Mummies, Drugs, and Sexual Energy: Knowing, Collecting, and Preserving Nature in the 16th-Century Spanish Americas
AHA Session 211
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Ryan Kashanipour, Northern Arizona University and Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, College of William and Mary
During the first century of the Spanish project in the Americas, Spaniards were ambivalent regarding native natural knowledge. On the one hand, they disparaged medical treatments, such as bathing in springs or in steam tents. On the other hand, they often relied on native doctors and herbs, (not to mention agricultural production), and they recognized their expertise in many other fields of knowledge. Finally, they worried that the Americas had been both more prosperous and populous under the supposedly “tyrannical” rule of their native lords, as Spanish animals and disease transformed the landscape and depleted populations. The papers in this panel focus on diverse aspects of native natural knowledge. Paula De Vos’s paper attempts a systematic compilation of the Nahua pharmacopeia, including the products that made it into wide circulation within the Spanish World. Christopher Heaney’s paper looks at the way Spanish scholars and their readers interpreted the preserved bodies of Inca emperors. It argues that their identification as “embalmed” bodies attempted to defang their spiritual potential but advertised the Incas’ medical skill in halting the corruption of time. Finally Heather Peterson’s paper compares Spanish and Native views on Spiritual Ecology, and the way these ideas shaped reactions to the three great epidemics of the sixteenth century. While the Nahua understood the loss in relation to an imbalance caused by their neglect of ancient dietary and sexual prohibitions, the Spanish worried that their greed was “consuming” the Indians. Together these papers provide a window into what might be called Indigenous sciences and worldviews, as well as the Spanish American intellectual practices that attempted to appropriate them. While both De Vos and Heaney look at empirical aspects of native knowledge (medicinal plants and the practice of embalming), both Heaney and Peterson’s paper also illustrate the strong connection between the metaphysical, natural, and political worlds in Native and Spanish cosmologies as both the Inca and Nahua tried to gain purchase amidst the natural world and manage/enforce social stability through practices such as mummifying emperors or restrictive sexual and dietary practices. All of these papers emphasize the continuities and ruptures in Indigenous natural knowledge and practices as the colonial enterprise transformed the natural landscape, expanded markets for materia medica, and redefined social hierarchies and spiritual beliefs and practices. Finally, they follow these products, ideas, and artifacts into the broader Atlantic World, where they shaped perceptions of the Spanish colonial project.
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