Oninomauhtiaya (I Was Afraid): Hernando Ruiz De Alarcón’s Campaign against Nahua Healing and Ritual Knowledge, 1612–29

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 2:10 PM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Edward Anthony Polanco, University of Arizona
Catholic priest Hernando Ruiz de Alarcón is best known for his treatise on “heathen superstitions” among Nahua people. My paper offers a new interpretation on his campaigns to document and extirpate Nahua ritual practices in what is now southeastern Guerrero, Mexico. Ruiz de Alarcón noted the pervasiveness of indigenous healers and practices. Underscoring that indigenous communities often hid substances and healers from him. When confronted they would say, “oninomauhtiaya” (I was afraid). Ruiz de Alarcón remarked that they were not afraid of punishment from priests, but from their Gods for divulging their existence and location. In 1614 he was investigated by the Holy Office of the Inquisition for holding autos de fe against Nahuas. In the 1620s, the archbishop of Mexico recruited Ruiz de Alarcón to investigate and document non-Christian indigenous activity near his benefice, Atenango del Río. Shortly thereafter, he penned letters to the tribunal of the Inquisition denouncing people of indigenous, African, and European descent. Some scholars have argued that Ruiz de Alarcón’s religious zeal was indicative of his, and others, confusion of jurisdiction over indigenous people. I argue the contrary, he wanted all ethnic groups within his investigative purview. Ruiz de Alarcón attempted to achieve this by augmenting his investigative authority through affiliation with the Holy Office of the Inquisition. This demonstrated not only a keen procedural understanding of canon law, but also an attempt to manipulate or circumvent jurisdictional limitations. A rigorous review of Ruiz de Alarcón’s correspondence, with ecclesiastical and lay authorities, illustrates a general disdain and distrust of Nahua people and their “demonic” practices. I argue that it was his desire to understand and destroy Nahua “idolatry and superstition” that drove Ruiz de Alarcón to great lengths of investigation and indigenous harassment, particularly women.
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