Nahua communities in the pulque trade of early colonial Mexico, 1550-1668
This study examines the participation of Indigenous Nahua communities in producing and selling the traditional alcoholic drink, pulque, in central Mexico between 1550 and 1668. Pulque commerce constituted a major source of revenue for the Spanish colonial government in later centuries, by which time the demand for pulque was met by wealthy landowning Spaniards and creoles. Historians have so far tended to focus on this late colonial period, emphasising either the role of the pulque trade in boosting government finances or urban consumption of pulque in taverns. Existing work has neglected to consider pulque trading activity in the early colonial period as the factor that made this later boom possible. The survival of pulque trading through the Spanish conquest and the expansion and success of pulque commerce, despite initial attempts to ban the drink, were due to the efforts of early colonial Indigenous pulque traders. Yet their contributions have thus far been obscured by the focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth century trade.
This thesis offers a new perspective by prioritising the actions of Nahua pulque traders in creating profitable and successful trade networks and negotiating with the colonial state to push for more favourable legislation regarding pulque commerce. By analysing governmental legislation alongside documents that recorded the ground-level experience of pulque traders, the thesis demonstrates that Nahua petitioners actively shaped governmental policy on pulque during this period. By shifting focus from consumption to production and sale, this thesis also reveals the great extent to which participation in the pulque trade sustained the livelihoods of individuals and communities, promoting social cohesion and prompting Nahuas to contest unfair treatment from local authority figures. Ultimately, the study positions Nahua pulque traders as early colonial state-builders, creating space for an ancient Indigenous practice to flourish in a colonial society.
Supervisor(s)Deborah Toner; Amy Fuller
Date of award2022-02-17
Author affiliationSchool of History, Politics and International Relations
Awarding institutionUniversity of Leicester