MEXICO: Tameme
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MEXICO: Tameme

Tim Brown says: "To be precise tameme is Nahua-Mexica, and translates as "human porter" or "human bearer" and is an historically charged word because it defined a class of human serfs and slaves who were exploited by Aztec imperialists as human beasts of burden. During the pre-Columbian era the Aztecs engaged in extensive conquest and colonization of their neighbors. Over a four hundred year period Nahua-Mexica tribes from the Puebla region engaged in conquering and then exploiting Chibchan and other tribes to their south from Soconusco to the Gulf of Fonseca. The booty these pre-Spanish conquerors then collected, and then the high value cacao they produced on plantations built on conquered lands produced under Nahua-Mexica masters by exploiting Chibchan slaves and underlings was then sent on the backs of these tamemes, most recruited involuntarily, to the imperial capital and were quite simply the imperial Aztec form of the gold the Spanish later looted. (See Sherman, Forced Native Labor..., Nebraska, 1979; Newson, Indian Survival in Colonial Nicaragua, Oklahoma, 1987; Barrantes, Evolucion en el tropico; Denevan, The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, Wisconsin, 1992; or various studies by Incer and Constenla Umana).

Many if not most of these tamemes were slaves captured during slaving raids into non-Nahua-Mexica neighboring regions. It seems to me the height of hypocrisy and cynicism for a magazine that claims to be dedicated to countering the neo-liberalism of NAFTA to take tameme as its name because by doing so it honors and legitimizes an historical exercise in colonial and imperial exploitation that spread death, destruction and deracination of the grossest kind in its wake. The only rational I can imagine for doing this is that the Mexican descendants of Aztec imperialists who adopted this name for their journal do not consider the conquest and exploitation of Indians by other Indians wrong. What nonsense!! One can condemn post-Columbian Spanish colonialism without forgiving pre-Columbian Aztec imperialism, and both were far, far more injurious to the least empowered peoples of the region than Yanqui imperialism, neo-liberalism or such treaties as NAFTA that they love to hate will ever be".

RH: My guess is that the name was chosen simply because Mexicans have a romantic idea of pre-Colombian history. I know Mexican intellectuals who love to demonstrate their knowledge of nahuatl or lament that they do not know the language.

Ronald Hilton - 6/24/03