Representation, Memory, and Power: Pre-Columbian Landscapes of Creation and Origin

  • Brian Stross

It is likely that all people define themselves in part through their physical environment. We feel an attachment to our surroundings. We tell and listen to stories about them. We use them to remember the past, justify the present, and shape the future. Native peoples of the Americas likewise felt—as do their descendants of today—the importance of place, maintaining narratives of origin that linked themselves, their ancestors, and their deities to the natural as well as to the built landscape. The Mexica, of central Mexico, for example, specified a place to the northwest named Chicomoztoc (“Seven Caves”) from which their original ancestors emerged to begin the southward journey to their eventual destination at Tenochtitlán. The location of Chicomoztoc remains a subject of speculation to this day. It likely was unknown to the Mexica by the time they entered the valley of Mexico despite their ability to describe it, recall it, and anchor events in that place. Similarly, we saw in this volume that “on the other side of the sea” represents a place, constructed through metaphor, that can be viewed as a place of origin for the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala; a place that can be recalled in narrative, and that can be utilized symbolically for various purposes.

The chapters in this volume represent temporary destinations in a journey, rather long and winding, from north to south in cartographic terms, but also back and forth in time as well as space. It could be viewed, if we choose to see it thus, as our pilgrimage to the past from the present, and back, touching on a number of different worldviews or models of reality by means of which we have been able to experience concepts through the words of others, and thereby witness, features of the cognized landscapes, while learning of their meanings. Along the way we heard stories in various voices, about peoples of different eras, interpreted from distinctly diverse perspectives. It has been a vaguely familiar exploration, charting cartographies of the mind, and visualizing mountains, caves, and springs while synthesizing origin tales of belonging, memory, and power. The whole journey we were exploring the nature of the sacred in landform, image, and word.


Natural Landscape Ritual Action Cave Entrance Sacred Place Maya Region 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian Stross
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of TexasAustinUSA

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