10 - Historical Narratives
This historical legend tells us that a Zapotec king wants to keep the independence of his nation, but his neighbors, the Aztecs, have other plans. In the afterword, we will retell another version about the story that shows in detail the conspiracies and political schemes that were played by the Zapotecs and Aztecs.
1. Stories from Latin America by Genevieve Barlow. Published by McGraw Hill Education. 2017
2. The King Cosijoeza and his family. A historical and legendary account of the lasts Kings of Zachila by Manuel Martinez Gracida. Published in Mexico by the TIP office of the Ministry of Development, 1888.
The Last King
Adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
It is the year of 1487 of the Christian era. Cosijoeza is a young warrior of 30 years old, and had been recently appointed the new Zapotec King. Today, he is in his palace, in the city of Juchitan, in the gardens of the trees of white flowers. Today, Cosijoeza is hosting a diplomatic ceremony. He is welcoming emissaries from all the other kingdoms that have come to pay their respect and congratulate him. The next one to talk is the Aztec emissary:
Aztec Emissary: Great Cosijoeza! Magnificent light that makes the ether tremble, Ahuitzotl our Mighty Aztec King wishes you, prosperity and many descendants. And as a symbol of his friendship Ahuitzotl sends you many presents. Our Mighty King only asks for you to deliver to him some of your trees of white flowers that only grow here in Juchitan.
Cosijoeza reflects. The truth is that the Zapotecs, and Aztecs have never been friends. Then why? Why is Ahuitzotl the Aztec king asking for those trees? Why now? Was this a bait? Does he want to start another war? Cosijoeza needs to think his answer carefully. As Cosijoeza ponders the options, he is interrupted by the impatient emissary.
Aztec Emissary: Cosijoeza, you know that Ahuitzotl will have those trees one way or the other.
Well, those poor manners led to an easy answer.
Cosijoeza: Then no, we won't have my trees.
A bloodshed was unleashed, and it lasted for seven years. It was what the Aztec King had been looking for. By 1494 the Aztecs had already destroyed all the major Zapotec cities such as Mitla and Zachila. The Aztec forces were surrounding the outskirts of Juchitan. Ready to destroy the Zapotec capital.
All the Aztec soldiers were in high spirit, but they were also tired. What they did not know is that Zapotec soldiers inside the fortress of Juchitan had not fought yet. They are well rested and had a secret weapon.
That night 30,000 Zapotec soldiers came out of the fortress of Juchitan, surrounded the Aztecs and began to shoot their poisonous arrows.
As a result, most of the Aztec soldiers were deadly wounded. Ahuitzotl was furious. He had been so close. But now he had to flee, and go back to Tenochtitlan. Like the Lion goes back to his cave, to lick his wounds and plot his revenge.
And here is when Montezuma II comes to play a major role. At the time, Montezuma, Ahuitzotl’s nephew, was only an adviser, and he suggested that there could be an easier way to deal with that inconvenient neighbor – a female way. Coyolicantzin, one of Ahuitzotl's favorite daughters, also known as Cotton Flake. Her skin was pale just like the moon. She was entrusted with the mission of seducing Cosijoeza the Zapotec King, who had not yet found the perfect bride.
The Aztecs have gathered information on Cosijoeza’s whereabouts. They knew when, and where he would go to bathe. A surprise love encounter was plotted. Oh! When Cosijoeza saw Coyolicantzin, he was taken by her beauty, by her seductive moves, and by her mysterious smile. To impress her, he talked about his riches, palaces, gardens, absolutely all he had. But she was unmoved because she was playing “the femme fatale.” At last, she just said:
Coyolicantzin: I have wandered in throughout these lands in search of my happiness, but I haven't found it, yet.
Oh! He wanted to be her happiness. So, he invited her to stay at his palace in Juchitan for a week and treated her like a queen. At the end, she just said:
Coyolicantzin Great Cosijoeza, I certainly appreciate all your kindness, but my heart begs me to go back to my Aztec family, to my father, Ahuitzotl.
What! Cosijoeza how could this be? His happiness was the daughter of his archenemy. But he was so in loved that he was willing to do anything for her.
She went back to her Aztec family followed by a long escort of Zapotec emissaries carrying gifts, riches and a marriage proposal.
Ahuitzotl, the Aztec King was delighted, his plan had worked. All those riches had come so easily. And the marriage proposal was a piece of cake. Now he had to play the role of the sad father, Ahuitzotl said:
Ahuitzotl: Oh! This proposal breaks my heart, my cotton flake, my beautiful Coyolicantzin, my favorite daughter... Oh, how can I live without her! I don’t know. But I'll figure it out. Oh! But I can see your king is wise, seeking an alliance with the greatest of all nations. This union will certainly bring Power and peace...at last.
Well, the two lovebirds got married, and the celebrations lasted for days. All the common people, Zapotec, and Aztecs believed that peace had been reached. But what only a few knew was that Coyolicantzin was still on a mission. She had been instructed to spy on Zapotecs. Often sending information back to her father about the Zapotec's military strategies and on their secret weapon.
Ahuitzotl’s only hope is that one day he will finally subdue the Zapotecs. However, Ahuitzotl did not live to see his ambitions fulfilled. He died in 1509. But Montezuma his nephew, and heir pursued the old goals. You know! New King, New Rules.
When Montezuma II took possession of the Aztec throne, he sent an ultimatum to Cosijoeza. The beautiful Coyolicantzin could stay with her adopted Zapotec family and most likely die. Or she could go back to her Aztec blood, and join them against their long-lasting enemies.
Yet, Coyolicantzin had made her choice long time ago. Soon after their first son was born, she confessed everything to Cosijoeza. Who forgave her, because he meant the world to him. Still, she continued spying. This time for the Zapotecs. She kept feeding the Aztecs with the misleading information that her husband gave her. She chose to stay with her Zapotec family.
Now it was up to Cosijoeza to decide. Should he spare his people from another bloodshed or should they fight? He chose life. He signed a treaty with his enemy. That made the Zapotecs a dependent kingdom of the Aztecs.
It doesn't look like a win, right? But in the long run it was. Because what Cosijoeza knew, and what Montezuma II failed to interpret in the omens they all witnessed for years, is that right around the corner there was a third party coming to play a destructive, and trans-formative role in the lives of all the native people of the Americas. It was the Conquistadores, the Europeans.
The Aztec were almost wiped out. Perhaps because during their reign they had only cultivated enemies.
Yet the Zapotecs survived. Until this day, the Zapotecs are still alive in the old Juchitan, today Oaxaca Mexico.
Very well dear listeners let me share some cultural facts about the story and about the Zapotecs. The Zapotecs, along with the Maya and Nahuatl cultures, are known for their great achievements. Specifically, the Zapotecs created the first Mesoamerican written testimonies and kept calendar records.
The name Oaxaca, were the Zapotecs live, was originally derived from the Náhuatl word, Huaxyacac, which roughly translates as At the Top of Guaje. Guaje is a plant that grows in the region.
Regarding the tree of White Flowers mentioned in the story, my theory is that if the tree really existed, perhaps it could have been one of the following trees found in the area: the Casahuate, also known as the Morning Glory tree, that is said to cover the “white mountain” in white flowers. Or the Plumeria tree found at the Monte Albán ruins. Monte Albán is considered one of the most majestic ceremonial centers of Mesoamerica, and was once the capital cities of the Zapotecs.
The Mexican state of Oaxaca is located along the Pacific Ocean in the southeastern section of the country. It has the largest indigenous speaking population in the country more than a million of indigenous speakers, according to the last census. The Zapotec is the most commonly spoken language, followed by the Mixtec.
Now the Zapotecs are not a single nation or tribe, but a family of nations. Each one speaks its own language. However, these languages are interrelated as much as Spanish is to Italian or to Portuguese. So, to a certain extent people from different Zapotec communities can understand each other.
Let’s move on to the story. Technically the story happened. It is not a product of fiction. At least one author Genevieve Barlow wrote a novelistic version of it, with good guys, and bad guys. But let’s see what really happened.
In the account written in Spanish by Manuel Martinez Gracida in 1888, Cosijoeza became the King of Teotzapotlan in 1487 when his father Zaachilla III died. The new King was determined to preserve the autonomy and independence of the Zapotec nation. Therefore, he thought that the best route was to instigating war, against those who were constantly trying to expand their borders, that is the Aztecs.
By 1494 Cosijoeza had come up with a plan, apparently dictated by some divine intervention. He decided to use as bait the community of Huaxyacac or Oaxaca, who was no longer an ally of the Aztec. As well, Cosijoeza was going to use the people of Mitla, who were interested in the destruction of the Aztecs. The master plan was laid out. A caravan of merchants from Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, were set up to be ambushed and killed by Huaxyacatlecas while passing through Mitla. Why? Most likely because in those times merchants were often spies.
Of course, after the deed was done, Ahuitzotl the Aztec king was enraged. He called his allies, from the cities of Texcoco and Tlacopan, and together they waged war on Huaxyacac and Mitla. No life was spared.
By 1496 Cosijoeza has a new ally from the Mixteca Kingdom. They sent 24,000 soldiers that along with the Zapotecs became a force of 60,000 soldiers. Cosijoeza’s military campaign was a success. He reconquered town after town, showing themselves as saviors. Does that sound familiar? I am sure that strategy has been used everywhere around the world.
At last, they got to a hill, called Quiengola. They fortified themselves, and gave the Mixtec soldiers the task of throwing or pushing rocks down the hill to keep the enemy busy.
In the meantime, after 405 miles walk Ahuizotl’s army was tired. In truth, some soldiers were sick from breathing the hot air of Tehuantepec. Thus, the Aztecs reconsider their next step. They were not going to execute a frontal attack, they were going to starve to death by cutting all communications and supplies.
However, one night, using the element of surprise, the Zapotecs came down the hills, and attacked the Aztecs.
It was an outstanding victory. Soon after, Ahuitzotl sends Montezuma to negotiate peace by offering in marriage the most beautiful of Ahuitzotl’s daughters, Coyolicantzin. Cosijoeza agreed but was in no hurry to marry because he did not trust the Aztec king. However, Ahuitzotl was determined to get those two married, so he instructed his sorcerers to help on the matter. By all means, the girl needed to seduce the reluctant groom.
Coyolicantzin was instructed on her role in plotting a surprise encounter at a river near Tehuantepec, where Cosijoeza used to bathe. She presented herself, and confessed that she admired him for his bravery and cunning. She said she could not wait anymore to be his bride. Apparently, it worked, he fell in love, and eventually they married. Now here it is important to say that in this account there is no evidence that she played the role of a spy. However only the dead know the truth.
In 1498 Coyolicantzin had their first child, but soon the boy died. During this same year, the Zapotec court moved its headquarters to Zaachila. But Ahuitzotl had not forgotten the pending insult. And after pacifying other states by force, he resolved it was time to settle the score. Naively he thought that he could use his daughter as a means to an end.
Then, Ahuitzotl sent two trusted emissaries with a present and a request. They had to ask Cosijoeza to let the Aztec troops pass through the Zapotec territory. Apparently, they were heading south to conquer Chiapas and Guatemala. Then the emissaries would have a private talk with the Queen. In which they were going to confess to her the real plan, trusting that she would help her father. They also tried to extract from her information about political secrets, and anything else that could be useful in their revenge.
Well, during the audience with the emissaries, Coyolicantzin took a break. She went to her husband and told him what the emisaries wanted. Later she came back to the emissaries, and said: “Leave and hurry up, save yourselves. Tell my father that although I am HIS daughter, I am a wife and Queen too.”
Cosijoeza agreed to let them pass but took the necessary precautions just in case those Aztec troops wanted to try anything different. In 1500 Ahuitzotl’s soldiers crossed the Zapotec’s land uneventfully. They could not do anything because they were always heavily escorted and watched. And that was the end of that story.
Well, friends, this is all for now. Tres Cuentos warns you to pay attention to history, aren’t you tired of repeating old mistakes? We could break the cycle of generational mistakes if we look at historical accounts from a critical perspective.
In our next episodes of Historical Legends, we will meet one of the many Europeans that went after the elusive Legend of El Dorado.
This podcast was created, produced and edited by CQS. Ahuizotl’s voice, proofreading, and proof listening by Don Hymel.
Tres Cuentos is a creative exercise of researching, writing and retelling. Music and sound effects were downloaded from the YouTube audio library and free sound.org. Find the song’s credit in the transcript.
Day of Recon – Max Surla, Media Right Productions
Crusade - Video Classica, Five Armies, Mighty and Meek and Gagool - Kevin MacLeod
Subtle_Betrayal – SYBS
Time_Passing_By_Time Passing By by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons
Ethnoamerica – Freesound.org
Crusade-Video-Clasica by Kevin McLeod
Mighty_and_Meek by Kevin McLeod
Subtle_Betrayal by SYBS
Five_Armies by Kevin McLeod
Time_Passing_By_Time Passing By by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons
Gagool by Kevin McLeod
Despair_and_Triumph by Kevin McLeod
Fall_Of_The_Dynasty by Asher Fulero