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A Queen-Warrior Story from Tonalá Mexico

The sound of her tears echoed as they cascaded into the serene waters below, declaring, “I will not let them kill my people!”

As I ascended Cerro de la Reina (Queen’s Hill) in Tonala, Mexico, camera in hand, thoughts swirled about the bullshit societal constructs that disempower women in modern North America. In our Latin America histories, and in many cultures worldwide, women have been revered as la madre tierra sagrada, or sacred mother earth goddesses. Our ancestral Latino narratives are adorned with tales of Latina princesses, queens, and warriors.

Finally, I reached the top of the hill, the site of a powerful indigenous Queen.

Her name was Cihualpilli Tzapotzintli (pronounced zoo-ah-pee-yee), a warrior-queen who oversaw a mini-empire of towns and cities. She had access to many resources from 12 tributary states. Cihualpilli surveyed the valleys of her lands from the observatory on top of the hill. All was relatively peaceful until the year 1530.

A view of the valleys below from on top of the Queen’s Hill.

A wave of Spanish conquistadors were closing in. Messengers alerted Cihualpilli of the menacing, armor-plated men. Tales of prior conquests haunted her, where defiance led to brutal slaughter and unimaginable atrocities. All who opposed the metal-men died a horrific death. Any survivors died from the pure evil spirits* of such men (*diseases that were brought into the area).

Aware of the inevitable clash, Cihualpilli opted for diplomacy, dispatching emissaries bearing gifts to meet the approaching conquistadors. However, the greed of the invaders demanded submission to the Spanish crown.

Cihualpilli had a policy to not attack the men. But dissidents from nearby tribes started to ally, worrying that the Queen could not lead in such war matters. She was waiting to welcome them with open arms, but the dissidents hid around the base of the hill, showering the metal-men with a rain of arrows. Within 2 hours, all the dissidents were dead.

She cried at a waterfall, “I will not let them kill my people!” Desperate to avert further bloodshed, Cihualpilli devised an unconventional strategy. Adorned in their finest attire, groups of women approached the invaders, offering lavish feasts, even themselves, in a bid to seduce and placate the conquerors. This ploy seemed effective, as Cihualpilli sought to surrender to the Spanish, envisioning a path to peaceful coexistence.

Submitting herself as an example, Cihualpilli underwent baptism by the conquistadors, adopting the name Juana Bautista Danza while retaining her symbolic role as ruler of Tonala.

The indigenous temple, once a site of sun worship, fell to the Christianization wave, its stones repurposed for a Christian sanctuary. Sneaking my camera inside, I captured remnants of the past.

Inside the Christian temple built from recycled stones. -ak
The temple as it appears today. It is still active for sermons.

Today, statues of the Christianized Cihualpilli stand beside the Christian temple, while an indigenous depiction graces the town square, a testament to a complex history of adaptation and resilience.

A statue of Cihualpilli  before becoming Christianized stands tall in the heart of Tonala’s city.
A statue of Cihualpilli  after becoming Christianized stands next to the temple. -ak

A quote on theory by the father of modern primatology

A perspective on theory (in the context of human behavior) by physical anthropologist and the father of modern primatology, Sherwood L Washburn:

“A theory does not give conclusions–it directs the nature of research, but each application of the theory demands careful research. . . There is no way for a scientist to leap directly from genetic or evolutionary theory to conclusions about human behavior. The principal task for the scientist is the research that links theory and conclusion.”

-Sherwood L. Washburn (1978)