Winner of the 2018 Friedrich Katz Prize, sponsored by the American Historical Association (AHA).
This book is an ambitious and wide-ranging social and cultural history of gender relations among indigenous peoples of New Spain, from the Spanish conquest through the first half of the eighteenth century. In this expansive account, Lisa Sousa focuses on four native groups in highland Mexico—the Nahua, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Mixe—and traces cross-cultural similarities and differences in the roles and status attributed to women in prehispanic and colonial Mesoamerica.
Sousa intricately renders the full complexity of women's life experiences in the household and community, from the significance of their names, age, and social standing, to their identities, ethnicities, family, dress, work, roles, sexuality, acts of resistance, and relationships with men and other women. Drawing on a rich collection of archival, textual, and pictorial sources, she traces the shifts in women's economic, political, and social standing to evaluate the influence of Spanish ideologies on native attitudes and practices around sex and gender in the first several generations after contact. Though catastrophic depopulation, economic pressures, and the imposition of Christianity slowly eroded indigenous women's status following the Spanish conquest, Sousa argues that gender relations nevertheless remained more complementary than patriarchal, with women maintaining a unique position across the first two centuries of colonial rule.
About the author
Lisa Sousa is Professor of History at Occidental College.
"Lisa Sousa's book makes a huge contribution to the analysis of Mesoamerican gender roles during the prehispanic and colonial periods. It is wide ranging in its portrayal of gender and sex, makes excellent use of the author's deep linguistic knowledge, and presents a compelling argument for the complementarity of gender roles even as a more patriarchal ideology began to influence colonial indigenous cultures."
—Susan Kellogg, University of Houston
"The Woman Who Turned into a Jaguar is an exciting feat of scholarship, brought to life by voices and perspectives excavated from myriad sources—many in indigenous languages and some requiring sophisticated iconographic skills. Lisa Sousa's focus on households' and individuals' agency in moderating sociocultural change fills significant gaps in our understanding of gender ideology and practices within indigenous communities across colonial Mexico."
—Stephanie Wood, University of Oregon
"The Woman Who Turned into a Jaguar, and Other Narratives of Native Women in Archives of Colonial Mexico is a welcome and accomplished contribution to the study of the history of Mesoamerican societies that very accurately places gender analysis at the center of understanding societies whose gender complementarity, reciprocity/mutual obligation, and redistributive structures differed greatly from patriarchal European societies."
—Susana E. Matallana Peláez, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews
"Sousa...injects some of her own magic and alchemy into a thoroughly satisfying narrative.....In all, this work makes major contributions to ethnohistory, women's history, and gender and sexuality studies, but it also draws the reader into understanding the complexity of indigenous Mexican women's lives in the past, present, and future. Indigenous Mexican women have had to struggle for social, economic, and political justice throughout history, but Sousa's work powerfully exposes the roots of that struggle."
—Maria Raquel Casas, American Historical Review
"Lisa Sousa has made an extraordinarily valuable contribution to the field...Even more remarkable, perhaps, is that Sousa, rather than choosing either to attempt to uncover precolonial patterns or to provide a record of women's lives under the colonial regime, has chosen to do both...This book undoubtedly will be one that every scholar whose work touches at all on questions of indigenous gender roles will read."––Camilla Townsend, Hispanic American Historical Review
"A culmination of decades of work, Sousa's unparalleled study of native Mexican women restores a trend she helped establish as a contributor to the publication of Indian Women of Early Mexico, part of the explosion of groundbreaking studies incorporating women as unequivocally central to inquiry across disciplines....The Woman Who Turned into a Jaguar was much anticipated by ethnohistorians and could not come at a better political moment for readers interested in decolonizing indigenous women's history."
—Miriam Melton-Villanueva, Early Modern Women