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Illness, Famine, and an Abrupt Ending

Illness, Famine, and an Abrupt Ending

Under a symbol signifying the year 1588, the Tira de Tepechpan presents the commonplace imagery of an Indigenous man bleeding to symbolize an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever. Below the bleeding figure, illustrations of maize plants painted in bluish green under 1586, 1587, and 1589 likely refer to the collapse of crops and ensuing famine that took place in those years. These were much too common occurrences in the region: outbreaks struck farmers and halted food production, leading to famine, which exacerbated illnesses, in an unending cycle of suffering and death. Social collapse in turn was aggravated by climate crises; droughts that in better times would have been controlled with irrigation and food storage were now devastating events that led to widespread inanition and illness. By the end of the sixteenth century, the catastrophic cycles of epidemics, famines, and climate crises, catalyzed by the brutality of the Spanish colonial regime, had diminished the Indigenous population by nearly 90 percent. The manuscript reflects the chaos of the period: it ends abruptly in 1590, its deteriorated margins followed only by bare sketches of glyphs for the years 1591–1596. The crumbling edges present an eerie manifestation of the pervasive death and loss of knowledge with which the sixteenth century culminated. 

  

Image Source

  • Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Mexicain 13–14 (Tira de Tepechpan), ca. 1596, fol. 20r. Courtesy of gallica.bnf.fr / BnF.

Further Reading

  • Cook, Noble David. Born to Die: Disease and New World Conquest, 1492–1650. New Approaches to the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Noguez, Xavier. Tira de Tepechpan: Códice colonial procedente del Valle de México. Biblioteca Enciclopédica del Estado de México 64–65. Mexico City: Biblioteca Enciclopédica del Estado de México, 1978.
 

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