In the book Ambivalent Conquests, Inga Clendenin uses firsthand accounts to prove her thesis about the New World and the Spanish settlers. Using the point of view of the Europeans, Clendenin writes about the worship of idolatry in the Yucatan. Perhaps the central theme in the book is the while Franciscans had an honest attempt to Christianize the indigenous people of the new world, the missionaries failed this initial experiment because of their corruption, political engagements, and torture as well blatant racism ( Clendenin, p. 165-189). In addition, this is also a story of rejection, conquest, blood bath, and forceful conversion to Christianity. Using crude methods, Franciscans tortured and inflicted pain upon the inhabitants that they felt were ignoring the attempt to convert them to Christianity (Soman, 2013).
While reading the book, the reader has to place the book on historical context. A post-modernist reading would be amazed at the uncouth methods used by the Spaniards to realize their goals. As the settlements of the Spaniards took center stage, there were conflicts that came by. Perchance the most pervasive conflict was the use of weapons brought from Europe to quell any form of rebellion that could have arisen in the new world. The Spanish firsthand account records the use of Christianity as an attempt to civilize the Mayans (p. 127-132). The Mayans unwillingly took over Christianity but still retained their culture and practiced human sacrifices as an attempt to appease their gods. The Spanish settlers did not quite celebrate this mix of Christian religion and Mayan traditions. Instead of using other means to solve the problem, the Spanish forces employed violence as a means of forcing the Mayans to embrace Christianity without violence. On their part, the Mayans viewed the Spanish as greedy settlers mostly in pursuit of gold and silver and not for the wellbeing of the society. Possibly, the symbol of cruelty during the reign of Franciscans was Fry Diego Landa. Upon discovering any slight evidence of idolatry, Landa unleashed war on the populace using the philosophy of “destroy and rebuild (Clendenin, p 58). In conclusion, the whole society was contaminated with European disease that spread as fast as bush fire leading to deaths in millions of the Mayans and the eventual destruction of their own civilization (Klar, 2013).
Another important chapter is the one on “Confusion of the Tongue” where she writes about the difficulty on communications thanks to different languages spoken by the Mayans and the Spaniards. Conceivably, confusion becomes the key element of the book. First, we get to understand that the choice of the name Yucatan came from the Mayan word for “we do not understand”. On the Mayan side, their attempt at organizing their society while embracing the culture of Spaniards without actually losing it all was at least the way she saw the world. Even though the Mayans welcomed the Spaniards with least resistance, they turned to violence when the Spaniards failed to corroborate the good gesture. Instead, the Spaniards actions bordered on annihilation and brutality (Clendenin, p.7-11). On the part of the Spaniards, blasphemy was the way to go, and the Mayans were dangled just to satisfy the needs of the bigger European market.
Ambivalent Conquests is a well written book with very thorough research documentation. She writes about the Spanish’s centralization of the Mayans in the Yucatan to increase the chances of Christianization. She also avoids popular texts that would bring honor to the success of the Spaniards over the Mayans as predetermined or pre-ordained. In page 244, Clendenin provides a list of books that she uses in her research In general, the book was well written and well documented. It makes a powerful case at what would be normally called “restorative history” without rubbing one side the wrong way. It is a very intriguing and heart filling book. While history has to be read from the perspective of the winner, Clendenin would also like us to look at history of the perceived loser.
Clendinnen, Inga. Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570. 2nd ed. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Klar, Nicholas. "A Commentary on 'Ambivalent Conquests' (Inga Clendinnen)." A Commentary on 'Ambivalent Conquests' (Inga Clendinnen). N.p., 1 June 2011. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.
Soman, Ebey. "Ambivalent Conquests and Colonization: Mayans and Spaniards in Yucatan from 1517 to 1570." HubPages. N.p., 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.