partake of bloody human sacrifice.” While there may be some that might question the validity of the Spanish observations, the fact that the ethnohistoric observations match so seamlessly with the archaeological data from both earlier and later periods indicate that such doubts are highly unlikely. (…) It would be difficult to assert that all the scholars who spoke out against Apocalypto were ignorant or incompetent, but why did they make claims that were fallacious or inaccurate in the face of overwhelming data? Why was the response so vehement when many of the issues and situations portrayed in the film were accurate? It is likely that much of the resistance was created by Gibson’s anti-Semitic statement during an arrest about 6 months previous to the release of the film. In some cases, the opposition to Apocalypto may have been simple ignorance. However, it is also implied that scholars wittingly or unwittingly may have ascribed to a “revisionist” and/or “relativist/aboriginalist” perspective, concepts which can fall under the title of “neo-pragmatism”. A “revisionist” or “sham-reasoning” view may either represent an antithesis of truth or a decorative reasoning of truth, or the clarification and establishment of it. In some cases, revisionist perspectives ignore the vast amounts of data that have accumulated over periods of time, and seek to promote that which is ideologically expedient or politically “correct” or convenient within the bounds of “language”. While it is entirely possible that additional data may help establish a more accurate perspective based on additional information, often added by new technologies, the dangers and damage that a revi- sionist/relativist perspective can cause, if incorrect, is that it also has the potential to ultimately deceive and distort the reality of the human existence and defy truth. Such a position is “not to find out how things really are, but to advance (oneself) by making a case for some proposition to the truth-value of which he is indifferent”. It also suggests that “reasoning” can be mainly “decorative” and result in a “rapid deterioration of intellectual vigor”. In other cases, a certain movement purports that “indigenous rights should always trump scientific inquiry”. Such positions defy the establishment of truth and seek for an unqualified political correctness that is both unwarranted and dangerous to the realities of the human saga. On a more subtle note, it can lull a society into an intellectual complacency, generating a moral and intellectual failure to acknowledge or improve on mistakes or violations of accepted values of universal human rights. Perhaps a more viable alternative would be to return to the values of truth in science as determined by vigorous methodological procedure and evaluation via a multitude of multidisciplinary approaches. A solution lies in a return to the philosophical foundations of science such as that proposed by Peirce, Hempel, Haack, and others to organize and understand truth and valid objective reasoning as part of the ultimate goal. As Josh Billings noted more than a century ago, “As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand”. (…) Such pragmatism formed in the late 1800s as a response to “antiscience” or “nominalist” movements which continue to the present day in scientific philosophy dressed as “relativism” or negative “revisionism.” The role of revisionism is based on the premise that “There is no single, eternal, and immutable ‘truth’ about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the past – that is, ‘revisionism’ – is what makes history vital and meaningful”. In many cases, further revision of historical information can clarify or enhance the knowledge of the past. In other cases, the revision of history was designed to promote certain agendas or to ease or “whitewash” the uncomfortable aspects of events and actions so that “evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over” and “history loses its value as an incentive and…paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth” (Du Bois).(…) The film Apocalypto is a fictional film which told the story of a chase scene, utilizing certain components of the Postclassic Maya cultural behavior as the setting for the drama which was unfolded. Perhaps the most accurate critique of the film was penned by Allan Maca and Kevin McLeod (2007) at the Presidential Session on Apocalypto at the American Anthropological Association Meeting in Washington, D.C. From their perception, “Gibson’s (scenes are) vital to his larger purposes regarding the exploration of death, consciousness, and transformation”. In essence, Maca and McLeod grasped the enormous metaphors that Gibson was knitting into the film. As Maca and McLeod (2007) note: Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, while it may seem on the surface to be another mindless, violent action epic, with the Maya as unwitting casualties, actually sets out to achieve similar goals: an exploration of consciousness and of modern man’s need for renewal and transformation. Like most films involving or based on native culture yet made by non-natives, Apocalypto is a grandiose and intricately nuanced commentary on white society. Because the hero and the villains are indigenous, however, the film also seeks to explore the basis of our humanity, regardless of race and ethnicity. The artistic devices Gibson uses to communicate his ideas draw heavily on tropes, symbols, and plotlines developed by earlier masters; but he also clearly develops and adopts themes and symbolic vehicles that are basic to myth and ritual. Gibson utilized graphic scenes to visualize contemporary society and the hypocrisy that permeates the issues: the jungle=higher state of consciousness and peace, a societal refuge and environmental neutrality; “Sacrifices = bloody conflict/ soldiers in the Middle East”; Body Pit=“Nothing (small)compared to the daily abortion rate in the U.S”; Jaguar Paw escape = “the valiant human spirit in the face of unfavorable odds, the freedom from tyranny and social oppression”; environmental degradation near the city = “conspicuous consumption of resources and the contemporary destruction of the environment”; the pit where Jaguar Paw’s family was kept = “struggles , challenges, and obstacles of the contemporary family.” The strategy of joining the past to a critique of the present has been used repeat- edly in films for decades. Wolfgang Petersen, the director of Troy (2004) is reported to have stated: “Look at the present! What the Iliad says about humans and wars is, simply, still true. Power-hungry Agamemnons who want to create a new world order- that is absolutely current. … Of course, we didn’t start saying: Let’s make a movie about American politics, but (we started) with Homer’s epic. But while we were working on it we realized that the parallels to the things that were happening out there were obvious”. A certain level of allegory and metaphor permeated nearly all aspects of the film Apocalypto. As Maca and McLeod note: Contrary to what some have concluded about this film, Apocalypto does NOT promote, celebrate or otherwise glorify the Spanish or Christianity; it is quite the opposite really. What is celebrated repeatedly is the jungle, a metaphor for peace, the higher mind and a more evolved consciousness. The jungle is a refuge… a place of understanding……where true creation and novelty may unfold……. The leading writers and directors intentionally play with symbols and meanings as a way to innovate. Not all film makers can do this very well. However, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola, respectively, are two films that set new models……Both are, explicitly and implicitly, antiwar, anti-US imperialism, and anti-colonialism and focus on the evolution of human consciousness…… These two films are at the center of the visual and philosophical mission of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto….. One of the more interesting concepts that the data on human sacrifice in the Maya/ Mesoamerica area has demonstrated is that the Maya were not radically different from anybody else and that they were consistent with the rest of humanity. The story, metaphorically, could be applied to almost any ancient society in the world. The Maya achieved extraordinary accomplishments comparable with Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Chinese, and they were no less brutal. But the consciousness of the story was far more profound than a “blood and gore flick.” The story was Gibson’s and Safinia’s to tell and, as Maca and McLeod astutely note, …… we can’t help but wonder if the use of the trap in Apocalypto, as a vehicle for awareness, doesn’t also extend to our participation in Mel Gibson’s mission, such that all of us……may have been lured to exactly the space and place of discussion that he intended…. this creates discomfort even to contemplate….. Apocalypto will be judged in time as a cinema masterpiece, not only in its superb execution of film production, but also as an allegorical reference to the present. The criticisms, which were both accurate and fallacious, will continue to surround this film due to its unique story, the extraordinary setting, the allegorical and metaphorical references, and the various levels of awareness that are inherent in the film regarding the human saga. We are all a part of it. Richard D. Hansen
Columbus makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent. Russell Means
It’s almost obscene to celebrate Columbus because it’s an unmitigated record of horror. We don’t have to celebrate a man who was really — from an Indian point of view — worse than Attila the Hun. Hans Koning
Ce que nous savons c’est que cette folie infantile – détenir des armes nucléaires et menacer de s’en servir – est au cœur de la philosophie politique américaine actuelle. Harold Pinter (2005)
For the Christian viewer, the biggest question about Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto is: why does its hero turn away from the Cross at the end? All in all, there’s not a lot of Christ — passionate or otherwise — in Apocalypto, Mel Gibson’s first film since The Passion of the Christ. But a crucifix finally shows up at the film’s end, and the film’s response to it is surprisingly equivocal. The movie tells the story of a peaceful 16th-century jungle-dweller named Jaguar Paw. The first quarter of the film presents his idyllic village as a kind of Eden. The second quarter is a vision of Hell, as a raiding party for the nearby Mayan empire torches the town, rapes the women and drags the men to the Mayan capital as featured guests at a monstrous and ongoing sacrifice to the gods. JP watches in horror as a priest has several of his friends spread-eagled on squat stone, then hacks out their still-beating hearts and displays them to a howling crowd. JP narrowly avoids the same fate, escapes, and spends most of the rest of the film picking off an armed pursuit party, one by one, in classic action-film fashion. It is only at the very end that Christianity makes a brief but portentous appearance, aboard a fleet of Spanish ships that appears suddenly on the horizon. JP and his long-suffering wife watch from the jungle as a small boat approaches shore bearing a long-bearded, shiny-helmeted explorer and a kneeling priest holding high a crucifix-topped staff. « Should we join them? » asks his wife. « No, » he replies: They should go back to the jungle, their home. Roll credits. Given Gibson’s fervent Christianity, you might have expected JP to run up and genuflect. Why does he turn away? My colleague, film critic Richard Schickel, has observed that Gibson has little use for the institutional Roman Catholic church, preferring a « less mainstream version of his faith. » True, but the Traditionalists with whom Gibson is often associated are defined primarily by their objections to the liberalizations under the Second Vatican Council of 1962-5 — not an issue in Jaguar Paw’s day. Another explanation is that the director has always been better at Crucifixions than at Resurrections. Just as the risen Christ seemed like something of a tack-on to The Passion, Mel may have little interest in how Christian culture might reconfigure either the peaceful village-dwellers’ way of life or the bloodthirsty Mayans’. The third possibility, it seems to me, is that Gibson does know — and wants no part of it. I tend toward that last one because it reflects a learning curve of my own. About a year ago I visited an exhibit on another Mexican civilization, the Aztecs, at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. The show was cleverly arranged. Visitors walked up the Guggenheim’s giant spiral, the first few twists of which were devoted to the Aztecs’ stunning stylized carvings of snakes, eagles and other god/animals, and explanations of how the ingenious Aztecs filled in a huge lake to lay the foundation for Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. It was only about halfway up the spiral — when it had become harder to run screaming for an exit — that one encountered a grey-green stone about three feet high. It was sleek and beautiful — almost like a Brancusi sculpture, I thought — until I read the label. It was a sacrifice stone of the sort in the movie. Not a reproduction, not a non-functioning ceremonial model, but the real thing. People had died on this. I felt shocked and a little angry — it was like coming across a gas chamber at an exhibit of interior design. But I kept walking, and at the very top of the museum I encountered another object that might be considered an answer to the sinister rock: a stone cross, carved after the Spanish had conquered the Aztecs and were attempting to convert them to Catholicism. Rather than Jesus’s full body, it bore a series of small relief carvings: his head and wounded hands, blood drops — and a sacrificial Aztec knife. How striking, I thought. Here was a potent work of iconographic propaganda using the very symbols of a brutal religion to turn its values inside out, manipulating its images so that they celebrated not the sacrifice, but the person who was sacrificed. Visually, at least, it seemed an elegant and admirable transition. And after seeing Apocalypto, I wondered why Gibson hadn’t created the cinematic equivalent: an ode to the progression out of savagery, through the vehicle of Christianity. (…) Charles C. Mann, author of the highly respected history 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (…) first noted a couple of anachronisms in the film. The Mayan capital, including any great temple of the sort in the film, had mysteriously disappeared 700 years before the Spanish arrived. Moreover, although the Mayans probably engaged in some human sacrifice, there is no evidence that they practiced it on the industrial scale depicted in the movie. For that, as the Guggenheim exhibit suggested, one would have to look 300 miles west to the Aztecs, who had made it their religious centerpiece. Hernan Cortes (who probably rounded upward, since he conquered them), claimed the Aztecs dispatched between three and four thousand souls a year that way. Why Gibson decided to turn the Mayans into Aztecs is anyone’s guess. Most interesting, however, was Mann’s observation that if the boat Jaguar Paw sees is indeed the 1519 landing party of Cortes (who pushed quickly through what remained of Mayan territory on his way to the bloody battle of Tenochtitlan), the man holding up the cross was no particular friend to the indians. It was not until 1537, Mann said, that, after considerable debate both ways, Pope Paul III got around to proclaiming that « Indians themselves indeed are true men » and should not be « deprived of their liberty. » In the intervening 18 years roughly a third of Mexico’s 25 million indigenous population died of smallpox the Europeans brought with them, and the Spanish had enslaved most of the remaining six million able-bodied men. And that’s not counting the 100,000 Aztecs Cortes killed at Tenochtitlan alone. So here is the conundrum. If you had to choose between a culture that placed ritualized human slaughter at the center of its faith, but that only managed to kill 4,000 people a year, and a culture that put the sacrificial Lamb of God at the center of the universe but somehow found its way to countenancing the enslavement of millions and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in the same neighborhood, which would be more appealing. David Biema
Reading the film as a simple account of Christian and colonialist triumphalism at the hands of a traditionalist Catholic filmmaker is too reductive. In 2006, David Van Biema of Time magazine wrote an essay about Gibson and the movie,  in which he wonders why  Gibson ended the film as he did. Specifically: For the Christian viewer, the biggest question about Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto is: why does its hero turn away from the Cross at the end? (…) It is only at the very end that Christianity makes a brief but portentous appearance, aboard a fleet of Spanish ships that appears suddenly on the horizon. JP and his long-suffering wife watch from the jungle as a small boat approaches shore bearing a long-bearded, shiny-helmeted explorer and a kneeling priest holding high a crucifix-topped staff. “Should we join them?” asks his wife. “No,” he replies: They should go back to the jungle, their home. Roll credits. He concludes that Gibson, who was also known for being alienated from mainstream Roman Catholicism, understands that the end of one violent civilization means the coming of one in which man’s propensity to violence and domination does not end, but simply takes new forms. (…) To be clear, from the point of view of a believing Christian, it really, really matters that the Gospel is true. The Spanish, whatever their grievous faults and wicked motivations, nevertheless carried with them true religion. (…) The more interesting discussion is why Mel Gibson — a self-tortured, radically alienated, but believing Catholic — had his heroes run away from the people who would be his deliverers. Has anybody seen a Girardian interpretation of Apocalypto? I’d love to read it. I found this short one from the Catholic bishop Robert Barron. It’s a great encapsulation of Girardian theory, and why Apocalypto is a film explaining it (…) here’s the core of Girardian theory: Primitive humans controlled the violence that threatened to overwhelm their societies and civilizations by means of the “scapegoat mechanism.” That is, they convinced themselves that the cause of the disorder was a scapegoat, and that only the sacrifice of the scapegoat would restore order to the civilization. In some civilizations — like the Aztecs’ — this turned into human sacrifice. Aztecs didn’t have the ritual slaughter of human beings because they enjoyed it, necessarily; they believed that the blood of human victims was necessary to keep the gods sated and the fertility cycle going. In Apocalypto, the protagonist, Jaguar Paw, is a tribesman who is hunted by the Maya, who intend to sacrifice him to propitiate their gods. The scapegoat mechanism is at the core of cultural anthropology, says Girard. Anyway, Christianity, alone among all religions, unmasks the lie of the scapegoat mechanism. In the Christian myth (I say “myth” in the technical sense), the god himself becomes the innocent victim, and throws down the scapegoat mechanism. The CBC, in a short piece on Girardian theory, explains: Jesus is innocent, the Gospels insist, and his innocence proclaims the innocence of all scapegoat victims. He reveals the founding violence, hidden from the beginning, because it preserved social peace. A choice is posed: humanity will have peace if it follows the way of life that Jesus preached. If not, it will have worse violence because the old remedy will no longer work once exposed to the light. (…) As Bishop Barron says, Gibson’s movie is a manifestation of Girardian theory. The word “apocalypse” derives from the Greek word meaning “unveiling.” In Apocalypto, the title does double meaning: because of the Book of Revelation (also called “The Apocalypse,”) the “unveiling” leads to the end of the world. This is why the word “apocalypse” has come to mean “end of the world” in popular usage. Gibson’s movie portrays the end of a violent primitive civilization at the hands of a higher Christian civilization, one whose religion unmasks and defeats the scapegoat mechanism that had upheld the dying civilization. It may be the case that Gibson has his heroes turn away from the cross-bearers because that’s what any Indian would normally do in that situation. Jaguar Paw doesn’t know who these strangers are, and that they might save him. It makes sense that he would want to hide out in the jungle and see what happens. Gibson’s decision to have them run away from the cross might not be a theological commentary, but might simply have been an artistic decision. After all, showing the Indians, who had been chased through the jungle for the entire movie by other Indians seeking to take them for ritual sacrifice, ending the film by running into the arms of Spanish Christians would have been seen as aesthetically cheap propaganda. Whatever Gibson’s intentions, a case could be made for a more ambiguous interpretation. It is undeniably true, as a historical matter, that the Spanish ended human sacrifice, and conquered the civilization that depended on human sacrifice. But it is also true that the Spanish were much better at controlling and deploying violence than the Aztecs were. Maintaining Spanish colonial civilization required immense violence. When a person or a civilization becomes Christian, they are still human, and still have to struggle against the “old man,” as Scripture says. There are no utopias. The anthropological and cultural value of Christianity, in this context, is that it does not allow even the Christian to scapegoat victims. Oh, they do! We do, all the time! The Christian faith, though, says: Stop. Look at what you are doing. It’s not right. You are making innocent people suffer. In the US in the Civil Rights Era, Martin Luther King confronted racist white Christians with the Christian message, which was radically incompatible with the unjust social order they had created in the American South, and maintained through violence. Again: Christianity doesn’t mean that sin ceases to exist; it only explains it, and shows a way out of the cycle of violence and retribution. So, look: I have no respect for the view that the native peoples of Mesoamerica were living a tranquil life until they were set upon by Spanish Christian colonialists, who subdued and immiserated them. That is sentimental claptrap. But the Christian analogue to this fairy tale — that the coming of Christianity on the sword tip of the conquistadores led to a kingdom of peace and justice — is also sentimental claptrap. We are not required to believe falsely that there is no moral difference between the Aztecs and the Spanish, and the civilizations they represented. A civilization that practices mass human sacrifice is objectively worse than one that outlaws it. And, for Christians, a civilization that, however grievously flawed, proclaims the truth of Christ is objectively better than one that denies it. But we have to come to terms as well with the violence and darkness that persisted, despite Christianity. After the bloodshed of the 20th century, the West — Christian and post-Christian — should consider exactly how we stand in relation to the bloodthirsty Aztec empire. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that all of creation struggles as in labor pains. And so we will until the end of time, until the real Apocalypse. (…) For readers unfamiliar with the Christian texts, the Book of Revelation — The Apocalypse — predicts a time to come when Christianity will have failed, and the world will be plunged into an abyss of violence … and then Jesus Christ will return. The mass apostasy underway now in the West is a harbinger of the End. Girard says that the Christian unveiling “is wholly good, but we are unable to come to terms with it.” Think of the Spanish conquistadores, who could not come to terms with the religion they professed. Think of the whites of the pre-Civil Rights South. Think of the black, brown, and white Christians today, who sin and exploit others, in defiance of the religion they profess. Think of yourself. (…) Apocalypto is not about Good Spanish Christian Colonialists and Evil Aztec Pagans. It’s about violence, civilization, and religion. The civilizational catastrophe it dramatizes is not just that of the Aztecs. It is, as Girard might have said, our own, because it is the story of blind humanity. Rod Dreher
On sait que les victimes du sacrifice humain aztèque étaient très nombreuses. Il fut un temps, sans doute, où c’était surtout des esclaves, comme cela resta le cas chez les Mayas. Mais la forte expansion de l’empire aztèque fit que rapidement, ce furent les guerriers ennemis capturés qui fournirent l’immense majorité des victimes, suivis par les esclaves, les enfants, les condamnés à mort, des personnes anormales : albinos, nains, bossus, contrefaits, macrocéphales, tous sacrifiables d’office, des personnes libres ordinaires, volontaires (comme des prostituées ou des musiciens) ou non, des étrangers de passage et enfin, dans certains cas précis, des princesses de la cité. (…) La mission des Mexicas est en principe de faire la guerre pour nourrir ciel et terre et pour faire marcher la « machine mondiale ». Mais c’est là un discours particulier, propre essentiellement aux nobles, semble-t-il. En fait, il faut faire la distinction entre guerre fleurie et guerre tout court. Dans les deux, on faisait des prisonniers qui étaient sacrifiés. Mais la guerre ordinaire poursuivait avant tout les objectifs habituels d’une guerre. Il n’était pas question d’attaquer une cité sous prétexte de vouloir nourrir le soleil la terre : il fallait des motivations légitimes, telles que le massacre de marchands ou d’ambassadeurs, le refus de commercer, etc. Le roi doit soumettre ses motifs à une assemblée de vassaux, de guerriers distingués et de citoyens de la cité, qui donnent ou refusent leur approbation. En cas de refus, le roi peut reposer la question et, après un troisième refus, passer outre et procéder à la déclaration de guerre ou, le cas échéant, à une attaque surprise. La guerre fleurie (xochiyaoyotl) en revanche a théoriquement pour seul but la capture de prisonniers à sacrifier. Des batailles de ce nom, modérément sanglantes paraît-il, avaient lieu depuis longtemps, mais la véritable guerre fleurie opposant la Triple Alliance de Mexico, Texcoco et Tlacopan à des cités de la vallée voisine de Puebla, principalement Tlaxcala, Cholula et Huexotzinco, n’aurait été instituée qu’à l’occasion de la grande famine du milieu du XVe s., famine qui fut interprétée comme un châtiment des dieux insuffisamment alimentés. Les armées des deux camps s’opposaient régulièrement sur un champ de bataille précis et capturaient le plus possible de prisonniers pour les immoler ensuite au cours des grandes fêtes des vingtaines, garantissant ainsi aux dieux un garde-manger bien fourni. Deux types de guerres différents selon leurs objectifs, donc, mais deux guerres ritualisées, auxquelles une bonne partie de la population était invitée à s’associer. (…) Cette rigueur extrême dans l’attribution précise des victimes s’explique autant par l’importance religieuse de la capture de victimes que par son rôle de moteur social. L’avancement dans la hiérarchie militaire était en effet conditionné, du moins en grande partie, par le nombre de captifs qu’on avait fait immoler. (…)  Pour les nobles, des captures dans ces guerres confirment leur noblesse et leur qualité d’aigles-jaguars ; elle leur permet de gouverner des cités et de devenir des commensaux du roi.  (…) Sur place, après la prise de la cité, on procède au comptage des captifs obtenus par les différents alliés et des guerriers chevronnés vont faire rapport définitif au roi, en précisant notamment le nombre de nobles qui ont mérité des honneurs pour leur conduite. Ensuite on se met en route avec les prisonniers, dont beaucoup mouraient en chemin. Les Huaxtèques étaient retenus par une corde passée dans le trou qu’ils se percent dans le nez. Aux jeunes qui n’ont pas le nez percé, on met colliers de bois ou on leur entrave bras et pieds. Ceux de Miahuatlan décourageaient toute velléité de fuite en attachant la corde de leur arc au membre viril du captif. Le retour à Mexico donnait lieu à une entrée triomphale remarquable. Les anciens guerriers prêtres et les dignitaires de tout rang des temples attendent les prisonniers à l’entrée de la ville, rangés en ordre d’importance, avec leurs atours spécifiques. Ils encensent les « victimes des dieux », leur donnent un pain sacré enfilé sur des cordes (…) Puis on leur donne à boire le pulque divin (teooctli), les assimilant ainsi aux Mimixcoas, les guerriers sacrificiels proto typiques ivres de pulque. En un premier temps, on s’adresse donc aux prisonniers comme à des ennemis et on met d’emblée les choses au point : ils sont vaincus et leur sort est inéluctable, mais glorieux. En même temps, on leur souhaite la bienvenue, car ils seront bientôt « chez eux » et leur mort les transformera en Mimixcoas et en compagnons du Soleil. On les encense comme des entités sacrées, peut-être aussi pour les purifier en tant que future offrande aux dieux. (…) après avoir visité différents endroits qui joueront un rôle lors de leur mise à mort -le cuauhxicalli, le temalacatl, le tzompantli -, ils vont faire de même devant le souverain dans son palais. Celui-ci, qui est comme « seconde personne du dieu [ … ] et qu’ils adoraient comme des dieux », leur fait donner des vêtements et de la nourriture, voire même des fleurs et des cigares. Le « serpent femelle » ou cihuacoatl, seconde personne du roi, les appelle frères et dit qu’ils sont chez eux, dans leur maison. Il importe en effet d’intégrer les captifs dans le groupe des Mexicas, de faire en sorte qu’ils soient « chez eux ». Parfois, ils reçoivent peut-être des filles de joie qui égaient leurs derniers jours et qui sont ainsi, pour un temps, comme des épouses mexicaines de ces étrangers. Nous connaissons le cas d’un captif de marque qui vécut longtemps en liberté dans la ville avant d’être immolé : la victime devient membre de la cité. (…) Comment expliquer l’intégration-assimilation des prisonniers, dont l’exemple extrême bien connu est celui des Tupinambas du Brésil ? Par le fait que l’autre est différent, donc moindre, et qu’il ne devient une offrande digne qu’à partir du moment où il est acceptable, intégré ? Ou faut-il évoquer René Girard et sa théorie du sacrifice-lynchage ? Selon lui, on ne peut prendre la victime à l’intérieur du groupe, car on risque de provoquer le déchaînement de violence de la vengeance ; mais, d’autre part, l’effet apaisant que doit apporter au groupe le sacrifice ne se produit que si la victime en fait partie. Pour concilier ces impératifs, on la choisit marginale (membre du groupe sans l’être tout à fait, un enfant par exemple) ou étrangère, mais alors on l’intègre, on fait comme si la victime appartenait quand même au groupe. Qu’il y ait dans le sacrifice aztèque une volonté consciente ou non de canaliser la violence interne est possible, mais difficile à démontrer. La composition polyethnique des cités, leur fréquent manque de cohésion, montrent que les risques de violence et de conflits internes n’étaient pas illusoires. (…) Les occasions de conflits étaient donc nombreuses et cette spécificité peut avoir été une des causes de l’inflation sacrificielle. Mais, répétons-le, on ne voit pas comment on pourrait démontrer que le sacrifice humain tendait aussi à éviter la violence interne. Ce qui est sûr en revanche, c’est que la théorie aztèque du sacrifice rendait l’intégration de la victime et sa proximité au sacrifiant (ici, en premier lieu, celui qui avait fait le prisonnier) indispensable : le sacrifiant mourait en effet symboliquement à travers sa victime qui le représentait. Les captifs sont donc confiés aux intendants qui les répartissent dans les maisons de quartier, où ils sont mis dans de grandes cages de bois. Des personnes désignées les gardent, allant jusqu’à dormir sur ces cages; si elles doivent sortir pour des besoins naturels, on les retient par une corde passée autour de la taille. Plusieurs sources s’accordent sur le fait que les prisonniers étaient bien nourris en vue de leur consommation prochaine ; par contre, Mendieta affirme que les captifs, mal nourris, devenaient vite maigres et jaunes. Probablement cela variait-il selon le nombre de captifs, la période de l’année, la cité intéressée, etc. (…) Dans d’autres régions ou royaumes en revanche, on n’immolait pas toujours tous les guerriers prisonniers. Chez les Quichés, seuls les principaux, le seigneur et ses frères, étaient tués et mangés, pour semer l’épouvante. Chez les Mayas, les captifs de basse extraction étaient réduits en esclavage et les seigneurs sacrifiés, quoique parfois ils pussent se racheter. A Miahuatlan, « de ceux qu’ils prenaient en guerre, beaucoup étaient réduits en esclavage », mais on ignore à nouveau si cela concerne aussi les combattants prisonniers. Cette situation, où tous les prisonniers n’étaient pas sacrifiés, était fort répandue et peut donc être supposée plus ancienne que l’immolation générale. (…) L’immolation générale semble donc être un développement tardif à mettre en rapport avec la constante croissance démographique de l’époque ainsi qu’avec la grande extension de l’empire aztèque et l’afflux de captifs dans les cités puissantes. Cette évolution va de pair avec une manière de « démocratisation » du sacrifice humain et du cannibalisme, qui deviennent accessibles même aux guerriers issus du peuple. Non seulement les cités ne sacrifient pas toujours tous leurs captifs, mais souvent, si elles ne sont pas indépendantes, il leur est interdit de le faire parce qu’elles doivent de livrer une partie de leurs captifs en tribut à la cité dont elles dépendent, et ce selon des modalités qui peuvent varier. (…) D’une manière plus générale, Duran raconte que lors de l’inauguration de la pyramide principale du Grand Temple sous Ahuitzotl, on attendait des seigneurs invités qu’ils apportent l’habituel tribut d’esclaves « qu’ils étaient tenus d’apporter pour le sacrifice lors de telles solennités » et il est précisé plus loin qu’il s’agit de « tous les captifs pris en guerre qu’ils devaient en tribut à la Couronne royale de Mexico ». J’ai démontré ailleurs que la chasse à l’homme qu’était la guerre était à bien des égards assimilée à une chasse tout court. Chez les Quichés, les captifs étaient du reste qualifiés de gibier. Non seulement la proximité homme-animal était très grande, mais, on l’a vu dans les mythes, les hommes ont remplacé les animaux comme victimes. (…) Les captifs entrant à Mexico hurlaient comme des bêtes ; une fois sacrifiés, leurs têtes étaient exposées sur le tzompantli où elles devenaient les fruits d’une sorte de verger artificiel qui devait assurer la renaissance des victimes, de même que les rites effectués avec les os du gibier assuraient son retour. La guerre imitait donc la chasse, mais parfois c’était l’inverse, comme lors des fêtes de quecholli, de tititl et d’izcalli (toutes au cours de la saison des pluies, nocturne, présolaire), au cours desquelles avaient lieu de grandes battues au terme desquelles le gibier était sacrifié comme des hommes ou offert au feu (ce qui pouvait également arriver à des guerriers), tandis que les capteurs étaient récompensés comme des guerriers. En quecholli, on allait même jusqu’à assimiler des captifs à des cerfs et à les sacrifier comme tels. (…) Les guerriers sacrifiés n’étaient pas tous d’égale qualité. Il va de soi que la capture d’un roi, d’un seigneur, d’un noble, d’un haut gradé ou d’un vaillant était plus prestigieuse que celle d’un soldat ordinaire et que ces personnes avaient en elles plus de tonalli, de feu intérieur, de chaleur vitale susceptible de vitaliser les dieux et les hommes. Certains types de mise à mort leur étaient d’ailleurs réservés, en particulier le « gladiatorio », qui opposait un prisonnier attaché à une meule par une corde passée autour de la taille et pratiquement désarmé à des guerriers aigles ou jaguars pourvus d’épées à tranchants d’obsidienne. On dit que c’est le roi lui-même qui choisissait les victimes dignes de cet honneur après de multiples vérifications. Si la victime royale ou princière avait été capturée par un roi ou un seigneur, on conservait sa peau que le vainqueur revêtait parfois ou qu’on bourrait de coton ou de paille et pendait dans le temple ou le palais. (….) Il y avait aussi des différences de qualité entre les peuples. Les victimes les plus appréciées étaient celles qui appartenaient à des populations peu éloignées et dès lors pas trop différentes de la Triple Alliance. (…) La mort sacrificielle est (..) un châtiment. Les hommes ont négligé leurs créateurs et doivent expier. Qui plus est, ils sont nés sur terre, dans la matière qui les sépare des dieux et les condamne à mourir. (…) Par la mort héroïque, acceptée, sur le champ de bataille ou la pierre de sacrifice, le guerrier expie et gagne un au-delà glorieux. C’est pourquoi on dit au jeune homme qui avec l’aide d’autres, fait un premier prisonnier, au travers duquel il mourra symboliquement et expiera, que « Tonatiuh Tlaltecuhtli t’ont lavé la face ». Châtiment salvifique, la mort sacrificielle du guerrier est ressentie à la fois comme une gloire, un honneur, et un malheur. (…) Il reste un dernier et vaste sujet qui ne pourra être qu’effleuré ici, c’est celui du nombre des victimes. Un sujet éminemment sensible, qui souvent fait perdre tout sens critique aux chercheurs, trop prompts à vouloir minimiser à tout prix. Il est clair que dans les cités les plus puissantes, les victimes étaient très nombreuses ; elles le paraîtront un peu moins si on considère que nombre d’entre elles, normalement, auraient dû mourir sur le champ de bataille. Il est évident aussi que le nombre de victimes a fortement augmenté à mesure que la puissance grandissante de la Triple Alliance s’appuyait de plus en plus sur la terreur pour assujettir les population. Cette croissance va aussi de pair avec celle de la démographie, surtout entre, mettons, 1450 et 1519. S’il faut en croire Tezozomoc, sous Montezuma l, les Mexicas se réjouissent fort d’avoir fait 200 prisonniers de Chalco en une bataille (donc, probablement des guerriers). Quelques décennies plus tard, Ahuitzotl ramènerait 44.000 captifs (sans doute de tout ordre) de sa campagne au Guerrero ; la région devra être repeuplée par la Triple Alliance. De sa campagne contre Tututepec, Montezuma II et ses alliés ramènent 1350 prisonniers, et une autre fois, 2800, mais une bataille fleurie contre Huexotzinco ferait 10.000 morts. Après la prise de Mexico par Cortés, celui-ci ne peut empêcher ses alliés, notamment tlaxcaltèques, de sacrifier et de manger plus de 15.000 ennemis, chiffre qu’il n’avait pas intérêt à gonfler. Les guerres, faut-il le dire, étaient incessantes et les cités soumises devaient souvent livrer des victimes à sacrifier comme tribut. Dès lors, des fêtes au cours desquelles on immole quelques milliers de victimes deviennent assez rapidement chose courante à Mexico. Durán affirme que sous Montezuma II, il y avait des jours de deux, trois, cinq ou huit mille sacrifiés à Mexico. Pour l’inauguration du temple de Tlamatzinco et du cuauhxicalli, il y en aurait même eu 12.210. On est loin, bien sûr, des chiffres controversés de l’inauguration du Grand Temple de Mexico en 1487 par Ahuitzotl. La plupart des sources en nahuatl et en espagnol s’accordent sur le chiffre de 80.400 victimes sacrifiées à cette occasion, ce qui paraît énorme et a bien sûr donné lieu à toute une littérature révisionniste, certains allant même jusqu’à proposer le chiffre parfaitement fantaisiste de 320 morts seulement. Il faut dire que la circonstance était exceptionnelle. Les travaux ayant débuté sous Tizoc, celui-ci a d’emblée dû se mettre à stocker les victimes pour l’inauguration. Mais il mourut prématurément et Ahuitzotl lui succéda. Il acheva l’agrandissement de la pyramide dont il fit coïncider l’inauguration avec son intronisation, en vue de laquelle il fit également une campagne. Théoriquement, les victimes de cette vaste opération de terreur ont donc effectivement pu compter des dizaines de milliers de victimes. Pour la moyenne annuelle de victimes, les estimations anciennes diffèrent. Une lettre du moine évêque Zumarraga mentionnée par Torquemada mentionne 20.000 enfants sacrifiés par an, mais Clavijero évoque une autre lettre où ce seraient 20.000 personnes par an dans la seule ville de Mexico. Gómara semble faire de 20.000 à 50.000 victimes le total pour le pays tout entier. Il semble s’appuyer sur un propos d’un certain Ollintecuhtli qui, vantant la puissance de Montezuma, aurait dit à Cortés qu’il sacrifiait 20.000 personnes par an. Las Casas en revanche, parfaitement de mauvaise foi, admet tout au plus 10 ou 100 sacrifices par an alors que dans son Apologética, il reprend les données habituelles des autres sources. Dernier élément qui montre le grand nombre de sacrifices, c’est celui concernant les tzompantli ou plates-formes d’exposition des têtes des défunts. Je passe sur le tzompantli imaginaire inventé par Bernal Díaz à Xocotlan, mais à Mexico, selon le conquistador Andrés de Tapia qui, avec un collègue, les aurait comptées, le nombre de têtes s’élevait aux alentours de 136.000. Ici encore, le total est peut-être excessif, mais il montre bien que les victimes étaient nombreuses. Victimes qui, rappelons-le encore, dans des pays dotés d’armes meilleures et où on n’essayait pas de faire prisonnier pendant et après le combat, seraient mortes sur le champ de bataille. Outre les guerriers, il y avait toute une série d’autres victimes que je ne puis que survoler. Les esclaves, fort nombreux, provenaient de la guerre, du tribut ou étaient des condamnés, des enfants vendus ou des personnes qui se vendaient. Seuls pouvaient être sacrifiés, semble-t-il, les condamnés, les esclaves pour dettes de jeu qui ne pouvaient se racheter et les esclaves indociles qui avaient été vendus deux ou trois fois. (…) Un troisième groupe de victimes, bien moins nombreux, comprenait des condamnés à mort, une confirmation de plus du fait que la mort sacrificielle est expiatoire. Les victimes dont il a été question jusqu’à présent sont soit extérieures à la cité, soit marginales. D’autres marginaux sacrifiables sont les enfants – incomplètement intégrés dans le groupe et dépendant de leurs parents – et les personnes anormales, donc potentiellement dangereuses, ou marquées. Les sacrifices d’enfants, victimes faciles à obtenir, évidentes, étaient très fréquents. Des enfants de rois ou de seigneurs étaient requis quand il s’agissait d’assurer le succès des moissons, la bonne marche des saisons étant de la responsabilité des gouvernants. Pour les autres, c’étaient des enfants de prisonniers de guerre, ou, trop fréquemment, au point qu’à Texcoco il aurait fallu légiférer pour y mettre un frein, offert, ou vendus par leurs parents. On achetait aussi des enfants à l’extérieur. (…)  Le cas des albinos, nains, bossus, contrefaits, macrocéphales, tous sacrifiables d’office, semble-t-il, est plus difficile. Certains d’entre eux au moins étaient pourchassés, tous étaient mis à part, en particulier dans l’entourage du souverain, pour son divertissement mais surtout, sans doute, pour les contrôler, comme le porte à croire le fait que Montezuma II avait également concentré autour de lui, à Mexico, les fils des rois, les images de dieux et les animaux de l’empire. Ces personnes étaient immolées quand il y avait manque ou excès de pluie et lors d’éclipses du soleil, soit quand il y avait trop ou trop peu de soleil. Les nains et bossus devaient avoir des affinités avec les Tlaloque, les albinos étaient des élus du soleil. Enfin, dans le temple d’Iztaccinteotl, un dieu du maïs, on sacrifiait, paraît-il, des personnes qui souffraient de maladies contagieuses comme la gale ou la dartre, voire la lèpre, maladies attribuées à la déesse de l’amour Xochiquetzal . Il est d’autres personnes de la cité qui, libres, pouvaient être appelées au sacrifice ou qui le choisissaient. On dit qu’au besoin, le roi pouvait faire sacrifier n’importe quel citoyen. Lors de la fête de la moisson (tlacaxipehualiztli), dans certaines régions, on sacrifiait un étranger de passage qui probablement représentait la dernière gerbe de maïs. Pour la fête des montagnes, on sacrifiait deux vierges du lignage royal de Tezcacoatl, appelé ainsi semble-t-il d’après un des quatre guides des pérégrinations mexicas. On sait par recoupements qu’elles représentaient les déesses Ayopechtli et Atlacoaya, associées à l’eau et aux semis. Outre ces marginales du haut de la société, il y avait celles du bas. L’affirmation de Serna selon laquelle des jeunes femmes de petite vertu étaient recueillies par des prêtres qui leur promettaient de les établir mais les sacrifiaient au cours d’une fête est probablement une broderie sur la description que Sahagún fait de la fête d’ochpaniztli. Mais il y avait aussi les vraies prostituées, qui, en tepeilhuitl, fête au cours de laquelle on célébrait les amours, s’offraient librement au sacrifice en se maudissant et en injuriant les femmes honnêtes. (…) On trouvait aussi des volontaires parmi les musiciens, en échange de l’honneur de jouer du tambour lors d’une fête. Michel Gaulich
Tout mouvement qui prétendrait transcender (ou reléguer au second plan) le combat pour la souveraineté individuelle, en faisant passer d’abord les intérêts de l’élément collectif – classe, race, genre, nation, sexe, ethnie, Église, vice ou profession -, ressortirait à mes yeux à une conjuration pour brider encore davantage la liberté humaine déjà bien maltraitée. Derrière le patriotisme et le nationalisme flamboie toujours la maligne fiction collectiviste de l’identité, barbelés ontologiques qui prétendent agglutiner en fraternité inébranlable les ‘Péruviens’, les ‘Espagnols’, les ‘Français’, les ‘Chinois’, etc. Vous et moi savons que ces catégories sont autant d’abjects mensonges qui jettent un manteau d’oubli sur des diversités et des incompatibilités multiples, prétendent abolir des siècles d’histoire et faire reculer la civilisation vers ces barbares temps antérieurs à la création de l’individualité, c’est-à-dire de la rationalité et de la liberté: trois choses inséparables, sachez-le. Mario Vargas Llosa
On ne sort pas de la pauvreté en redistribuant le peu qui existe, mais en créant plus de richesse. (…) Les économies égalitaristes «n’ont jamais tiré un pays de la pauvreté: elles l’ont toujours appauvri davantage. Et souvent elles ont rogné ou fait disparaître les libertés, du fait que l’égalitarisme exige une planification rigide qui, économique au début, s’étend ensuite à toute la vie sociale. Mario Vargas Llosa
J’étais persuadé qu’un écrivain qui se déclarait libéral n’avait aucune chance de remporter le Nobel. C’est notamment pour cette raison que je pensais que je ne le recevrais jamais, que j’étais trop controversé, mes activités journalistiques et un temps politiques m’ayant entraîné, souvent malgré moi, dans de nombreuses polémiques. Eh bien, je me suis trompé ! {…) J’espère qu’il va encourager les partisans de la démocratie et de la liberté – économique, politique, culturelle… -, ce pour quoi je milite et me bats depuis des décennies dans mes articles de journaux, tous les quinze jours. J’ai toujours combattu l’autoritarisme, de gauche comme de droite. Et je dois dire que malgré des problèmes encore énormes, l’Amérique du Sud est bien orientée, il n’y a plus qu’une dictature – Cuba – et seulement quelques « demi-dictatures » comme le Venezuela de Chavez ou le Nicaragua… La gauche a opéré un tournant démocratique et social-démocrate, ouvert au marché, comme au Chili, au Brésil et en Uruguay, et la droite est elle aussi démocratique, ce qui est nouveau pour le continent sud-américain. Mario Vargas Llosa (prix Nobel de litterature 2010)
Les images du sauvetage des mineurs chiliens ont été sur tous les écrans de télévision. Le récit de leur captivité forcée, puis de leur délivrance, a fait les premières pages. Dans la presse et les médias américains, on en a parlé aussi. Mais on a donné un détail qui semble avoir échappé aux journalistes français (je ne puis imaginer qu’ils l’aient omis volontairement, cela va de soi) : ce sauvetage a été, quasiment de bout en bout, une entreprise américaine.  (…) S’il y avait un Président américain à la Maison blanche, il recevrait Jeff Hart et les autres en héros : mais nous sommes encore en l’ère Obama, hélas. (…) Je dois ajouter à ce que j’ai écrit que, sans l’ouverture et l’esprit d’entreprise du Président du Chili lui-même, Sebastian Piñera, l’action salvatrice du capitalisme américain n’aurait pas été possible. Sebastian Piñera est lui-même un capitaliste qui fait honneur au capitalisme international : si les Etats-Unis étaient gouvernés par un capitaliste, le désastre du golfe du Mexique aurait permis au capitalisme américain de donner sa pleine mesure, mais hélas, disais-je plus haut… Guy Millière

Suite à l’un de nos derniers billets sur Columbus Day

Cet article sur le site conservateur americain Human events …

Qui, au-delà du bien connu génocide et de la mise en esclavage de peuples entiers, a le mérite de rappeler tout ce qu’a rendu possible la découverte de Colomb …

A savoir, pour des peuples qui n’avaient rien demandé a personne, non seulement la scandaleuse imposition du port de vêtements, de l’écriture et du christianisme …

Mais, ajouterions-nous, l’abjecte privation, par le sanguinaire Cortes et pour des générations de jeunes  esclaves ou prisonners de guerre aztèques, de l’insigne privilège d’offrir, par dizaines de milliers annuellement, leurs coeurs encore palpitants à leurs divinités bien-aimées …

Ou des joies si délicatement variées et raffinées des différentes formes de combat gladiatorial, éviscération, crémation,  pendaison, coups de flèches ou de javelines, chute dans le vide, enfouissement vivant, coups de la tête contre un rocher, écrasement dans un filet, noyade, décapitation, dépeçage, lapidation, écorchement vivant, cannibalisme postsacrificiel …

Sans compter tout récemment …

Après les Sartre, Neruda, García Márquez, Paz, Heaney, Fo, Saramago, Grass et autres Pinter …

Et outre, avec leur aventure humaine parfaitement scénarisée, la particulièrement arrogante intervention du capitalisme américain en plein coeur du Chili …

L’avènement de cette abomination des abominations…

Un prix Nobel de littérature authentiquement libéral !!!

Christopher Columbus: Hero

Daniel J. Flynn

Human events

10/11/2010

Upon returning to Spain, Christopher Columbus wrote of his discovery that “Christendom ought to feel delight and make feasts and give solemn thanks to the Holy Trinity.” Until fairly recently, all of Christendom agreed. Just as much of Christendom now recoils at the term “Christendom,” the “delight” and “thanks” for Columbus’ historic voyage hardly remains universal.

The feast day has been transformed into a day of mourning.

Since Berkeley, Calif., jettisoned Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day almost two decades ago, Brown University, Santa Cruz, Calif., and Venezuela have similarly ditched the holiday.

“Columbus makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent,” professional Indian Russell Means once remarked. Faux Indian Ward Churchill, who has been arrested with Means for blocking a Columbus Day parade in Denver, likens the discoverer to Heinrich Himmler and calls the day honoring him “a celebration of genocide”

Granting Columbus’s bravery, James Loewen writes in Lies My Teacher Told Me that the Genoese sailor “left a legacy of genocide and slavery that endures in some degree to this day.” Howard Zinn dismisses Columbus the seaman as “lucky” and condemns Columbus the man as a practitioner of “genocide” upon a people whose “relations among men, women, children, and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps any place in the world.”

Indeed, the explorer initially praised the Indians as “gentle,” “full of love,” “without greed,” and “free from wickedness.” He exclaimed, “I believe there is no better race.” Columbus also reported tribal warfare, cannibalism, castration, the exploitation of women, and slavery. The locals slaughtered the dozens of men he left behind in the New World. Put another way, in 1493 the natives conducted genocide on every European in the Americas.

This is not to whitewash Columbus’s crimes, which have not aged well. The explorer kidnapped natives for show in Spain (none of them made it alive) on his first voyage, enslaved several hundred bellicose Indians on his second visit, and after his third trip faced charges back home of governing as a tyrant. At sea, the admiral and his crew also ate a dolphin—another act that offends 21st-Century tastes.

But fixation upon his sins obscures his accomplishment: Columbus discovered the New World.

Any assessment of the admiral that doesn’t lead with this fact misses the forest for the trees. Enslavement and cultural conquest are common. Discovering two continents is unprecedented. Other than Christ, it is difficult to name a person who has changed the world as dramatically as Columbus has.

Unlike the adventurers of today, who climb tall mountains and balloon over oceans, Columbus did not trek across the Atlantic for the hell of it. If his dangerous journey had been a mission to resolve a mid-life crisis, perhaps his modern detractors would understand it better. As it was, Columbus sailed to enrich his adopted country (he naturally got a cut) and spread Catholicism.

Columbus described the Indians as “a people to be delivered and converted to our holy faith rather by love than by force.” He planted a cross on each island he visited and taught the natives Christian prayer. Elsewhere, his journal obsesses over gold, spices, cotton, and other valuables that might uplift Spain. Given the boogeyman status on the Left of both capitalism and Christianity, it is no surprise that Columbus has himself become a boogeyman.

Had Columbus never discovered America, the Indians never would have discovered Europe. Columbus encountered naked natives with neither the iron nor the courage with which to effectively fight. The civilizations peopling the New World possessed no written language and didn’t use the wheel. All of history points to some kind of eventual conquest. Isn’t it worth celebrating that the pope’s mariner, rather than, say, the henchmen of sultans or khans, discovered the Americas?

No, say the critics of America and the West, who, not coincidentally, are also Columbus’s critics. Multiculturalists see Columbus as the symbol for all subsequent atrocities that befell Native Americans.

Couldn’t he be more plausibly viewed as the catalyst for ensuing greatness?

America first sending men into flight, over the Atlantic, and to the moon; thwarting tuberculosis, yellow fever, and polio; fighting Nazism, Communism, and al Qaeda; serving as a welcome mat to humanity’s “wretched refuse;” inventing the light blub, the telephone, the computer, and the Internet; and standing as a beacon of freedom in an unfree world all happened in the wake of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

Columbus endured the skepticism of potential patrons, a near mutiny, and more than a month at sea to reach the Americas. His good name can probably withstand the assaults of Ward Churchill, Howard Zinn, and the Berkeley city council.

Mr. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum), and editor of http://www.flynnfiles.com. Mr. Flynn has been interviewed on The O’Reilly Factor, Hardball, Fox & Friends, Donahue, and numerous other public affairs television programs. His articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Times, The City Journal, The New Criterion, National Review Online, and The American Enterprise, among other publications.

Voir aussi:

The Trouble With Columbus

Paul Gray;Cathy Booth/Miami, Anne Hopkins and Ratu Kamlani/New York

Time

Oct. 07, 1991

Planned more than a century ago as a tribute to the landfall of Christopher Columbus in 1492, a five-story lighthouse now, finally, thrusts itself into the sky over Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. Aggressively supported by the nation’s octogenarian President Joaquin Balaguer, the project will cost, when all the finishing touches are completed, about $20 million. It will also, when the switch is pulled, put on quite a show: 147 giant beams projecting a cross of light 3,000 ft. into the Caribbean night. The lighthouse comes equipped with its own power generators, which was a prudent idea on someone’s part. The Dominican Republic’s electricity system has virtually collapsed for lack of funding. Like the rest of the country, the neighborhoods surrounding this soaring beacon are routinely blacked out 20 hours a day.

The grandiose new lighthouse already looks like an anomaly, while the old poverty huddling at its edges seems all too contemporary. Overarching light and enforced darkness, cheek by jowl. The Manichaean contrast is altogether fitting for this, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ world-shattering voyage, which is itself increasingly seen in opposing terms of black and white. The Columbus quincentennial officially kicks off this Columbus Day, Oct. 12 — but it has even now generated enough contrast and controversy to outlast its appointed year and, quite possibly, this decade.

At the heart of the hubbub lies a fundamental disagreement, not so much about Columbus himself as about the Columbian legacy. What, in other words, did the enigmatic Genoan set in motion when he first reached the New World? In one version of the story, Columbus and the Europeans who followed him brought civilization to two immense, sparsely populated continents, in the process fundamentally enriching and altering the Old World from which they had themselves come.

Among other things, Columbus’ journey was the first step in a long process that eventually produced the United States of America, a daring experiment in democracy that in turn became a symbol and a haven of individual liberty for people throughout the world. But the revolution that began with his voyages was far greater than that. It altered science, geography, philosophy, agriculture, law, religion, ethics, government — the sum, in other words, of what passed at the time as Western culture.

Increasingly, however, there is a counterchorus, an opposing rendition of the same events that deems Columbus’ first footfall in the New World to be fatal to the world he invaded, and even to the rest of the globe. The indigenous peoples and their cultures were doomed by European arrogance, brutality and infectious diseases. Columbus’ gift was slavery to those who greeted him; his arrival set in motion the ruthless destruction, continuing at this very moment, of the natural world he entered. Genocide, ecocide, exploitation — even the notion of Columbus as a « discoverer » — are deemed to be a form of Eurocentric theft of history from those who watched Columbus’ ships drop anchor off their shores.

Not surprisingly, those who see Columbus’ journey as a triumph of the human progress toward perfection and those who view the same event as a hemispheric rape do not have many kindly things to say to one another. But they are shouting a lot, and this clamor, so far, has defined the ceremonies to come.

Outwardly, at least, the planned hoopla looks much the same as that attending other big-bow-wow anniversaries, such as the bicentennials of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1976 or of the French Revolution in 1989. Columbus will be given the now obligatory PBS documentary series for important occasions: Columbus and the Age of Discovery will spread seven hours over four nights, beginning Oct. 6, with the whole shebang to be repeated on Columbus Day. Furthermore, those hungering for Columbus T shirts, watches or other memorabilia should not have to search far to satiate themselves. The spirit of good old-fashioned boosterism in pursuit of tourist revenues is alive and well wherever a claim can be laid to Columbus.

Starting next April 20, Spain will stage Expo ’92, billed as the largest World’s Fair in history. The host city is Seville, which is not far from where the explorer set out on the ocean blue, and the extensive plans for the event include three replica ships — of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria — to be moored in a re-creation of a 15th century port. Another set of three replica ships will sail from Spain Oct. 12 and retrace Columbus’ first voyage to the New World. In Columbus, Ohio, « the largest city in the world bearing the explorer’s name, » yet another replica of the Santa Maria will be christened Oct. 11 and then docked on the Scioto River downtown. The city’s year-long schedule of events includes performances of new works by its orchestra, opera, ballet and theater groups, not to mention an educational exhibit called « 500 Years of Accounting » to commemorate the Italian invention of double-entry bookkeeping.

And so it will go, in both hemispheres. A 14 1/2-ft. fiber-glass statue of the explorer has gone up in Columbus, Wis. Club Med is struggling to complete a new getaway retreat on the Bahamian island of San Salvador, one of the many spots that claim to be the place where the explorer first landed. Commercialism does, of course, entail risks. Genoa, Columbus’ birthplace, confidently expects at least 2 million visitors to attend its « Man, the Ship and the Sea » extravaganza, which begins May 15, amid rampant rumors in Italy – of corruption and misuse of funds by the planners.

The grandiloquently named Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission, established by Congress in 1984, has also run into some fiduciary problems. Its first chairman, Miami developer and Republican fund raiser John Goudie, resigned last year amid complaints of mismanagement. Meanwhile, the U.S. recession has put a crimp in the commission’s ability to obtain public and private donations. In Florida three separate state Columbus commissions have foundered on a lack of money.

This rain on the Columbus parade is nothing, though, compared with the storm of outrage that the prospect of quincentennial partying has unleashed among the anti-Columbians. « Our celebration is to oppose, » says Evaristo Nugkuag, a member of the Aguaruna people, who is president of the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), an umbrella group in Lima, Peru. On Oct. 7, in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, about 1,000 members of COICA and other groups, representing 24 countries in the Western Hemisphere, will gather at a « Continental Encounter » meeting. One of the purposes is to determine strategies to counter the 1992 Columbus celebrations, including the establishment of an « alternative Seville » at a yet to be chosen site in Mexico. Nugkuag thinks such an antimainstream World’s Fair can be an occasion for reflection rather than celebration: « We want to recover our history to affirm our identity, to achieve true independence from exploitation and aggression and to play a role in determining our future. »

Similar protests have been percolating, or even boiling, for some time. When it opened at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History two years ago, an exhibit called « First Encounters: Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States 1492-1570 » drew spirited opposition from Native American activists, including Russell Means of the American Indian Movement. « Columbus makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent! » yelled demonstrators. COLUMBUS MURDERED A CONTINENT read one of the placards. Last July a group of protesters dressed as South American Indians appeared unannounced in Spain, wearing loincloths, their faces and bodies painted. The invaders peacefully entered the shrine of the nation’s patron saint at Santiago de Compostela. They left flowers and other offerings and a message to ask « forgiveness for those who used his name to conquer, murder and destroy peoples. »

Anti-Columbus sentiments are by no means restricted to the descendants of those who were on hand when the Genoan first showed up. Last year the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S. adopted a resolution suggesting how 1492 should be commemorated: « For the descendants of the survivors of the subsequent invasion, genocide, slavery, ‘ecocide’ and exploitation of the wealth of the land, a celebration is not an appropriate observance of this anniversary. »

The charge that Columbus’ arrival instigated genocide has become a major weapon in the anti-Columbian arsenal. George Tinker, a Native American who teaches at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, says of the quincentennial plans: « We’re talking about celebrating the great benefit to some people brought by the murder of other people. » Further to Columbus’ discredit, at the bar of contemporary judgment, is his identity as a white European male. Across the U.S., academicians will be jetting to innumerable conferences where they will give papers on the colonial depredations and horrors that Columbus inaugurated. Author Hans Koning, who has written a scathing biography titled Columbus: His Enterprise (Monthly Review Press; $8.95), sums up this school of scandalized thought: « It’s almost obscene to celebrate Columbus because it’s an unmitigated record of horror. We don’t have to celebrate a man who was really — from an Indian point of view — worse than Attila the Hun. »

Granted, as less vitriolic modern historiography makes clear, Columbus was not the gem of the ocean, the flawless hero of so many earlier hagiographies. But was the historic figure whose name was adopted by a South American republic, the District of Columbia and countless other places and entities, really worse than Hitler or Attila the Hun? What in the New World is going on around here?

For all its intensity, the Columbus controversy has very little to do with 1492 and almost everything to do with 1991. The peoples of the New World, the land that Columbus made inevitable, are engaged in another convulsive attempt to reinvent themselves, to conceive a version of the past that will justify the present and, if possible, shape the future. In older, fixed civilizations, this sort of cultural enterprise would be all but inconceivable. History is what happened and what everyone is stuck with — « a nightmare, » as James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus described it, « from which I am trying to awake. » But bad dreams have never been popular, particularly in the U.S., where it has been assumed they can be erased by a different way of seeing the things that caused them.

Ironically, Columbus drew much of his stature from one such national mind- change. Prior to the War of 1812, he did not figure large in the U.S. imagination. But after that conflict, American patriots felt an urgent need to link the national cause with non-British heroes: the New World needed new ancestors. Washington Irving’s 1828 A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus glorified a commanding character with an Italian name and sailing under a Spanish flag who nonetheless displayed virtues and characteristics that U.S. citizens, most of them from northern Europe, could admire. Thus did the heyday of Columbus idolatry begin — in an early attempt to provide the nation with the icons of multicultural diversity.

That idolatry is now guttering out — inconveniently, by many people’s lights — for several reasons. The U.S. population is not what it was during the first decades of the 19th century; it now includes a higher percentage of people, and a number of far more vocal people, who feel they have a historic grievance against Columbus and the European invasion he represented. These include, most prominently, Native Americans, many of whom have joined hands with their coevals in Latin and South America to take a stand against a long- ago uninvited guest; and African Americans, whose forebears were packed into slave ships and sent across the Atlantic because the Europeans needed their labor to replace that of the decimated indigenous populations. Their toppling of the Columbus icon represents, at its best, a bid to construct a new national mythology — an urge they paradoxically share with the patriots after the War of 1812.

At the same time, what Columbus actually wrought by bringing Europe into the Americas is being assessed with increased historical sophistication. Two worlds collided nearly 500 years ago, and none of the fallout from that impact now seems as simple as it was once portrayed. Textbooks on American history once began with Columbus’ arrival, as if nothing that had happened before bore mentioning. Those careful enough to note that the explorer found people already living where he touched down did not go on to say very much about them.

Yet there is much to say, as archaeologists, anthropologists and ethnographers have known for a long time. The prospect of the Columbus quincentennial not only lent new urgency to scientific research already under way about the land that the Italian encountered, but also suggested an expanded context in which discoveries could be viewed. « The impetus has changed, » says archaeologist Jerald Milanich, « from a celebration of Columbus and the triumph of European civilization to a new theme: the people that discovered Columbus. There’s a huge amount of research focusing on the impact of native Americans. »

It has never been a secret that the Americas and Europe reciprocally influenced each other, although the focus in much traditional history was on how the colonializers tamed — or exterminated — the natives and resettled the land along European models. The process worked both ways. The New World galvanized the European imagination; knowledge of its existence and its peoples was an important factor in the explosion of the Renaissance, which involved not only the reappropriation of classical learning but also the heady sense of a future yet to be discovered. In « To His Mistress Going to Bed, » written roughly a century after Columbus’ landing, the English poet John Donne describes his lover’s disrobing until her final article of clothing is cast off and then exclaims, « O my America! my new-found land. »

In the current politically correct climate, Donne’s rapturous recognition can easily be dismissed as a typically white European male response toward unclaimed territory, combining voyeurism, sex and predatory aggression. This reading filters out all the fun and, more important, the awe and wonder that the Americas sparked in European minds. And the New World fed Europe more than literary tropes, intellectual excitement and a whiff of the exotic. It fed Europe . . . food, stuff that native Americans had been cultivating for thousands of years and that Europeans had never heard of: peppers, paprika, potatoes, corn, tomatoes.

A wider understanding of this transfer of knowledge from the New World to the Old should by fostered by the Smithsonian Institution’s « Seeds of Change, » the largest exhibition ever mounted at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. Opening Oct. 12 and running through April 1993, the Smithsonian exhibit sets forth five « natural » elements — sugar, disease, maize, the potato and the horse — the exchange of which has profoundly altered both the New and Old Worlds in the 500 years since Columbus’ first voyage.

The Smithsonian show and much of the other serendipitous scholarly digging in preparation for the Columbus quincentennial actually work quietly against the more extreme positions staked out by those who hate or love what transpired 500 years ago. Thank goodness. Because it is impossible, even with the best will in the world, to find a simple common ground between the contending notions of Civilization or Genocide, Progress or the Cyclical Harmony of the Seasons, Mastering the Land or Living with the Bounty That the Land Will Provide on Its Own.

Impossible, because all these abstractions belong more to the world of morality plays than to the messy arena of history as it occurs. The vast amount of new information being discovered about the New World, both before and after 1492, actually points the way toward a genuinely harmonious understanding of the present moment and how it was achieved. The Columbus quincentennial deserves some credit for focusing this energy and attention. But the worry is that if the debate grows louder and more strident, it could obscure this increasing pool of common knowledge in a shouting match of cliches.

If any book can be said to summon up the passions of this moment, it is Kirkpatrick Sale’s The Conquest of Paradise, (Knopf; $24.95). Published last year, the 453-page popular history has become a call to arms for the anti- Columbians; it is also the book the traditional Columbus faction most loves to hate. Sale is a social historian whose research into Columbus’ life and travels and the explorer’s contemporary world is impressive; his narrative, especially when he joins Columbus aboard the Santa Maria, is gripping. Sale persuasively describes what it must have felt like for the explorer to stumble upon an unimagined world, peopled, as the author notes, by the tribe known as the Tainos, a European name attached to them that was taken from their own word for « good. »

Sale goes on to note that « the Tainos’ lives were in many ways as idyllic as their surroundings, into which they fit with such skill and comfort. They were well fed and well housed, without poverty or serious disease. They enjoyed considerable leisure, given over to dancing, singing, ballgames, and sex, and expressed themselves artistically in basketry, woodworking, pottery, and jewelry. They lived in general harmony and peace, without greed or covetousness or theft. »

Never mind the aesthetic objection that Sale makes these people sound ^ suspiciously like a bunch of New Agers vacationing in the Bahamas. Discount the fact that Sale does not mention evidence of the Tainos’ hierarchic social structure, which included, at the bottom level, slaves.

The deepest problem is that Sale, like others who idealize the people whose fate was sealed by the explorer’s arrival, actually does them another kind of injury. The perfect island race of Sale’s imagination is denied its commonality with the rest of humanity. Father Leonid Kishkovsky of the Orthodox Church in America, who chaired the National Council of the Churches meeting at which the controversial Columbus quincentennial resolution was debated, is one of those who question the notion implicit in Sale’s work that evil was something imported exclusively from Europe: « In a certain sense this is patronizing; it’s as if native indigenous people don’t really have a history, which includes civilization, warfare, empires and cruelties, before white people even arrived. »

Lurking behind Sale’s argument and that of many other vociferous critics is a prelapsarian myth: the world was once perfect and now it isn’t, so someone or something must have ruined it. Many cultures possess a form of this myth; it is particularly strong in Western thought because of the Adam and Eve story in the Old Testament. In the 18th century, Jean Jacques Rousseau popularized a secular version of that Eden story with his writings about the Noble Savage. And part of his inspiration for this concept came from his knowledge of the New World. Even Sale’s anti-Columbian ideas, it seems, owe more to Columbus than some of his readers might imagine.

Mythology is a closed system, a revolving circle of self-reinforcing perceptions. The true history of 1492 and ever after occurred in a different plane of existence, where questions like Were Savages Noble? are either meaningless or susceptible to proof. For too long, the American myth demonized or ignored the people whom Columbus encountered on these shores. Must people now replace this with a new myth that simply demonizes Columbus and Europeans? It is easy to see why former victims might like their turn as heroes. But if that is all the quincentennial produces, an important opportunity for self- reflection will have been wasted.

Celebrate Columbus? Not if that simply means backslapping and flag waving. But it can mean more: taking stock of the long, fascinating record, noting that inevitable conflict resulted in losers as well as winners and produced a mixture of races, customs and habits never before seen in the world. Columbus and all he represents may simply provide an excuse for finger shaking. But perhaps it is possible to celebrate Columbus by trying harder to understand each other and ourselves.

Voir de plus:

Aztec Sacrifices Laid to Hunger, Not Just Religion
Boyce Rensberger
The New York Times
February 19, 1977

The Aztecs sacrificed human beings atop their sacred pyramids not simply for religious reasons but because they had to eat people to obtain protein needed in their diet, a New York anthropologist has suggested.

Based on evidence he has gathered, Dr. Michael Harner, a professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research, contends that in the 15th century, just before the Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs had the most cannibalistic culture known to modern anthropology.

Although most sources on the Aztecs note that human sacrifice and cannibalism were practiced, they seldom suggest that it was anything more than an occasional religious rite.

Dr. Harner’s theory of nutritional need is based on a recent revision in the number of people thought to have been sacrificed by the Aztecs. Dr. Woodrow Borah an authority on the demography of ancient Mexico at the University of California, Berkeley, has recently estimated that the Aztecs sacrificed 250,000 people a year. This consituted about 1 percent of the region’s population of 25 million.

Meat Shortage

While the Aztec civilization, with its architecturally spectacular cities and elaborately codified life‐styles, is usually thought of as having been bountiful, Dr. Harner contends that conventional food in the thickly populated region was not always abundant.

He argues that cannibalism, which may have begun for purely religious reasons, appears to have grown to serve nutritional needs because the Aztecs, unlike nearly all other civilizations, lacked domesticated herbivores such as pigs or cattle.

Staples of the Aztec diet were corn and beans supplemented with a few vegetables, lizards, snakes and worms. There were some domesticated turkeys and hairless dogs. Poor people gathered floating mats of vegetation from lakes.

Humans Fattened in Cages

Dr. Harner’s theories are to be published in a formal article in the February issue of American Ethnologist, a journal of the American Anthropological Association.

“The evidence of Aztec cannibalism.” Dr. Harner wrote for that article, “has largely been ignored and consciously or unconsciously covered up.”

In contemporary sources, however, such as the writings of Hernando Cortes, who conquered the Aztecs in 1521, and Bernal Diaz, who accompanied Cortes, Dr. Hamer says there is abundant evidence that human sacrifice was a common event in every town and that the limbs of the victims were boiled or roasted and eaten.

Diaz, who is regarded by anthropologists as a highly reliable source, wrote in “The Conquest of New Spain,” for example, that in the town of Tlaxcala “we found wooden cages made of lattice‐work in which men and women were imprisoned and fed until they were fat enough to be sacrificed and eaten. These prison cages existed throughout the country.”

The sacrifices, carried out by priests, took place atop the hundreds of steepwalled pyramids scattered about the Valley of Mexico. According to Diaz, the victims were taken up the pyramids where the priests “laid them down on their backs on some narrow stones of sacrifice and, cutting open their chests, drew out their palpitating hearts which they offered to the idols before them.

Then they kicked the bodies down the steps, and the Indian butchers who were waiting below cut off their arms and legs. Then they ate their flesh with a sauce of peppers and tomatoes.”

The skulls were placed on a skull rack near each pyramid, alongside the skulls of previous victims. In TenochtitIan, the royal city of the Aztecs and the precursor of Mexico City. Cortes’s associates counted a minimum of 136,000 skulls on the rack.

Diaz’s accounts indicate that the Aztecs ate only the limbs of their victims. The torsos were fed to carnivores in zoos.

According to Dr. Harner, the Aztecs never sacrificed their own people. Instead they battled neighboring nations, using tactics that minimized deaths in battle and maximized the number of prisoners.

The traditional explanation for Aztec human sacrifice has been that it was religious—a way of winning the support of the gods for success in battle. Victories procured even more victims, thus winning still more divine support in the next war.

Dr. Harner contends that a need for food, particularly during periods of famine, came to be a significant factor, especially as the human population in the Valley of Mexico grew to 25 million.

In 1450, for example, Aztec records indicated that famines were so severe that the royal granaries, which contained the grain surpluses of more than 10 good years, were depleted.

Traditional anthropological accounts indicate that to win more favor from the gods during the famine the Aztecs arranged with their neighbors to stage battles for prisoners who could be sacrificed. The Aztecs’ neighbors, sharing similar religious tenets, wanted to sacrifice Aztecs to their gods.

Voir encore:

Experts on Aztecs Deny Withholding Cannibalism ‘Facts’
Boyce Rensberger
The New York Times
March 3, 1977

A New York anthoropologist’s theory that the Aztecs practiced human sacrifice and cannibalism because they needed to supplement a marginal diet has been sharply criticized by a number of authorities on Aztec life.

The critics say there is substantial evidence indicating that the Aztecs had abundant sources of conventional food and that the cannibalism that existed was practiced strictly for religious reasons.

The criticism was directed at the writings of Dr. Michael Harner, a professor of anthropology at the New School for Social Research, who has asserted that most specialists on Aztec culture have “consciously or unconsciously” covered up evidence of what he believes to be the extent of Aztec cannibalism.

Dr. Harner’s theories were published last week as a formal report in the American Ethnologist, a journal of the American Anthropological Association. After his theory was described in The Times, 17 scholars specializing in Mesoamerican ancient history signed a telegram to The Times dissociating themselves from Dr. Harner’s views.

‘ “No reputable anthoropologist familiar with Aztec culture.” the statement said. “would subscribe to his views. We regard his statement that scholars have consciously or unconsciously suppressed the ‘facts’ about Aztec sacrificial practices as ridiculous.”

Dr. Peter T. Furst, a professor of anthropology at the State Univdrsity or New York at Albany, and a signer of the statement, said in a telephone interview that the Spanish priests who lived among the Aztecs immediately after their conquest by Cortes wrote about the abundance and variety of food available in Aztec markets.

Dr. Furst said that the priests had been astounded by the plentifulness of game such as deer and the pig‐like peccary in forests. He said that Lake Texcoco, in which the imperial island city of Tenochtitlan was situated, was a major wintering place for migratory ducks and geese. He noted also that the Aztecs grew corn and beans and many additional vegetables and received substantial quantities of food as tribute from conquered neighbors.

“The nutritional status of central Mexico of that day was very good,” Dr. Furst said. “There just wasn’t a nutritional need for human flesh.”

Dr. Nancy Troike, an ethnohistorian at the University of Texas and another signer of the statement, said; “The Aztec diet before Conquest was an awful lot better than what the Mexicans are eating today.”

Dr. Troike said that simply because Dr. Harner’s article had been accepted by reputable scientific journal did not mean it was proper for his views to be made known to the public.

“Things like this need to get in schools or any journals where they can be debated.” she said, “but not in the popular press where people are likely to believe anything they read.”

Dr. Furst said that many Aztec scholars would question the suggestion that there were 25 million people living in central Mexico in those days and that 250,000 of them were sacrificed and eaten every year. Those figures, developed by Dr. Woodrow Borah, a specialist on ancient Mexican demography at the University of California, Berkeley, were cited by Dr. Harner.

Dr. Harner argued that the level of human sacrifice had been so great that it could not be explained by religious reasons alone. He suggested that, because the Aztecs had lacked large domesticated animals such as cattle or pigs, they had resorted to cannibalism to meet their need for protein.

“That the scale of human sacrifice was very large, we know,” Dr. Furst said. “The Aztecs carried sacrifice to a much greater degree than anybody else. But is explainable in terns of their religion.”

Dr. Furst said that the Aztecs had believed that their world would be destroyed if the gods were not offered enough human hearts

Dr. Harner said that he was not surprised at the reaction of specialists in Mesoamerican history.

“They’re going to be upset about this! for obvious reasons,” Dr. Harner said. “They’re not going to have the people they study looking like cannibals. They’re clinging to a very romantic point of view about the Aztecs. It’s the Hiawatha syndrome.”

Voir enfin:

Les victimes du sacrifice humain aztèque

Michel Graulich
Civilisations
2002
p. 91-114

On sait que les victimes du sacrifice humain aztèque étaient très nombreuses. Il fut un temps, sans doute, où c’était surtout des esclaves, comme cela resta le cas chez les Mayas. Mais la forte expansion de l’empire aztèque fit que rapidement, ce furent les guerriers ennemis capturés qui fournirent l’immense majorité des victimes, suivis par les esclaves, les enfants, les condamnés à mort, des personnes anormales : albinos, nains, bossus, contrefaits, macrocéphales, tous sacrifiables d’office, des personnes libres ordinaires, volontaires (comme des prostituées ou des musiciens) ou non, des étrangers de passage et enfin, dans certains cas précis, des princesses de la cité.

Comme ailleurs en Amérique (Helfrich 1973 ; chez les Nicaraos du Nicaragua : Oviedo 1.40 c.l, 1959,4 : 373 ; Martyr, 6e déc. 1.6, 1965,2 : 571), à l’apogée de l’empire, les principales catégories étaient donc les guerriers et les esclaves. Elles correspondent aux deux victimes prototypiques du sacrifice humain dans le mythe dit de la création du soleil et de la lune à Teotihuacan : Nanahuatl, qui est revêtu des atours typiques des guerriers immolés et Tecciztecatl, de ceux des esclaves baignés (Sahagún VII c.5). L’imprécision terminologique des sources ne permet pas toujours de bien les distinguer : le mot (malli) désignant le captif de guerre est employé aussi bien pour le combattant destiné au sacrifice que pour les femmes et les enfants réduits en esclavage (Sahagún II c.20, 1950-81, 2 : 47 ; Anales de Cuauhtitlan :37, 59, 60 … ). D’autre part, les guerriers capturés sont parfois appelés esclaves (Sahagún II App. , XII c.34 ; 1950-81 :2 :204, 12 : 95).

  • 1 Voir aussi Ixtlilxochitl, Historia chichimeca c.38, 1975-77: 2: 103. Pour lui, c’est la Triple Al (…)
  • 2 Sur cette guerre et ses autres motivations, notamment politiques, voir Graulich 1994; Duran 1967, (…)

La mission des Mexicas est en principe de faire la guerre pour nourrir ciel et terre et pour faire marcher la « machine mondiale ». Mais c’est là un discours particulier, propre essentiellement aux nobles, semble-t-il. En fait, il faut faire la distinction entre guerre fleurie et guerre tout court. Dans les deux, on faisait des prisonniers qui étaient sacrifiés. Mais la guerre ordinaire poursuivait avant tout les objectifs habituels d’une guerre. Il n’était pas question d’attaquer une cité sous prétexte de vouloir nourrir le soleil la terre : il fallait des motivations légitimes, telles que le massacre de marchands ou d’ambassadeurs, le refus de commercer, etc. Le roi doit soumettre ses motifs à une assemblée de vassaux, de guerriers distingués et de citoyens de la cité, qui donnent ou refusent leur approbation. En cas de refus, le roi peut reposer la question et, après un troisième refus, passer outre et procéder à la déclaration de guerre ou, le cas échéant, à une attaque surprise (Motolinia Memoriales 1.2 c12, 1970 : 157-158, suivi par Mendieta II, cap. 26, 1 : 144)1. La guerre fleurie (xochiyaoyotl) en revanche a théoriquement pour seul but la capture de prisonniers à sacrifier. Des batailles de ce nom, modérément sanglantes paraît-il, avaient lieu depuis longtemps (Chimalpahin 1965 : 152 ; 1997 :66-67 ; Anales de Cuauhtitlan :27, 1945 : 32), mais la véritable guerre fleurie opposant la Triple Alliance de Mexico, Texcoco et Tlacopan à des cités de la vallée voisine de Puebla, principalement Tlaxcala, Cholula et Huexotzinco, n’aurait été instituée qu’à l’occasion de la grande famine du milieu du XVe s., famine qui fut interprétée comme un châtiment des dieux insuffisamment alimentés. Les armées des deux camps s’opposaient régulièrement sur un champ de bataille précis et capturaient le plus possible de prisonniers pour les immoler ensuite au cours des grandes fêtes des vingtaines, garantissant ainsi aux dieux un garde-manger bien fourni2.

Deux types de guerres différents selon leurs objectifs, donc, mais deux guerres ritualisées, auxquelles une bonne partie de la population était invitée à s’associer. Les femmes mariées, les jeunes filles, les recluses des couvents se mettaient à jeûner et s’abstenaient de se laver tandis que les prêtres s’extrayaient en outre du sang tous les quatre jours. Le matin, avant le lever de Vénus, les épouses et soeurs des guerriers en campagne allaient dans de petits oratoires où pendaient les mantes des absents et les os des guerriers qu’ils avaient immolés, et elles encensaient et imploraient les dieux et les os de leur donner la victoire. Elles leur donnaient à déjeuner, notamment de grandes tortillas blanches papalotlaxcalli, et les assuraient que leurs parents n’étaient pas partis au travail comme d’habitude, pour gagner leur vie, mais uniquement ( !) pour le service des dieux. Le roi jeûnait plus fort que les autres jusqu’au retour de l’armée (Tezozomoc c.70, 1878 :539 ; Durán c.46, 1967 :2 : 358-359 ; Pomar 1986 : 68-69).

La campagne était menée par les « seigneurs du soleil ». Les prêtres précédaient les armées d’un jour, portant sur le dos les images des divinités. Avant la bataille, presque toujours en rase campagne, ils s’activaient à allumer du feu (avec les bâtonnets), puis sonnaient les conques. Dès que le feu avait pris, ils donnaient le signal de l’attaque en poussant des cris. Le ou les premiers ennemis capturés étaient immédiatement immolés devant les images divines (Sahagún VIII c.17 §1 ; RG d’Ixtepexi, zapotèque ; d’Alauiztlan, chontal ; d’Ichcateopan, Instlauaca et Tecomastlahuala, mixtèques ; Graulich 1994 : 128). Habituellement, dès le premier choc, une des armées cédait et prenait la fuite. C’est surtout alors, pendant le sauve-qui-peut, qu’avait lieu la capture de prisonniers. Les vaincus se soumettent, éventuellement en obligeant leur roi à capituler, voire en le tuant. Habituellement, la chasse à l’homme se prolonge jusque dans la cité ennemie. Parfois, les Aztèques massacrent tout le monde après quelques sacrifices sur place, ou ils tuent quiconque a plus de huit ans, ou encore ils ne laissent en vie, pour les emmener captifs, qu’un jeune homme sur deux, ou les jeunes garçons et filles. Dans d’autres cas, le mot d’ordre est de capturer tout le monde (Motolinia Mem. II c.13-14, 1970 :158-159, Mendieta 1945 :1 :143-144 ; Tezozomoc 1878 :359, 422-423, 430-431, 342, 344-345 ; Durán 1967 :2. 208, 229, 269, 359).

  • 3 Ainsi, le premier recevait le corps et la cuisse droite, le second la cuisse gauche, le troisième (…)Quand un guerrier capture un vaincu, il dit : « il est comme mon fils chéri » et l’autre répond : « il est mon père chéri » (ca notatzin : Sahagún II c.21, p. 54). La capture n’étant pas toujours facile, parfois on coupe les jarrets de ceux qui se débattent. Plus souvent, on s’y met à plusieurs, au maximum six, pour neutraliser un ennemi ; par la suite, pour le banquet cannibale consécutif au sacrifice, le corps sera réparti entre les six dans l’ordre où ils ont mis la main sur leur victime3. Si plusieurs guerriers réclament un même captif et qu’il n’y a pas de témoins, c’est un « seigneur du soleil » qui départage, éventuellement après avoir entendu le témoignage du prisonnier. En cas de doute persistant, on peut décider de le remettre au temple Huitzcalco (du calpulli de Coatlan) ou au temple de calpulli (sans précision). Tout tromperie en la matière, comme de s’approprier le captif d’un autre ou de donner son propre prisonnier à autrui est puni de mort (Sahagún 1.8 c.17 §1, 1969,2 :317 ; Motolinia Mem. II c.13-14, 1970 : 160 ; Mendieta II c. 27,1945,1 :144 ; Pomar), le coupable fût-il fils de roi (Ixtlilxochitl, Historia Chichimeca c.67, 1975-1976, 2 :170).
  • 4 Pour Cervantes de Salazar, qui diffère ici, celui qui a fait 5 prisonniers « mudava el traje del c (…)

Cette rigueur extrême dans l’attribution précise des victimes s’explique autant par l’importance religieuse de la capture de victimes que par son rôle de moteur social. L’avancement dans la hiérarchie militaire était en effet conditionné, du moins en grande partie, par le nombre de captifs qu’on avait fait immoler. Plusieurs sources plus ou moins concordantes décrivent en détail le processus (Sahagún VIII c.21, 1950-1981, 8 :73-75 p.ex. ; Cervantes de Salazar 1 c.22, 1985 : 43-44). A partir de l’âge de dix ans, le petit garçon, jusqu’alors rasé, se laisse pousser une mèche sur l’arrière du crâne, mèche qu’on lui rase lorsqu’il a fait un premier prisonnier avec l’aide d’autres personnes. A partir de ce moment, il se laisse pousser une mèche sur le côté droit, jusque sous l’oreille. Elle lui vaudra des quolibets s’il revient deux ou trois fois de la guerre sans captif. Celui qui parvient à faire seul un prisonnier devient un « guide de jeunes gens » que le roi lui-même récompense et revêt de vêtements décorés (Sahagún 1950-1981 : 8 :75s.). Les captures suivantes lui vaudront des titres supérieurs et le droit de porter des insignes plus importants. A partir de quatre, il devient « guerrier chef chevronné » (tequihua) et peut prendre place sur la natte de la maison des aigles (cuauhcalli), où se réunissent les grands guerriers. Par la suite, s’il capture encore des Huaxtèques ou d’autres Barbares, il stagne, mais s’il fait des prisonniers de la vallée de Tlaxcala en guerre fleurie il devient huey tiacauh, cuauhyacatl et reçoit du roi de riches atours et insignes. Pour les nobles, des captures dans ces guerres confirment leur noblesse et leur qualité d’aigles-jaguars ; elle leur permet de gouverner des cités et de devenir des commensaux du roi. D’autres titres prestigieux étaient ceux de cuachic, guerrier d’arrière-garde et renfort ultime qui jamais ne recule, et d’Otomi4.

La victoire obtenue, un messager est dépêché chez le roi pour lui annoncer la prise de captifs, puis il est retenu jusqu’à plus ample informé. Sur place, après la prise de la cité, on procède au comptage des captifs obtenus par les différents alliés et des guerriers chevronnés vont faire rapport définitif au roi, en précisant notamment le nombre de nobles qui ont mérité des honneurs pour leur conduite. (Sahagún 1950-1981 : 8 : 72-73). Ensuite on se met en route avec les prisonniers, dont beaucoup mouraient en chemin. Les Huaxtèques étaient retenus par une corde passée dans le trou qu’ils se percent dans le nez. Aux jeunes qui n’ont pas le nez percé, on met colliers de bois ou on leur entrave bras et pieds. Ceux de Miahuatlan décourageaient toute velléité de fuite en attachant la corde de leur arc au membre viril du captif. (Durán c. 42, 1967,2 : 327, 330).

  • 5 Le sacrifice de guerriers est en effet double: l’excision du coeur pour le soleil, la décapitatio (…)

Le retour à Mexico donnait lieu à une entrée triomphale remarquable. Les anciens guerriers prêtres et les dignitaires de tout rang des temples attendent les prisonniers à l’entrée de la ville, rangés en ordre d’importance, avec leurs atours spécifiques. Ils encensent les « victimes des dieux », leur donnent un pain sacré enfilé sur des cordes et leur disent : « Soyez les très bienvenus à cette cour de Mexico Tenochtitlan, dans la mare où chanta l’aigle et siffla le serpent, où volent les oiseaux, où jaillit l’eau bleue pour se mêler à l’eau rouge [ … ], où le dieu Huitzilopochtli a son pouvoir et sa juridiction. Et ne croyez pas qu’il vous a conduits ici par hasard, ni à chercher votre vie, mais pour que vous mouriez pour lui et offriez au couteau votre poitrine et votre gorge5. Et c’est pour cela qu’il vous a été donner de jouir de cette insigne cité, car si ce n’était pour mourir, jamais on ne vous en ouvrirait las portes pour y entrer. Soyez les très bienvenus et ce qui doit vous consoler, c’est que vous êtes ici non par quelque acte femelle et infâme, mais pour des faits d’hommes, pour mourir ici et pour laisser de vous mémoire perpétuelle. » Puis on leur donne à boire le pulque divin (teooctli), les assimilant ainsi aux Mimixcoas, les guerriers sacrificiels proto typiques ivres de pulque.

En un premier temps, on s’adresse donc aux prisonniers comme à des ennemis et on met d’emblée les choses au point : ils sont vaincus et leur sort est inéluctable, mais glorieux. En même temps, on leur souhaite la bienvenue, car ils seront bientôt « chez eux » et leur mort les transformera en Mimixcoas et en compagnons du Soleil. On les encense comme des entités sacrées, peut-être aussi pour les purifier en tant que future offrande aux dieux.

  • 6 La source ne mentionne pas la Terre, second destinataire, mais celle-ci était présente en plusieu (…)

Après avoir présenté les victimes à la population, aux prêtres et en particulier aux guerriers qui, frustrés par l’âge ou leurs devoirs, n’ont pu participer à la chasse à l’homme, on les conduit devant le destinataire premier du sacrifice, Huitzilopochtli6. Ils doivent passer en rang au pied de l’idole, dans son temple, en faisant un profond salut, puis, après avoir visité différents endroits qui joueront un rôle lors de leur mise à mort –le cuauhxicalli, le temalacatl, le tzompantli -, ils vont faire de même devant le souverain dans son palais. Celui-ci, qui est comme « seconde personne du dieu [ … ] et qu’ils adoraient comme des dieux », leur fait donner des vêtements et de la nourriture, voire même des fleurs et des cigares. Le « serpent femelle » ou cihuacoatl, seconde personne du roi, les appelle frères et dit qu’ils sont chez eux, dans leur maison. Il importe en effet d’intégrer les captifs dans le groupe des Mexicas, de faire en sorte qu’ils soient « chez eux ». Parfois, ils reçoivent peut-être des filles de joie qui égaient leurs derniers jours et qui sont ainsi, pour un temps, comme des épouses mexicaines de ces étrangers (C.del Castillo 7r,1991 :128-9). Nous connaissons le cas d’un captif de marque qui vécut longtemps en liberté dans la ville avant d’être immolé (Graulich 2000a) : la victime devient membre de la cité.

Après des danses, dont on ne sait trop si elles sont exécutées par les prisonniers ou leurs vainqueurs ou par les uns et les autres, les seigneurs vaincus viennent faire soumission devant Huitzilopochtli et le devant le roi, en s’extrayant du sang – signe d’humiliation – et en se disant dorénavant serviteurs du dieu. Ils entendent alors les conditions qui leur sont imposées. (Durán c.17, 21, 1967,2 :159-162, 188) Ensuite, les captifs sont confiés aux calpixque en tant que « grâce du soleil-seigneur de la terre » et « fils et vassaux du soleil » (Durán c.21, 1967, 2 : 182, 188 ; Tezozomoc c.29, 62, 1878 : 317, 469, 530) .

Comment expliquer l’intégration-assimilation des prisonniers, dont l’exemple extrême bien connu est celui des Tupinambas du Brésil (Métraux 1967 ; Combès 1992) ? Par le fait que l’autre est différent, donc moindre, et qu’il ne devient une offrande digne qu’à partir du moment où il est acceptable, intégré ? Ou faut-il évoquer René Girard (1972) et sa théorie du sacrifice-lynchage ? Selon lui, on ne peut prendre la victime à l’intérieur du groupe, car on risque de provoquer le déchaînement de violence de la vengeance ; mais, d’autre part, l’effet apaisant que doit apporter au groupe le sacrifice ne se produit que si la victime en fait partie. Pour concilier ces impératifs, on la choisit marginale (membre du groupe sans l’être tout à fait, un enfant par exemple) ou étrangère, mais alors on l’intègre, on fait comme si la victime appartenait quand même au groupe.

Qu’il y ait dans le sacrifice aztèque une volonté consciente ou non de canaliser la violence interne est possible, mais difficile à démontrer. La composition polyethnique des cités, leur fréquent manque de cohésion, montrent que les risques de violence et de conflits internes n’étaient pas illusoires. A l’intérieur même de l’île de Mexico, les Mexicas étaient divisés en deux cités dont l’une a fini par asservir l’autre. A Tenochtitlan, il y avait les habitants les plus anciens, parmi lesquels les Amantèques et les marchands, les calpullis mexicas mais aussi nombre de nouveaux venus, dont les derniers, temporaires, semblent avoir été les Huexotzincas, peu avant la Conquête. D’autres cités de l’époque, comme Texcoco, Cholula, Huexotzinco, etc., abritaient également des populations disparates et notamment, à Cholula par exemple, des Mexicas qui avaient, comme de juste, leur propres intérêts qui ne coïncidaient pas nécessairement avec ceux de leurs hôtes. Les occasions de conflits étaient donc nombreuses et cette spécificité peut avoir été une des causes de l’inflation sacrificielle. Mais, répétons-le, on ne voit pas comment on pourrait démontrer que le sacrifice humain tendait aussi à éviter la violence interne. Ce qui est sûr en revanche, c’est que la théorie aztèque du sacrifice rendait l’intégration de la victime et sa proximité au sacrifiant (ici, en premier lieu, celui qui avait fait le prisonnier) indispensable : le sacrifiant mourait en effet symboliquement à travers sa victime qui le représentait.

Les captifs sont donc confiés aux intendants qui les répartissent dans les maisons de quartier, où ils sont mis dans de grandes cages de bois (Durán c.21, 22, 1967 :2 :182,188, RG d’Amula Ameca ; Mendieta 1945, 1 :151 ; des cages sont figurées dans Sahagún CF II f.58v, VIII f.27r ; la Mapa Quinatzin, etc.). Des personnes désignées les gardent, allant jusqu’à dormir sur ces cages (RG de Metztitlan) ; si elles doivent sortir pour des besoins naturels, on les retient par une corde passée autour de la taille (Sahagún II c.37). Plusieurs sources s’accordent sur le fait que les prisonniers étaient bien nourris (Sahagún VIII c.14 § 8) en vue de leur consommation prochaine (Durán 1967, 2 :169, 188 ; Gómara 1965, 2 :31 ; RG d’Amula Ameca ; Bernai Diaz 1947, 70, 78) ; par contre, Mendieta (1945, 1 :151) affirme que les captifs, mal nourris, devenaient vite maigres et jaunes. Probablement cela variait-il selon le nombre de captifs, la période de l’année, la cité intéressée, etc.

Si un prisonnier parvient à s’échapper, le quartier auquel appartient le gardien coupable doit payer en dédommagement un jeune esclave, une rondache et une charge étoffes (Motolinia Mem. II c.13, 1970 : 160 ; Mendieta II c. 27, 1945,1 :144), mais on parle aussi de mise à mort du responsable (Durán c.19, 1967, 2 : 169). On donnait évidemment la chasse aux fugitifs et selon la relation géographique de Miahuatlan, si on le rattrapait, il était immédiatement mis en pièces. L’évadé de basse condition qui rentrait chez lui était bien reçu et recevait même des étoffes, tandis que s’il était un personnage important, il était sacrifié pour avoir fait honte à sa cité. (Motolinia Mem. 1970 : 159-160 ; Sahagún VIII c.17, 21, 1950- 1981 : 8 : 53, 75 ; selon Ixtlilxóchitl 1975-1977, 2 :102, le noble est pendu). A Teotihuacan, le prisonnier de guerre mené au sacrifice qui parvenait à fuir, à escalader le temple et à passer derrière la statue du dieu échappait au sacrifice (RG San Juan Teotihuacan 1986 :237).

En général, dans les grandes cités de la Triple Alliance et du val de Tlaxcala, on ne relâchait jamais un prisonnier de guerre, surtout s’il était de haut rang (Motolinia, Mem. 1970 :160), sauf, paraît-il, pour persuader un ennemi de se soumettre. Dans ce cas, on libérait un grand seigneur qui retournait chez lui pour y rapporter l’effroyable immolation de ses concitoyens (Cervantes de Salazar c.22, 1985 :42). Une autre exception concernerait le vaillant qui parvenait à vaincre une seigneur mexica au cours du sacrifice dit « gladiatoire ». Paré de la peau du vaincu et de son coeur porté en collier, il était conduit devant le roi qui le nommait capitaine d’une province reculée de l’empire. La source qui rapporte cela, le codex Tudela (fo1.12v), n’est cependant pas des plus sûres et donne une version passablement singulière du « sacrificio gladiatorio ».

Plusieurs sources affirment que les guerriers capturés étaient tous mis à mort. Les renseignements concernent des cités importantes comme Mexico bien sûr (Duran c.20, 21, 1967, 2 : 181-182, 186 ; Motolinia 1970 : 160 ; Mendieta II c.16, c27 ; Ixtlilxóchitl 1975-197, 2 :145), mais aussi Metztitlan (RG) et les cités qui lui faisaient la guerre. On peut supposer qu’il en allait de même à Tepeucila, dans la Mixteca, où on précise qu’on ne faisait la guerre que pour attraper des victimes à immoler (RG de Tilantongo). Pour d’autres cités, comme Coatlan (RG), près de Miahuatlan, on est confronté à l’ambiguïté de la terminologie employée. On y sacrifiait, nous dit-on, « la plupart » des prisonniers, mais le texte poursuit en précisant que les hommes étaient immolés au dieu 7 Lapin et les femmes à 3 Cerf. Ici, visiblement, les captifs de guerre n’incluent pas que les belligérants, étant donné que, normalement, les femmes ne participaient pas au combat, sauf parfois en toute dernière extrémité.

Dans d’autres régions ou royaumes en revanche, on n’immolait pas toujours tous les guerriers prisonniers. Chez les Quichés, seuls les principaux, le seigneur et ses frères, étaient tués et mangés, pour semer l’épouvante (Las Casas 1967,2 : 503-4 ; Torquemada 1969, 2 : 388 suit Las Casas ; voir aussi Carmack 1976 : 269-71). Chez les Mayas, les captifs de basse extraction étaient réduits en esclavage et les seigneurs sacrifiés, quoique parfois ils pussent se racheter. (Gaspar Antonio Chi, dans Tozzer 1941 : 230-32 ; Bosch Garcia 1944 : 95). A Miahuatlan, « de ceux qu’ils prenaient en guerre, beaucoup étaient réduits en esclavage », mais on ignore à nouveau si cela concerne aussi les combattants prisonniers (RG Miahuatlan et Tecuicuilco Atepec Coquiapa Xaltianguez). A Tetela (RG) et alentours, « ils se battaient pour faire des prisonniers dont ils tuaient ceux qu’ils jugeaient bon », ou ils les livraient à leur seigneur qui en faisait ce qu’il voulait, comme de les installer sur des mâts et les faire percer de flèches. A Chimalhuacan, non loin de Coatepec (RG), vers 1400, le roi Tezcapoctzin captura le roi de Xiuhtepec qui paya tribut pour se libérer. Temazcaltepec (RG) faisait la guerre contre les Tarasques et les prisonniers étaient sacrifiés ou réduits en esclavage.

Cette situation, où tous les prisonniers n’étaient pas sacrifiés, était fort répandue et peut donc être supposée plus ancienne que l’immolation générale. Certains témoignages indiquent de surcroît qu’à leurs débuts et jusqu’à une date assez tardive, les Mexicas également ne sacrifiaient qu’un nombre limité de guerriers. Ixtlilxochitl (1975-77, 1 : 330) par exemple relate qu’en 1359, les Tépanèques capturèrent des Acolhuas dont eux-mêmes et leurs alliés mexicas ne sacrifièrent que les vaillants, les autres étant vendus comme esclaves. Sous Axayacatl, des prisonniers de guerre matlatzincas servirent à repeupler la cité de Xalatlauhco, et on peut supposer que ce n’étaient pas seulement des femmes, des enfants et des vieillards (Ixtlilxochitl 1975-77, 2 :144 ; voir aussi Durán c.28, 1967, 2 : 229 : les esclaves appartenaient à ceux qui les avaient capturés mais parfois le roi les prenait pour les immoler, « mais il en donnait le double de richesses de ce qu’ils valaient »). L’immolation générale semble donc être un développement tardif à mettre en rapport avec la constante croissance démographique de l’époque ainsi qu’avec la grande extension de l’empire aztèque et l’afflux de captifs dans les cités puissantes. Cette évolution va de pair avec une manière de « démocratisation » du sacrifice humain et du cannibalisme, qui deviennent accessibles même aux guerriers issus du peuple.

  • 7  » … and here, to Mexico, from everywhere, were brought captives, called « tribute-captives » (Ali (…)

Non seulement les cités ne sacrifient pas toujours tous leurs captifs, mais souvent, si elles ne sont pas indépendantes, il leur est interdit de le faire parce qu’elles doivent de livrer une partie de leurs captifs en tribut à la cité dont elles dépendent, et ce selon des modalités qui peuvent varier. Tel est le cas de Tepeaca qui, vaincu par Montezuma 1 doit fournir tous les 80 jours des captifs de guerre à s. à Mexico (Durán c.18, 1967,2 :158), ou de Tlatelolco, qui, lors de chaque campagne, doit livrer des prisonniers de guerre pour Huitzilopochtli (Tezozomoc c.46, 1878 : 397). Les Tépoztèques de Citlalatomaua, dans le Guerrero méridional, ne sont pas cannibales mais font la guerre pour livrer des esclaves à manger à Montezuma. (RG de Citlalatomaua ; aussi RG de Zumpango). Lorsque ceux d’Acapetlaguaya (RG) capturent une « personne principale », ils l’envoyent au roi à Mexico pour qu’il l’immole. Ceux d’Ahuatlan (RG), près de Puebla, « ne paient pas tribut » à Mexico mais participent à la guerre fleurie et conduisent leurs captifs au sacrifice à Mexico. Les Zapotèques d’Ocelotepec (RG ; voir aussi Soustelle 1955 :102) sont toujours en guerre et quand la prise est bonne, ils envoient quelques captifs à Montezuma « en signe de reconnaissance », « comme présent ». D’une manière plus générale, Duran (c.43, 1967, 2 :334) raconte que lors de l’inauguration de la pyramide principale du Grand Temple sous Ahuitzotl, on attendait des seigneurs invités qu’ils apportent l’habituel tribut d’esclaves « qu’ils étaient tenus d’apporter pour le sacrifice lors de telles solennités » et il est précisé plus loin qu’il s’agit de « tous les captifs pris en guerre qu’ils devaient en tribut à la Couronne royale de Mexico ». Enfin, on sait qu’à l’occasion de la fête de Macuilxochitl, donc le jour 5 Fleur, « de partout on amenait des captifs, appelés maltequime » (Sahagún 1 c.14, 1950-81, 1 :32)7.

J’ai démontré ailleurs que la chasse à l’homme qu’était la guerre était à bien des égards assimilée à une chasse tout court (Graulich 1997). Chez les Quichés, les captifs étaient du reste qualifiés de gibier. Non seulement la proximité homme-animal était très grande, mais, on l’a vu dans les mythes, les hommes ont remplacé les animaux comme victimes. Les sources (Anales de Cuauhtitlan fol.1-3 p.ex.) laissent aussi entendre qu’avant la création du soleil, alors que les peuples nomadisaient, Terre et Feu, qui alors dominaient, se contentaient des prémices de la chasse. Cette offrande autorisait la manducation du reste, de même que seul le sacrifice humain autorisait le cannibalisme. Les captifs entrant à Mexico hurlaient comme des bêtes ; une fois sacrifiés, leurs têtes étaient exposées sur le tzompantli où elles devenaient les fruits d’une sorte de verger artificiel qui devait assurer la renaissance des victimes, de même que les rites effectués avec les os du gibier assuraient son retour. La guerre imitait donc la chasse, mais parfois c’était l’inverse, comme lors des fêtes de quecholli, de tititl et d’izcalli (toutes au cours de la saison des pluies, nocturne, présolaire), au cours desquelles avaient lieu de grandes battues au terme desquelles le gibier était sacrifié comme des hommes ou offert au feu (ce qui pouvait également arriver à des guerriers), tandis que les capteurs étaient récompensés comme des guerriers. En quecholli, on allait même jusqu’à assimiler des captifs à des cerfs et à les sacrifier comme tels. A cette égard, la quête du peyote des Huichols actuels est particulièrement intéressante, car, tout en prolongeant la réactualisation précolombienne des pérégrinations vers la Terre promise ou la terre d’origine, elle perpétue aussi la chasse sacrificielle, le peyote étant assimilé au maïs, au cerf et à l’homme. A l’instar du sacrifiant aztèque, le peyotero, grâce au peyote mis à mort et mangé, monte au ciel et voit son dieu en face.

Les guerriers sacrifiés n’étaient pas tous d’égale qualité. Il va de soi que la capture d’un roi, d’un seigneur, d’un noble, d’un haut gradé ou d’un vaillant était plus prestigieuse que celle d’un soldat ordinaire et que ces personnes avaient en elles plus de tonalli, de feu intérieur, de chaleur vitale susceptible de vitaliser les dieux et les hommes (Sahagún IX c.2, 1950-81, 9 :3 ; aussi chez les Mayas p.ex. : Helfrich 1973 : 51-70). Certains types de mise à mort leur étaient d’ailleurs réservés, en particulier le « gladiatorio », qui opposait un prisonnier attaché à une meule par une corde passée autour de la taille et pratiquement désarmé à des guerriers aigles ou jaguars pourvus d’épées à tranchants d’obsidienne. On dit que c’est le roi lui-même qui choisissait les victimes dignes de cet honneur après de multiples vérifications (Pomar 1986 : 66). Si la victime royale ou princière avait été capturée par un roi ou un seigneur, on conservait sa peau que le vainqueur revêtait parfois ou qu’on bourrait de coton ou de paille et pendait dans le temple ou le palais. (Motolinia Mem. 1 c.18, II c.14, 1970 : 33, 161) .

Autre sacrifice de privilégié, celui que faisaient les Popolocas en l’honneur du « dieu papier » Amateotl, à qui, après la victoire, ils immolaient le « meilleur prisonnier » fait en guise d’action de grâces. Ils trempaient du papier dans le sang du coeur de la victime et le collaient sur l’idole (Histoyre du Méchique 1905 : 95).

  • 8 Les Anales de Cuauhtitlan p. 3 énumèrent comme buts des Chichimèques qui se dispersent en 1 Silex (…)

Il y avait aussi des différences de qualité entre les peuples. Les victimes les plus appréciées étaient celles qui appartenaient à des populations peu éloignées et dès lors pas trop différentes de la Triple Alliance (Motolinia Mem. 1 c.2l, 1970 : 35). Les Yopis, les Tarasques du Michoacan ou les Huaxtèques vivaient trop loin. « La chair de ces populations barbares, explique le cihuacoatl Tlacaelel, qui suggéra la guerre fleurie, n’est pas agréable à notre dieu. Il la tient pour du pain bis et dur et pour du pain fade et non relevé car, comme je le dis, ils sont barbares et de langue étrangère ». Les Tlaxcaltèques en revanche « sont comme du pain chaud à peine sorti du four, tendre et savoureux ». Ce sont là, avec ceux de Huexotzinco, Cholula, Atlixco, Tecoac et Tliliuhquitepec, les victimes préférées de Huitzilopochtli. Les Tlaxcaltèques, les Cholultèques, les Mexicas, les Huexotzincas sont tous d’une même famille, ils appartiennent à une seule et même génération, celle des Chichimèques … (Durán 1967,1 : 32 ; 2.232-235, 417, 449 ; Muñoz Camargo 1892 : 116)8.

L’origine spécifique de certaines victimes pouvait aussi leur conférer une valeur particulière. Ainsi, au mois d’izcalli, consacré au dieu du feu Xiuhtecuhtli, on sacrifiait des victimes appelées Ihuipaneca Temilolca, c’est-à-dire, « ceux de la passerelle de plumes, ceux des colonnes de pierre » (López Austin 1965 : 96 ; Garibay 1956 : 4 : 354). Ihuipan peut signifier aussi « sur la plume » ou « drapeau de plumes ». On sait par les Anales de Cuauhtitlan (p.1) qu’une des trois pierres du foyer s’appelait Ihuitl, « Plume » ; peut-être y avait-il un rapport avec le nom des victimes qui accompagnaient le dieu du feu, dans lequel cas les « colonnes de pierre » pourraient également faire allusion aux pierres qui « gardaient » le feu. Mais les Ihuipaneca Temilolca nous sont connus d’autre part. Chimalpahin parle fréquemment des « anciens », un peuple qu’il appelle les Eztlapictin Teotenanca Teochichimeca Cuixcoca Temimilolca Ihuipaneca Zacanca, et dont le dieu national n’était autre que Nauhyotecuhtli Xippilli, « Seigneur du Quadruple », Prince de Turquoise, c’est-à-dire Xiuhtecuhtli (Chimalpahin, Memorial Breve f.33r, 1991 :50). Sans doute les captifs appartenaient-ils à ce peuple qu’ils représentaient donc et que personnifiait leur dieu tutélaire, le dieu du feu.

Enfin, les futures victimes pouvaient aussi être traitées différemment si elles appartenaient à un roi ou à un seigneur. Dans ce cas, elles entraient dans la ville « en tenant des rondaches et des épées ou encore des encensoirs, des cigares allumés et des fleurs, et en chantant le chant de leur pays, en pleurant et en lamentant leur malheur. » Si leur vainqueur était un roi, elles étaient transportées en litière et recevaient de riches donc (Tezozomoc c.38, 49, 1878 : 360, 410, Mendieta 1945, 1 :146).

  • 9 Sur ce sujet, voir Klein 1994; Graulich 2000b.

Il semble bien, enfin, que parfois des femmes pouvaient être sacrifiées de la même manière que, et avec des prisonniers de guerre, pour des raisons qui ne sont pas spécifiées. Il y a à cela des précédents mythiques. D’abord, bien sûr, le mythe de Coatepec où les 400 Huitznahuas et leur soeur aînée Coyolxauhqui s’arment comme des guerriers pour aller tuer leur mère enceinte au sommet de la colline de Coatepec. Mais Huitzilopochtli naît et tue en premier lieu Coyolxauhqui, qui devient ainsi la toute première victime de Huitzilopochtli. D’autre part, selon les codex Boturini et Aubin, au début de leurs pérégrinations vers leur terre promise, les Mexicas voient, gisant sur des acacias et des cactées, trois Mimixcoas dont une femme, Chimalman, et Huitzilopochtli leur commanda de les sacrifier en tant que prémices de la guerre sacrée menée pour le nourrir. Là aussi, à en croire le Boturini, la femme fut la première victime9. Toujours pendant ces errances, après la défaite de Chapultepec, les filles du roi Huitzilihuitl réclamèrent la craie et les plumes, c’est-à-dire d’être sacrifiées comme des guerriers, ce qui eut lieu (Anales de Tlatelolco 1948 : 36-8). Enfin, après la prise de Tlatelolco par Axayacatl, la reine de cette cité plaignit les femmes, se demandant si on les mènerait au sacrifice avec les guerriers (Tezozomoc c.63, 1878 : 384). Dans ce dernier cas, on a au moins un semblant d’explication puisque, dans la bataille qui s’ensuivit, des femmes nues mais armées firent mine de se battre avec les Mexicas-Tenochcas, tandis que d’autres les bombardèrent de balais, d’instruments de tissage, de lait pressé de leurs seins et d’ordures mélangées à de la terre. Bataille dérisoire, moqueries qui signifiaient que les Tenochcas n’étaient dignes de se battre que contre des femmes, mais participation des femmes à la guerre quand même. D’autre part, l’héroïsme féminin était officiellement reconnu puisque les femmes mortes en premières couches devenaient dans l’au-delà des femmes guerrières compagnes du soleil de l’après-midi.

Dans tous les cas considérés jusqu’à présent, les guerriers sacrifiés sont des ennemis. Il faut toutefois signaler un cas tout à fait exceptionnel où des guerriers mexicas pouvaient être sacrifiés à Mexico. Pendant la fête du mois de panquetzaliztli, une bataille rituelle sanglante opposait des esclaves baignés figurant sans doute Huitzilopochtli à des personnificateurs des demi-frères ennemis du dieu, les 400 Huitznahuas, aidés par des vaillants mexicas. Dans ce combat, les esclaves sacrificiels qui réussissaient à capturer un guerrier l’immolaient sur tambour de bois horizontal en guise d’autel (Sahagún II c.34, 1950- 81,2 : 146).

  • 10 Dans les codex Telleriano-Remensis fol. 32v, 38v, 39r, 40 r, 40v, 4lr, 42v, les guerriers sacrifi (…)
  • 11 Cristobal dei Castillo, auteur assez tardif, doit toutefois être manié avec prudence vu sa manie (…)

Les attributs les plus caractéristiques dont on ornait les victimes guerrières étaient les rayures de craie (tizatl) sur le corps et le duvet (ihuitl) collé sur la tête avec la résine d’une sorte de pin (MarUnez Cortés 1974 : 42)10. Cristabal dei Castillo (f.7, 1991 : 126-29) présente cette pratique comme typiquement mexica, puisque c’est le dieu Tetzauhteotl même qui, au cours des pérégrinations mexicas, aurait instruit un Huitzilopochtli évhémérisé de la manière de traiter les prisonniers de guerre : « Tercera cosa : a los que harán cautivos los pintarán de blanco, los emplumarán con plumón ligero, los curarán, los atarán por el vientre con un cordel grueso y les colgarán plumas de garza. Los harán comer mucho para engordarlos, y cada vez que se cumpla una veintena los matarán, y para que se celebre la fiesta andaran danzando. Y cuando sea la víspera de su muer te, velarán toda la noche, comerán, danzarán y se emborracharán ; y si acaso alguno quiere acostarse con mujeres, le serán ofrecidas prostitutas, habrá muchísimas mujeres pervers as, prostitutas »11. Mais en fait, cette origine mexica est illusoire : les figurations de guerriers ornés de craie et de plumes sont très répandues et se retrouvent notamment dans les codex du groupe Borgia, où Huitzilopochtli brille par son absence, ou encore dans des codex mixtèques (Nuttall p. 4, 20). De plus, dans l’antique mythe pré-aztèque de la création du soleil et de la lune à Teotihuacan, la craie et les plumes ornent Quetzalcoatl, prototype des guerriers héroïques sacrifiés.

  • 12 Voir aussi Garibay, Poes(a Nâhuatl2: 5-6, 42-3, 53-4; Romances de los sefiores de la Nueva España(…)

Les termes mêmes de tizatl, ihuitl peuvent à eux seuls désigner les victimes guerrières, voire même le guerrier en général, ou encore le sacrifice, comme on l’a vu plus haut, à propos des filles de Huitzilihuitl12. A ces attributs s’ajoutaient habituellement la bannière et les atours de papier. Les informateurs de Sahagún (Sahagún II 2 c. 29, 1950-81, 2 :113) décrivent comme suit les guerriers sacrifiés en xocotl huetzi : « on les a couverts de craie (quintiçavia-.J, d’un pagne de papier blanc (amamaxtli), de sortes étoles blanches (amaneapanalli), d’une chevelure de papier (amatzontli), on leur a emplumé la tête (quinquapotonja), ils ont la lèvre ornée du labret de plumes (imjvitençac), ils ont la bouche peinte en rouge (motenchichiloa), ils ont le pourtour creusé des yeux teint en noir (mjxtentlilcomoloa) ».

Il faut souligner encore que tous ces attributs sont ceux de Mixcoatl et des Mimixcoas, prototypes toltèques des guerriers sacrifiés (Durán 1967, 1 :73 et pl.13 ; Codex Telleriano-Remensis f.29v, 38v, 39r ; Codex_Magliabechiano p. 42 ; autres codex : Spranz 1964 : 89- 98 ;voir aussi Seler 1890 : 608, 613-4 ; 1902-23, 1 :264-5 ; 2 :1019 ; 4 :66-7, 72-5, 84-5). Il est tout à fait remarquable que même en panquetzaliztli, au cours de ce mois qui voyait la réactualisation de la victoire de Huitzilopochtli à Coatepec, les multitudes de guerriers sacrifiés étaient toujours affublés comme des Mimixcoas et non des Huitznahuas. Les Mimixcoas étaient les adversaires malheureux de Quetzalcoatl sur la Montagne de Mixcoatl, le Mixcoatepec. Ce mythe du Mixcoatepec servit manifestement de modèle aux Mexicas pour créer leur mythe « national » de la victoire de Huitzilopochtli à Coatepec. J’ai dit ailleurs ma conviction que Mexico-Tenochtitlan, à son origine, était une cité dont la divinité tutélaire était Quetzalcoatl, le vainqueur du Mixcoatepec. Lorsque les Mexicas s’emparèrent du pouvoir dans cette ville, ils mirent Huitzilopochtli à la place de Quetzalcoatl dans les temples et dans les rites. Mais, on le voit, ils n’eurent même pas le temps, ou l’occasion, ou le souci, de modifier complètement les rituels en conséquence (Graulich 1992, 1999 : 187-92).

  • 13 Mendieta 1:110: les gens mettent dans les champs des pierres teintes de chaux ou de craie.

Seler (1902-23, 4 : 96-7) voit dans le duvet blanc des nuages, les âmes des morts devenant des messagers de la pluie. Pour Soustelle (1940 : 72), il était le symbole de l’heureux destin de la victime, le blanc étant « la couleur des premières lueurs du jour » et donc « du premier pas de l’âme ressuscitée, l’envol vers le ciel du guerrier sacrifié ». Pour moi, les plumes et la craie marquaient l’appartenance de la victime au ciel et à la terre. Les plumes sont des éléments aériens ; des boules de duvet, Durán (Ritos C.5, 1967, 1 :47 et pl. 9 ; l’auteur parle de « boules de coton » mais l’illustration montre les habituels duvets) disait qu’elles étaient « les vêtements du ciel ». La craie, par contre, est terrestre. Le rite consistant à s’humilier en mangeant de la terre s’appelait « goûter la craie » (sahagun 1958a : 50-1 et Durán_Ritos c.15, 1967, 1 :147-8)13. Dans le Popol Vuh, c’est pour avoir mangé un oiseau enduit de craie que Cabracan, alourdi, s’effondra et fut enseveli.

On ne sait pas grand-chose sur la signification de cette sorte de loup noir peint autour des yeux et du rouge qui entoure la bouche. Pour ce second élément, peut-être y a-t-il un rapport avec le fait que la bouche des idoles destinataires des sacrifices était ointe du sang des victimes. Quant à la peinture noire autour des yeux, elle est aussi appelée « peinture stellaire ». Le rapport entre les yeux et les étoiles est bien connu, puisque dans l’iconographie mésoaméricaine, les étoiles sont souvent figurées comme des yeux stylisés. Mais la « peinture stellaire » doit probablement aussi rappeler que, la nuit, les guerriers morts deviennent des astres, comme Quetzalcoatl qui devint le soleil ou Vénus, ou comme les 400 jeunes gens du Popol Vuh – équivalents des 400 Mimixcoas ou des 400 Huitznahuass – qui devinrent les Pléiades (Seler 1902-23, 4 : 72-84 ; Caso 1953 : 53).

Les guerriers voués au sacrifice ne représentaient pas seulement les Mimixcoas ou peut-être, parfois, les Huitznahuass. Dans le « gladiatorio », les victimes, qu’on écorchait, étaient Xipe Totec, l’antique dieu vêtu d’une peau d’écorché attesté, avec ses attributs, dès la phase Monte Alban III chez les Zapotèques. C’était une divinité complexe dont on ne sait trop si les victimes le représentaient ou si c’était l’inverse. Quoi qu’il en soit, ses connotations étaient à la fois solaires, lunaires, vénusiennes et en rapport avec le maïs (Graulich 1987). Ses victimes portaient un chapeau conique, une courte jaquette, des ornements et des rubans rouges et blancs (couleurs, aussi, des Mimixcoas) se terminant en queue d’aronde et des triples noeuds en papier. Ils avaient également les bras et la tête couverts de duvet blanc. (Codex Nuttall et Tudela p.ex.).

  • 14 Dans Sahagun (CF 2: 66), il est dit qu’on prenait l’ixiptla parmi les captifs et que « là on chois (…)

Les guerriers voués au sacrifice incarnent-ils parfois d’autres divinités, plus individualisées que les Mimixcoas ou Xipe, qui ne sont avant tout, somme toute, que de la nourriture pour dieux ? La question est complexe, comme l’illustre le cas de l’ixiptla, le personnificateur, l’image de Tezcatlipoca, sacrifié au mois de toxcatl. Précisons qu’un des aspects de Tezcatlipoca est celui de Yaotl, le Guerrier. A Texcoco, selon notre meilleure source sur cette cité, Pomar (1986 : 67), c’était indiscutablement un vaillant captif de Huexotzinco ou Tlaxcala qui l’incarnait. A Mexico, ç’aurait été un esclave baigné d’après Durán (1967, 1 :59 ainsi que Tovar 228 et Acosta 270-1, mais ces deux sources dépendent de Durán), mais Sahagún (1950-81, 2 :66-8 ; 1956, i : 114, 152-3), lui, est moins net : l’ixiptla du dieu était choisi parmi les nombreux ixiptla gardés et entretenus par les intendants (calpixque) ; il y en avait environ 10, des captifs (mamalti) choisis parmi les prisonniers de guerre. Seulement, on l’a vu, les prisonniers de guerre ne sont pas nécessairement des guerriers : ce sont toutes les personnes, hommes, femmes et enfants capturées lors d’une campagne. Le texte espagnol parle d’ailleurs d’un « mancebo escogido », « mancebo, muy acabado en disposicion », choisi pour son aspect physique qui devait être parfait, sans la moindre tache ou marque -ce qui, pour un guerrier, était plutôt rare14.

La question est tout aussi douteuse pour le personnificateur du dieu du feu Xiuhtecuhtli en izcalli. Motolinia (l, c.19, 1970 : 33) le dit un prisonnier de guerre, « uno de los cautivos en la guerra ». Il pourrait bel et bien s’agir d’un guerrier, d’autant plus que dans un autre passage du même chapitre, l’auteur semble (mais pas nécessairement) faire la différence entre esclaves et captifs en parlant de « algunos esclavos y otros cautivos que tenian de guerra ». On ne sait malheureusement pas dans quelle cité se déroule l’izcalli décrit par Motolinia.

Mais il est certain qu’à Mexico et à Tepepulco, le ou les ixiptla du feu étaient des esclaves baignés (Sahagún II c.37-38 et Primeras Memoriales ; Codex Tudela f.28 ; Olivier 1997 : 234- 5).

Enfin, en tlacaxipehualiztli à Tlaxcala, il est question d’un « fils du soleil » immolé lors de l’allumage du feu nouveau à minuit (Motolinia l, c.27, 1970 : 42). C’était « uno de los más principales » dont on peut conjecturer que c’était un guerrier, comme lors des grandes fêtes séculaires du feu nouveau (Sahagún 1950- 81,7 :25-28). Seulement, un « fils du soleil » peut être, mais n’est pas nécessairement, un personnificateur de l’astre. Les mêmes réserves concernent le « messager du soleil » sacrifié le jour 4 Mouvement, nom de l’ère actuelle (Durán 1967, 1 :106-8). Dans une des ces interprétations audacieuses dont il est coutumier, Durán affirme que son ascension des marches de l’édicule sacrificiel imite la course du soleil et donc, que la victime joue le rôle de l’astre. Mais elle n’en a pas les attributs et est immolée d’abord à la terre, puis au soleil, car elle est d’abord décapitée et ensuite seulement, on lui arrache le coeur. Ajoutons que dans un cas au moins, les guerriers immolés peuvent représenter des cerfs, le gibier par excellence. On sait en effet qu’à l’aube de l’ère actuelle, les Mimixcoas furent massacrés parce que, lorsqu’ils tuaient du gibier, ils n’en faisaient pas d’abord l’offrande à leurs parents, Soleil et Terre. Aussi devinrent-ils désormais eux-mêmes la nourriture de ces dieux (Graulich 2000a).

La mort sacrificielle est en effet un châtiment. Les hommes ont négligé leurs créateurs et doivent expier. Qui plus est, ils sont nés sur terre, dans la matière qui les sépare des dieux et les condamne à mourir. « Notre tribut est la mort, que nous avons méritée » (Sahagún VI c.1). Par la mort héroïque, acceptée, sur le champ de bataille ou la pierre de sacrifice, le guerrier expie et gagne un au-delà glorieux. C’est pourquoi on dit au jeune homme qui avec l’aide d’autres, fait un premier prisonnier, au travers duquel il mourra symboliquement et expiera, que « Tonatiuh Tlaltecuhtli t’ont lavé la face » (Sahagún VIII c.2l, 1950-81, 8 : 75 p. ex.). Châtiment salvifique, la mort sacrificielle du guerrier est ressentie à la fois comme une gloire, un honneur, et un malheur. Parmi les catastrophes qu’on annonce à ceux qui sont nés un jour néfaste figure régulièrement le sacrifice. Par exemple, celui qui naît le jour 1 Maison périra d’une mort dangereuse, en guerre ou sur la pierre de sacrifice ou comme esclave baigné, ou bien il commettra un adultère et sera mis à mort ainsi que sa complice, ou il sera vendu comme esclave, ou volera, ou se ruinera au jeu (Sahagún IV c.3 ; V, c.1). Entendre rugir un jaguar est un mauvais présage qui annonce la mort en guerre (Sahagún V c.l). Celui qui gagne au jeu de balle est « grand adultère, et mourra en guerre ou des mains d’une mari outragé » (Tezozomoc c.2, 1878 : 228). Les proverbes et les métaphores aussi sont éloquents. Pour signifier qu’on a bien mis quelqu’un en garde, on dit (Sahagún VI c.43) : « je t’ai donné ton petit drapeau que tu devras prendre en mourant, je t’ai donné ton papier sacrificiel ». A un coupable dont on accepte de taire la faute, mais dont on exige qu’il s’amende, on dit : « je t’applique de la craie blanche et des plumes, je te donne ta bannière et le papier sacrificiel […] je t’enfonce dans la terre, je te donne l’eau épineuse, l’eau de douleur … ». Perdre tout espoir, c’est « recevoir la bannière, les bandes de papier sacrificielles » (Sullivan 1963 ; Preuss 1903a : 190-1 ; 1903b : 256-7). Enfin, Tezozomoc (c.70, 1878 : 516), parle de « pénitent » désigner la victime sacrificielle.

Il reste un dernier et vaste sujet qui ne pourra être qu’effleuré ici, c’est celui du nombre des victimes. Un sujet éminemment sensible, qui souvent fait perdre tout sens critique aux chercheurs, trop prompts à vouloir minimiser à tout prix (Graulich 1991). Il est clair que dans les cités les plus puissantes, les victimes étaient très nombreuses ; elles le paraîtront un moins si on considère que nombre d’entre elles, normalement, auraient dû mourir sur le champ de bataille. Il est évident aussi que le nombre de victimes a fortement augmenté à mesure que la puissance grandissante de la Triple Alliance s’appuyait de plus en plus sur la terreur pour assujettir les population. Cette croissance va aussi de pair avec celle de la démographie, surtout entre, mettons, 1450 et 1519.

S’il faut en croire Tezozomoc, sous Montezuma l, les Mexicas se réjouissent fort d’avoir fait 200 prisonniers de Chalco en une bataille (donc, probablement des guerriers). Quelques décennies plus tard, Ahuitzotl ramènerait 44.000 captifs (sans doute de tout ordre) de sa campagne au Guerrero ; la région devra être repeuplée par la Triple Alliance. De sa campagne contre Tututepec, Montezuma II et ses alliés ramènent 1350 prisonniers, et une autre fois, 2800, mais une bataille fleurie contre Huexotzinco ferait 10.000 morts. Après la prise de Mexico par Cortés, celui-ci ne peut empêcher ses alliés, notamment tlaxcaltèques, de sacrifier et de manger plus de 15.000 ennemis, chiffre qu’il n’avait pas intérêt à gonfler (Gómara 1975, 2 :114).

Les guerres, faut-il le dire, étaient incessantes et les cités soumises devaient souvent livrer des victimes à sacrifier comme tribut. Dès lors, des fêtes au cours desquelles on immole quelques milliers de victimes deviennent assez rapidement chose courante à Mexico. Durán (1967, 2 :415 ; aussi 443, 482) affirme que sous Montezuma II, il y avait des jours de deux, trois, cinq ou huit mille sacrifiés à Mexico. Pour l’inauguration du temple de Tlamatzinco et du cuauhxicalli, il y en aurait même eu 12.210. On est loin, bien sûr, des chiffres controversés de l’inauguration du Grand Temple de Mexico en 1487 par Ahuitzotl. La plupart des sources en nahuatl et en espagnol s’accordent sur le chiffre de 80.400 victimes sacrifiées à cette occasion, ce qui paraît énorme et a bien sûr donné lieu à toute une littérature révisionniste, certains allant même jusqu’à proposer le chiffre parfaitement fantaisiste de 320 morts seulement. Il faut dire que la circonstance était exceptionnelle. Les travaux ayant débuté sous Tizoc, celui-ci a d’emblée dû se mettre à stocker les victimes pour l’inauguration. Mais il mourut prématurément et Ahuitzotl lui succéda. Il acheva l’agrandissement de la pyramide dont il fit coïncider l’inauguration avec son intronisation, en vue de laquelle il fit également une campagne. Théoriquement, les victimes de cette vaste opération de terreur ont donc effectivement pu compter des dizaines de milliers de victimes.

Pour la moyenne annuelle de victimes, les estimations anciennes diffèrent. Une lettre du moine évêque Zumarraga mentionnée par Torquemada (1969, 2 :120) mentionne 20.000 enfants sacrifiés par an, mais Clavijero (1964 : 172) évoque une autre lettre où ce seraient 20.000 personnes par an dans la seule ville de Mexico. Gómara (1975,2 : 91,435) semble faire de 20.000 à 50.000 victimes le total pour le pays tout entier. Il semble s’appuyer sur un propos d’un certain Ollintecuhtli qui, vantant la puissance de Montezuma, aurait dit à Cortés qu’il sacrifiait 20.000 personnes par an. Las Casas (1985 : 247-8) en revanche, parfaitement de mauvaise foi, admet tout au plus 10 ou 100 sacrifices par an alors que dans son Apologética, il reprend les données habituelles des autres sources. Dernier élément qui montre le grand nombre de sacrifices, c’est celui concernant les tzompantli ou plates-formes d’exposition des têtes des défunts. Je passe sur le tzompantli imaginaire inventé par Bernal Díaz à Xocotlan, mais à Mexico, selon le conquistador Andrés de Tapia qui, avec un collègue, les aurait comptées, le nombre de têtes s’élevait aux alentours de 136.000. Ici encore, le total est peut-être excessif, mais il montre bien que les victimes étaient nombreuses. Victimes qui, rappelons-le encore, dans des pays dotés d’armes meilleures et où on n’essayait pas de faire prisonnier pendant et après le combat, seraient mortes sur le champ de bataille.

Outre les guerriers, il y avait toute une série d’autres victimes que je ne puis que survoler. Les esclaves, fort nombreux, provenaient de la guerre, du tribut ou étaient des condamnés, des enfants vendus ou des personnes qui se vendaient. Seuls pouvaient être sacrifiés, semble-t-il, les condamnés, les esclaves pour dettes de jeu qui ne pouvaient se racheter et les esclaves indociles qui avaient été vendus deux ou trois fois (Motolinia 1970 : 174 ; Duran 1 :183,200,210) . A Mexico du moins, on n’aurait pas sacrifié d’esclaves étrangers (Durán 1 :182), quoique selon Cortés (1963 : 26 ; Durán 2 : 465), il y aurait eu aussi des esclaves livrés comme tribut. La tendance à sacrifier de préférence des proches, plus semblables et donc meilleurs, a déjà été observée à propos des guerriers et cadre bien avec l’idée que la victime est substitut du sacrifiant. Si celui-ci était l’État, il pouvait donc puiser dans les esclaves de tribut, par exemple. Sinon, il fallait acheter au marché, au prix de 30 à 40 étoffes par esclave, selon sa qualité, sa perfection physique, ses aptitudes, notamment à chanter et à danser (Sahagún IX c.10). Avant d’incarner une divinité pendant un nombre de jours variable, la victime était rituellement baignée, selon des modalités variables (parmi lesquelles il ne faut pas inclure, semble-t-il, les bains quotidiens à l’eau chaude destinés à engraisser la victime), de manière à la purifier des souillures de sa condition d’esclave (Durán 1 : 64, 181-2). Celle-ci était en effet considérée comme un châtiment, non seulement pour des délits sanctionnés par la loi, mais aussi pour une vie déréglée. Certaines circonstances requéraient des jeunes vierges, parce que les déesses incarnées, ou ce qu’elles représentaient (p.ex., le maïs ), l’étaient.

  • 15 Cervantes de Salazar 1: 46; Tezozomoc 1878: 321; Mendieta 1: 144; Tovar 228; Pomar 1986: 89; Goma (…)

Un troisième groupe de victimes, bien moins nombreux, comprenait des condamnés à mort, une confirmation de plus du fait que la mort sacrificielle est expiatoire. Durán (1 : 185) dit clairement que le sacrifice était une des façons de châtier les criminels. Une bonne partie des condamnations étaient en rapport direct avec le sacrifice, la guerre et le culte (immolation de guerriers nobles qui, capturés, s’étaient échappés et étaient rentrés chez eux ; de gardes qui avaient laissé fuir des captifs ; de gens du commun ayant refusé d’assister à des sacrifices humains ; de serviteurs ayant laissé s’éteindre le feu domestique lors de la fête du Feu nouveau ; d’ennemis de la « guerre fleurie » trouvés en territoire adverse ; d’émissaires considérés comme traîtres ; de voleurs de biens du temple …15), mais elles concernaient aussi les sorciers et les devins qui se trompaient (Torquemada 2 : 386), dans certains cas les adultères et, au Guatemala, les violeurs de vierges (Castañeda Paganini 1959 : 33). On sait par les codex (Borbonicus, Telleriano-Remensis … ) que des exécutions d’adultères pouvaient avoir lieu en présence de la divinité. On tuait de même des criminels et des guerriers devant le souverain pour le « vivifier, renforcer son tonalli (feu intérieur) » (le texte, ambigu, peut désigner les seuls guerriers) (Sahagún IV c.1l, 12). Se pose alors la question du destin dans l’au-delà de ces exécutés : partageaient-ils celui des sacrifiés ? Certaines indications le suggèrent, comme le fait que les parents d’un condamné pour adultère lui faisaient une image de la déesse de l’amour et de la saleté.

Les victimes dont il a été question jusqu’à présent sont soit extérieures à la cité, soit marginales. D’autres marginaux sacrifiables sont les enfants – incomplètement intégrés dans le groupe et dépendant de leurs parents – et les personnes anormales, donc potentiellement dangereuses, ou marquées. Les sacrifices d’enfants, victimes faciles à obtenir, évidentes, étaient très fréquents. Des enfants de rois ou de seigneurs étaient requis quand il s’agissait d’assurer le succès des moissons, la bonne marche des saisons étant de la responsabilité des gouvernants (Motolinia 1970 : 34-5 ; Anales de Cuauhtitlan 1949 : 8). Pour les autres, c’étaient des enfants de prisonniers de guerre, ou, trop fréquemment, au point qu’à Texcoco il aurait fallu légiférer pour y mettre un frein, offert, ou vendus par leurs parents (Ixtlilxochitl 1 : 405, 447). On achetait aussi des enfants à l’extérieur. L’immense majorité d’entre eux étaient offerts aux eaux et aux dieux de la pluie, qu’ils représentaient, peut-être en raison de leur aspect de nains, semblable à celui des Tlaloque. D’autres destinataires étaient Quetzalcoatl (Codex Vaticanus A foI.20), qui, en tant que dieu du vent, appartient aux Tlaloque, un certain Aztacoatl (RG Tetela) et Tezcatlipoca, associé à la fête des enfants morts (Codex Magliabechiano fol. 36v) pour des raisons qui restent à éclaircir. Deux sources mentionnent des immolations d’enfants en cas de guerre (RG Coatepec et Chimalhuacan). Plusieurs, européennes ou assimilées, évoquent du sang d’enfants qui aurait été mélangé à des images de pâte ou à des cendres de divinités mais les textes nahuatl restent discrets sur ce point.

  • 16 Le tonalli des victimes renforce celui des dieux ou des rois. Si je l’invoque ici à propos de ces (…)

Parmi les guerriers captifs, certains pouvaient être choisis pour certains rites particuliers en fonction de leur nom personnel ou gentilice. Parmi les enfants, ceux qui avaient deux boucles au sommet de la tête étaient particulièrement recherchés (Sahagún II c.20), soit parce qu’elles évoquaient le tourbillon dans la lagune qui était un lieu de contact privilégié avec les Tlaloque, soit parce que le mot nahuatl pour les désigner signifiait aussi « grenier » et promettait l’abondance, ou encore, parce que ces enfants avaient un tonalli – un feu intérieur, une force vitale -, particulièrement puissant16. Le cas des albinos, nains, bossus, contrefaits, macrocéphales, tous sacrifiables d’office, semble-t-il, est plus difficile (Tezozomoc 1878 : 517, 563, 601 ; Sahagún VII c.1). Certains d’entre eux au moins étaient pourchassés, tous étaient mis à part, en particulier dans l’entourage du souverain, pour son divertissement mais surtout, sans doute, pour les contrôler, comme le porte à croire le fait que Montezuma II avait également concentré autour de lui, à Mexico, les fils des rois, les images de dieux et les animaux de l’empire. Ces personnes étaient immolées quand il y avait manque ou excès de pluie et lors d’éclipses du soleil, soit quand il y avait trop ou trop peu de soleil. Les nains et bossus devaient avoir des affinités avec les Tlaloque, les albinos étaient des élus du soleil. Enfin, dans le temple d’Iztaccinteotl, un dieu du maïs, on sacrifiait, paraît-il, des personnes qui souffraient de maladies contagieuses comme la gale ou la dartre, voire la lèpre, maladies attribuées à la déesse de l’amour Xochiquetzal (Torquemada 2 :150-1).

Il est d’autres personnes de la cité qui, libres, pouvaient être appelées au sacrifice ou qui le choisissaient. On dit qu’au besoin, le roi pouvait faire sacrifier n’importe quel citoyen (Cortés, RG d’Atlatlahuaca … ). Lors de la fête de la moisson (tlacaxipehualiztli), dans certaines régions, on sacrifiait un étranger de passage qui probablement représentait la dernière gerbe de maïs (RG Teotitlan). Pour la fête des montagnes, on sacrifiait deux vierges du lignage royal de Tezcacoatl (Durán 1 :154), appelé ainsi semble-t-il d’après un des quatre guides des pérégrinations mexicas. On sait par recoupements qu’elles représentaient les déesses Ayopechtli et Atlacoaya, associées à l’eau et aux semis. Outre ces marginales du haut de la société, il y avait celles du bas. L’affirmation de Serna (1892 :357-8) selon laquelle des jeunes femmes de petite vertu étaient recueillies par des prêtres qui leur promettaient de les établir mais les sacrifiaient au cours d’une fête est probablement une broderie sur la description que Sahagún (II c.30) fait de la fête d’ochpaniztli. Mais il y avait aussi les vraies prostituées, qui, en tepeilhuitl, fête au cours de laquelle on célébrait les amours, s’offraient librement au sacrifice en se maudissant et en injuriant les femmes honnêtes (Torquemada 2 : 299). Leur mort est à rapprocher d’un passage de Sahagún (X c.15, 1950-81, 10 :55) qui les caractérise comme menant une vie d’esclave baigné ou de victimes sacrificielle : peut-être vise-t-on leur mode de vie aussi luxueux et éphémère que celui des personnificateurs de dieux – d’autant plus que souvent, elles finissaient par se vendre comme esclaves. On trouvait aussi des volontaires parmi les musiciens, en échange de l’honneur de jouer du tambour lors d’une fête (Codex Tudela).

Bibliographie

Acosta, J. de, 1962 [1589J : Histoire naturelle et morale des Indes occidentales. Traduit par J. Rémy. Payot, Paris.

Anales de Cuauhtitlan. Voir Codex Chimalpopoca

Berlin, H. (éd.)1948 : Anales de Tlatelolco (Unos Annales Históricos de la Nación Mexicana) y Códice de Tlatelolco. Traduit par H. Berlin. Antigua Libreria Robredo, Mexico.

Bosch Garcia,C. 1944 : La esclavidud prehispánica entre los aztecas. Mexico.

Broda, J. 1970 : Tlacaxipehualiztli : A reconstruction of an Aztec calendar festival from 16th century sources. Revista Española de Antropologia Americana 6 :197-274.

Carmack, R. M. 1976, La estratificación quiche ana prehispánica. In Estratificación social en la Mesoamérica prehispánica, édité par P. Carrasco and J. Broda, pp. 245- 277. INAH, Mexico.

Caso, A. 1953, El Pueblo del Sol. FCE, Mexico.

Castañeda Paganini, R. 1959, La cultura tolteca-pipil de Guatemala. Editorial del Ministerio de Educación Pública « José de Piñida Ibarra. », Guatemala.

Castillo, C. del 1991, Historia de la venida de los mexicanos y otros pueblos e Historia de la conquista. Traduit par F. Navarrete Linares. INAH, Mexico.

Cervantes de Salazar, F. 1985, Crónica de la Nueva España. Porrúa, Mexico.

Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin, Domingo F. de San Anton Muñon 1965, Relaciones originales de Chalco Amaquemecan. Traduit par S. Rendón.

FCE, Mexico. 1991, Memorial Breve acerca de la fundación de la ciudad de Culhuacan. Traduit par V. M. Castillo. UNAM, Mexico.

Clavijero, Fr. J. 1964, Historia antigua de México, edited by M. Cuevas. Porrua, Mexico.

Codex Chimalpopoca 1938, Die Geschichte der Königreiche von Colhuacan und Mexico. Traduit et commenté parW. Lehmann. Quellenwerke zur alten Geschichte Amerikas 1, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart-Berlin.

Codex Chimalpopoca 1945, Códice Chimalpopoca, Anales de Cuauhtitlan y Leyenda de los Soles. Traduit par P. F. Velázquez. UNAM, Mexico.

Combès, L. 1992, La tragédie cannibale chez les Tupi-Guarani. PUF, Paris.

Cortes, H. 1963, Cartas y documentos. Porrúa, Mexico.

Diaz Del Castillo, B. 1947, Verdadera historia de los sucesos de la conquista de la Nueva España. Biblioteca de Autores Españoles 26, Ediciones Atlas, Madrid.

Durán, F. D. 1967, Historia de los indios de la Nueva España e Islas de la Tierra Firme. Edité par A. M. Garibay K. 2 vols., Porrúa, Mexico.

Garibay K., A. M. 1964-1968, Poesia nahuatl, 3 vols.UNAM-IIH, Mexico.

Girard, R. 1972 La violence et le sacré. Grasset, Paris.

Gomara, Fr. LOPEZ de, 1965-1966, Historia general de las Indias. 2 vols., Iberia, Barcelone.

Graulich, M. 1987, Mythes et rituels du Mexique ancien préhispanique. Académie Royale de Belgique, Mémoires de la Classe des Lettres 67,3, Palais des Académies, Bruxelles.

Graulich, M. 1991, L’inauguration du temple principal de Mexico en 1487. Revista Española de Antropología Americana 21 :121-143.

Graulich, M. 1992, The Aztec « Templo Mayor » Revisited. Ancient America. Contributions to New World Archaeology. Oxbow Monograph 24 : 19-32.

Graulich, M. 1997, Chasse et sacrifice humain chez les Aztèques. Académie Royale des Sciences d’Outre-Mer, Bulletin des Séances 43, 4 : 433-46.

Graulich, M. 1999, Ritos aztecas : las fiestas de las veintenas. Instituto Nacional Indigenista, Mexico.

Graulich, M. 2000a, Tlahuicole, un héroe tlaxcalteca controvertido. In El héroe entre el mito y la historia, édité par F. Navarrete and G. Olivier, pp. 89-99. UNAM, CEMCA, Mexico.

Graulich, M. 2000b, Coyolxauhqui y las mujeres desnudas de Tlatelolco. Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl 31 :77-94

Hassig, R. 1988, Aztec Warfare : Imperial Expansion and Political Control. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman-London.

Guilhem, O. 1997, Moqueries et métamorphoses d’un dieu aztèque. Tezcatlipoca, le « Seigneur au miroir fumant ». Mémoires de l’Institut d’Ethnologie XXXIII, Musée de l’homme, Paris.

Helfrich, K. 1973, Menschenopfer und Tötungsrituale im Kult der Maya. Monumenta Americana 9, Gebr.Mann, Berlin.

Ixtlilxóhitl, F. de Alva, 1975-1977, Obras históricas, édité par E. O’Gorman. 2 vols., UNAM, Mexico.

Jonghe, E. de (ed.) 1905, Histoyre du Méchique. Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris 2,1 :10-44.

Klein, C. 1994, Fighting with feminity : gender and war in Aztec Mexico. Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 24 : 219-253.

Landa, D. de, 1941, Landa’s Relación de las cosas de Yucatan. Traduit et annoté par A. M. Tozzer. Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University XVIII, Cambridge.

Las Casas, Fray B. de,1967, Apologética historia sumaria, édité par E. O’Gorman. 2 vols., UNAM, Mexico.

Las Casas, Fray B. de,1985, Obra indigenista, édité par J. Alcina Franch, Alianza, Madrid.

Lopez Austin, A. 1965, El Templo Mayor de Mexico-Tenochtitlan según los informantes indígenas. Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 5 : 75-102.

Martinez Cortes, F. 1974, Pegamentos, gomas y resinas en el México prehispánico. SepSetentas, Mexico.

Martir De Angleria, P. 1964-1965, Décadas del Nuevo Mundo. 2 vols., J. Porrúa, Mexico.

Mendieta, F. J. de, 1945, Historia eclesiástica Indiana. 4 vols., Chavez Hayhoe, Mexico.

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Molina, F. A. de, 1970, Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana y mexicana y castellana. Porrua, Mexico.

Motolinia, F. T. De Benavente, 1970, Memoriales e Historia de los Indios de la Nueva Espana, édité par F. de Lejarza. Ediciones Atlas, Madrid.

Muñoz Camargo, D. 1892, Historia de Tlaxcala. Secretariá de Fomento, Mexico.

Oviedo y Valdes, G. Fernandez de, 1959, Historia general y natural de las Indias. 5 vols., Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, Atlas, Madrid.

Piho, V. 1970, Función y simbolismo del atavío azteca. Actes du 38e Congrès International des Américanistes, Stuttgart 1968, (2) :377-384.

Piho, V. 1974, La jerarquía militar azteca. Actes du 40e Congrès International des Américanistes, Rome-Gênes 1972, (2) :273-288.

Pomar, J. B. 1986, Relación de la ciudad y provincia de Tezcoco. Relaciones geográficas del siglo XVI : México, édité par R. Acuña, t. 3, UNAM, Mexico.

Preuss, K. Th. 1903a, Die Feuergötter aIs Ausgangspunkt zum Verständnis der mexikanischen Religion in ihrem Zusammenhange. Mitteilungen der Wiener Anthropologischen Gesellschaft 33 : 129-233.

Preuss, K. Th.1903b, Die Sünde in der Mexikanischen religion. Globus 83 : 253-7, 268-73.

Preuss, K. Th.1984-1988, Relaciónes geográficas del siglo XVI, édité par R. Acuña. 10 vols., UNAM, Mexico.

Sahagún, B. de, 1956, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, édité par A.M. Garibay K. Porrua, Mexico.

Sahagún, B. de,1958, Ritos, Sacerdotes y Atavios de los Dioses. Traduit par M. Leon-Portilla. UNAM, Mexico.

Sahagún, B. de,1950-1981[1577] Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain. Translated by A. J. O. Anderson and Ch. E. Dibble. 12 vols. The School of American Research and the University of Utah, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Seler, E. 1890, Das Tonalamatl der Aubinschen Sammlung und die Verwandten Kalendarbücher. Actes du 7e Congrès International des Américanistes, Berlin 1888 :521-735.

Seler, E.1902-1923, Gesammelte Abhandlungen zur Amerikanischen Sprach-und Altertumskunde. 5 vols., Asher, Berlin.

Serna, J. de la, 1892, Manual de ministros de indios para el conocimiento de sus idolatrías y extirpación de ellas. Anales del Museo Nacional de México 6 : 261-480.

Soustelle, J. 1940, La pensée cosmologique des anciens Mexicains (Représentations du monde et de l’espace). Hermanet, Paris.

Soustelle, J.1955, La vie quotidienne des Aztèques à la veille de la conquête espagnole. Hachette, Paris.

Spranz, B. 1964, Göttergestalten in den mexikanischen Bilderhandschriften der Codex Borgia Gruppe. Acta Humboldtiana 4. F. Steiner, Wiesbaden.

Sullivan, T. D. 1963, Nahuatl proverbs, conundrums, and metaphors, collected by Sahagún. Estudios de Cultura Náhuatl 4 :93-177.

Tezozomoc, F. Alvarado, 1878, Crónica mexicana … precedida del Códice Ramirez. Ireneo Paz, Mexico.

Tezozomoc, F. Alvarado,1949, Crónica mexicáyotl. Traduit et établi par A. Leon. UNAM, Mexico.

Torquemada, F. J. de, 1969, Monarquía Indiana. 3 vols., Porrúa, Mexico.

Tovar, J. de, 1972, Manuscrit Tovar. Origines et croyances des Indiens du Mexique, édité par J. Lafaye. Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt, Graz.

Tozzer 1941, voir Landa 1941.

Notes

1 Voir aussi Ixtlilxochitl, Historia chichimeca c.38, 1975-77: 2: 103. Pour lui, c’est la Triple Alliance qui se réunit en conseil de guerre « con sus capitanes y consejeros ».

2 Sur cette guerre et ses autres motivations, notamment politiques, voir Graulich 1994; Duran 1967, 2: 232-3, 235, 417; 1: 32-3; Mufioz Camargo 1892: 116; Motolinia 1970: 219-20.

3 Ainsi, le premier recevait le corps et la cuisse droite, le second la cuisse gauche, le troisième le bras droit, le quatrième bras gauche, le cinquième l’avant-bras droit et le sixième l’avant-bras gauche.

4 Pour Cervantes de Salazar, qui diffère ici, celui qui a fait 5 prisonniers « mudava el traje del cortar del cabello, hazia las orejas, hechas dos rasuras : a este llamaban quachic qu’es el titulo mas honroso. Auiendo muerto seis, se podia cortar el cabello de la media cabeça hasta la frente »; avec 7 tués, il devient cuauhnochtli, avec 10, tlacatecuhtli et en outre seigneur d’un village où il se repose pour le restant de ses jours. Voir sur ce sujet Piho 1970, 1974; Hassig 1988. A Tlaxcala, il y avait des vaillants qui avaient pris ou tué plus de 20,90 et même 100 personnes: Motolinia 1970: 42.

5 Le sacrifice de guerriers est en effet double: l’excision du coeur pour le soleil, la décapitation subséquente pour la terre.

6 La source ne mentionne pas la Terre, second destinataire, mais celle-ci était présente en plusieurs endroits et sous plusieurs formes dans la pyramide principale de Mexico.

7  » … and here, to Mexico, from everywhere, were brought captives, called « tribute-captives » (Ali who lay surrounding, those who held the enemy borders, those who dwelt on the enemy borders, brought their captives, their prisoners here. [These] became their tribute-captives [maltequjhoan]. The stewards [calpixque], each of the stewards, guarded them here …. and if one of them f1ed, … they replaced him; a man was purchased; they delegated another [qujxiptlaiotiaia], they placed in his stead. Then the slaves died, when the feast day was celebrated. »

8 Les Anales de Cuauhtitlan p. 3 énumèrent comme buts des Chichimèques qui se dispersent en 1 Silex 804, avant Quetzalcoatl, toutes les régions qui resteront insoumises à l’empire aztèque (mais sans préciser ce point): Michoacan, Cohuixcon Yopitzinco, Totollan (un quartier de Tlaxcala),Tepeyacac (près de Quecholac), Quauhquechollan, Huexotzinco, Tlaxcala, Tliliuhquitepec, Zacatlantonco et Tototepec.

9 Sur ce sujet, voir Klein 1994; Graulich 2000b.

10 Dans les codex Telleriano-Remensis fol. 32v, 38v, 39r, 40 r, 40v, 4lr, 42v, les guerriers sacrifiés à Mexico lors des occasions les plus diverses en sont ornés. Voir aussi, pex, certains objets archéologiques comme l’os gravé du Musée de l’Homme, seler 1902-23, 2: 682.

11 Cristobal dei Castillo, auteur assez tardif, doit toutefois être manié avec prudence vu sa manie de broder. Le discours de la divinité à Huitzilopochtli évoque assez fort celui de Dieu à Moïse avant l’arrivée dans la Terre promise ( Exode, Lévitique, Nombres, Deutéronome ).

12 Voir aussi Garibay, Poes(a Nâhuatl2: 5-6, 42-3, 53-4; Romances de los sefiores de la Nueva España f.42 v°; l’hymne à Mère des Dieux, Teteo innan, recueilli par Sahagun 1956, 4: 296; à rapprocher du livre 2, App., 1956, 1: 246-7. On envoie de la craie et des plumes comme déclaration guerre: Broda 1970: 204.

13 Mendieta 1:110: les gens mettent dans les champs des pierres teintes de chaux ou de craie.

14 Dans Sahagun (CF 2: 66), il est dit qu’on prenait l’ixiptla parmi les captifs et que « là on choisissait quelqu’un s’il paraissait convenir, s’il était bien de corps. Alors on le prenait et les [sic] confiait aux intendants. Mais celui destiné à être esclave, le capteur le tue ». Je ne sais que faire de cette dernière phrase. Les esclaves sacrificiels incarnant des dieux devaient eux aussi être bien faits physiquement et purs.

15 Cervantes de Salazar 1: 46; Tezozomoc 1878: 321; Mendieta 1: 144; Tovar 228; Pomar 1986: 89; Gomara 1975-7: 95 …

16 Le tonalli des victimes renforce celui des dieux ou des rois. Si je l’invoque ici à propos de ces enfants à tourbillons, c’est grâce à Michel Duquesnoy, à qui je dois la précieuse information qui suit et que je remercie vivement. Il a donc entendu dire par Horacio, un de ses principaux informateurs à San Miguel Tzinacapan, que « el tonal es el remolino que tiene uno en la cabeza. es el remolino de cabellos. Es mejor tener dos remolinos porque es fuerte de su tonaltsi [ …… ] Porque este remolino que tenemos es como un enchufa que tenemos con el sol (in tonal), por alli entra el calor (in tonal dei sol. Cuando tiene uno dos remolinos, tiene dos soles, es como un favor dei sol. Pero es muy daflino para las cosas. »

Auteur

Michel Graulich

Professeur Ordinaire en Histoire de l’Art et Archéologie et en Histoire des Religions, Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres (CP175), Av. F. Roosevelt 50, B-1050 Bruxelles / Directeur d’études à l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Section des Sciences religieuses, Sorbonne, 45 rue des Ecoles, F-75005 Paris.

Voir par ailleurs:

Brutally Honest
Sonny Bunch
The Weekly Standard/The Washington Examiner
December 14, 2006

MEL GIBSON’S Apocalypto is one of the few films that can rightly be described as a journey. The viewer is snatched from the confines (and comforts) of a Hollywood movie and thrown deep into the jungles of Central America. The film itself is a visual masterpiece; shot entirely in a Mayan dialect, Gibson flexes his visual muscles to show rather than tell.

Billed as a historical drama, Apocalypto is actually part revenge flick and part chase flick. After being brutally taken from his idyllic home (where his beloved father’s throat was slit by the cruelest of his captors), the hero, Jaguar Paw, narrowly escapes having his heart torn from his chest as part of a human sacrifice. He then leads his tormentors on a harrowing chase through the jungle, utilizing his knowledge of the familiar terrain that surrounds his village to pick off his enemies one by one.

The plot itself is almost secondary, and little more than an excuse for Gibson to show off his phenomenal film making talents. In addition to the stunning jungle scenes, Gibson treats us to a view of what life in a vast Mayan city may have been like at the height of its culture. Immense pyramids rise out of the foliage; prisoners are sold as slaves and sacrificed in incredibly brutal ways; those not sacrificed are used for human target practice. If you can handle gore (and really, the movie is no more violent–and in some ways, far less so–than, say, Braveheart, which took home 5 Oscars, including Best Picture), do yourself a favor and see this innovative, unique movie.

AS INTERESTING as the film itself has been the reaction to it by film critics and historians alike. Those who praise the movie almost uniformly mention, if not condemn, Gibson’s infamous anti-Semitic outburst (in the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that « say what you will about him–about his problem with booze or his problem with Jews–he is a serious filmmaker »).

Other critics have, curiously, dismissed the film because it doesn’t inform us about some of the accomplishments of the Mayans. « It teaches us nothing about Mayan civilization, religion, or cultural innovations (Calendars? Hieroglyphic writing? Some of the largest pyramids on Earth?), » Dana Stevens wrote in Slate. « Rather, Gibson’s fascination with the Mayans seems to spring entirely from the fact (or fantasy) that they were exotic badasses who knew how to whomp the hell out of one another, old-school. »

This is a strange criticism. If you were interested in boning up on calendars, hieroglyphics, and pyramids you could simply watch a middle-school film strip. And who complained that in Gladiator Ridley Scott showed epic battle scenes and vicious gladiatorial combat instead of teaching us how the aqueducts were built?

AND THEN there have been the multi-culturist complaints. Ignacio Ochoa, the director of the Nahual Foundation, says that « Gibson replays, in glorious big budget Technicolor, an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans. » Julia Guernsey, an assistant professor in the department of art and art history at the University of Texas told a reporter after viewing the film, « I hate it. I despise it. I think it’s despicable. It’s offensive to Maya people. It’s offensive to those of us who try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own 21st century Western ones but are nonetheless valid. »

Newsweek reports that « although a few Mayan murals do illustrate the capture and even torture of prisoners, none depicts decapitation » as a mural in a trailer for the film does. « That is wrong. It’s just plain wrong, » the magazine quotes Harvard professor William Fash as saying.

Karl Taube, a professor of anthropology at UC Riverside, complained to the Washington Post about the portrayal of slaves building the Mayan pyramids. « We have no evidence of large numbers of slaves, » he told the paper.

Even the mere arrival, at the end of the film, of Spanish explorers has been lambasted as culturally insensitive. Here’s Guernsey, again, providing a questionable interpretation of the film’s final minutes: « And the ending with the arrival of the Spanish (conquistadors) underscored the film’s message that this culture is doomed because of its own brutality. The implied message is that it’s Christianity that saves these brutal savages. »

But none of these complaints holds up particularly well under scrutiny. After all, while it may not mesh well with their post-conquest victimology, the Mayans did partake of bloody human sacrifice. Consider this description of a human sacrifice from the sixth edition of University of Pennsylvania professor Robert Sharer’s definitive The Ancient Maya:

The intended victim was stripped, painted blue (the sacrificial color), and adorned with a special peaked headdress, then led to the place of sacrifice, usually either the temple courtyard or the summit of a temple platform. After the evil spirits were expelled, the altar, usually a convex stone that curved the victim’s breast upward, was smeared with the sacred blue paint. The four chaakob, also painted blue, grasped the victim by the arms and legs and stretched him on his back over the altar. The Nacom then plunged the sacrificial flint knife into the victim’s ribs just below the left breast, pulled out the still-beating heart, and handed it to the chilan, or officiating priest.

That exact scene, almost word for word, takes place in Apocalypto.

After the Spanish conquest, the Mayans adapted their brutal methods of pleasing the gods to coexist with Christianity. Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570 contains the following description from a contemporary source of a post-invasion sacrifice:

The one called Ah Chable they crucified and they nailed him to a great cross made for the purpose, and they put him on the cross alive and nailed his hands with two nails and tied his feet . . . with a thin rope. And those who nailed and crucified the said boy were the ah-kines who are now dead, which was done with consent of all those who were there. And after [he was] crucified they raised the cross on high and the said boy was crying out, and so they held it on high, and then they lowered it, [and] put on the cross, they took out his heart.

As for whether or not there have been any murals found portraying decapitation, as Prof. Fash complains, heads were certainly cut off in ceremonial fashion by the Mayans. Again, The Ancient Maya: « The sacrifice of captive kings, while uncommon, seems to have called for a special ritual decapitation . . . The decapitation of a captured ruler may have been performed as the climax of a ritual ball game, as a commemoration of the Hero Twins’ defeat of the lords of the underworld in the Maya creation myth. »

The protestation against Mayan slavery, is also off the mark: The Ancient Maya repeatedly refers to the purchasing of slaves. The first European contact with the Maya resulted, ironically, in the Spaniards being enslaved. After a shipwreck, Spanish

survivors landed on the east coast of Yucatan, where they were seized by a Maya lord, who sacrificed Valdivia and four companions and gave their bodies to his people for a feast. Geronimo de Aguilar, Gonzalo de Guerrero, and five others were spared for the moment. . . . Aguilar and his companions escaped and fled to the country of another lord, an enemy of the first chieftain. The second lord enslaved the Spaniards, and soon all of them except Aguilar and Guerrero died.

And it should be remembered that when the Spanish arrived in force, they had little problem recruiting allies as some Mayans fought with the Spanish against their own Mayan enemies. Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest reports that

what has so often been ignored or forgotten is the fact that Spaniards tended also to be outnumbered by their own native allies . . . In time, Mayas from the Calkini region and other parts of Yucatan would accompany Spaniards into unconquered regions of the peninsula as porters, warriors, and auxiliaries of various kinds. Companies of archers were under permanent commission in the Maya towns of Tekax and Oxkutzcab, regularly called upon to man or assist in raids into the unconquered regions south of the colony of Yucatan. As late as the 1690s Mayas from over a dozen Yucatec towns–organized into companies under their own officers and armed with muskets, axes, machetes, and bows and arrows–fought other Mayas in support of Spanish Conquest endeavors in the Petén region that is now northern Guatemala.

WHICH IS NOT TO SAY that Gibson’s film is an entirely accurate portrayal of life in a Mayan village. As they say in the business, for the sake of narrative, certain facts have been altered. The conflation of showing massive temples and then depicting the arrival of the Spanish at the end of the film is almost certainly anachronistic. Though Apocalypto is purposefully vague about its time frame, the appearance of Spanish galleons and conquistadors at the end of the film (as well as the sight of a little girl who might be suffering from small pox) suggests the action takes place in the early- or mid-16th century. But according to Sharer, « by 900 . . . monumental construction–temples, palaces, ball courts . . . [had] ceased at most sites, as did associated features such as elaborate royal tombs and the carved stone and modeled stucco work used to adorn buildings . »

Almost any historical drama will contain such problems. That being said, it is specious for professional historians and grievance groups alike to argue that Apocalypto is a wanton desecration of the memories of the Mayan people. While it may be an inconvenient fact that the Mayans were skilled at the art of human cruelty, it is, nevertheless, a fact.

Sonny Bunch is assistant editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

Voir aussi:

What Has Mel Gibson Got Against the Church?

Time
Dec. 14, 2006

For the Christian viewer, the biggest question about Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto is: why does its hero turn away from the Cross at the end?

All in all, there’s not a lot of Christ — passionate or otherwise — in Apocalypto, Mel Gibson’s first film since The Passion of the Christ. But a crucifix finally shows up at the film’s end, and the film’s response to it is surprisingly equivocal.

The movie tells the story of a peaceful 16th-century jungle-dweller named Jaguar Paw. The first quarter of the film presents his idyllic village as a kind of Eden. The second quarter is a vision of Hell, as a raiding party for the nearby Mayan empire torches the town, rapes the women and drags the men to the Mayan capital as featured guests at a monstrous and ongoing sacrifice to the gods. JP watches in horror as a priest has several of his friends spread-eagled on squat stone, then hacks out their still-beating hearts and displays them to a howling crowd. JP narrowly avoids the same fate, escapes, and spends most of the rest of the film picking off an armed pursuit party, one by one, in classic action-film fashion.

It is only at the very end that Christianity makes a brief but portentous appearance, aboard a fleet of Spanish ships that appears suddenly on the horizon. JP and his long-suffering wife watch from the jungle as a small boat approaches shore bearing a long-bearded, shiny-helmeted explorer and a kneeling priest holding high a crucifix-topped staff. « Should we join them? » asks his wife. « No, » he replies: They should go back to the jungle, their home. Roll credits.

Given Gibson’s fervent Christianity, you might have expected JP to run up and genuflect. Why does he turn away?

My colleague, film critic Richard Schickel, has observed that Gibson has little use for the institutional Roman Catholic church, preferring a « less mainstream version of his faith. » True, but the Traditionalists with whom Gibson is often associated are defined primarily by their objections to the liberalizations under the Second Vatican Council of 1962-5 — not an issue in Jaguar Paw’s day.

Another explanation is that the director has always been better at Crucifixions than at Resurrections. Just as the risen Christ seemed like something of a tack-on to The Passion, Mel may have little interest in how Christian culture might reconfigure either the peaceful village-dwellers’ way of life or the bloodthirsty Mayans’.

The third possibility, it seems to me, is that Gibson does know — and wants no part of it. I tend toward that last one because it reflects a learning curve of my own. About a year ago I visited an exhibit on another Mexican civilization, the Aztecs, at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. The show was cleverly arranged. Visitors walked up the Guggenheim’s giant spiral, the first few twists of which were devoted to the Aztecs’ stunning stylized carvings of snakes, eagles and other god/animals, and explanations of how the ingenious Aztecs filled in a huge lake to lay the foundation for Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

It was only about halfway up the spiral — when it had become harder to run screaming for an exit — that one encountered a grey-green stone about three feet high. It was sleek and beautiful — almost like a Brancusi sculpture, I thought — until I read the label. It was a sacrifice stone of the sort in the movie. Not a reproduction, not a non-functioning ceremonial model, but the real thing. People had died on this. I felt shocked and a little angry — it was like coming across a gas chamber at an exhibit of interior design.

But I kept walking, and at the very top of the museum I encountered another object that might be considered an answer to the sinister rock: a stone cross, carved after the Spanish had conquered the Aztecs and were attempting to convert them to Catholicism. Rather than Jesus’s full body, it bore a series of small relief carvings: his head and wounded hands, blood drops — and a sacrificial Aztec knife.

How striking, I thought. Here was a potent work of iconographic propaganda using the very symbols of a brutal religion to turn its values inside out, manipulating its images so that they celebrated not the sacrifice, but the person who was sacrificed. Visually, at least, it seemed an elegant and admirable transition. And after seeing Apocalypto, I wondered why Gibson hadn’t created the cinematic equivalent: an ode to the progression out of savagery, through the vehicle of Christianity.

The answer, of course, is that the cross’s iconography was a lot simpler than Mexican history. I called Charles C. Mann, author of the highly respected history 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Mann first noted a couple of anachronisms in the film. The Mayan capital, including any great temple of the sort in the film, had mysteriously disappeared 700 years before the Spanish arrived. Moreover, although the Mayans probably engaged in some human sacrifice, there is no evidence that they practiced it on the industrial scale depicted in the movie For that, as the Guggenheim exhibit suggested, one would have to look 300 miles west to the Aztecs, who had made it their religious centerpiece. Hernan Cortes (who probably rounded upward, since he conquered them), claimed the Aztecs dispatched between three and four thousand souls a year that way. Why Gibson decided to turn the Mayans into Aztecs is anyone’s guess.

Most interesting, however, was Mann’s observation that if the boat Jaguar Paw sees is indeed the 1519 landing party of Cortes (who pushed quickly through what remained of Mayan territory on his way to the bloody battle of Tenochtitlan), the man holding up the cross was no particular friend to the indians. It was not until 1537, Mann said, that, after considerable debate both ways, Pope Paul III got around to proclaiming that « Indians themselves indeed are true men » and should not be « deprived of their liberty. » In the intervening 18 years roughly a third of Mexico’s 25 million indigenous population died of smallpox the Europeans brought with them, and the Spanish had enslaved most of the remaining six million able-bodied men. And that’s not counting the 100,000 Aztecs Cortes killed at Tenochtitlan alone.

So here is the conundrum. If you had to choose between a culture that placed ritualized human slaughter at the center of its faith, but that only managed to kill 4,000 people a year, and a culture that put the sacrificial Lamb of God at the center of the universe but somehow found its way to countenancing the enslavement of millions and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in the same neighborhood, which would be more appealing?

Perhaps Gibson’s problem is with the institutional church after all. Not the institutional church of Vatican II, but the church that managed to get so mixed up with worldly power that it was able to side with the centurions rather than with Christ for those crucial 18 years.

And perhaps he was right to have Jaguar Paw, having sampled the worst that the first civilization had to offer, take one look at the arrival of the second, and head back into the woods.

Voir également:

 

Mario Vargas Llosa: l’humanisme de droite récompensé

Patrick Leblanc

Cyberpresse.ca

le 12 octobre 2010

Dans l’univers culturel québécois, être un «écrivain engagé» signifie nécessairement militer à gauche. L’attribution du prix Nobel de littérature 2010 à Mario Vargas Llosa provoquera donc sans doute quelques sourcillements. L’auteur péruvien est en effet un vigoureux défenseur du libéralisme politique et économique.

Parmi ses oeuvres de fiction, La fête du bouc (Gallimard, 2002) a été largement citée comme exemple d’un ouvrage dénonçant les méfaits du pouvoir absolu. L’auteur y met en scène les derniers jours de la dictature de Rafael Trujillo en République dominicaine.

Moins connus, Les cahiers de don Rigoberto (Gallimard, 1998) mettent en scène un personnage explicitement libéral, voire libertarien, dont la pensée rejoint celle qui anime Vargas Llosa lui-même.

Ce Don Rigoberto, vendeur d’assurances le jour et écrivain la nuit, écrit notamment dans ses cahiers: «… tout mouvement qui prétendrait transcender (ou reléguer au second plan) le combat pour la souveraineté individuelle, en faisant passer d’abord les intérêts de l’élément collectif – classe, race, genre, nation, sexe, ethnie, Église, vice ou profession -, ressortirait à mes yeux à une conjuration pour brider encore davantage la liberté humaine déjà bien maltraitée.»

Sur le nationalisme plus spécifiquement, Vargas Llosa attribue cette tirade au même personnage: «Derrière le patriotisme et le nationalisme flamboie toujours la maligne fiction collectiviste de l’identité, barbelés ontologiques qui prétendent agglutiner en fraternité inébranlable les ‘Péruviens’, les ‘Espagnols’, les ‘Français’, les ‘Chinois’, etc. Vous et moi savons que ces catégories sont autant d’abjects mensonges qui jettent un manteau d’oubli sur des diversités et des incompatibilités multiples, prétendent abolir des siècles d’histoire et faire reculer la civilisation vers ces barbares temps antérieurs à la création de l’individualité, c’est-à-dire de la rationalité et de la liberté: trois choses inséparables, sachez-le.»

Engagement politique

Au-delà de la fiction, c’est par son action politique que Vargas Llosa a manifesté le plus clairement son engagement envers la liberté.

Préoccupé par l’avenir de son pays, il se porte candidat à l’élection présidentielle de 1990. Dans un Pérou où l’étatisme avait imprégné non seulement la gauche mais aussi le centre et la droite, l’écrivain-politicien proposait un projet de développement économique et social aux antipodes du collectivisme socialiste ou du protectionnisme conservateur. Authentiquement libéral, son programme avait pour objectif de retirer à l’État la responsabilité de la vie économique pour la confier à la société civile et au marché.

«On ne sort pas de la pauvreté en redistribuant le peu qui existe, mais en créant plus de richesse», précise l’écrivain dans ses mémoires politiques (Le Poisson dans l’eau, Gallimard, 1995). Pour lui, les économies égalitaristes «n’ont jamais tiré un pays de la pauvreté: elles l’ont toujours appauvri davantage. Et souvent elles ont rogné ou fait disparaître les libertés, du fait que l’égalitarisme exige une planification rigide qui, économique au début, s’étend ensuite à toute la vie sociale.»

Vargas Llosa n’a pas jeté la serviette après sa défaite électorale. Vingt ans plus tard, il poursuit d’une autre manière son engagement en faveur des libertés économiques et politiques, notamment au sein de l’Atlas Economic Research Foundation, un réseau international auquel est associé l’Institut économique de Montréal et d’autres think tanks canadiens.

En réaction à sa nobélisation, l’écrivain a dit espérer que cette distinction lui était attribuée pour son oeuvre littéraire et non pour ses opinions politiques. N’empêche, on se prend à rêver que l’élite culturelle qui célébrera ce prix saura aussi reconnaître dans l’oeuvre et l’action de Vargas Llosa la possibilité d’un humanisme de droite, un humanisme qu’il devrait être possible de pratiquer dans toutes les cultures et tous les pays, y compris au Québec.

Voir enfin:

« L’impérialisme Américain » au Chili

Guy Millière

Drzz

15 octobre 2010

Les images du sauvetage des mineurs chiliens ont été sur tous les écrans de télévision. Le récit de leur captivité forcée, puis de leur délivrance, a fait les premières pages. Dans la presse et les médias américains, on en a parlé aussi. Mais on a donné un détail qui semble avoir échappé aux journalistes français (je ne puis imaginer qu’ils l’aient omis volontairement, cela va de soi) : ce sauvetage a été, quasiment de bout en bout, une entreprise américaine.

L’entreprise qui a réalisé l’opération, très délicate, et impliquant une extrême précision technologique, est celle d’un homme appelé Jeff Hart. Elle s’appelle Geotech. Elle est basée dans le Colorado. Elle s’est spécialisée dans le forage de puits, et a travaillé sous contrat avec l’armée américaine en Irak, puis en Afghanistan, permettant d’alimenter en eau potable des gens qui n’y avaient pas accès. Jeff Hart et ses équipes ont foré trente trois jours, dans un contexte de risques extrêmes d’éboulement. Le conduit creusé a été équipé de façon à ce que puissent y circuler des capsules conçues sur la base de technologies mises an point par la Nasa. Les mineurs emprisonnés ont bénéficié pendant tout le temps de leur emprisonnement des conseils, méthodes et moyens de la Nasa pour garder leur équilibre physique, sous la supervision du docteur Polk. Ils ont, avant remontée à la surface, absorbé une boisson spécialement conçue par la Nasa encore, destinée à compenser les différences de pression et les risques de vertige et de malaise liés à la remontée.

Jeff Hart, ses équipes, le Dr Polk, la Nasa n’ont fait que leur devoir moral. Ils ont montré que les Etats-Unis restaient une puissance indispensable et généreuse. Même Barack Obama qui, en général, préfère s’excuser pour l’existence des Etats-Unis n’a pu faire autrement que prononcer une phrase : « Nous sommes fiers de tous les américains qui ont travaillé avec nos amis chiliens de façon à tout faire pour que ces mineurs rentrent chez eux ».

S’il y avait un Président américain à la Maison blanche, il recevrait Jeff Hart et les autres en héros : mais nous sommes encore en l’ère Obama, hélas.

Si les journalistes faisaient leur travail d’information, le détail que je viens d’exposer ne leur aurait pas échappé.

Il semble que lorsqu’il s’agit de critiquer les Etats-Unis, de les fustiger, de les traîner dans la boue, il ne manque jamais de bonnes volontés. Lorsqu’il s’agit de donner de simples faits montrant ce que les Etats-Unis sont essentiellement, les bonnes volontés semblent défaillir.

Faut-il le rappeler, en effet ? L’essentiel des technologies qui permettent la mondialisation accélérée dans laquelle nous sommes et contre laquelle certains pestent tout en utilisant en parallèle leur smartphone ou leur ordinateur portable, et internet à très haut débit, sont américaines. Et ce qui en elles n’est pas américain est le plus souvent israélien.

L’essentiel des aides et actions humanitaires sur la planète, quel que soit le continent, sont américaines aussi.

On pourrait ajouter accessoirement que sans les Etats-Unis, l’Europe occidentale aurait connu un tout autre destin à l’issue de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale : cela devrait aller sans dire. Cela va, à mes yeux, beaucoup mieux en le disant.

C’est pour toutes ces raisons et un nombre infini d’autres que j’aime les Etats-Unis d’Amérique et le peuple américain, et que je continuerai à les aimer.

Ceux qui veulent continuer à fustiger « l’impérialisme américain », eux, méritent plus que jamais mon profond mépris.

PS. Je dois ajouter à ce que j’ai écrit que, sans l’ouverture et l’esprit d’entreprise du Président du Chili lui-même, Sebastian Piñera, l’action salvatrice du capitalisme américain n’aurait pas été possible. Sebastian Piñera est lui-même un capitaliste qui fait honneur au capitalisme international : si les Etats-Unis étaient gouvernés par un capitaliste, le désastre du golfe du Mexique aurait permis au capitalisme américain de donner sa pleine mesure, mais hélas, disais-je plus haut…

COMPLEMENT:

Relativism, Revisionism, Aboriginalism, and Emic/Etic Truth: The Case Study of Apocalypto

Richard D. Hansen

In: Chacon R., Mendoza R. (eds) The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian Research

R.D. Hansen, Ph.D. (*)
Department of Anthropology, Institute of Mesoamerican Studies, Idaho State University, 921 South 8th Ave., Stop 8005 Gravely Hall, Pocatello, ID 83209, USA

Foundation for Anthropological Research & Environmental Studies (FARES), Pocatello, ID 83209, USA.
e-mail: hansric2@isu.edu

R.J. Chacon and R.G. Mendoza (eds.), The Ethics of Anthropology 147 and Amerindian Research: Reporting on Environmental Degradation and Warfare,
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-1065-2_8, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Abstract

Popular film depictions of varied cultures, ranging from the Chinese, Africans, and Native Americans have repeatedly provided a variant perception of the culture. In works of fiction, this flaw cannot only provide us with entertainment, but with insights and motives in the ideological, social, or economic agendas of the authors and/or directors as well as those of the critics. Mel Gibson’s Maya epic Apocalypto has provided an interesting case study depicting indigenous warfare, environmental degradation, and ritual violence, characteristics that have been derived from multidisciplinary research, ethnohistoric studies, and other historical and archaeological investigations. The film received extraordinary attention from the public, both as positive feedback and negative criticism from a wide range of observers. Thus, the elements of truth, public perception, relativism, revisionism, and emic/etic perspectives coalesced into a case where truth, fiction, and the virtues and vices of the authors and director of the film as well as those of critics were exposed. A fictional movie such as Apocalypto can provide entertainment and/or evoke moods and thoughts that usually extend beyond the “normal” as a work of art. In documentaries and academic publications and presentations, however, such flaws are much more serious, and provide distortions and misrepresentations of the “truth” that are (equally) perpetuated in literature and popular perceptions.

While certain criticisms of Hollywood portrayals of varied cultures can be justi- fied, particular academic and social agendas equally use aboriginalism, relativism, and revisionism as an attempt to distort the past and manipulate academic and social fabric. Claims of “cultural or religious inequality” are flawed if and when they dis- tort truth, as best determined by multidisciplinary scientific studies, involving a full range of scientific query and investigation, ethnography, ethnohistory, and extensive methodological procedure. A solution lies in a return to the philosophical foundations of science a la Peirce, Hempel, and Haack, among others, to organize and understand an objective truth as part of the ultimate goal in anthropological research.

Introduction

One of the more common struggles within anthropological disciplines is the concept of an emic interpretation (meaning the native or indigenous perceptions), as opposed to an etic interpretation (the perceptions of the observer) (Pike 1967). In some cases, a “revisionist” will ignore the facts and both the etic and emic interpretations and propose a popular perspective that is void of truth. Some more recent movements such as “aboriginalism” provides a perspective that “Indigenous societies and cultures possess qualities that are fundamentally different from those of non-Aboriginal peoples” (McGhee 2008:579). The avoidance of both the etic and emic perspectives will present serious flaws to an investigator and provides ample argument for a strong multidisciplinary approach to anthropological and archaeological research in the establishment of scientific “facts.” One of the more interesting examples of this problem became apparent in the release of the blockbuster film, Apocalypto, directed by actor/director Mel Gibson and produced by Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey, with Executive Producers Ned Dowd and Vicki Christianson. The film spurred a chorus of criticisms and complaints from some critics and members of the academic and native communities, a curious reaction in view of the fact that the film is entirely a work of fiction. In other cases, extraordinary praise and com- plements came from both critics and academic and Native American communities. A special session was organized at the American Anthropological Association meetings in 2007 entitled “Critiquing Apocalypto: An Anthropological Response to the Perpetuation of Inequality in Popular Media,” which merited being termed a “Presidential Session” sponsored by the Archaeology Division and the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. The obvious glaring flaw is that one would have to assume that it must have been established previously, somehow, that the film was a “perpetuation of inequality.” One of the organizers wrote “Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is one recent example within a history of cinematic spectacles to draw directly upon anthropological research yet drastically misinform its audience about the nature of indigenous culture” (Ardren 2007a; emphasis mine). Additional recent movies depicting the past, such as Gladiator (Ridley Scott, director). Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, director), Troy (Wolfgang Peterson, Director), or Gibson’s Braveheart and Passion of the Christ proved extraordinarily successful at the box office (Gladiator, Braveheart, Passion of the Christ), but had similar criticisms of “numerous historical inaccuracies and distortions of fact” from critics and academicians (e.g., Winkler and Martin 2004: Xi, 2007). The fascinating dichotomy of the historical truths and inaccuracies depicted in films and the emic and etic issues involved in popular mov- ies representing the past, and in particular, the case of Apocalypto, has prompted a review of the issues of perception, relativism, revisionism, and truth and demonstrates an important need to re-evaluate anthropological trends and interpretations. In this case, the concept of aboriginalism or “exceptionalism” may have been infused in the criticisms, where it is assumed that “Aboriginal individuals and groups…assume rights over their history that are not assumed by or available to non-Aboriginals” (McGhee 2008: 581). It is clear that many of the criticisms were a direct reflection of the disapproval of Gibson’s previous behavior (Bunch 2006), as well as a standing resentment because of the film Passion of the Christ, a movie which seemed to serve as a “pebble in the shoe” for many liberal, atheist, and in particular, Jewish people. In other cases, the criticisms were valid observations of the license taken by Gibson and the film staff in different aspects of the film Apocalypto, much of which was done for aesthetic reasons or for story expediency. One of the more comprehensive summaries of the film, the issues, and interviews as well as a host of conflicting criticisms are found online with Flixster (http://www. flixster.com/actor/mel-gibson/mel-gibson-apocalypto).

Some of the quibbling may have been as simple as the disagreement as to whether the High Priest had a frown or a smile on his face when he extracted a human heart in Apocalypto. This is a benign discussion and a shallow argument. A far more seri- ous issue however, is the posture that some scholars and Native Americans have taken, which denies that human sacrifice among the Maya even took place. Such positions fall into concepts of “revisionism,” “aboriginalism,” and “relativism” that signals a threat to truth and understanding of the human saga. This chapter will explore this dichotomy through an examination of the historical setting of Apocalypto, the acclaims and criticisms of the film, and explore in greater depth just one of the criticisms that the Maya were not practicing large-scale human sacrifice by the Late Postclassic period, and that depiction as such represented an “inequality,” “racism,” and “slander.” The reality of the depicted sacrifice scenes in Apocalypto, as deter- mined by ethnohistoric, ethnographic, iconographic, and archaeological data sug- gests that many of the critics may have subscribed to a revisionist/relativist/ aboriginalist perspective which distorts the past and creates a philosophical dilemma that can be addressed by a return to a scientific model proposed by Peirce, Hempel, Haack, and others as a theoretical solution to the issue.

Historical Context

In August 2004, this author (Hansen) was requested to attend a series of meetings at the headquarters of Icon Productions in Santa Monica, California to discuss the ancient Maya. The interests of Mel Gibson, Farhad Safinia, and producer Stephen McEveety of Icon Productions were the perspectives of ancient Maya culture that were observed in the National Geographic film, “Dawn of the Maya” (National Geographic 2004). The meetings resulted in lengthy discussions on nearly every aspect of Maya civilization, chronologies, and societal evolution. This further evolved into several trips to the Maya area, particularly Tikal and the Mirador Basin of northern Guatemala, where Gibson asked questions, toured sites, engaged in discussions with local Maya inhabitants and workers, and explored the environmental and cultural aspects of Maya civilization. His interest in the Preclassic societies of the Mirador Basin, the Classic cultures as portrayed at Tikal, Palenque, and Copan, and the Postclassic cultures of Mayapan, Tulum, and Iximche led him and associate Farhad Safinia to write the story line for a movie (see Padgett 2006a, b:60). In par- ticular, he wanted a film to be a “chase scene” because it had the more “universal appeal” and was something that he had wanted to do for some time (Flixster 2006:10). A script was drafted by Gibson and Safinia, and research was imple- mented for setting and filming locations. Hotel facilities were reviewed in Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico, with the final location selected in Veracruz, Mexico, because of adequate hotel space, ease of access, abundant industrial capability, and sufficient infrastructure for a movie of this nature.

An elaborate set depicting a Maya Postclassic period city was built to accommodate the story. Gibson and his award winning set production engineer, Thomas E. Sanders, built the entire set on an area of about 40 acres (35 ha) on a sugar cane farm bordering a small section of forest behind a hill near the small town of Boqueron, located about 40 miles to the west of Veracruz. A common misconception is that the film used computer graphics to depict the city, which was entirely untrue. Hansen was brought in for consultations and observation on two separate occasions during the middle and termination of the construction of the ancient cityscape. The site selected was, interestingly enough, an ancient village site, as detected by numerous Preclassic figurine and ceramic fragments found in the area. The basic idea was to construct a Postclassic city, complete with pyramids, structures with columns, outset stairways, causeways, and residence structures (Figs. 8.1–8.4). Indeed, the degree of detail in the city was extraordinary. Site designer Tom Sanders was quoted as saying that the film was “the hardest set he had ever worked on” (Padgett 2006a, b:61; personal communication to Hansen 2006), a revealing comment considering the extraordinary sets that Sanders has created and worked on (e.g., Saving Private Ryan, Hook, Jurassic Park 3, Superman, Braveheart, Dracula). Corn processing facilities, cacao preparation areas, basketry and mat production areas, cotton processing and weaving areas, tropical fruit, bean, and chile produc- tion areas, hide tanneries, textile dyeing vats, wood working shops, butcher shops, markets, ceramic and figurine manufacturing, sweat baths, monuments, and resi- dences were all prepared with maximum detail (Figs. 8.5–8.9). Corn husks, iguana skins, mats, turtle shells, ceramic bowls, cooking pots, storage vessels, gourds, baskets, mats, hammocks, ropes, wooden artifacts, lithic waste flakes, grinding stones, feath- ers, and dogs, ducks, and turkeys were all present within the extensive residential zone (Figs. 8.10–8.14). Existent Ceiba trees, the sacred trees of the Maya, were left standing and incorporated within the city as part of the props (Fig. 8.15). The entire set was extraordinary in detail and represented a authentic reproduction seldom, if ever, provided on film sets. For an anthropologist, it was a time machine, because the elements, both organic and nonorganic included in the set were all characteristic of urban and village Maya societies, both past and present (Figs. 8.16–8.19). However, since part of the story had to involve opulence and splendor, Gibson chose to have a small portion of the reconstructed city, which was the primary plaza and flanking structures, remain in the Classic period style since they generally were larger structures than those of the Postclassic period (Fig. 8.20). A compromise was reached with the Classic period structures showing age with evidence of deterioration and decay on the buildings. In fact, to accommodate the “reality” of the setting, several of the larger Classic period structures were undergoing “remodeling” into architecture more characteristic of the Postclassic period (Figs. 8.21 and 8.22). Even though the entire city was fictitious, the idea was to replicate the situation like that found at sites such as Cobá, Oxtankah, or Ichpaatun in Quintana Roo, Mexico (Boot 2007), where large, earlier Classic and early Postclassic period structures were surrounded by a later Postclassic city. Yet, the primary buildings of the main plaza were designed to more closely resemble Tikal (Guatemala) because of the obvious mani- festations of splendor and cultural achievement. Therefore, some of the primary examples of art and architecture were cobbled together as general, generic Maya images. Chenes and Puuc art were selected on the facades of temples, primarily due to “artistic license,” since it was the most glaringly opulent Yucatecan Maya-related art, and only a minor detail in Gibson’s mind, in comparison to the story that was to be unfolded (Figs. 8.23 and 8.24). Since the story was set in sixteenth-century coastal Yucatan, the language needed to be Yucatec to provide linguistic authenticity and a realistic context. It was difficult to conceive of a Maya warrior shouting, in English, “Come on Joe, let’s go get him!”

Costumes, ornaments, and props were produced in warehouses and workshops in Veracruz supervised by property master Richard (Rick) Young, costume designer Mayes C. Rubeo (Avatar), armourer Simon Atherton, (Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Robin Hood, Clash of the Titans), and a large and diverse staff of outstanding artists, hair, and makeup designers (http://www.visualhollywood.com/movies/apoc- alypto/credits.php). Extraordinary attention to detail of tattoos, jewelry, textiles, headdresses, banners, shields, weapons, and ceramics was based on images, monuments, ceramics, and murals from archaeological contexts (Figs. 8.25 and 8.26).

Filming was initially conducted in the Catemaco region to the south of Veracruz where a section of primal, original rainforest could still be found for the hunting camp scenes. Gibson employed cutting-edge digital camera technology consisting of Panavision’s Genesis system, providing extraordinary capability for specific scenes, and he worked with Oscar-award winning cinematographer Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves) to produce the visual effects he wanted. Actors were, for the most part, selected by Gibson and nearly all had no previous film experience (exceptions were Raoul Trujillo {Black Robe, The New World} and Mayra Sérbulo) (Padgett 2006a, b). Gibson’s coaching was exceptional because the actors were credible with no previous experience.

As noted earlier, the film was to be produced in Yucatec Maya, since the story was to have taken place in the general vicinity of eastern Quintana Roo, location of the first Spanish contacts by shipwrecked sailors Valdivia, Gerónimo de Aguilar and Gonzalo de Guerrero (1511), and later ship bound contact by Francisco Hernandez de Córdoba (1517) and Juan de Grijalva (1518). It was the relatively small amounts of gold and turquoise objects found among the Maya, a result of trade and contact with the Aztecs, that led to further exploration and organization of the conquest of the Aztecs in 1519 under Hernan Cortés. Furthermore, the Spanish friar, Diego de Landa explains that the Mexica had garrisons in Tabasco and Xicalango, and that the Cocom “brought the Mexican people into Mayapan” and other areas of the Yucatan Peninsula (Landa 1941: 32–36) which would explain the widespread influ- ence that Aztec culture had on the Maya in the Yucatan area.

The language training came under the tutelage of Hilario Chi Canul, a native monolingual Yucatecan Maya speaker who eventually learned Spanish at age 14, and who was the Mexican National Champion of Indigenous Maya Oratory in 2007. Dr. Barbara MacLeod (U of Texas, Austin) provided additional postfilming lan- guage assistance overdubbing and off-camera lines (see http://www.jonesreport. com/articles/121206_anthropologist_apocalypto.html). Eastern Yucatan was also selected because it would have been the source of origin for the first contact disease

in the continental New World (Small Pox), a point that Gibson wanted to make with a diseased little girl (Aquetzali Garcia) in the film. Set production and filming began in September 2005, and extended through June of 2006, with additional shoots in Costa Rica and England during June and July. Since the shooting was not done on a controlled set, it was subject to extremely rugged weather conditions, including extensive heat, humidity, and copious amounts of rain, which delayed the entire film about 3–4 months. Film editing was under the direction of Gibson and John Wright (Hunt for Red October, Speed, Passion of the Christ)

Apocalypto: Reactions

Upon its release in December 2006, Apocalypto was immediately declared by numerous critics as one of the most outstanding films of its genre and the “most artistically brilliant film” (e.g., Finke 2010; see also Bunch 2006; Berardinelli 2006; McCarthy 2006; Souter 2006; Baumgarten 2006; King 2007 ). Film critic Christopher Jacobs (2006) noted that “‘Apocalypto’ is not only a well-made film, an interesting anthropological artifact, and food for philosophical–political specula- tion, but is itself a revelation heralding the end of an era in motion picture production” (Jacobs 2006; see http://www.und.edu/instruct/cjacobs/Reviews. htm#apocalypto). Talk show hosts Alex Jones and Paul Watson called it the “most powerful film of all time” (Jones and Watson 2006). The film quickly climbed to No. 1 at the box office the first week of its release on December 2006, beating out “Happy Feet,” “The Holiday,” “Casino Royale,” and “Blood Diamond.” Similar responses were obtained in Europe and Asia, where the film remained at No. 1 for more than 4 weeks. The film established the UK box office record for the biggest opening weekend for a foreign language film, and reportedly earned $120.6 mil- lion (Finke 2010). Gibson received the Trustee Award from First Americans in the Arts (FAITA) and the Latino Business Associations Chairman’s Visionary Award. The film won the Dallas-Fort Worth Critics Association Award, the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (FOFCA), and the Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cinematography. The film was ultimately nominated for three Academy Awards in Makeup, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. According to several insid- ers to the movie industry, the film should also have been nominated for Academy Awards for Costume Design, Cinematography, Foreign-Language Film, and Supporting Actor, but Gibson’s unfortunate statements earlier in 2006 damaged his chances for such nominations (personal communication to Hansen, Feb. 2007; per- sonal communication to Hansen, Mar. 2007; see also Finke 2010). It was nomi- nated in the foreign language category for a Golden Globe Award. The film was also nominated for Best Direction and Best International Film in the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films. It was nominated as the Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases by the American Society of Cinematographers as well as Best Film not in the English Language by the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA).

In spite of the laudatory recognition of the film, many negative criticisms of the film were forthcoming from members of the academic community, and much of this was conveyed to the press. New York Times writer Mark McGuire noted negative comments from anthropologists and professors at SUNY Albany in an article enti- tled “Apocalypto’ a pack of inaccuracies” (McGuire 2006). A letter was written to the monthly bulletin of the Society for American Archaeology (“SAA Archaeological Record”) noting that the film had “technical inaccuracies and distortions in its por- trayal of the pre-Contact Maya.” “Anyone who cares about the past should be alarmed” and “Apocalypto will have set back, by several decades at least, archaeolo- gists’ efforts to foster a more informed view of earlier cultures” (Lohse 2007:3). Harvard scholar David Carrasco, professor of religious history at Harvard was reported to have claimed that “Gibson has made the Maya into ‘slashers’ and their society a hypermasculine fantasy” (Miller 2006:14), a curious interpretation of the film in light of late Postclassic society throughout Mesoamerica. Archaeologist Traci Ardren (University of Miami) spoke out against the film and was quoted extensively throughout U.S. press releases that Apocalypto represented “pornography” (Ardren 2006). Ardren and others had somehow assumed that the story dealt with the Late Classic Maya and the collapse in the ninth century, as one of the criticisms was that the “Spanish arrived over 300 years after the last Maya city was aban- doned” (?) (Ardren ibid: 2; interrogative mine). Maya cities along the coastal areas were fully occupied when the Spanish arrived, with hundreds and in several cases, thousands of buildings recorded for several observed sites. However, in a conflict- ing argument, Ardren noted that she was aware that the “Maya practiced brutal violence upon one another” and that she had “studied child sacrifice during the Classic period” (ibid). Her fallacious supposition that it was Gibson’s intent to infuse his personal religion was evident in the arrival of the Spanish, which sug- gested to her that Gibson meant “the end is near and the savior has come” and that “Gibson’s efforts…mask his blatantly colonial message that the Maya needed sav- ing because they were rotten at the core” (ibid). The obvious fallacy here is that her position is based entirely on unsupported assertions. She also implied that Gibson was stating that “there was absolutely nothing redeemable about Maya culture” since there was “no mention….made of the achievements in science and art, the profound spirituality and connection to agricultural cycles, or the engineering feats of Maya cities” (Ardren 2006:2). Such an odd theoretical position is dealt with by several film critics below (see Bunch 2006). While her criticisms were toned down in the special Presidential Session of the American Anthropological Association meeting in Washington, D.C., Ardren noted that:

Aquetzali, (the diseased little girl with the prophetic statements) with her Hollywood lesions and Lacandon inspired styling, encapsulates the big budget manipulation of cultural history and fact that has disturbed so much of the academic and activist communities while simultaneously enthralling so much of the movie-going public (Ardren 2007b:1).

The obvious questions here are, how does the diseased little girl encapsulate a “big budget manipulation of cultural history and fact”? How does this disturb aca- demic and activist communities? The little girl had Small Pox, a reality of death brought by the Spanish to Latin America. And, the Lacandon inspired styling was totally intentional, seeing how the Lacandon are Yucatecan Maya speakers who migrated very late in Maya history to the interior heartland.

Other criticisms ranged from the presence of a blue and gold macaw (“wasn’t a scarlet macaw within reach of a multi-million dollar budget?”), the use of the eclipse (“fastest eclipse in history”), and slavery (“While the Maya engaged in slavery, the film’s sister vision of massive subjugated labor is shockingly unfamiliar”) (Stone 2007:2–3). These criticisms are curious. The blue and gold macaw was purposely incorporated to display the opulence and extensive trade networks of the Postclassic Maya, who had trading networks as far south as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The eclipse episode would have been disastrous if the audience would have been forced to sit through an entire eclipse time cycle. It is clear from the film that the elite were acutely aware of the solar event, which in reality, they most likely were. I questioned numerous colleagues (Ph.D. level scholars) about when the next eclipse was to occur, and no one could answer, much less a Postclassic populous in a 1511 fictional Maya city. As for slavery, extensive raiding and slave systems existed throughout Mesoamerica during the late Postclassic period. Landa notes that the Cocom leadership “oppressed the poor and made many slaves” (Landa 1941:32,35; see also Antonio Chi 1582:230–232), and that Cocom rulership “made slaves” and “made slaves of the poorer people” (ibid:36), although the practice apparently extended to much earlier periods.

Another curious criticism was the charge that Gibson was using his religious views (i.e., Catholicism) as the “savior” and the “salvation” of the Maya with the arrival of the Spanish (e.g., McAnany and Gallareta 2010:142). Such arguments indicate an inherent personal prejudice against Gibson. In reality, the Spanish arrival to collect supplies represented a future devastating blow to the Maya, not their sal- vation, and Gibson and Farhad were fully aware of this (see Maca and McLeod 2007 discussion below). In reality, in addition to a metaphorical “New Beginning,” the segment was designed to provide an avenue for a future sequel, should it be desired, and to explain the separation of Yucatecan speakers into the interior forest to form the Lacandon societies in the sierras of northwestern Guatemala and Chiapas which would have occurred around this time.

An even more vehement opposition was voiced by Dr. Julia Gurnsey (University of Texas, Austin) who was “visibly shaken….upset, and not a little angry” (Garcia 2006). According to the interview conducted by the Austin Statesman, she noted: “I hate it. I despise it. I think it’s despicable. It’s offensive to Maya people. It’s offensive to those of us to try to teach cultural sensitivity and alternative world views that might not match our own twenty-first-century Western ones but are none- theless valid” (Garcia 2006). While Gurnsey was totally entitled to her opinion, she was not entitled to change the facts (elaborated below) which characterize the late Postclassic Maya societies of coastal Yucatan.

Perhaps one of the more comprehensive criticisms and one that seemed to reflect a majority of the academic resistance was in the March/April 2007 Archaeology magazine which featured an article entitled “Betraying the Maya: Who does the violence in Apocalypto really hurt?” A renowned Maya scholar and colleague noted that the film was “crafted with devotion to detail but with disdain for historical coherence or substance” and that the “film is a big lie about the savagery of the civi- lization created by the pre-Columbian Maya” (Freidel 2007). In addition he adds, “Allegory and artistic freedom are well and good, except when they slanderously misrepresent an entire civilization” (emphasis, mine). In view of the wide public dissemination of these criticisms, it is perhaps worthwhile to explore Freidel’s argu- ments and compare them to the archaeological, ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and epigraphic facts.

According to the criticism, the fallacy was that Gibson did not show the tiered society that Maya civilization represented and “the public deserves a more accurate and sophisticated view of the pre-Columbian Maya, and Gibson ….had the resources, advisors, and talent to have provided it” (Freidel 2007:39; see also Ardren 2006). “Courtiers, craftsmen, warriors, and merchants – the usual professions of urban life – have been documented archaeologically and pictorially in the Classic Maya record” (Freidel 2007:38). According to Freidel, Apocalypto degraded the cultural accomplishments and intellectual achievements of the Maya:

The Classic Maya wrote history, scripture, and poetry that contain knowledge of the human condition and spirit, as well as wisdom that compares favorably with that of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other hearths of civilization. Finally, the accuracy of modern depictions of the ancient Maya matters deeply and personally to those of us who care about the mil- lions of people who speak a Mayan language…. (Freidel 2007:41).

In 2007, movie producer/director Mel Gibson “treated” audiences to a spectacularly inac- curate portrayal of ancient Maya civilization (emphasis mine). Called Apocalypto, Maya rulers and priests were depicted as blood-thirsty savages, Maya farmers as hunters and gatherers, and a Spanish galleon drifting somewhere off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula seemed the only salvation available to the Comanche and Yaqui actor, Rudy Youngblood, and his brave young wife and two children.

It is easy to lament with Freidel and others the lack of additional examples of Maya achievements in Apocalypto, such as ballgames, written scripts, dances, the- ater, and extensive trade networks. The sophistication of the cityscape, the eco- nomic and social activities visible in the film, the elaborate architecture, and the prognostication of the eclipse in Apocalypto implied an extraordinary cultural com- plexity. The extensive detail built into the cityscape at Veracruz would have allowed a greater insight into the economic, social, and political sophistication of the Maya, and it is unfortunate that more of the art, architecture, and the detailed cultural remains did not see more film time.

Another criticism of some merit refers to the murals that were similar to the Preclassic Maya murals of San Bartolo, Peten, Guatemala which were incorporated into the scene, entirely at the whims of the director and the set designer to accom- modate the story line. The use of this art was met with resistance by this author because of the obvious chronological disparity and because there were better Postclassic examples from Chichen Itza. The art, however, was selected for aes- thetic reasons because it could be portrayed as large enough and explicit enough to mesh with the story. Furthermore, at the time of filming, it was unsure as to whether any images of the murals would be even used or incorporated into the film after edit- ing. The mural moved the film along by allowing the prisoners to realize their fate without additional scenes of conversation.

Additional questions posed by Freidel included phrases like “Were Classic Maya cities the dens of iniquity Gibson envisions?” and “Were city dwellers the blood- thirsty predators Gibson portrays?” (Freidel 2007:38). He further claims “Direct pre- dation and slaughter of ordinary people is a reality in some times and places, but it is a slander when attributed to the ancient Maya.” With all respect to the need for cul- tural sensitivity, the arguments posed by Freidel are entirely subjective and unfounded according to the ethnohistoric and archaeological record. Perhaps it would have been useful to have asked the same questions to Capitan Valdivia and the sailors who were with Gonzalo Guerrero and Jeronimo de Aguilar when, after their shipwreck and landing on an Akumal beach in 1511, they were sacrificed and eaten (Cervantes de Salazar 1941:236; Landa 1941:8). Would it have been “slanderous” to accuse the Maya of slaughter when referring to members of the Francisco Mirones y Lezcano expedition into the interior of Yucatan who were sacrificed via heart extractions (Scholes and Adams 1991). A similar fate fell upon the Spanish priests, Fray Cristobal de Prada and Jacinto de Vargas, on the island of the Itza in Peten, Guatemala (Cano 1697/1984:17) as well as Friar Domingo de Vico and his associ- ates in Acalan (Villagutierre 1701/1983: 49). Direct captive predation slaughter and

sacrifice were inflicted on the occupants of the ravaged villages recorded in murals on the walls of the Temple of the Jaguar and the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza (Miller 1977; Morris et al. 1931) (Figs. 8.27–8.31). Furthermore, the Apocalypto story takes place in 1511–1518, the proto-Historic period, not the Classic Maya period 600–700 years previous, a detail that seems to have escaped many of the crit- ics. Freidel commented that the film “juxtaposes ideas about social and political failure from the ninth century crisis” or “collapse ” with the “decadence” of the Postclassic period, and that the “term ‘decadent’ is no longer used to describe that period (Postclassic) by Maya archaeologists” (Freidel 2007:39). It is partially true that the film juxtaposes ideas about the ninth-century Lowland Maya collapse, but it also includes ideas associated with the Preclassic “collapse” documented in the Mirador Basin of northern Guatemala (see Hansen et al. 2002; Schreiner 2000a, b, 2001, 2002). Such perceptions are timeless, particularly since many of the same ills are currently ongoing in many areas of the Maya heartland today.

Freidel noted incorrectly that “Apocalypto is wrong from the opening shot of an idealized rainforest hamlet” because he has assumed there were no broad areas in the Maya heartland where a small hunting society could have existed. He based this perspective on his surveys on the island of Cozumel, where “the entire landscape was defined by stone walls” (Freidel 2007: 39). He suggests that along the entire coast of the Yucatan peninsula “the Spanish encountered people living in towns” (ibid) and that “Gibson’s hunter-gatherers are pure fantasy” (ibid). This fallacious argument belies the fact that there were vast sections of rainforest in the interior of the Yucatan shelf that had absolutely no human intervention since about A.D. 840 (Wahl 2000, 2005; Wahl et al. 2005, 2006, 2007). Landa notes that the exploration of Hernan Cortes into the interior of Tabasco, Campeche, and Peten in 1524 indi- cated vast vacant areas of forest (Cortés 1986:372) and subsequent colonial docu- ments such as Avendaño y Loyola testify as to the complete isolation and total abandonment of vast sections with absolutely no human presence (Avendaño y Loyola 1987: 16, 56, 59–64). Landa notes that the inhabitants (“tribes”) “wandered around in the uninhabited parts of Yucatan for 40 years” (Landa 1941:30–31) and that they engaged in “hunting in companies of 50, more or less, and when they reach the town, they make their presents to their lord and distribute the rest as among friends” (ibid: 97). A similar situation occurred with the migration of Canek’s soci- ety from the area of Mayapan to Lake Peten Itza where the populations wandered “for many years in the wilderness” (Villagutierre Soto-Mayor 1701/1983: 24).

The Mexica term for the hunters and hunting camps in tropical forests was amiz- tequihuaque, and amiztlatoque (see Carrasco 1971:359), suggesting that hunters enjoyed a certain status or class in much the same fashion as the merchants. Gibson’s portrayal of small hunting hamlets in the middle of an unpopulated jungle is there- fore far more realistic and probable during the Late Postclassic period than the alternative proposed by Freidel.

Freidel notes that “While the ancient Maya had their shortcomings (??), includ- ing the organized violence typical of civilized people (??), they were remarkable in their achievements, and not just the brutal monsters depicted by Gibson” (Freidel 2007:39) (interrogatives mine). The dichotomy of these statements is striking: it is precisely the “shortcomings” that Gibson was using as his metaphor for society, and the “organized violence” is a subjective comment of societies whose level of “civi- lization” may have begun to deteriorate (Collier 1999; Stewart et al. 2001; Collier et al. 2003; Skaperdas 2009). Freidel also suggests that, based on artistic representa- tions from sites such as Yaxchilan, Tikal, and Piedras Negras and hieroglyphic texts from Dos Pilas, Uaxactun, Yaxuna, and Waka-Peru, the elite were not predators of common people or peasants (ibid: 40). This is a flawed perspective perhaps based on a perceived notion of Late Classic societies, not the terminal Postclassic period rep- resented in Apocalypto (see below). This small detail seems to have escaped many of the critics, despite the presence of smallpox on one of the characters and the presence of architecture in the cityscape that was obviously Postclassic period architecture. The Maya had long been subjected to or had adopted Toltec practices (skull racks), at least by about ad 1000 if not earlier, and had direct contact and influence from the Aztec societies (human sacrifice, use of Tlaloc figures, human consumption, trade, exchange). The shocking element of these criticisms is that they totally disregard the numerous colonial documents and writings of Spanish observers, not to mention the vast examples of archaeological data that support the perceptions that Gibson portrayed in the film.

Criticisms asserted that the film was a racist depiction. Yet a TMZ poll (http:// http://www.tmz.com/2007/03/23/mel-goes-ballistic-f-you) conducted on line on March 29, 2007 had 79,395 responses to the question “Is Apocalypto racist?” of which 75% (59,546) replied negatively that it was NOT racist. If such a large proportion of the viewing population did not think Apocalypto was racist, why did so many prom- inent academicians proclaim that it was?

As with any film of a historical nature, some of the criticisms of Apocalypto have merit. However, many, indeed most of the criticisms do not. As noted earlier, the film was a piece of fiction, a story, and Gibson was within his right to tell the story as he saw fit, particularly if it adhered to the ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and archaeological facts. It may be useful, therefore, to examine the criticisms in light of an anthropological approach and evaluate the merits of them. While there were many criticisms that would merit ample discussion in this chapter, a review of some of the major complaints, such as the level and degree of violence portrayed in the movie, requires further examination in light of multidisciplinary data because it has relevance to anthropological discourse.

Maya Human Sacrifice and Warfare Behavior

The level of sacrifice depicted in Apocalypto was based almost entirely on ethnohistoric data and archaeological interpretation, which coincides with the contextual cultural behavior noted in terminal Postclassic and proto-Historic Mesoamerica. Aztec influence, well established as a major protagonist of human sacrifices, had pene- trated much of the Maya region through elaborate trade and exchange systems as well as outright Mexican settlements in the Yucatecan heartland, a concept blamed on the Cocom family (Landa 1941:32–39; see Squier Note 66 in de Palacio and Diego de 1576; Bray 1977; Finamore and Houston 2010:177). Outright migrations of Nahuatl-speaking occupants also occurred in the Highlands of Guatemala, and in El Salvador and Honduras. The Spaniards encountered widespread sacrifice among the major linguistic groups outside the Mexica homeland, including the Totonac and Maya areas. For example, the Totonac culture at Cempoala and Gulf Coast region practiced extensive human sacrifice (Diaz de Castillo 1965:102–103), although they occasionally blamed the misdeeds on the Aztecs. At Quiahuitztlan on the eastern Gulf Coast, the “fat Cacique” complained that “every year, many of their sons and daugh- ters were demanded of them for sacrifice” and that the Aztec “tax-gatherers carried off their wives and daughters if they were handsome, and ravished them” (Diaz de Castillo 1965:90). Bernal Diaz de Castillo noted the situation with respect to the towns near the coast:

When Pedro de Alvarado reached these towns …….he found in the cues bodies of men and boys who had been sacrificed, and the walls and altars stained with blood and the hearts placed as offerings before the Idols. He also found the stones on which the sacrifices were made and the stone knives with which to open the chest so as to take out the heart……he found most of the bodies without arms or legs….that they had been carried off to be eaten… I will not say any more of the number of sacrifices, although we found the same thing in every town we afterwards entered (Diaz de Castillo 1965:85).

The Spanish did not have to enter deep into Aztec territory to detect the practice of human sacrifices, but rather, such behavior occurred on, or near the coast which would have had contact with the Lowland Maya. On another occasion, Diaz de Castillo notes that Cortes and his small army “slept in another small town” (near the Gulf Coast), where also many sacrifices had been made, but as many readers will be tired of hearing of the great number of Indian men and women whom we found sacrificed in all the towns and roads we passed (ibid:86–87).

The unusual numbers of sacrifices in Postclassic Mesoamerica were noted by Duran (1994), who recorded that, during Aztec coronation ceremonies, the ….captives were brought out. All of them were sacrificed in honor of his coronation (a pain- ful ceremony), and it was a pathetic thing to see these wretches as victims of Motecuhzoma. …I am not exaggerating; there were days in which two thousand, three thousand, five thou- sand, or eight thousand men were sacrificed. Their flesh was eaten…… (Duran 1994:407).

The widespread Mesoamerican sacrificial practices (Aztec, Totonac, Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya) were duly recorded by Spanish observers such as Cortés, Sahagun, Duran, Torquemada, Tapia, Diaz de Castillo, Mirones y Lezcano, Avendaño y Loyala, Cárdenas y Valencia, Cervantes de Salazar, Bernardo Casanova, Villagutierre Soto-Mayor, Cogolludo, and Garcia de Palacios at sites such as the Mexican and Guatemalan Highlands, the Totonac Lowlands (i.e., Cempoala) of the Gulf Coast of Mexico, the Yucatecan Coast (i.e., Landa 1941; Herrera 1601/1941; Cervantes de Salazar 1941) or the interior heartland region (Cano 1697/1984; Scholes and Adams 1991; Avendaño y Loyola 1987; Cogolludo 1688/2008; Villagutierre Soto-Mayor 1701/1983), showing a broad geographical and chronological consistency in the ritual behavior. The Italian translator and publisher Calvo noted, in his newsletter of 1521–1522 that the initial contact at Cozumel by Cortes observed “…men and people wearing fine-woven cloth and of every color, who practice numerous excellent arts such as gold-and silver smithery and European-style jewelry making, in honor of the idols they adore and to whom they sacrifice humans, cutting open their chests and pulling out their hearts which they offer to them” (the idols)….and that they (the Spanish) “cast them down (the idols) and put in place of them the image of our Lord and the Virgin Mary with the Cross, which they held in great veneration, and they themselves cleaned the temple where human blood from the sacrifices had fallen” (Calvo 1985: 11).

Human sacrifices by the Maya were frequently engaged in times of famine and plagues (Landa 1941:54) or “some misfortune” (ibid: 115), a point illustrated in Apocalypto. The defensive posture of wells, plazas, and residential patterns was so that the Maya could avoid being “captured, sold, and sacrificed” (Herrera 1601/1941:217), and that the “number of people sacrificed was great”(ibid).

Earlier Mexican influences, such as the Toltec presence at Chichen Itza appar- ently also had a profound influence on sacrificial conduct at an even earlier point in the Postclassic period in the Maya area. The Toltec/Toltec influences are believed to be associated with the Tzompantli skull racks in stone in the Great Plaza at Chichen Itza and other sites such as Uxmal. Cano notes the extraction of the hearts of Fray Christobal de Prada and Fray Jacintho de Vargas by the high priest “Cuin Kenek” (Cano 1697/1984:17).

The rituals enacted in the sacrificial executions of Father Diego Delgado, Don Cristobal Na (the chieftain of Tipu who had been converted to Christianity), and 13 Spanish soldiers involved the extraction of hearts and offerings to “idols” as well as the placement of all heads on poles (Tzompantli?) on a small hill near the city (Villagutierre 1701/1983: 92). Cogolludo notes the sacrifice, decapitation, and placement of heads on stakes (Tzompantli) in the village of Chemax (Cogolludo 1688/2008: 359; see also page 24, 47).

Furthermore, writings by Cervantes de Salazar noted that the Maya from Cozumel had a “great fear” of those along the coast because “they were at war with those of that coast” (Cervantes de Salazar 1941:233), indicating a constant and consistent state of warfare among the coastal Maya of Yucatan during the late Postclassic- Proto-Historic periods. In addition, some of the extraordinary exploits of Jeronimo de Aguilar were because of his valor on the battlefield against foes entrenched in enduring “hatreds” among the coastal and interior Maya (ibid:237–238). The con- stant state of warfare was also noted by Landa (1941:41–42) in which more than 150,000 men died in battle, and created a scenario of conflict, revenge, and hatred that worked to the advantage of the Spaniards (ibid). Such warfare involved stealth attacks and brutal treatment of captives:

Guided by a tall banner, they went out in great silence from the town and thus they marched to attack their enemies, with loud cries and with great cruelties, when they fell upon them unprepared….After the victory they took the jaws off the dead bodies and with the flesh cleaned off, they put them on their arms. In their wars they made great offerings of the spoils, and if they made a prisoner of some distinguished man, they sacrificed him immedi- ately, not wishing to leave any one alive who might injure them afterwards. The rest of the people remained captive in the power of those who had taken them (Landa 1941:123).

The stealth attacks were visible in the village scenes of Apocalypto in minute detail, including the wearing of human mandibles as trophies by the dominant leader of the warring band. The fictitious city in Apocalypto had a Tzompantli with vertical poles as that depicted in Chichen Itza (see Eberl 2001: 318) and as described by the Spanish. The Aztec Tzompantli clearly had the perforations on the parietal side of the skull so that the skulls were displayed horizontally. The practice of heart extrac- tion has been explicitly defined by Diego de Landa and numerous other Spanish observers. According to the accounts, a victim was often stripped naked, anointed with a blue color, and either tied to poles and shot with arrows (a scene that had been edited out and not included in Apocalypto), or taken to place of sacrifice (temple), seized by four Chacs, and suffered a heart extraction, throwing the decapitated head and body down the steps of the temple (Landa 1941: 117–123; see also the Florentine Codex, p. 58) precisely as depicted in the film. However, the level of violence according to ethnohistoric accounts included the fact that the body was recovered at the base of the steps and flayed, with the skin worn by the naked priest with dancing in great solemnity (Landa 1941:120; Herrera 1601/1941: 219), which was a scene NOT depicted in the film. Furthermore, the exaggerated body pit discovered by the escaping Jaguar Paw in Apocalypto is likely to not have existed because, according to Landa, Duran, and other observers, the victims were eaten (Landa 1941: 120; see also Lopez-Medel 1612: L. 227), another scene NOT depicted in Apocalypto. However, if mass quantifies of victims were sacrificed similar to Duran’s account of the Aztecs, it is entirely possible that such a pit could have existed due to the excess of human flesh that was not consumed.

Lopez-Medel (1612) (1941: 222) notes that “Those compelled (for sacrifice) were captives and men taken in the wars they made against other pueblos, whom they kept in prisons and in cages for this purpose, fattening them.” The jawbones on arms were equally depicted in Apocalypto, indicating the level of butchery that accompanied Postclassic warfare. The removal and display of human jawbones is also a pan-Mesoamerican feat which dates as early as the Early Classic, based on burials in highland Teotihuacan and the Lowland Maya Mirador Basin site of Tintal (Tintal Burial 1) (Hansen et al. 2006). Lopez-Medel also notes that Maya “sacri- fices….were so many in number” (Lopez-Medel (1612/1941: 222).

Freidel purports that the Maya were not predators of common people or peasants. However, Villagutierre records that villages were attacked with some regularity in the sixteenth century:

In 1552 the cruel and barbarous Lacandones, not content with the raids they had made every year on Spanish and Christian Indian villages in the province of Chiapas, which were closest to them, robbing, killing, taking their wives and children captive in order to sacrifice them to their idols, and having already destroyed 14 villages, continued their customary raids from two villages farthest away in the mountains….and at night attacked two other villages….. They killed and captured many people and sacrificed the children on the church altars, at the foot of the cross, taking out their hearts and smearing the holy images venerated in the temples with the blood. When all this was done, they destroyed and burned the villages, taking with them the men and women as captives….. (Villagutierre 1701/1983:44)

The extraordinary detail in the murals from Chichen Itza confirms Villagutierre’s observations and suggests that common people and peasants as well as entire villages were targets for pillage, destruction, sacrifices, and captives (Morris 1931: Plates 139–147; Miller 1977). The extraordinary detail in the murals in the Temple of the

Warriors shows the assault on a village with elite and commoner residences under siege (Figs. 8.27 and 8.28), with the heart extractions and slaughter of male and female captives who had been smeared with blue paint prior to heart extraction at the village (Morris et al. 1931: Plate 144; see Figs. 8.29 and 8.30) and the depictions of more formal heart extractions from captives in a temple complex (ibid: Plate 145; see Fig. 8.31).

The antiquity and geographical extent of Maya human sacrifices is ubiquitous throughout the Maya Lowlands. Explicit images of human captives and heart extrac- tion sacrifices were found in graffiti on Classic period architecture (post occupa- tional?) at Tikal (Orrego and Larios 1983: 169, 172). Excavations at the Maya site of Colha, Belize, revealed an extraordinary pit dating to the Terminal Late Classic period (ca. ad 800–900) which had been placed at the base of a structure (Operation 2011) that yielded 30 decapitated skulls, of which 10 were from children (Mock 1994; Massey 1994; Hester et al. 1983:49–53; see Figs. 8.32 and 8.33). In addition, the bodies of 20 people had been recovered at the base of the nearby pyramid stair- case (Operation 2012; Hester et al. 1983:51).

Such dramatic evidence over a vast area of the Maya Lowlands indicates that human sacrifice and human heart extractions were a widespread and common occur- rence. The heavily fortified Postclassic sites of Mayapan, Tulum, Ichpaatun, Oxtankab, Tayasal, Muralla de Leon (Rice and Rice 1981), and three walled Terminal Classic sites of Chacchob, Cuca, and Dzonot Ake (Webster 1980) in the

Lowlands as well as the heavily fortified Highland Maya sites of Iximche, Mixco Viejo, Rabinal, and Cumarcaj indicate the defensive postures of late Maya centers, a concept clearly in line with the social and political conditions of conflict and wars that Gibson was suggesting in Apocalypto.

One of the more outstanding reviews of Apocalypto was written by Sonny Bunch (2006), an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard who noted the criticisms from academicians, and pointed out that the facts demonstrated either a complete distor- tion of reality, or a disturbing incompetence by the academic critics. While the complete version of the review can be seen at (http://www.weeklystandard.com/ Content/Public/Articles/000/000/013/075khpyy.asp), some of the more salient points of his arguments were that almost all critics mentioned Gibson’s alleged anti- Semitic statement and that the film did not inform adequately about the cultural achievements of the ancient Maya. Bunch notes that:

….This is a strange criticism. If you were interested in boning up on calendars, hieroglyph- ics, and pyramids you could simply watch a middle-school film strip. And who complained that in Gladiator, Ridley Scott showed epic battle scenes and vicious gladiatorial combat instead of teaching us how the aqueducts were built? (emphasis mine)

Bunch also confronts the critics that suggest that the film portrayed “….an offensive and racist notion that Maya people were brutal to one another long before the arrival of Europeans…..” Newsweek reports that “although a few Mayan murals do illustrate the capture and even torture of prisoners, none depicts decapitation” as a mural in a trailer for the film does. “That is wrong”. It’s just plain wrong, “the magazine quotes Harvard professor William Fash as saying. Karl Taube, a professor of anthropology at UC Riverside, complained to the Washington Post about the portrayal of slaves building the Mayan pyramids. “We have no evidence of large numbers of slaves,” he told the paper.

Even the mere arrival, at the end of the film, of Spanish explorers has been lambasted as culturally insensitive….. Here’s Gurnsey, again, providing a questionable interpretation of the film’s final minutes: “And the ending with the arrival of the Spanish (conquistadors) underscored the film’s message that this culture is doomed because of its own brutality. The implied message is that it’s Christianity that saves these brutal savages. “But none of these complaints holds up particularly well under scrutiny. After all, while it may not mesh well with their post-conquest victimology, the Mayans did partake of bloody human sacrifice.” (emphasis mine)

While there may be some that might question the validity of the Spanish observa- tions, the fact that the ethnohistoric observations match so seamlessly with the archaeological data from both earlier and later periods indicate that such doubts are highly unlikely. The Maya had vast areas of forest without populations, small hunt- ing groups and camps, chronic warfare and insidious attacks on enemies and sacri- ficial victims. Captives were exploited as slaves throughout Mesoamerica. One of the best comprehensive studies of human sacrifice in the Maya/Mesoamerica area was published by Ruben G. Mendoza (Mendoza 2007; see also Chacon and Dye 2007; Chacon and Mendoza 2007). Warriors wore the jawbones of slain foes, cap- tured male and female captives, and engaged in exotic trade systems ranging from the Gulf Coast to Costa Rica. A detailed stucco panel at the site of Tonina, Chiapas, Mexico shows a decapitated sacrificial victim clasped in the hand of the Ak Ok Cimi, a death deity. Another stucco panel depicts a decapitated head on a leaf-covered Tzompantli. Sacrificial rituals included painting the sacrificial victims blue, erecting tzompantlis where human heads were skewered, sacrificing human victims on the “cues” or temples with heart extractions. Victims were decapitated, with the bodies rolled down the staircase and subsequently flayed and butchered (not depicted in the film). Priests and nobility were acutely aware of solar and celes- tial phenomena such as eclipses, which were celebrated with sacrifices during plagues, famine, or other misfortune.

It would be difficult to assert that all the scholars who spoke out against Apocalypto were ignorant or incompetent, but why did they make claims that were fallacious or inaccurate in the face of overwhelming data? Why was the response so vehement when many of the issues and situations portrayed in the film were accurate? It is likely that much of the resistance was created by Gibson’s anti-Semitic statement during an arrest about 6 months previous to the release of the film. In some cases, the opposition to Apocalypto may have been simple ignorance. However, it is also implied that scholars wittingly or unwittingly may have ascribed to a “revisionist” and/or “relativist/aboriginalist” perspective, concepts which can fall under the title of “neo-pragmatism” (see Buchler 1955:251–289; Haack 1998; Rorty 1982, 1991). A “revisionist” or “sham-reasoning” view may either represent an antithesis of truth or a decorative reasoning of truth, or the clarification and establishment of it (Haack 1997a, 1998; Peirce 1886: in Hartshorne and Weiss, Vol. I, pp. 57–59; McPherson 2003). In some cases, revisionist perspectives ignore the vast amounts of data that have accumulated over periods of time, and seek to promote that which is ideologically expedient or politically “correct” or convenient within the bounds of “language” (e.g., Rorty 1982; McPherson 2003). While it is entirely possible that additional data may help establish a more accurate perspective based on additional information, often added by new technologies, the dangers and damage that a revi- sionist/relativist perspective can cause, if incorrect, is that it also has the potential to ultimately deceive and distort the reality of the human existence and defy truth. Such a position is “not to find out how things really are, but to advance (oneself) by making a case for some proposition to the truth-value of which he is indifferent” (Haack 1997a:2). It also suggests that “reasoning” can be mainly “decorative” and result in a “rapid deterioration of intellectual vigor” (Peirce I: 57–58, in Hartshorne et al. 1931–1958; see Haack 1998:32). In other cases, a certain movement purports that “indigenous rights should always trump scientific inquiry” (Gillespie 2004:174, citing Zimmerman et al. 2003). Such positions defy the establishment of truth and seek for an unqualified political correctness that is both unwarranted and dangerous to the realities of the human saga. On a more subtle note, it can lull a society into an intellectual complacency, generating a moral and intellectual failure to acknowl- edge or improve on mistakes or violations of accepted values of universal human rights.

Perhaps a more viable alternative would be to return to the values of truth in sci- ence as determined by vigorous methodological procedure and evaluation via a multitude of multidisciplinary approaches. A solution lies in a return to the philo- sophical foundations of science such as that proposed by Peirce, Hempel, Haack, and others to organize and understand truth and valid objective reasoning as part of the ultimate goal. As Josh Billings noted more than a century ago, “As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand” (Shaw 1865; Cited in Haack 1997b:241).

Charles Peirce, arguably the “greatest of American philosophers” (Haack 1997a:1) has been credited, along with William James as the creator of “pragma- tism” in scientific reasoning (ibid). Peirce had been strongly influenced by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1996) (1781, 1787) and the earlier scientists such as Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo (Peirce 1877, cited in Buchler 1955:6). He wrote that he had also been profoundly influenced by the Scottish theologian John Duns Scotus (1265–1308). Peirce noted that one can “opine that there is such a thing as Truth,” meaning that “you mean that something is SO….whether you or I, or anybody thinks it is so or not….The essence of the opinion is that there is some- thing that is SO, no matter if there be an overwhelming vote against it” (Peirce 1898(2):135). He also noted that, in order to determine the veracity of a subject, one would have to “find out the right method of thinking and…follow it out” so that “truth can be nothing more nor less than the last result to which the following out of this method would ultimately carry us” (Peirce 1898 (5):553). The importance of a multidisciplinary approach is such that as “we push our archaeological and other studies, the more strongly will that conclusion force itself on our minds for- ever-or would do so, if study were to go on forever….” (Peirce 1898 (5):565–566). The result would “ultimately yield permanent, rational agreement among all inquir- ers, however various their beliefs at the outset” (Brunning and Forster 1997a, b:8; Buchler 1955; Hempel 1965:141). Therefore, the purpose of science was to “look the truth in the face, whether doing so be conducive to the interests of society or not” (Peirce 1901:300).

Such pragmatism formed in the late 1800s as a response to “antiscience” or “nominalist” movements which continue to the present day in scientific philosophy dressed as “relativism” or negative “revisionism.” The role of revisionism is based on the premise that “There is no single, eternal, and immutable ‘truth’ about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians for understanding the past – that is, ‘revisionism’ – is what makes history vital and meaningful” (McPherson 2003).

In many cases, further revision of historical information can clarify or enhance the knowledge of the past. In other cases, the revision of history was designed to promote certain agendas or to ease or “whitewash” the uncomfortable aspects of events and actions so that “evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over” and “history loses its value as an incentive and…paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth” (Du Bois 1935, cited in Williams 2005:10–11). A posi- tive example of revisionism deals with the new data showing the precocious devel- opment of the Preclassic Maya in the Mirador Basin of northern Guatemala, a concept which fundamentally changed the understanding of the developmental and evolutionary history of the ancient Maya (e.g., Dahlin 1984; Hansen 1984, 2001, 2005; Matheny 1987). Another example is the understanding of royal marriage arrangements in ancient Egypt, such as the incestual relationship of Tutankhamun’s mother, as determined through DNA (Hawass 2010). A negative example of revi- sionism is the movement to deny that the Holocaust existed in Europe in World War II (e.g., Barnes 1968, 1969; Hoggan 1969; see Lipstadt 1994).

The “science” of historical revisionism infers that further studies would lead to the same fundamental premise, regardless of the personal opinions or perspectives. In this sense, an objective “absolute truth” is the ultimate goal or “ideal,” a la Peirce and Hempel, so that infinite, multidisciplinary studies or new technologies would lead to the same conclusions, “independent of individual opinion or preference” (Hempel 1965:141), a concept which had previously been eloquently espoused by Peirce (Vol. 8: 12, see Delaney 1993:46). In this sense, “truth is a property-and a property which, unlike justification or probability on present evidence, depends on more than the present memory and experience of the speaker” and is “the one insight of ‘realism’ that we should not jettison” (Putnam 1990:32). The quest for truth then becomes a refining process, an improvement on previously established precepts that were correct. A fundamental “truth” that has to be substantially altered because of new information from increasing multidisciplinary data or new technologies was never true in the first place, and, in this sense, can be discarded with a revision that can be justified with an eye always on the original premise that was corrected. The process becomes one of refining accuracy and an identification with a continuing community and probability (Sellars 1970:102).

Some of the more radical oppositions to the concept of the Peircean realism have been voiced by Richard Rorty and Donald Davidson (Rorty 1982, 1989, 1991, 1992; Davidson 1986) who have been dubbed “neo-pragmatists” and “relativists” (Haack 1998:31). Rorty has been one of the most influential forces in the “relativistic” thought, in which he notes that he does “not have much use for notions like… ‘objec- tive truth’” (Rorty 1992:141) because “science is no more than the handmaiden of technology” (Rorty 1989: 3–4), or the “human world, the world according to concep- tual and linguistic conditions” (Hausman 1997:198). According to Rorty, “truth is made because truth belongs to sentences and ‘Where there are no sentences, there is no truth’” (ibid:202). In like manner, Davidson’s position is that “what gives truth value is the cumulative mass of accepted beliefs that serve as backing for individual sentences when these are consistent with that mass of beliefs” (Hausman 1997:206). This would create what Rorty has referred to as a “seesaw” meaning that one “would never know when we were at the end of inquiry” (Rorty 1989:11, 1991:131).

The response to such a position was posited by Peirce, however, who saw the entire issue as a perspective of hope, “…more than a purely intellectual conception of pos- sibility…..(but)…that there is an actual, concrete state to be expected” (Hausman 1997:219). The refinement of intellectual knowledge, however, begs the need for a multidisciplinary approach, and, in the case of ancient societies, the combined and coordinated efforts of linguistics, ethnohistory, ethnography, archaeology, and the sociocultural and biological anthropology so as to cover a broader range of the emic and etic perspectives of the society. Such refining “truths,” when built line upon line and precept upon precept, lead one to arrive at the same conclusions regardless of the personal differences of opinion or biases that were inherent in the observer.

The film Apocalypto is a fictional film which told the story of a chase scene, utilizing certain components of the Postclassic Maya cultural behavior as the setting for the drama which was unfolded.

Perhaps the most accurate critique of the film was penned by Allan Maca and Kevin McLeod (2007) at the Presidential Session on Apocalypto at the American Anthropological Association Meeting in Washington, D.C. From their perception, “Gibson’s (scenes are) vital to his larger purposes regarding the exploration of death, consciousness, and transformation” (Maca and McLeod 2007: 4). In essence, Maca and McLeod grasped the enormous metaphors that Gibson was knitting into the film. As Maca and McLeod (2007) note:

Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, while it may seem on the surface to be another mindless, violent action epic, with the Maya as unwitting casualties, actually sets out to achieve similar goals: an exploration of consciousness and of modern man’s need for renewal and transformation. Like most films involving or based on native culture yet made by non-natives, Apocalypto is a grandiose and intricately nuanced commentary on white society. Because the hero and the villains are indigenous, however, the film also seeks to explore the basis of our humanity, regardless of race and ethnicity. The artistic devices Gibson uses to communicate his ideas draw heavily on tropes, symbols, and plotlines developed by earlier masters; but he also clearly develops and adopts themes and symbolic vehicles that are basic to myth and ritual.

Gibson utilized graphic scenes to visualize contemporary society and the hypocrisy that permeates the issues: the jungle=higher state of consciousness and peace, a societal refuge and environmental neutrality; “Sacrifices = bloody conflict/ soldiers in the Middle East”; Body Pit=“Nothing (small)compared to the daily abortion rate in the U.S”; Jaguar Paw escape = “the valiant human spirit in the face of unfavorable odds, the freedom from tyranny and social oppression”; environmental degradation near the city = “conspicuous consumption of resources and the contemporary destruction of the environment”; the pit where Jaguar Paw’s family was kept = “struggles , challenges, and obstacles of the contemporary family.”

The strategy of joining the past to a critique of the present has been used repeat- edly in films for decades. Wolfgang Petersen, the director of Troy (2004) is reported to have stated:

“Look at the present! What the Iliad says about humans and wars is, simply, still true. Power-hungry Agamemnons who want to create a new world order- that is absolutely current. … Of course, we didn’t start saying: Let’s make a movie about American politics, but (we started) with Homer’s epic. But while we were working on it we realized that the parallels to the things that were happening out there were obvious” (Kniebe 2004; cited in Winkler 2007:8)

A certain level of allegory and metaphor permeated nearly all aspects of the film Apocalypto. As Maca and McLeod (2007:2) note:

Contrary to what some have concluded about this film, Apocalypto does NOT promote, celebrate or otherwise glorify the Spanish or Christianity; it is quite the opposite really. What is celebrated repeatedly is the jungle, a metaphor for peace, the higher mind and a more evolved consciousness. The jungle is a refuge… a place of understanding……where true creation and novelty may unfold…….

The leading writers and directors intentionally play with symbols and meanings as a way to innovate. Not all film makers can do this very well. However, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Stanley Kubrick and Francis Ford Coppola, respectively, are two films that set new models……Both are, explicitly and implicitly, antiwar, anti-US imperialism, and anti-colonialism and focus on the evolution of human consciousness…… These two films are at the center of the visual and philosophical mission of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto…..

One of the more interesting concepts that the data on human sacrifice in the Maya/ Mesoamerica area has demonstrated is that the Maya were not radically different from anybody else and that they were consistent with the rest of humanity. The story, metaphorically, could be applied to almost any ancient society in the world. The Maya achieved extraordinary accomplishments comparable with Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Chinese, and they were no less brutal. But the con- sciousness of the story was far more profound than a “blood and gore flick.” The story was Gibson’s and Safinia’s to tell and, as Maca and McLeod astutely note, …… we can’t help but wonder if the use of the trap in Apocalypto, as a vehicle for aware- ness, doesn’t also extend to our participation in Mel Gibson’s mission, such that all of us……may have been lured to exactly the space and place of discussion that he intended…. this creates discomfort even to contemplate….. (ibid: 6).

Apocalypto will be judged in time as a cinema masterpiece, not only in its superb execution of film production, but also as an allegorical reference to the present. The criticisms, which were both accurate and fallacious, will continue to surround this film due to its unique story, the extraordinary setting, the allegorical and metaphori- cal references, and the various levels of awareness that are inherent in the film regarding the human saga. We are all a part of it.

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Voir enfin:

Religion, Violence, And ‘Apocalpyto’

A new discovery from pre-Spanish Mexico:

Mexican archaeologists have discovered what they say is the first temple of a pre-Hispanic fertility god known as the Flayed Lord who is depicted as a skinned human corpse.

The discovery is being hailed as significant by authorities at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History because it is a whole temple, not merely depictions of the deity, which have been found in other cultures.

… “Priests worshipped Xipe Totec by skinning human victims and then donning their skins. The ritual was seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration,” according to the AP.

Xipe Totec was widely worshiped by Aztecs at the time of the Spanish conquest. From the Wikipedia entry:

Various methods of human sacrifice were used to honour this god. The flayed skins were often taken from sacrificial victims who had their hearts cut out, and some representations of Xipe Totec show a stitched-up wound in the chest.

“Gladiator sacrifice” is the name given to the form of sacrifice in which an especially courageous war captive was given mock weapons, tied to a large circular stone and forced to fight against a fully armed Aztec warrior. As a weapon he was given a macuahuitl (a wooden sword with blades formed from obsidian) with the obsidian blades replaced with feathers. A white cord was tied either around his waist or his ankle, binding him to the sacred temalacatl stone. At the end of the Tlacaxipehualiztli festival, gladiator sacrifice (known as tlauauaniliztli) was carried out by five Aztec warriors; two jaguar warriors, two eagle warriors and a fifth, left-handed warrior.

“Arrow sacrifice” was another method used by the worshippers of Xipe Totec. The sacrificial victim was bound spread-eagled to a wooden frame, he was then shot with many arrows so that his blood spilled onto the ground. The spilling of the victim’s blood to the ground was symbolic of the desired abundant rainfall, with a hopeful result of plentiful crops. After the victim was shot with the arrows, the heart was removed with a stone knife. The flayer then made a laceration from the lower head to the heels and removed the skin in one piece. These ceremonies went on for twenty days, meanwhile the votaries of the god wore the skins.

Another instance of sacrifice was done by a group of metalworkers who were located in the town of Atzcapoatzalco, who held Xipe Totec in special veneration. Xipe was a patron to all metalworkers (teocuitlapizque), but he was particularly associated with the goldsmiths. Among this group, those who stole gold or silver were sacrificed to Xipe Totec. Before this sacrifice, the victims were taken through the streets as a warning to others.

Other forms of sacrifice were sometimes used; at times the victim was cast into a firepit and burned, others had their throats cut.

Here is what sacrifice two other Mesoamerican gods was like:

Xiuhtecuhtli is the god of fire and heat and in many cases is considered to be an aspect of Huehueteotl, the “Old God” and another fire deity.

Both Xiuhtecuhtli and Huehueteotl were worshipped during the festival of Izcalli. For ten days preceding the festival various animals would be captured by the Aztecs, to be thrown in the hearth on the night of celebration.

To appease Huehueteotl, the fire god and a senior deity, the Aztecs had a ceremony where they prepared a large feast, at the end of which they would burn captives; before they died they would be taken from the fire and their hearts would be cut out. Motolinía and Sahagún reported that the Aztecs believed that if they did not placate Huehueteotl, a plague of fire would strike their city. The sacrifice was considered an offering to the deity.

Xiuhtecuhtli was also worshipped during the New Fire Ceremony, which occurred every 52 years, and prevented the ending of the world. During the festival priests would march to the top of the volcano Huixachtlan and when the constellation “the fire drill” (Orion’s belt) rose over the mountain, a man would be sacrificed. The victim’s heart would be ripped from his body and a ceremonial hearth would be lit in the hole in his chest. This flame would then be used to light all of the ceremonial fires in various temples throughout the city of Tenochtitlan.

A Harvard historian has more information about Mesoamerican human sacrifice.

When you hear people condemning the Spanish conquest for what it did to the native inhabitants, think of the fact that within a decade of the Spanish conquest, human sacrifice ended. That is something to be grateful for, and indeed proud of. We do not need to believe that the conquistadores were saints — they certainly were not — to recognize this.

Too few people saw director Mel Gibson’s stunning 2006 film Apocalypto, which is very violent (it’s Gibson, after all), but as an adventure and suspense movie, is terrific. Gibson fudged historical facts, and acknowledged that. It’s supposedly about the Mayas on the eve of the Spanish conquest, but the kind of human sacrifice depicted in the film was an Aztec thing, and anyway, Mayan civilization had already faded from history before the Spanish arrived. The Spanish conquered the Aztecs, and other Mesoamerican peoples. Nevertheless, the film (which is not about the Spanish!) is a gripping depiction of the terror of that culture of death.

At the time, Apocalypto was read — misread, I think — as an apologia for colonialism. It’s understandable, given Gibson’s fervent Catholicism. But the truth is almost certainly more complicated. Keep in mind how violent Gibson’s films are (the ones he’s directed, that is), and how Apocalypto, his most violent, begins with this Will Durant quote:

A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.

Aztec civilization — the one that resembles the civilization in the movie; I can’t figure out why Gibson called them Maya — was obsessed by death and violence. Given how spectacularly Gibson blew up his marriage, his career, and his life, in the years around the film’s release (his drunk driving arrest, the collapse of his marriage, etc.), it’s interesting to consider this unusual movie as a window into the soul of a man whose inner violence eventually bested him, and destroyed him.

[In what follows, I’m going to reveal a spoiler about the movie. Don’t read on if you don’t want to know it.]

Reading the film as a simple account of Christian and colonialist triumphalism at the hands of a traditionalist Catholic filmmaker is too reductive. In 2006, David Van Biema of Time magazine wrote an essay about Gibson and the movie,  in which he wonders why  Gibson ended the film as he did. Specifically:

For the Christian viewer, the biggest question about Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto is: why does its hero turn away from the Cross at the end?

The movie tells the story of a peaceful 16th-century jungle-dweller named Jaguar Paw. The first quarter of the film presents his idyllic village as a kind of Eden. The second quarter is a vision of Hell, as a raiding party for the nearby Mayan empire torches the town, rapes the women and drags the men to the Mayan capital as featured guests at a monstrous and ongoing sacrifice to the gods. JP watches in horror as a priest has several of his friends spread-eagled on squat stone, then hacks out their still-beating hearts and displays them to a howling crowd. JP narrowly avoids the same fate, escapes, and spends most of the rest of the film picking off an armed pursuit party, one by one, in classic action-film fashion.

It is only at the very end that Christianity makes a brief but portentous appearance, aboard a fleet of Spanish ships that appears suddenly on the horizon. JP and his long-suffering wife watch from the jungle as a small boat approaches shore bearing a long-bearded, shiny-helmeted explorer and a kneeling priest holding high a crucifix-topped staff. “Should we join them?” asks his wife. “No,” he replies: They should go back to the jungle, their home. Roll credits.

He concludes that Gibson, who was also known for being alienated from mainstream Roman Catholicism, understands that the end of one violent civilization means the coming of one in which man’s propensity to violence and domination does not end, but simply takes new forms. Van Biema talks about the film in context of a visit he made to an exhibition in NYC. Any kind of modern sentimentalizing of the Aztecs will not survive an encounter with their artifacts:

The third possibility, it seems to me, is that Gibson does know — and wants no part of it. I tend toward that last one because it reflects a learning curve of my own. About a year ago I visited an exhibit on another Mexican civilization, the Aztecs, at New York’s Guggenheim Museum. The show was cleverly arranged. Visitors walked up the Guggenheim’s giant spiral, the first few twists of which were devoted to the Aztecs’ stunning stylized carvings of snakes, eagles and other god/animals, and explanations of how the ingenious Aztecs filled in a huge lake to lay the foundation for Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City.

It was only about halfway up the spiral — when it had become harder to run screaming for an exit — that one encountered a grey-green stone about three feet high. It was sleek and beautiful — almost like a Brancusi sculpture, I thought — until I read the label. It was a sacrifice stone of the sort in the movie. Not a reproduction, not a non-functioning ceremonial model, but the real thing. People had died on this. I felt shocked and a little angry — it was like coming across a gas chamber at an exhibit of interior design.

But I kept walking, and at the very top of the museum I encountered another object that might be considered an answer to the sinister rock: a stone cross, carved after the Spanish had conquered the Aztecs and were attempting to convert them to Catholicism. Rather than Jesus’s full body, it bore a series of small relief carvings: his head and wounded hands, blood drops — and a sacrificial Aztec knife.

How striking, I thought. Here was a potent work of iconographic propaganda using the very symbols of a brutal religion to turn its values inside out, manipulating its images so that they celebrated not the sacrifice, but the person who was sacrificed. Visually, at least, it seemed an elegant and admirable transition. And after seeing Apocalypto, I wondered why Gibson hadn’t created the cinematic equivalent: an ode to the progression out of savagery, through the vehicle of Christianity.

Van Biema then talks about how the Spanish did end human sacrifice, but ended up enslaving Aztecs (those they didn’t kill), and in any case there was a mass die-off when the Spanish inadvertently introduced smallpox into the native population. Van Biema:

So here is the conundrum. If you had to choose between a culture that placed ritualized human slaughter at the center of its faith, but that only managed to kill 4,000 people a year, and a culture that put the sacrificial Lamb of God at the center of the universe but somehow found its way to countenancing the enslavement of millions and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in the same neighborhood, which would be more appealing?

Read the whole thing. 

To be clear, from the point of view of a believing Christian, it really, really matters that the Gospel is true. The Spanish, whatever their grievous faults and wicked motivations, nevertheless carried with them true religion. If you don’t believe that there is any such thing as true religion, well, I respect that, but I’m not really interested in having that discussion here. The more interesting discussion is why Mel Gibson — a self-tortured, radically alienated, but believing Catholic — had his heroes run away from the people who would be his deliverers.

Has anybody seen a Girardian interpretation of Apocalypto? I’d love to read it. I found this short one from the Catholic bishop Robert Barron. It’s a great encapsulation of Girardian theory, and why Apocalypto is a film explaining it:

If you don’t have time to watch that five-minute video, here’s the core of Girardian theory: Primitive humans controlled the violence that threatened to overwhelm their societies and civilizations by means of the “scapegoat mechanism.” That is, they convinced themselves that the cause of the disorder was a scapegoat, and that only the sacrifice of the scapegoat would restore order to the civilization. In some civilizations — like the Aztecs’ — this turned into human sacrifice. Aztecs didn’t have the ritual slaughter of human beings because they enjoyed it, necessarily; they believed that the blood of human victims was necessary to keep the gods sated and the fertility cycle going. In Apocalypto, the protagonist, Jaguar Paw, is a tribesman who is hunted by the Maya, who intend to sacrifice him to propitiate their gods.

The scapegoat mechanism is at the core of cultural anthropology, says Girard. Anyway, Christianity, alone among all religions, unmasks the lie of the scapegoat mechanism. In the Christian myth (I say “myth” in the technical sense), the god himself becomes the innocent victim, and throws down the scapegoat mechanism. The CBC, in a short piece on Girardian theory, explains:

Jesus is innocent, the Gospels insist, and his innocence proclaims the innocence of all scapegoat victims. He reveals the founding violence, hidden from the beginning, because it preserved social peace. A choice is posed: humanity will have peace if it follows the way of life that Jesus preached. If not, it will have worse violence because the old remedy will no longer work once exposed to the light.

Keep in mind that Girard, a Stanford scholar who is considered to be one of the greats of the 20th century, didn’t make these claims as some sort of Christian apologetic. He was making an objective claim about human nature and culture. As Bishop Barron says, Gibson’s movie is a manifestation of Girardian theory. The word “apocalypse” derives from the Greek word meaning “unveiling.” In Apocalypto, the title does double meaning: because of the Book of Revelation (also called “The Apocalypse,”) the “unveiling” leads to the end of the world. This is why the word “apocalypse” has come to mean “end of the world” in popular usage. Gibson’s movie portrays the end of a violent primitive civilization at the hands of a higher Christian civilization, one whose religion unmasks and defeats the scapegoat mechanism that had upheld the dying civilization.

It may be the case that Gibson has his heroes turn away from the cross-bearers because that’s what any Indian would normally do in that situation. Jaguar Paw doesn’t know who these strangers are, and that they might save him. It makes sense that he would want to hide out in the jungle and see what happens. Gibson’s decision to have them run away from the cross might not be a theological commentary, but might simply have been an artistic decision. After all, showing the Indians, who had been chased through the jungle for the entire movie by other Indians seeking to take them for ritual sacrifice, ending the film by running into the arms of Spanish Christians would have been seen as aesthetically cheap propaganda.

Whatever Gibson’s intentions, a case could be made for a more ambiguous interpretation. It is undeniably true, as a historical matter, that the Spanish ended human sacrifice, and conquered the civilization that depended on human sacrifice. But it is also true that the Spanish were much better at controlling and deploying violence than the Aztecs were. Maintaining Spanish colonial civilization required immense violence. When a person or a civilization becomes Christian, they are still human, and still have to struggle against the “old man,” as Scripture says. There are no utopias. The anthropological and cultural value of Christianity, in this context, is that it does not allow even the Christian to scapegoat victims. Oh, they do! We do, all the time! The Christian faith, though, says: Stop. Look at what you are doing. It’s not right. You are making innocent people suffer. 

In the US in the Civil Rights Era, Martin Luther King confronted racist white Christians with the Christian message, which was radically incompatible with the unjust social order they had created in the American South, and maintained through violence. Again: Christianity doesn’t mean that sin ceases to exist; it only explains it, and shows a way out of the cycle of violence and retribution.

So, look: I have no respect for the view that the native peoples of Mesoamerica were living a tranquil life until they were set upon by Spanish Christian colonialists, who subdued and immiserated them. That is sentimental claptrap. But the Christian analogue to this fairy tale — that the coming of Christianity on the sword tip of the conquistadores led to a kingdom of peace and justice — is also sentimental claptrap. We are not required to believe falsely that there is no moral difference between the Aztecs and the Spanish, and the civilizations they represented. A civilization that practices mass human sacrifice is objectively worse than one that outlaws it. And, for Christians, a civilization that, however grievously flawed, proclaims the truth of Christ is objectively better than one that denies it.

But we have to come to terms as well with the violence and darkness that persisted, despite Christianity. After the bloodshed of the 20th century, the West — Christian and post-Christian — should consider exactly how we stand in relation to the bloodthirsty Aztec empire. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that all of creation struggles as in labor pains. And so we will until the end of time, until the real Apocalypse.

Here’s something truly ominous. Girard died a few years ago. In 2009, near the end of his life, he published a piece in First Things, titled “On War And Apocalypse” Excerpt:

Christianity is the only religion that has foreseen its own failure. This prescience is known as the apocalypse. Indeed, it is in the apocalyptic texts that the word of God is most forceful, repudiating mistakes that are entirely the fault of humans, who are less and less inclined to acknowledge the mechanisms of their violence. The longer we persist in our error, the stronger God’s voice will emerge from the devastation. This is why no one wants to read the apocalyptic texts that abound in the synoptic gospels and Pauline epistles. This is also why no one wants to recognize that these texts rise up before us because we have disregarded the Book of Revelation. Once in our history the truth about the identity of all humans was spoken, and no one wanted to hear it; instead we hang ever more frantically onto our false differences.

Two world wars, the invention of the atomic bomb, and all the rest of the modern horrors have not sufficed to convince humanity, and Christians above all, that the apocalyptic texts might concern the disaster that is underway. Violence has been unleashed across the whole world, and our paradox is this: By getting closer to Alpha, we are going toward Omega; by better understanding the origin, we can see every day a little better that the origin is coming closer. Our fetters were put in place by the founding murder and unshackled by the Passion—with the result of liberating planet-wide violence.

We cannot refasten the bindings because we now know that the scapegoats of sacrifice are innocent. Christ’s Passion unveiled the sacrificial origin of humanity once and for all. It dismantled the sacred and revealed its violence. And yet, the Passion freed violence at the same time that it freed holiness. The modern form of the sacred is thus not a return to some archaic form. It is a sacred that has been satanized by the awareness we have of it, and it indicates, through its excesses, the imminence of the Second Coming.

For readers unfamiliar with the Christian texts, the Book of Revelation — The Apocalypse — predicts a time to come when Christianity will have failed, and the world will be plunged into an abyss of violence … and then Jesus Christ will return. The mass apostasy underway now in the West is a harbinger of the End.

Girard says that the Christian unveiling “is wholly good, but we are unable to come to terms with it.” Think of the Spanish conquistadores, who could not come to terms with the religion they professed. Think of the whites of the pre-Civil Rights South. Think of the black, brown, and white Christians today, who sin and exploit others, in defiance of the religion they profess. Think of yourself.

More Girard:

Few Christians still talk about the apocalypse, and they usually have a completely mythological conception of it. They think that the violence of the end of time will come from God himself. They cannot do without a cruel God. Strangely, they do not see that the violence we ourselves are in the process of amassing and that is looming over our own heads is entirely sufficient to trigger the worst. They have no sense of humor.

Violence is a terrible adversary, since it always wins. Desiring war can thus become a spiritual attitude. We have to fight a violence that can no longer be controlled or mastered. More than ever, I am convinced that history has meaning, and that its meaning is terrifying.

Girard then takes the essay into a consideration of the meaning of Islamic terrorist violence. Read the whole thing. It’s not easy to understand, I must tell you. Here is one outstanding point:

Western rationalism operates like a myth: We always work harder to avoid seeing the catastrophe. We neither can nor want to see violence as it is.

All too true. Apocalypto is not about Good Spanish Christian Colonialists and Evil Aztec Pagans. It’s about violence, civilization, and religion. The civilizational catastrophe it dramatizes is not just that of the Aztecs. It is, as Girard might have said, our own, because it is the story of blind humanity.

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