Editor’s note: This content is archival.
February 1986, Number 1
The Nahua Newsletter
A Publication of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and Caribbean
Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor
With support from the Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
Brad R. Huber, Editor
At the 1985 American Anthropological Association meetings in Washington, a group or
people met with Jane Hill (Arizona) and James Taggart (Franklin and Marshall) to plan a
conference on Nahua ethnohistory, linguistics, and contemporary culture. Our goal was
to identify themes or common interests around which papers could be organized. This led
to a discussion about our interests in Nahua-speakers in general. Several of those
present suggested that a comprehensive bibliography of sources dealing with Nahua
culture and a mailing list of active scholars be compiled and distributed. It was
decided that a newsletter might be the best vehicle for notifying colleagues of our
A symposium on the ethnohistory, linguistics, and cultural anthropology of the
Nahua, past and present, is now being organized for the 1986 AAA meetings in
Philadelphia. It is entitled “What Happened to the Aztec Empire?” The underlying theme
of the symposium is the cultural identity–past and present–of the Nahua, in all of
its controversial aspects. Additional information about this symposium can be found on
page two in this issue of The Nahua Newsletter.
It is hoped that this newsletter will serve as a forum for discussing our interests
in Nahua- speakers. Future issues could contain information on research projects you
are now undertaking. They might also be used to organize regional and local meetings,
notify scholars of research opportunities, review books, etc. A (by no means complete)
mailing list of Nahua specialists is contained in the first issue. This list will be
continually updated; the form provided on the last page of each issue of the newsletter
can be used to add people to the mailing list. The same form can also be used to notify
us of research projects you have or plan on undertaking among Nahua-speakers and to
include notes in future issues. Ideas concerning how this newsletter might better serve
our common interests are also welcome.
James Taggart, Jane Hill, and Louise Burkhart are organizing a symposium entitled
“What Happened to the Aztec Empire?” for the December 3-7, 1986, American
Anthropological Association meetings in Philadelphia. If you are interested in
presenting a paper, you should send an abstract, your advanced registration form, and
fees to James Taggart by March 18th. Dr. Taggart’s address is: Department of
Anthropology, Franklin and Marshall College, P.O. Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604. The
following topics for papers have been suggested by the organizers of the session.
Suggested Topics for the Contemporary Culture of the Nahua
1. General discussions of contemporary Nahua cultural identity:
a. Can one speak of Nahua cultural identity?
b. If prehispanic Nahua traits survive in modern Nahua culture, where do we find
e.g., in mythology, ritual, social organization, views of the universe?
c. What survives of the prehispanic patterns of milpa agriculture, food processing, and
d. Do prehispanic cultural traits survive more in some parts of the Nahua area than in
others? One can compare the Nahuatl of the Sierra Norte de Puebla with the Nahuatl
living in the Tlaxcalan-Pueblan area, etc.
2. Family Structure and Kinship Organization:
a. What has happened to the prehispanic patterns of work in the Nahua family?
b. How has Nahua household composition changed since the sixteenth century?
c. How and why does Nahua household composition vary from one region to the next?
d. What has happened to age and generation as principles for delegating authority in
the Nahua family?
e. How and why has Nahua kinship terminology changed since the sixteenth century?
f. What happened to the calpulli? Do clans or lineages exist in the Nahua area? If they
do survive, what form do they take, and how do they function?
g. How does ritual kinship in the Nahua area incorporate elements from Aztec and
Spanish Christian tradition?
h. Does ritual kinship take a form and function peculiar to conditions in the Sierra
Norte or the Tlaxcalan-Pueblan area?
a. How do modern Nahua rituals represent a fusion of Aztec and Spanish Christian
elements? How does the pattern of fusion vary and why does it vary? One can focus on
rituals of planting, compadrazgo, the cargo system, curing, and Todos Santos.
b. How do the modern Nahua express their ideas of time and space in their
c. How do modern Nahua conceptions of time and space, as expressed in rituals, resemble
or differ from those of the Aztecs?
d. How do the modern Nahua express their ethnic identity in private and public
e. What have happened to the prehispanic rituals dedicated to agriculture? to
4. Mythology, folklore, and belief:
a. What of the Aztec view of the universe survives in modern Nahua mythology?
b. How has this view changed in accord with Nahua experiences after the Conquest?
c. What aspects of the view of the universe are expressed in mythology as opposed to
ritual or social organization?
d. What has happened to the prehispanic serpent gods in modern Nahua oral
e. How have Nahua dance groups fused Aztec and Spanish Christian themes in their dress
and ritual dramas?
f. How do the Nahua express their cultural identity in their textiles? One can compare
weaving in the Sierra Norte and the Tlaxcalan-Puebla areas.
g. How do modern Nahua beliefs in disease differ from or resemble those of the Aztecs?
What can account for differences among communities?
h. What survives in modern belief of the prehispanic Nahua beliefs in death and life-
i. How do modern Nahua beliefs in witchcraft and sorcery resemble or differ from those
of the Aztecs?
a. How do the Nahua fit into the political economy of modern Mexico? How is their
political role related to the expression of their cultural identity?
b. What form do revitalization movements take in the Nahua area? How do they represent
a creative response to modernization and how do they develop?
c. What is the form of peasant insurgency in the Nahua area?
d. How have recent changes affected the relationship between women and men in modern
e. What is the experience of the modern Nahua who have migrated to cities?
Suggested Topics for Nahua Linguistics
Note: Nahuatl-Mexicano refers to the “central” varieties of Nahua; Nahua is used to
refer to any variety, including those spoken in Michoacan or the Sierra Norte de
Puebla, as well as Isthmus. Central, etc.
1. Karttunen and Lockhart (1976) claimed that all the modern varieties of Nahuatl
(Mexicano) have borrowed from Spanish according to the same patterns. To what degree is
this really true? Do some varieties seem to be exceptional?
2. To what degree is the use of Mexicano or other Nahua varieties an
ethnicity-defining phenomenon? Do people think of themselves as “Mexicano” (in an
ethnic rather than national sense) because they speak Nahuatl, or according to some
3. How is the distribution of modern varieties of Mexicano related to
ethnohistorical evidence about the dimensions of the Aztec hegemony? How much did
Mexicano spread in the post-conquest period?
4. To what degree do modern varieties of Nahua languages shed light on the
interpretation of “classical” sources? Karttunen, for example, has used modern
varieties to give evidence for vowel length in Classical, while others have challenged
5. To what degree have genres such as huehuetlahtolli survived? Are there ways of
speaking that are “Nahuatl” as opposed to “Mexican”?
6. Can we say anything about language contact phenomena in the pre-conquest period
vs. language contact in the post-conquest? Campbell and Kaufman believe Nahua groups
borrowed from other Mesoamerican languages quite a bit, while Suarez felt that they
borrowed very little, such that borrowing from Spanish represented an important
7. To what degree are Nahua speakers multilingual in languages other than Nahua and
Spanish? How is this similar to or different from patterns of multilingualism in other
groups such as the Zapotec, Tolonac, Otomi, etc.?
8. Are there residues of status differences in language use in modem Nahua-speaking
communities? Are there interesting modifications/preservations of the meanings of
particular lexical items?
9. What is the role of Nahuatl in modem Mexican nationalism? What of the public use
of Nahuatl, as on statuary; Nahuatl as a hobby; its use in personal names; etc.?
10. What is the “state of the language”? What communities speak a lot/little Nahua?
Where is Nahua still used as a lingua franca, e.g., the Sierra de Puebla, and where is
it not, e.g., in Tlaxcala? Is Nahua getting much attention in INI bilingual programs?
What is the literature like? How much literacy is there in Nahua? How is Nahua used by
11. To what degree has Nahuatl affected Mexican Spanish? Some claim Nahuatl has had
a lot of influence; others suggest it has had very little.
Suggested Topics for Nahua Ethnohistory
1. A “taphonomic” approach to documentary sources, i.e., an analysis of the
processes involved in the production, transport, and preservation of documents. Why we
have what we have, and why they say what they say. Anyone working with a particular
type of document might have interesting insights on this sort of problem.
2. The survival, transformation, and/or disappearance of an indigenous custom or
institution, viewed either in the long range or at any point in post-conquest history.
You can discuss religious beliefs or ritual practices, types of religious
practitioners, class structure, economic organizations or specializations, types of
land tenure, medical practices, etc.
3. The mechanisms of culture change, e.g., whether changes were imposed by colonial
(or modern) political powers or represent spontaneous indigenous adaptations; change
reflecting “official” colonial policy or Church doctrine as opposed to borrowings from
Spanish (or African) “folk” culture; how to get at this sort of information in the
4. Nahua ethnicity through the ages. How indigenous populations define themselves
and how they are defined by others as communities, ethnic groups, language groups,
political units, etc. This might be one way of approaching the question of whether the
” Aztec Empire” or “Nahua culture” constitute real entities.
Readers are asked to confirm their mailing address by filling out the brief form at
the end of this issue. We also encourage you to make copies of this newsletter and send
them to colleagues not included in this initial mailing list.