This document is from the city of Tlaxcala, one of the principal Spanish allies during the early 16th-century wars of Conquest. By 1530, crown authorities were reorganizing local indigenous governments to follow Spanish models: cabildos, or town councils, were to be led by an indigenous governor and comprised of alcaldes, regidores and other office holders. Historians of Spanish America have shown that elite indigenous families, hereditary rulers in the pre-Hispanic period, continued to hold power in indigenous communities, shaping the new Spanish structure to fit their own political needs. In this document, for instance, the "cabecera rulers," an office unknown in Spain, are likely the hereditary rulers of Tlaxcala.
This 17th-century record naming new officers was written in the indigenous language of Nahuatl and thus for local, community use. It makes very clear the dual symbols that were wielded at the installation ceremonies of political officeholders. The cross and the staff signaled an alliance of religion and politics that lay at the bedrock of colonial life. Staffs of office survive today. Some are of weighty metal, with club heads or pointed tips, reminders of the linkage between physical force and political might. See a staff of office from the Andes in the Vistas Gallery.