By David Fitzpatrick from the June 2011 Edition
The Indian Society of the Ancient Region of Colima
Relatively little is known about the history of the Indians who lived in Colima over the centuries. As there was no written history in pre-Columbian times, we are dependent upon archeology, legend and the small amount that can be deciphered from the hieroglyphics on pyramids, statures, etc.
We do know that the peoples who lived historically in this region were cousins of the Aztecs in Central Mexico, spoke Nahuatl, a language related to Aztec and, for a time possessed the largest empire in Mesoamerica, after that of the Aztecs.
The name “Colima” comes from a Nahuatl word meaning “place conquered by our grandfathers” or “place where the ancient gods ruled”.
It is believed that a nation called “Otomis” inhabited the present-day State of Colima perhaps as early as 2000 B.C. They were displaced or assimilated in around 800 – 1000 A.D. by new arrivals, the Toltecs, a Nahuatl people who dominated the area until the middle of the twelfth century A.D. when they were conquered by the Chichimecs. They, in turn, were absorbed when the Tarascos, a tribe from Michoacan, expanded their empire to include Colima during the 15th century.
The people, who descended from this mixed heritage, were a fierce, dominant nation that built an empire extending from the Pacific Coast to the boundaries of the Aztec Empire. They were ruled by a powerful prince named the Hueytlatoani Colimotl (Emperor of Colima), who was second in power and in territory only to the Emperor of the Aztecs.
When the Spanish arrived in the region of Colima, they found a complex, highly developed society which probably represented a fusion of the various civilizations that had preceded it. It included a sophisticated political system in which several elements of society worked together in framework of checks and balances somewhat reminiscent of the systems we know today.
The Emperor, Hueytlatoani, was not absolute. He shared power with a council of nobles and a highly influential priesthood which exercised authority almost equal to that of the Emperor. The Emperor, moreover, did not obtain his post by heredity, but was elected by the nobles and the priesthood, with a marked tendency, surprisingly enough, to elect nephews (but not sons) of the previous Emperor. Tarasca society was rigidly hierarchical with a privileged noble class completely dominating the lives of the other members of the community. At the bottom of the social system was a large class of slaves whose labour assured the economic well-being of the rest of the population.therefore, the Church extended its territory
This was the society that Hernan Cortez found when he came to the West Coast in 1523 only a couple of years after his conquest of the Aztecs. The superior military force of the Spaniards easily defeated the West Coast Indians and their emperor who was reduced to functioning as a puppet ruler under the power of the conquistadores.
At first, it was believed that the Indian culture and community would continue to function essentially as before, with the difference that the Emperor would receive general directions from the Spanish. But before long, it became clear that the new rulers intended to govern with a heavy hand. Frustrated by their mistreatment at the hands of the Spanish authorities Hueytlatoani and his nobles rebelled.
But defeated once again by superior Spanish arms, they retreated into the Emperor’s residence at the foot of the Colima volcano. . The Spanish laid siege to the palace in an attempt to starve the defenders. Hueytlatoani and his men held out for several months but in the end, facing a choice between defeat and starvation, they threw themselves into the volcano and perished.
According to legend, the ghost of the Emperor inhabits the volcano to this day. The local population believes that whenever the descendents of Hueytlatoani’s people suffer injustice at the hands of the authorities, the Emperor’s spirit rises up in fury, causing a violent eruption of the volcano.