The Influence of Indigenous Peoples on the Mesoamerican Conquest Wars
Although relegated to an inferior level and sometimes even ignored by most official sources and conventional literature, the participation and influence that native peoples had on the conquest campaigns were irrefutably crucial to the final outcome of said campaigns. In general, as wehave seen for instance in the relations of Pedro de Alvarado, the importance that is given to the participation of indigenous allies is very little when one takes into account the contributions that these indigenous groups gave to the conquistadors. One can see for example, that this neglect to the acts of cooperation by indigenous peoples (Tlaxcalans and other Nahua groups, and later for a periodof time the Kaqchikels) toward the Spaniards was noticed and resented by the indigenous allies, as can be seen in the letter to the King of Spain by Tlaxcalan and Mexica conquistadors.
As early as 1519 the Spaniards led by Hernan Cortés when starting to explore mainland Mexico, encountered the Tlaxcalan, a Nahua group that had managed to maintain its independence despite the growing power ofthe Aztec Empire. Even though at first the Tlaxcalans did not welcome the Spanish, eventually an allegiance was formed between the two groups. This allegiance was crucial to the eventual conquest on Tenochtitlan, and later on, the conquest campaigns in Guatemala. From this we can infer that the allegiance formed really early on, endured a long time despite the differences present in both Spaniardsand natives, and the abuse that shortly after the Spaniards would impose not only on this particular group, but all natives, alien and enemies alike.
Starting with Pedro de Alvarado, we see that the participation and contribution made by the indigenous allies are mentioned albeit lightly. Among the contributions that natives provided to the conquistadors’ campaigns, their familiarity andknowledge of the customs and culture of the different peoples that were to be conquered by the Spaniards, as well as their knowledge of the surrounding environment, unknown to conquistadors, were of great importance to the eventual success of the conquest campaigns. As has been mentioned, the knowledge of essential cultural factors by the indigenous allies proved to be critical, one of these factorswas language, and is arguably one of the most important that were possessed by the indigenous allies. We must understand that the great majority of Spanish invaders did not bother themselves with the learning of the local languages, but instead relied on their allies for this important aspect of interaction between conquistadors and locals. Through the linguistic knowledge of native allies,Spaniards were not only able to communicate with other indigenous groups, but were sometimes able to make important allegiances and other type of interactions that were of great benefit for the Spaniards, and would have been difficult or nearly impossible without their allies’ intervention. Also of great importance was the knowledge that natives had on the general geography of the regions being exploredby the conquistadors. Indigenous allies made it an easier process to go from one place to another by knowing faster routes and roads, therefore speeding up, and helping conquistadors in the exploration and conquest processes. Although as I have stated previously, little attention is given to all the contributions and actions taken by natives to help conquistadors, without their participation, madepossible by allegiances and other types of agreements, the whole process of exploration and conquest would have been slower if possible at all.
Another very important contribution by natives was being involved in warfare. When allegiances were formed, it was usual to provide Spaniards with provisions and traveling goods, but most important with warriors. Although the accounts that we have...