MEXICO: The Penacho of Moctezuma’s Repatriation Battle

Spanish conquest of Latin America-era treasures are among world-renown museum's most valuable. Moctezuma's crown is no exception. And Mexico wants it back. Photo (cc) Thomas Ledl / Wikimedia 2015Spanish conquest of Latin America-era treasures are among world-renown museum's most valuable. Moctezuma's crown is no exception. And Mexico wants it back. Photo (cc) Thomas Ledl / Wikimedia 2015

By Xokonoschtletl Gómora & Ailana Navarez – The “Penacho of Moctezuma” – an Aztec feather-and-gold headdress – allegedly pertained to Moctezuma II. Moctezuma II was the ninth ruler of Tenochtitlan who witnessed the first contact amid Amerindians and Europeans in Mexico. Moctezuma and many of his people were killed during this dawn of Spanish conquest inLatin America, specifically during conquistador Hernan Cortes’ violent escape from the Aztec capital city. While Native American and European colonialist history is by no means a pleasant one, treasures from the era are among world-renown museum’s most valuable. Moctezuma’s crown is no exception. And Mexico wants it back from Austria.

The Penacho of Moctezuna is currently valued at more than 1,000,000,000 Mexican Pesos. It has been located in Vienna, Austria since 1524 and in the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, Austria for the past 12 years. The iconic gold crown of feathers is at the heart of the museum.

In 2010, a “bi-national contract” granted certain academic and scientific teams – namely INAH and UNAM – to restore the Penacho of Moctezuma over a period of 24 months. The crown remained in Vienna as anticipated, although official and unofficial efforts to return it into Mexican hands continues.

Repatriation – Noble or Dangerous?

Photo (c) Ser Creativo 2012

The agenda to keep the Penacho of Moctezuma is multi-layered, yet among the most popular rationales against Mexican return regards alleged preservational elements. Photo (c) Ser Creativo 2012

Mexican repatriation efforts have not been simple. Austrian parliamentary officials  and Foreign Ministries have become involved. Favorable conclusions for the Mexican side pend achievement.

The agenda to keep the Penacho of Moctezuma is multi-layered, yet among the most popular rationales against Mexican return regards alleged preservational elements. Austria’s Johann Wassermann claims that, “the vibration of an aircraft or ship would destroy it.”

The INAH and UNAM – allegedly without conducting independent investigations to confirm the claim – have accepted Wassermann’s version. Mexican officials thus returned to the Westerns Hemisphere empty handed, having enjoyed acquainting with Europe, yet “logically” leaving their original objective behind. The museum further attempted to soften the blow. Now, “Mexicans who visit the crown will not pay the entrance fee to the museum”.

Conflict of Interests

Photo (c) Cultural Frames 2015

The museum frequently rents its spaces to large events. Such has occurred inside at the central part of the museum a few steps from the Penacho of Moctezuma. Photo (c) Cultural Frames 2015

However, certain Mexican entities continue the repatriation battle. They argue that the Penacho of Moctezuma will not be destroyed during transport to Mexico, but in the Vienna-based museum of which it is currently located.

The museum frequently rents its spaces to large events. Such has occurred inside at the central part of the museum a few steps from the Penacho of Moctezuma. Large events have included rock and pop music concerts involving electric guitars, and dance workshops featuring strident dances and groups of all kinds – namely salsa dancers, Brazilian, African, Asian, and Spaniard dances. All imply heels, strong applause, laughter, shouts, and microphones that produce heavy vibrations.

Yet such additional factors potentially and ironically endangering the Penacho of Moctezma are currently disregarded by repatriation negotiation authorities. Even within Mexico, Austrian perspectives on the topic reign. Mexico’s UNAM TV produced a recent documentary featuring the crown, albeit with Austrian government and museum funding, its premiere to be attended by the Austrian ambassador, and thus hosting for the great majority Austrian points-of-view.

Repatriation Battles Continue

Photo (c) Aristegui Noticias 2013

Mr. Gómora – an author of 9 other titles – overall aims to elaborate upon the pro-Mexico angle of returning the Penacho of Moctezuma to its homeland. Photo (c) Aristegui Noticias 2013

The repatriation battle alternative perspective is emphasized by individuals such as Xokonoschtletl Gómora, who has recently published a new book featuring the Penacho of Moctezuma affair, “IN SEACH OF THE IMPOSSIBLE”.

The book includes more than 200 photographs, drawings and documents regarding the topic.

Mr. Gómora – an author of 9 other titles – overall aims to elaborate upon the pro-Mexico angle of returning the Penacho of Moctezuma to its homeland, “answering questions that people have always asked themselves, and nobody answers”, as well as implementing certain aspects of Aztec oral history.