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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Indigenous Peoples of Mexico


"There is a place that the Spirit of Truth has prepared so that it shall be from there from which will be born the Liberation of the Indigenous Peoples. It is called AZTLAN, which means Paradise; it is where the Spirit of Truth lives."

Yaqui Elder Rafael Guerrero, Coronel, Division del Norte de Pancho Villa


The sun, the supreme god, is the royal eagle that sits upon the tenochtli.

The words Mexico Tenochitlan appear on the shield of the nation.

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The original inhabitants of Mexico called themselves the "Mexicas". The word 'Mexico' is identical in several languages, such as Mixtec, Otomi, Pame, and Tarasco. In "Nahuatl" (the language of the "Aztecs/Mexicas") it is the combination of three words:

1. Metx(tli) - 'moon'
2. xic(tli) - 'navel'
3. co - 'in'


 

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Origins of Mexico

The name Tenoch is part of the name originally given to Mexico City "Tenochitlan". It is derived from the tree which produces the tenochtli (red, hard, prickly pears). Tenochtli is the symbol of human hearts sacrificed to the sun.

Without documentation, what makes this the exact location where Mexico was founded? The following facts will help show that:

The sun and its nahual 'double' the eagle are one and the same, that is, their names are interchangeable. Likewise, the moon is identified with its nahual the rabbit that lives on it. Unlike the sun, which is all fire, the moon is a place of quiet peace. The home of the rabbit is a symbol of fertility. This is also the reason why the pyramids at Teotihucan are called the 'sun' and 'moon'.

Even though the sun defeated the moon, that does not deprive the moon of its place in Mexcio's beliefs. The moon's role is that of keeping the waters of the cosmos, sending rain, and preserving the moonlight. Here is a metaphor concerning the rabbit:

"The earth, in conjurings, was called 'face-up' rabbit, for thou art resplendent mirror..'; that is, the rabbit is the reflection of the earth on heaven or viceversa".

This gives Mexico a meaning of "In the navel of the Moon". Since the postions of the lakes, upon which Mexico City was founded, are shaped like a rabbit and correspond to the same pattern on the moon, thus:

Mexico = The Rabbit's Navel"

The "Aztecs" "[Hopi]"emerged in the Valley of Mexico, or Anahuac as it was called by its peoples, around the 14th century. Aztec legends tell of seven Nahua tribes, known as the Chichimecas. According to Aztec myth, the journey from Aztlan (ancient capital of modern day Nayarit) to Anahuac was directed by Huitzilopochtli (left-handed hummingbird), who represents the sun god, and his sister Malinal Xochitl (grass flower), manifested as the moon. Near the end of the journey he abandoned his sister, who took refuge in Malinalco (today a famous archeological center). Malinal's son Copil (royal crown), also representing the moon, attempted to incite the people of the Valley to destroy the Aztecs at Chapultepec (hill of the grasshoppers). On the Cerro del Penon (Hill of the Big Rock) war was waged between Huitzilopochtli and Copil. Copil was killed by Huitzilopochtli, who told Tenoch to go and bury his nephew's heart at the site where the high priests had been seeking for nearly a century (Aztec century = 52 years). This spot is said to be located in the "Plaza de Santo Domingo".


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Aztlan is the mythical place of origin of the Aztec peoples. In their language (Nahuatl), the roots of Aztlan are the two words:

aztatl - tlan(tli)

meaning "heron" and "place of," respectively. 'Tlantli' proper means tooth, and as a characteristic of a good tooth is that it is firmly rooted in place, and does not move, the prefix of this word is commonly used in Nahuatl to denote settlements, or place names, e.g. Mazatlan (place of deer), Papalotlan (place of butterflies) or Tepoztlan (place of metal). The Nahuatl language is often said to include three levels of meaning for its words or expressions: literal, syncretic and connotative. The connotative meaning of Aztlan, due to the plumage of herons, is "Place of Whiteness." The mythical descriptions of Aztlan would have it to be an island.

You would replace -tlan with -tecatl to identify a resident or person from the given place. So, for the examples above, we have that people from Mazatlan would be Mazatecatl, someone from Tepoztlan a Tepoztecatl, and someone from Aztlan an Aztecatl.

In the origin myths of the Aztecs, they emerged originally from the bowels of the earth through seven caves (Chicomostoc) and settled in Aztlan, from which they subsequently undertook a migration southward in search of a sign that would indicate that they should settle once more. This myth roughly coincides with the known history of the Aztecs as a barbarous horde that migrated from present-day northwestern Mexico into the central plateu sometime toward the end of the first millenium AD, when high civilizations of great antiquity were already well established in the region. It is known that the Aztecs had a sector ("barrio") in the Toltec city of Tollan, and the cultural influence of the Toltecs on the rough-edged Aztecs was subsequently to be very marked. On the view of some scholars (e.g., Nigel Davies), all of Aztec cultural development was an effort to recreate the grandeur that they knew at Tollan.

The exact physical location of Aztlan is unkown, other than it must have been located near estuaries or on the coast of northwestern Mexico, though some archaeologists have gone so far as to locate the present town of San Felipe Aztlan, Nayarit, as the exact place.

In Chicano folklore, Aztlan is often appropriated as the name for that portion of Mexico that was taken over by the United States after the Mexican-American War of 1846, on the belief that this greater area represents the point of parting of the Aztec migrations. In broad interpretation, there is some truth to this in the sense that all of the groups that would subsequently become the various Nahuatl-speaking peoples of central Mexico passed through this region in a prehistoric epoch, as attested by the existance of linguistically related groups of people distributed throughout the U.S. Pacific Intermontane region, the U.S. southwest and northern Mexico, known as the Uto-Aztecan-Tanoan group, and including such peoples as the Paiute, Shoshoni, Hopi, Pima, Yaqui, Tepehuan, Rara'muri (Tarahumara), Kiowas and Mayos.

Introduction

Glenn Welker has developed this e-text archive of Indigenous Literatures. If you have or know of materials which could be added to this archive or comments on improving it, please drop a note to Glenn.

Thank you.

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