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Doctoral studies > PhD dissertations UAB

Sandra Elena Guevara Flores
The sociocultural construction of Cocoliztli in the epidemic of 1545 to 1548 in New Spain
Supervisor/s: José Pardo Tomás
Date of defense: 17-07-2017

The main interest of this dissertation is the social and cultural construction of cocoliztli. An epidemic disease originally named, diagnosed and categorized by the indigenous healers known as Titici, which ravaged the New Spain between the years 1545 and 1548. It has been studied through retrospective diagnosis by the history of medicine. However, it has not been taken into consideration that this disease, like many others, is not only a biological entity but also a construction created by means of the dialogue established between the medical body and the patients/society. Therefore, the theoretical background in this research is based on the social history of medicine and social constructivism. The first historiographical tradition considers diseases as social constructs that result in diagnostics. Meanwhile, social constructivism indicates that medical diagnosis can only be understandable within the context where it was created.

From 1545 to 1548, the inhabitants of the New Spain lived in a heterogeneous colonial context. In this setting the cultural, social, religious and biological aspects of both groups, Spanish and indigenous, were in constant conflict. While the Spanish group was taking control of the space to become the “new natives”, the indigene group started to be considered as “foreigners” who did not belong to the land nor to the “new” society. This process allowed Spanish people to strengthen the conquest of Mexico and to implement their institutions together with their system of production and re-production, which were typical of colonial societies.

Within this heterogeneous colonial context, the practice of medicine took an important role. After the conquest of Mexico, the Spanish and the indigene medical health systems were in contact. This interaction allowed the incorporation of their theories and elements. An important aspect within the medical setting was the inclusion of titici in the health practices.  As a result, the titici were called upon to diagnose and treat the diseased, mainly natives, after the outbreak of cocoliztli.

In order to know how the titici constructed cocoliztli, the signs and symbols of the disease represented in indigenous colonial codices were identified and analysed. Both elements were complemented with religious, governmental and civilian chronicles and relaciones, which were made up of Spanish and mestizo dialogues, in addition to medical books produced during the first years of the colony.

 The reconstruction of cocoliztli´s diagnosis shows the influence of Spanish and indigene groups in its conception despite of being named with an indigene word. It should be noted that cocoliztli cannot be considered only an indigenous construction, otherwise it would not be possible to appreciate the fusion of Spanish and indigenous elements in the conception of one of the most studied but less known diseases in past and present years.

 

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