Are there any records from the Native people's of North and South America, of what their perception of Europeans were? I know that many of the groups of people Europeans encountered were not literate societies but I imagine there must be some records (perhaps in Mesoamerica) that show what their impressions of the European were.

I understand that it could be the case that the only writings are long after the first contacts were made but I thought I'd reach out and see if anyone has any other information.


2 Answers 2


As you say, neither the Aztecs nor Perouvians had real writing. But they had a kind of pictography as a substitute and some of their pictograph codices still exist, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_codices Some of them, like Codex Tlateloco and Codices, Asuna and Aubin, reflect the natives' impression of the Europeans. But most of the information that we had passed through the Spanish intermediaries, this also applies to these codices (they were commented by the Spaniards, and were written years after the conquest). Other information can be found in the European sources where the impressions of the natives were sometimes recorded. But I am afraid you are not going to find a genuine account which has not passed through the conquistadors hands.

  • I did a little digging and it seems like the Maya script (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_script), which was still in use at the time of the Spanish conquests, constitutes a writing system just as expressive as our own. Unfortunately, it looks like most of the Codex's were destroyed, which likely means any impressions they had of Europeans were destroyed as well.
    – otteheng
    May 26, 2016 at 13:07
  • I do not get the same impression from the article you refer to. Maya script had to be DECIPHERED, and this happened in 20th century. From this I conclude that at the time of conquest it was not in use. (If it were, some curious Spaniard would leave for us the decoding. But I may be wrong.)
    – Alex
    May 26, 2016 at 17:32
  • Knowledge of the Maya writing system continued into the early colonial era and reportedly a few of the early Spanish priests who went to Yucatán learned it. However, as part of his campaign to eradicate pagan rites, Bishop Diego de Landa ordered the collection and destruction of written Maya works, and a sizable number of Maya codices were destroyed.
    – otteheng
    May 26, 2016 at 18:13

When you say most natives (Amerindians) were not literate, the same could be said of many Europeans and Colonists for that matter until the early industrial age. This is why Christianity was so popular, the Bible was one of the few books that the masses knew until the Age of Enlightenment. Like most civilizations, literacy and writing were mostly reserved for the elite, or in this case, the elder or priest-caste. For nomadic tribes, stories survived in other forms, through artwork and oral tradition- much like the pagan traditions from ancient nomads of Eurasia and Africa.

Most of the first accounts of the European explorers and colonists were passed down orally or transcribed by the Europeans who interacted them. This link from the National Humanities Center has a brief compilation of accounts from the Mexica, Tlaxcala, Maya, Ho-Chunk, and Micmac. This is by no means the extent of what's been documented, there are many accounts that survive in tribal oral traditions and in the long-lost archives of royal courts, the Vatican, and even old newspapers of the early settlers.

These accounts can be grouped for various perspectives: (1) the "first encounter" narratives of the Mexica and the Ho-Chunk; (2) the conquest histories of the Mexica, Tlaxcala, and Maya; (3) the response to French "superiority" of the Ho-Chunk and the Micmac; (4) the resistance to the "oppressors" of the Maya and the Micmac. In addition, you can compare the accounts by their source, from eyewitness accounts to oral traditions transcribed centuries later, and by their recorder, from a 16th-century Spanish priest to a 20th-century American anthropologist.

As legend has it, when Moctezuma first heard of the Spanish visitors, he sent messengers and offered gifts, believing they may have been divine entities, but eventually, he realized the folly of his error and knew for certain they were only men. He tried to keep up appearances for his people, but it was too late by then, he was shortly captured and held as a prisoner for ransom.

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