Number 34

Editor’s Note: This content is archival.

Nahua Newsletter

November 2002, Number 34

The Nahua Newsletter

A Publication of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor

With support from the Department of Anthropology

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne


Nahua Newsletter News

Welcome to the Nahua Newsletter. With this issue we complete 17 years of
publication, reaching readers interested in the culture, language, and history of the
Nahua and neighboring Native American peoples of Mesoamerica. Most of the Nahua
continue to live in the Mesoamerican culture area, but with globalization and increased
migration they now can be found in many different parts of the world. As we describe
below, the NN is beginning to serve as a focus for some groups whose members are
striving to maintain their ethnic identity as Native Americans. In the pages that
follow you will find news items, commentaries, reports of research, a book review, the
address changes of established readers, and a list of new subscribers. The NN is
international in scope, received by just under 400 subscribers living in 15 different
countries. It is published solely for the purpose of establishing a communication
network of scholars, students, and anyone interested in learning more about the peoples
and cultures of Mesoamerica.

The NN is no stranger to controversy. Over the years, its pages have recorded
disagreements among experts in the field. With this issue, however, we enter a whole
new realm of conflict. As long-time subscribers know, the NN is received by a number of
indigenous inmates in the California state prison system. We have no idea why these
people have been incarcerated nor how they first discovered the NN. Apparently, word
has spread within the prison system and we now receive regular correspondence from a
number of inmates. Many of these men are studying the Nahuatl language and Aztec
history in order to regain a sense of their ethnic identity. Several have become expert
in Nahua studies and in some cases write to the editor in Nahuatl. Some on our
subscriber list are Mexican nationals who are serving sentences in the U.S. Many
inmates have asked to receive the newsletter and we often receive letters of thanks
handwritten in beautiful calligraphic script.

Apparently, prisoners’ interest in Nahuatl has caused a ruckus in the California
system. Outlined in a memo sent to staff and inmates of the prison, a new warden at
Pelican Bay State Prison has ruled that Nahuatl, along with Swahili and “Runic or
Celtic,” are deemed a reasonable “threat to legitimate penological interests.” Inmates
speculate that officials fear these languages will be used to send secret messages. One
inmate wrote, “The prison administration claims that the Aztec language, Nahuatl, is
used as a source for coded communications between gang members and that illegal
conspiracies are plotted against the prison administration.” The warden ordered that
all publications in these languages held in the prison library, including books and
dictionaries, be removed from the collections. In addition, material in Nahuatl and the
other languages is to be confiscated from inmates during routine cell searches.

The new policy has caused inmates to send a flurry of mail to the NN asking for
assistance in reversing this decision. Several complained that the confiscation of
their Nahuatl materials is a continuation of governmental attempts to “exterminate”
Native American culture. One inmate filed a legal petition challenging the “ban on
Nahuatl,” but we understand that such cases often take years to resolve. Recently,
however, we received an e-mail from a law student at the University of California,
Berkeley, who wrote to say that he is part of a legal team bringing a lawsuit against
the Pelican Bay State Prison for prohibiting certain foreign languages, including
Nahuatl. He asked us to provide him with names of Nahuatl experts in California who may
be willing to participate in the suit on behalf of the inmates. We have just learned
that the case is being taken on by another team of lawyers who will pursue it in

The NN takes no official stand on this controversy although we will continue to send
issues to prisoners who request to be placed on the subscription list. For the most
part, the publication is written in English or Spanish and should not violate official
prison policy. Having heard only one side of the controversy, we feel that its
resolution must be left up to the courts. We include news of these events to inform
readers about the increasingly important role being played by the NN in contemporary
issues involving indigenous ethnic identity, freedom of speech, and human rights. Who
could have guessed 17 years ago that a publication created to facilitate communication
and create a sense of common purpose among scholars often working in isolation would be
at the center of such debate? Please watch future issues for updates on the

The NN continues to be self-supporting with only occasional small grants from
universities and other research institutions to help with expenses and special
projects. As an example of the latter, we received a small grant from Indiana
University to scan the earliest issues of the NN and post them on the Web. For daily
operations, we rely on the voluntary good will and generosity of readers to cover the
costs of production. If you would like to help out, please send checks made out to
Nahua Newsletter, to the address below. The money is placed in a special account at
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and used solely to defray printing and
postage costs. We should all be proud that the NN has been supported by loyal readers
for all of these years.

Please enjoy this issue of the NN and send announcements of your achievements,
publications, current research, and calls for cooperation. You are also more than
welcome to address any questions to other readers. Send donations or items for
inclusion in the next issue to:

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor
Nahua Newsletter
Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
2101 Coliseum Blvd. East
Fort Wayne, IN 46805

News Items

1. Here is a message received from the Archivo Histórico del Agua (

about an edited volume that may be of interest to readers: “Estimados(as) amigos(as) y
colegas. Nos permitimos anunciarles que ha salido el texto El siglo XIX en las
Huastecas, México, Antonio Escobar Ohmstede and Luz Carregha Lamadrid (coords.),
publicado por CIESAS (Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologa
Social), El Colegio de San Luis (Colección Huasteca), 2002, 379

“Las Huastecas constituyen una región con semejanzas y diferencias que
rebasan sus ámbitos polticos y administrativos. Su estudio demanda, por lo
tanto, un constante esfuerzo de definición. Este libro rene una serie de ensayos
con el objeto de presentar un panorama regional cuyo punto de partida son los
análisis circunscritos a las diversas localidades. Un conjunto que busca
conformar una visión articulada y actualizada de las diversas formas de
organización social y su desarrollo en un tiempo y espacio. Los diversos
artculos ofrecen una perspectiva del estado actual de los estudios sobre el siglo XIX
Huasteco. Informes para adquisición a CIESAS:, o El Colegio
de San Luis, A.C.:”


“Introducción,” Antonio Escobar Ohmstede y Luz Carregha

“Comercio y estado de guerra en la Huasteca potosina, 1810-1821,” Inocencio

“Elites, territorialidad y fragmentación poltica: la provincia Huasteca de
1823,” José Alfredo Rangel y Flor Salazar

“La anexión de Tuxpan a Veracruz en 1853, pugan de poderes regionales en la
Huasteca,” Filiberta Gómez Cruz

“Indios liberales y liberales indigenistas: ideologa y poder en los municipios
rurales de Veracruz, 1821-1890,” Michael T. Ducey

“¿Qué sucedió con la tierra en las Huastecas
decimonónicas?,” Antonio Escobar Ohmstede

“En torno a los levantamientos armados en la Huasteca potosina al inicio del
Porfiriato,” Luz Carregha Lamadrid

“Visitadores potosinos en el siglo XIX. El caso de la Huasteca. Notas
introductorias,” Ana Ma. Gutiérrez Rivas

“El poeta y el visitador, historia y lenguaje,” Ignacio Betancourt

“Comercio y violencia en la Huasteca potosina: el monopolio del tabaco, 1821-1846,”
Bárbara M. Corbett

“Santa Anna de Tamaulipas o Tampico: Comercio y comerciantes en la
configuración de un espacio,” Ma. del Carmen Galicia Patiño

“El comercio de exportación en Tuxpan, 1870-1900,” Emilio H. Kour

“De ‘paraso’ a ‘tierra balda’: ambiente y extracción petrolera en la Huasteca
potosina, 1908-1921,” Myrna Santiago


2. The Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. invites NN
readers to “Come explore Mesoamerica by browsing through a set of nested folders. You
can read the latest field reports, download images, or search our list of 60,000
bibliographic entries about ancient cultures of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras, and Mexico. Come experience our unique online Maya Dictionary. Glyphic signs
and Maya sounds at your finger tips for beginners and experts alike. The Web site
address is”

Call for Grant Proposals:

FAMSI is especially interested in receiving proposals for art historical study,
analysis and synthesis of collections, objects, and artifacts of ancient cultures of
Mesoamerica. Visit us on the Web and download a brochure at, or
contact us directly at FAMSI, 268 S. Suncoast Blvd., Crystal River, FL 34429-5498 /
phone: 352-795-5990, fax: 352 795-1970.

3. Kathleen Smith, a librarian at the San Joaquin Valley Information Service, writes
with the following question about the contemporary Nahua: “A library patron in Fresno,
California, is doing research on traditional papermaking techniques of Indians of
Mexico. Alan Sandstrom’s book, Traditional Papermaking and Paper Cult Figures of Mexico
(1986), mentions that Indians in Chicontepec use dried corn cobs scorched in fire
instead of stone beaters to pound paper fibers together. The patron would like to know,
How do they scorch corn cobs? What is the exact process so that they simply do not burn
up? If anybody has any information regarding this process, please reply directly to
Kathleen Smith at”

A response from the editor: “My coauthor, Pamela Effrein Sandstrom, and I stated in
the book that only the Otomi of the Sierra Norte de Puebla continue the ancient craft
of papermaking. We now know that the Nahua of Chicontepec in northern Veracruz continue
to manufacture their own paper for use in religious rituals. I have seen several
examples in the years since the papermaking book was published. Unfortunately, I am not
aware of any descriptions of Nahua papermaking and would welcome information from
readers about this process. We are discussing a trip to Mexico to search out and
document Nahua papermaking. We will keep a lookout for scorched corn cobs and their
possible use.”

4. Norbert Francis writes to inform readers that he and Jon Reyhner have published
Language and Literacy Teaching for Indigenous Education: A Bilingual Approach
(Multilingual Matters, 2002). ISBN 1-85359-600-0. $39.95 (paper).

“The book presents a proposal for the inclusion of indigenous languages in the
classroom. Based on extensive research and field work by the authors in communities in
the United States and Mexico, the book explores ways in which the cultural and
linguistic resources of indigenous communities can enrich the language and literacy
program. A bilingual approach to indigenous education recognizes that all languages
spoken today by children can contribute to the development of academic language
proficiency and literacy; none should, in principle, be excluded from the curriculum.
The authors begin with a survey of the situation of indigenous languages in a
representative sample of countries from North and South America and a short history of
the contact between the indigenous languages of the Americas and the European
languages. This survey sets the stage for a discussion of the prospects for an
autonomous indigenous language policy and how communities themselves can begin to
actively engage in language planning. Chapters on bilingualism and bilingual education
models, second language teaching, literacy development, teaching strategies, methods
and materials, and language assessment offer a practical guide for beginning to realize
the as yet untapped potential of bilingualism and bilingual development in schools and

“For more information contact Norbert Francis at For e-mail
orders, send to The Multilingual Matters address is
Frankfurt Lodge, Clevedon Hall, Victoria Road, Clevedon, England BS21 7HH. The
telephone number is +44 (0) 1275 876519.”

5. Frances Karttunen writes: “Since retiring from the University of Texas, I have
been working on a three-part study of people on Nantucket other than the descendants of
the English settlers who arrived on the island in 1659. The title of the overall
project is ‘The Other Islanders.’ Part 1, Nantucket’s First Peoples of Color, is now
viewable on the Nantucket Historical Association Web site. It deals with the Wampanoags
who resided on the island when the settlers arrived and with the African slaves brought
to the island by the English in the first half of the 1700s.

“At the Web site, click Eprint Online Archive in the sidebar. The spring
issue of Historic Nantucket also carries the title ‘The Other Islanders’ and contains
four articles including two I wrote. One is about Dorcas Honorable, Nantucket’s ‘last
Indian,’ and the other is ‘Diversity Comes to Nantucket.’ Copies are available for
$5.00 plus postage from The Nantucket Historical Association, Attn: Cecil Barron
Jensen, Box 1016, Nantucket, MA 02554. E-mail inquiries can be addressed to”

6. Reader Bobby Gonzales writes to settle the issue over the term macana: “I read in
NN no. 32:4 the statement that the word macana is derived from a Quechua word.
Actually, macana is a Taino word from the Caribbean.”

7. Caterina Pizzigoni writes: “I am currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the
Institute for Latin American Studies at the University of London, U.K. My dissertation
title is ‘Between Resistance and Assimilation: Rural Nahua Women in the Valley of
Toluca in the 18th Century.’ The dissertation analyzes the reaction of rural Nahua
women to the impact of Spanish cultural hegemony in terms of resistance to and
assimilation of the new cultural models imposed by colonial authorities. Special
attention is paid to the Catholic Church since in rural areas the clergy played a key
role as representatives of colonial power.

“The study focuses on the Valley of Toluca, immediately west of Mexico City, due to
its proximity to the core of the Spanish empire and the fact that in the early 18th
century its population remained predominantly indigenous. The study is based primarily
on litigation in Spanish and testaments in Nahuatl that were associated with the
‘Juzgado Eclesiástico’ of Toluca, a court created by the archbishop of Mexico to
deal with moral and doctrinal matters. This hitherto unknown documentation is used to
examine women’s everyday life in a rural area. In doing so it assesses the impact of
the Christian model of life on their activities and behavior. Evidence for the
Christian model that the Spaniards attempted to impose is drawn from books of sermons,
confessionals, and catechisms used in the 18th century together with the reports of
inspection (‘libros de visita’) that archbishops carried out in the area.

“The dissertation shows the extent to which rural areas were able to preserve
traditional values despite the efforts of the Church to assimilate them into colonial

8. Barry Isaac has published an article that will be of interest to readers:
“Cannibalism Among the Aztecs and Their Neighbors: Analysis of the 1577-1586 Relaciones
Geográficas for Nueva España and Nueva Galicia.” Journal of
Anthropological Research 58(2):203-225, Summer 2002.

“This article presents the first systematic analysis of the statements on
prehispanic cannibalism in the 1577-1586 Relaciones Geográficas (RGs) for Nueva
Galicia and Nueva España provinces of New Spain, an area occupied by the Aztecs
and their closest neighbors. Forty of the 105 RGs analyzed, from widely scattered
locales in the two provinces, allege cannibalism. In both their content and their
inherent limitations as a database, these mainly rural reports are very similar to the
well-known, intensive, largely urban studies of Aztec culture made in the sixteenth
century (e.g., Durán and Sahagn). While the Spanish/mestizo RG authors who
offered damning assessments of Indian culture or character were more likely to allege
cannibalism, those whose greater interest in indigenous culture is reflected in their
lengthier reports on it also mention the practice. At the same time, the statements on
cannibalism were directly attributed to Indian informants in 18 (45 percent) of the 40
RGs alleging cannibalism.”

9. And finally: “The Aztecs of North America Committee was founded in 2002 in
Hayward, California. Our purposes shall be to seek historical recognition as Native
American Indians for the descendants of the Aztecs of the North American Continent, and
to address Native American international treaty issues. In the near future, we will
establish classes to teach Aztec culture, history, and language to the public. For more
information, contact Aztecs of North America Committee, P.O. Box 325, Hayward,
California 94543-0325. Telephone/fax: 510-582-3880.”

Book Reviews

Ritos aztecas: Las fiestas de las veintenas. By Michel Graulich. Fiesta de los pueblos indgenas. México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional Indigenista, 1999. Pp.459. ISBN 970181178X.

Ritos presents Michel Graulich’s unusual and bold view of ancient Nahua culture.
Some readers of the Nahua Newsletter probably know about Graulich’s work from reading
his articles in Current Anthropology and his recently translated book on myths. Ritos
is an important book that I recommend very highly because it presents a much fuller
picture of Graulich’s view of the Nahua belief in “hierogamy,” the term Mircea Eliade
used for the notion that divine creation is a process like human and plant
reproduction. Many scholars have recognized the importance of the corn plant as a
symbol in Nahua culture but few have noted the intimate relationship between the
cultivation of corn and human sexuality. Graulich lays out his understanding of that
relationship more clearly and completely in Ritos than in any other work that I have
read. Hierogamy, while certainly not confined to the Nahuas, is one of the most
enduring aspects of their culture.

Hierogamy and the calendar are closely related because Graulich argues that the
rituals carried out during the 365-day tonalpohualli were dramatic enactments of mythic
events having to do with the fecundity of the earth and of women. Despite the tenacity
of hierogamy in Nahua culture, Ritos has received comparatively little attention from
the specialists in North America. One of the reasons may be resistance to his views on
the Aztec calendar. Graulich argues that the Aztec religious elites did not make an
adjustment for the solar year being a fraction more than 365 days. Their solar calendar
(the tonalpohualli) was consequently out of phase of the seasons in 1519 when Cortez
arrived in Mexico. Graulich believes that the religious elites chose the whole number
of 365 for the ttonalpohualli for several reasons. The whole number of 365 was useful
for calculating the 52-year cycle which the Aztecs created by combining the 260-day
sacred calendar (tonalamatl) with the 365-day tonalpohualli. They also used 365 to
calculate the 104-year Venus cycle of 38,060 days (365 x 104), a number which, if
divided by the 584 earth days Venus takes to circle the sun, also yields a whole number
of 65.

He notes that the meaning of the names for the 20-day months did not coincide with
the seasons in 1519. For example, the month Atlcahualo means “the cessation of the
water” and was a 20-day period from February 13 to March 4 in 1519, approximately in
the middle of the dry season. It is reasonable to expect, reasons Graulich, that
Atlcahualo would fall at the end of September when the rainy season generally draws to
a close in the Nahua region of central Mexico. For Atlcahualo to be in its proper
place, it would have to move approximately 209 days. At one day every four years, that
means that the months of the tonalpohualli were in their proper place sometime around
682 A.D. when several important events took place in Mesoamerica. The great ceremonial
center of Teotihuacan, which many think was the hearth of Nahua culture during the
Classic period, collapsed at the end of the 600s. The year 682 was also important in
Maya history, and the Maya and Aztec calendars were highly coordinated in 1519.
Señor A with the double penis rose to power in Tikal in 682, and in 683 the Maya
leader Pacal died in Palenque.

Graulich argues that the calendar was originally in phase with the seasons of the
year – particular the rainy and the dry seasons – because it developed to aid
cultivators in organizing their labor. However, the religious elites eventually used
the calendar for their own purposes and elected to freeze the tonalpohualli in the year

Much of this is already familiar to readers who recall Graulich’s 1981 paper in
Current Anthropology. However, Ritos also contains a rich supply of supporting
information that may be less well-known to those who do not read French or who have not
turned the pages of the Spanish translation of this work. Judging by the lack of
reviews, Ritos is probably less well known than it should be. In Ritos, Graulich argues
that the tonalpohualli was organized according to clearly marked rainy and dry seasons,
and he believes that the calendar year started with Ochpaniztli, the first month of the
wet season. He consequently breaks with those Mesoamerican scholars who start the
calendar in the month of Atlcahualo. According to Graulich’s reckoning, Ochpaniztli was
from April 3 to 22 in the year 682. The ritual events that took place during this
20-day period were symbolic preparations for the rainy seasons to begin. The word
Ochpaniztli comes from the verb tlachpana which means “(he, she, it) sweeps something.”
The ritual sweeping coincided with the actual sweeping of roads, streets, temples, and
homes, and the cleaning of aqueducts, canals, and fountains. To sweep means to renew,
to purify, and to come before.

The rituals that took place during Ochpaniztli were primarily dedicated to the
goddesses Toci (Our Mother Earth), Atlantonan (Our Mother the Water), and a female
version of Chicomecoatl, the corn deity. The rituals involved human sacrifice and they
included female sacrificial victims who personified the goddesses. The rites were
re-enactments of the myth of Tamoanchan when the goddess Xochiquetzal picked a flower
from a tree, was expelled to earth, conceived a child with Piltzintecuhtli, and gave
birth to Cinteotl, the corn plant. The myth and the accompanying ritual during
Ochpaniztli express very clearly the idea of hierogamy. Graulich found plenty of sexual
symbolism for his hierogamy thesis in the ancient texts. Mimixcoas extended enormous,
erect penises toward Toci and represented the dead warrior-stars who descended and
fertilized the earth. Toci squatted and cried out, and the earth trembled as she gave

The eight months following Ochpaniztli coincide with the rainy-season half of the
tonalpohualli and they featured rituals that celebrated different aspects of the
hierogamy equation. According to Graulich’s reckoning, in the year 682, Teotleco (April
23 to May 12) was dedicated to the birth of the male gods. Tepeilhuitl (May 13 to June
1) involved rites dedicated to the Tlaloque or rain gods and included serpents as
symbols of fertility. Quecholli (June 2 to 21) included reenactments of the meeting
between Mixcoatl and Chimalman, the parents of Quetzalcoatl, and the wandering of the
Toltecs who constructed the golden age civilization in Tollan. Perhaps the most
controversial wet-season month is Panquetzaliztli, which in 682 according to Graulich’s
reckoning, was June 22 to July 11, not November 20 to December 9 as many other scholars
have contended.

Graulich’s reasoning for the location of Panquetzaliztli in the middle of the rainy
season is worth examining because of the importance of this month in the writings of
many who have examined Aztec human sacrifice. Graulich argues that the Mexicas changed
the meaning of Panquetzaliztli rituals by emphasizing war and by increasing the number
of sacrificial victims. Originally, the rituals of Panquetzaliztli were dedicated to
commemorating the birth of Quetzalcoatl, whose parents – Mixcoatl and Chimalman – were
celebrated in the preceding month. However, when the Mexica rose to power in
Tenochtitlan, they substituted Huitzilopochtli for Quetzalcoatl and emphasized the
defeat of the dissolute Mimixcoas by their younger siblings. The Mimixcoas were sent to
earth to find food for the gods but instead slept with women and got drunk, and the
gods sent their younger children to wage war against their older siblings. Graulich
believes that the Mexica conflated the ritual events of Panquetzaliztli with those of
Tlacaxipehualiztli – September 30 to October 19 in Graulich’s calculations – which
indeed were dedicated to the mythic description of the defeat of the dissolute
Mimixcoas. The rest of the wet season months repeated or expanded upon the hierogamy
themes presented in earlier wet-season months. Atemoztli (July 12 to 31) included rites
celebrating the Tlaloque. Tititl (August 1 to 20) was dedicated to Mixcoatl and
Chimalman. Izcalli (August 21 to September 9) was dedicated to Xiuhtecuhtli, the god of
fire and a symbol of renewal and sexuality. The rainy season ended with Atlcahualo
(September 10 to 29), which means “cessation of the water” and also involved rites
dedicated to the Tlaloque.

The dry season months began with Tlacaxipehualiztli (September 30 to October 19) and
ended with Xocotl Huetzi (March 9 to 28), and were primarily dedicated to war,
masculine gods, and death. During the final month of Xocotl Huetzi, the flying pole
dancers (cuauhpatlaninih) represented birds and dead warriors descending from the sky
to fertilize the earth. In general, the wet-season concerned events connected primarily
(but not exclusively) with women while those of the dry season emphasized events
connected with men. There are many exceptions, and Graulich points out several
interesting instances of months in the wet season paired in a complementary
relationship with those in the dry season. Ochpaniztli (April 3-22) is complementary to
Tlacaxipehualiztli (September 30 to October 19) because the former involved rites
flaying women while the later included the flaying of men. Quecholli (June 2 to 21) and
Toxcatl (November 29 to December 18) are complementary because the former was dedicated
to Mixcoatl and the latter to his avatar, Tezcatlipoca. Tititl (August 1-20) and Huey
Tecuilhuitl (January 28 to February 16) involved old (Ilamatecuhtli) and young
(Xilonen) goddesses respectively. Moreover, many of the months featured several ritual
events dedicated to a variety of gods and goddesses.

Graulich’s reckoning of the calendar flies in the face of other interpretations of
time and space relationships in Nahua culture. His adjustment for the 209-day error in
the tonalpohualli changes the associations between the cardinal directions and the
points in the diurnal and annual cycles. According to earlier reckoning, north was the
spatial equivalent of noon and the summer solstice on the grounds that the Aztecs saw
the earth from the point of view of the sun in their geocentric conception of the
universe. The sun sees the earth as he rises out of the ocean in the east, reaches his
zenith at noon, seeing the north to his right and south to his left, and then dives
into the ocean in the west at nightfall. The name Huitzilopochtli means “hummingbird on
the left” and refers to the southern location on the Templo Mayor in the Sacred
Precinct of Tenochtitlan. Left is equated with the south from the point of view of the
sun as it flies over the earth. Huitzilopochtli was celebrated in Panquetzaliztli,
which in 1519 was November 20 to December 9, and so scholars have generally concluded
that the south was associated with the winter solstice in the annual cycle and midnight
in the diurnal one. Graulich believes the time and space relationships were just the
opposite because the calendar was off by 209 days. North is associated with midnight
and the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. South is consequently associated
with noon and the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Likewise,
Tlacaxipehualiztli (September 30 to October 19) is associated with the east while
Ochpaniztli (April 3 to 22) is connected to the west. Graulich has reversed the
generally believed plane of the sun’s rotation around the earth as tilted onto the
earth’s surface. According to Graulich, a ritual procession mimicking the rotation of
the sun around the earth would go from north to east to south to west. Other scholars
have asserted the reverse: north-west-south-east.

Graulich is well aware that specific groups of Mesoamericans, particularly the
macehualmeh, may have maintained a different agricultural calendar than the one he
believed was connected to the year 682. He does not expect complete uniformity in the
ancient or contemporary record and recognizes that the Mexica and possibly other groups
reinterpreted the calendar for their own purposes. However, there is considerable
support for at least some of his views among the Nahuat I know in the Sierra Norte de
Puebla. Contemporary rituals that take place over the diurnal cycle fit his
organization of the calendar that begins with the month of Ochpaniztli. The Nahuat in
Huitzilan, for example, carry out betrothal and wedding rituals that commemorate the
events described in the myth of Tamoanchan in a way that fits Graulich’s organization
of the tonalpohualli. The Nahuat rituals involve the use of adornments called
“xochicuahuit” that could easily derive from the tree of Tamoanchan. The betrothal and
wedding rituals take place over a 24-hour period during which women and men dance
individually in front of the family altar holding the xochicuahuit decorated with
flowers and bread or tortillas. Women dance first and are followed by the men as one
might expect if the diurnal cycle follows the tonalpohualli as Graulich has
reinterpreted it. The first month was Ochpaniztli devoted to the fertility of the
female goddesses connected to the earth (Toci), water (Atlantonan), and corn
(Chicomecoatl) in their feminine aspects. More conventional interpretations identify
the first month as Atlcahualo, which was dedicated to the Tlaloques who are male
although they have a female consort (Chalchiutlicue). Order is important in Nahua
ritual, and having women dance first with the xochicuahuit also fits the central place
of women in the domestic group. Nahuat betrothal and wedding rituals express a form of
hierogamy that also appears explicitly in oral narratives that circulate widely in the
northern Sierra de Puebla.

I highly recommend this book and urge its translation into English to promote its
use in classrooms on Mesoamerican culture in the United States. The book is beautifully
written, brilliantly conceived and highly original.

James M. Taggart
Franklin and Marshall College


1. Michel Graulich has written:

In Henry B. Nicholson’s reply to my review ( Nahua Newsletter, no. 33:14-17) of his
latest book Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs (Boulder:
University Press of Colorado, 2001), the author is kind enough to provide the reader
with some biographical data on the reviewer and appreciations of his work, which on
some points need to be corrected. First, I must confess that I am not aware of a 1982
edition of my book Mythes et rituals du Mexique ancien préhispanique: its first
edition is decidedly in 1987.

Concerning my methods, Nicholson writes somewhat mistakenly that I invoke the “new
comparative mythology” of Lévi-Strauss, Dumézil, and others. It is true
that I mention Dumézil’s remarkable historical-structural analyses of
Indo-European myths. His school has sometimes been called the “new comparative
mythology” (cf. Scott Littleton’s book on the subject) but I am afraid this school has
little or nothing to do with Lévi-Strauss. Concerning the latter, I sometimes
quote him like any analyst of American Indian myths would do, but I clearly expressed
in my first book that I would attempt a systematic study, not a paradigmatical – that
is, structuralist – one. This denial is probably the reason why several of my reviewers
attribute a structuralist approach to me. It is true that I wrote in my Myths that “I
shall pay close attention to the binary oppositions so dear to the structuralists.” But
I added immediately, “However, these oppositions impose themselves, particularly in a
religion in which from the very start there is a dual creative deity, simultaneously
masculine and feminine, who summarizes in itself the quintessence of oppositions.” I
might add that Seler was probably the first one to dedicate much attention to binary
oppositions, not only in his commentaries on the codices but also when he writes that
Quetzalcoatl must be understood in opposition to Tezcatlipoca. On the other hand, as a
historian, from my very first article I dedicated and still give much attention to the
very important changes and manipulations of myth and rituals by the men in power,
especially by the Mexica rulers and priests. And as everyone knows, structuralism is

In his biographical sketch, Nicholson explains that my “studies are characterized by
an ambitious attempt to determine the basic underlying, unifying structure of
Mesoamerican myth.” It is important to stress here that as a historian schooled in
Europe, I had been taught that an investigation was to be undertaken without any
preconceived idea. One had to take the relevant material, study it and see what came
out of it. So I started with a dissertation on Aztec sacrifice and while examining the
material I realized that without a comprehensive study of the whole of Aztec myths and
rituals together – a study which had never been undertaken – it would not be possible
to understand sacrifice thoroughly. So I changed the subject of my dissertation. At no
time did I attempt to “determine the basic underlying, unifying structure of
Mesoamerican myth” nor anything else, but it is true that such a structure resulted
from my research on myth and ritual. Neither have I “always expressed a strong
preference for a mythicist interpretation of the narratives concerned with TQ.” I have
no preference at all but I yield to the facts and had to admit that an historical
interpretation was untenable and that the mythological one explained much more, much
better, and accounted for much more data. In human sciences, the best proof of a
theory’s validity is its explaining more than alternative ones. I always wielded and
always will wield Okham’s razor. A Lord Quetzalcoatl may have ruled in Tollan and have
been glorious: but if he existed, the fact is that his deeds were cast in mythical
terms, and with very good reasons.

Tollan and the Toltec empire are depicted in the sources as a paradise that ended
because of Quetzalcoatl and Huemac’s transgressions. Nicholson is skeptical: “He [me,
Graulich] appears confident that, after initial scepticism, his controversial ‘paradise
lost’ hypothesis has won the day.” What a wonderful way of turning the tables! I have
not produced a “hypothesis,” the “paradise lost” is not mine, and I do not have to
prove its existence because it is all there in the myths and rituals (atamalcualiztli,
ochpaniztli) and in various different versions, for example, the paradise of Tollan,
the heavenly city from where the flint was expelled, Xquic plucking the fruit of the
tree of Xibalbá, becoming pregnant and expelled on earth, etc., etc. It is for
the unbelievers in these myths who suspect European influences, who do not know that
the paradise myths are among the most diffused in the whole world, to prove their

I once thought to write an (ironic) article to prove that there were no Mesoamerican
myths and rituals. Paradise lost, tribes oppressed in their marvelous homeland who
leave guided by their god and wander for years looking for their Promised Land where
they will rule the world. All Biblical, is it not? And the constant theme of
Mesoamerican myth, the young newcomer surpassing or overcoming his elders
(Huitzilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, Hunahpú, and Xbalamqué . . .)? This theme
is also Biblical, of course – remember Isaac and Ismaël, Jacob and Esa. And the
New Fire ceremony? Christian – look at the (really) strong similarities with the
lighting of the Paschal candle. And the tearing to pieces of Tlalteotl? A version of
the Babylonian myth of Tiamat, torn into pieces to create earth and heaven. Young
Quetzalcoatl avenging his father killed by his brother? Obviously Egyptian – look at
Horus avenging his father killed by his brother Seth! And so on. The similarities
everywhere are so strong that there even existed something called “comparative
religion!” The still-fashionable structuralist and legitimate quest for differences
must not obliterate obvious parallelisms.

But, to return to paradise, in ancient Peru this theme is absent. This is in spite
of the same Christian influences, like those found in Mexico, beginning in 1532.
Paradise lost is not a hypothesis, it comes from diverse reliable sources and it is up
to the remaining skeptics to prove their claims, not the contrary.

Nicholson doubts “that Siratatapeci’s tale constituted a genuine West Mexican
variant of TQ.” He is right of course. As I wrote, it was the Mexicans, that is, the
Mexicas, who told this history to the Tarascans. The Tarascan source only introduces
equivalent Tarascan names for the deities.

Concerning “the mysterious text in which the Tenochca dynasty ‘claimed direct
descent from him [TQ],'” there must be a misunderstanding due to my poor English. I
interpreted “descendant” as an “offspring of a certain ancestor,” a physical
descendant, not a successor, and no text quoted by Nicholson mentions a genealogical
offspring. On the other hand, the only Tenochca ruler who spoke of a throne that once
belonged to Quetzalcoatl was Tizoc and possibly this was the reason he was killed by
the Mexica elite.

It seems unlikely to Nicholson “that all historical knowledge of the [. . .] Toltecs
and their rulers, would have been lost.” But, as revealed by the 1976 and later
excavations at the Templo Mayor, neither do we know anything of the oldest inhabitants
of Tenochtitlan. And stronger yet, in 1506 Motecuhzoma II had the New Fire ceremony
moved from 1 Rabbit to 2 Reed, but in all the Mexica sources this ceremony is
attributed to 2 Reed from the very start. We know of the reform from a short passage in
the Codex Telleriano-Remensis, and by the fact that Motecuhzoma I had the date 1 Rabbit
inscribed next to his portrait at Chapultepec. In the same way, Motecuhzoma II had 2
Reed inscribed on the side of his portrait, where it can still be seen.

Lastly, Nicholson writes and repeats that my views are “controversial.” But, he also
states, “this is hardly the appropriate place for a serious analysis and discussion of
the broad array of Graulich’s frequently somewhat controversial views.” It is true that
this is not the place, but in fact, until now, nobody has found the appropriate place
to debate these views, not even the seven or eight reviewers of my Myths, who,
incidently, did not judge them to be controversial. The same holds true for the
question of the veintena festivals. The only secure way to ascertain whether they were
in phase with the seasons is to study the rituals and the re-enacted myths. But until
now nobody has proposed another reading of the 18-months cycle as a coherent whole. One
of my reviewers (J. F. Schwaller) concluded his paper writing that “many introductions
to Mexica history will need to be rewritten in the light of Graulich’s conclusions, to
either support him or debunk him.” There is no progress in science without debating and

Michel Graulich
Ecole Pratique de Hautes Etudes, Section de Sciences Religieuses, Sorbonne, Paris and Université Libre, Bruxelles

2. H. B. Nicholson replies to Michel Graulich:

Alan Sandstrom has again graciously provided me with a copy of Michel Graulich’s
reply to my reply to his review of my Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord
of the Toltecs (Nahua Newsletter, no. 33, February, 2002:14-21). While I do not wish to
enter into a series of replies and counter-replies concerning the various issues raised
by this book, a few comments are in order, which will conclude my part in this exchange
of views.

First of all, I basically stand by all that I said in my reply to his review Ð
with one exception. I was in error concerning the date of publication of his Mythes et
rituals du Mexique ancien préhispanique. It was indeed 1987, not 1982. I was
thrown off, for which I apologize, by “Impression decidée le 3 mai 1982” printed
on the reverse of the title page.

Let me begin by saying that I hardly intended to be “kind enough to provide the
reader with some biographical data on the reviewer and appreciations of his work.” As I
earlier stated: “This is hardly the appropriate place for a serious analysis and
discussion of the broad array of Graulich’s frequently controversial views.” I only, as
a preamble to my responses to his specific criticisms, very briefly summarized my
impressions of his overall approach to the interpretation of Mesoamerican mythology and
traditional history, particularly stressing his “determinedly ‘mythicist’ approach to
Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and the Toltecs.” No implication was intended that Graulich
undertook his researches to support any particular preconceived notion. I can accept
his affirmation that, “as a historian schooled in Europe” (I believe we are similarly
schooled on this side of the Atlantic), his conclusions concerning the basic, unifying
structure of Mesoamerican myth were reached only as the end result of his
investigations – which had actually started “with a dissertation on Aztec sacrifice.”
However he arrived at his views, it was pertinent to cite them since they obviously go
a long way toward explaining his critical response to the book, particularly my
consideration of the possibility of a certain degree of historicity in some of the
narratives concerning Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.

Graulich, claiming to be always wielding Occam’s razor, seems to be convinced that
his explanation of what he regards as the Quetzalcoatl myth is the correct one. I, as I
indicated in my earlier reply, consider this purely mythic interpretation of the tale
of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl of Tollan to constitute only an hypothesis, plausible in some
of its aspects, more speculative in others. In any case, both our views must always be
subject to further testing and revision if necessitated by the appearance of relevant
new ethnohistorical and/or archaeological evidence They both rely on essentially the
same primary source material, a corpus that is highly incomplete, disparate, and often
contradictory. Any attempt to interpret or explain either as pure myth or as possibly
containing elements of somewhat mythicized history, the adventures of Topiltzin
Quetzalcoatl as recounted in these sources must be regarded as highly tentative at

I would like to conclude these brief remarks with a suggestion intended to encourage
a greater degree of scholarly collegiality and cooperation. I very much agree with
Graulich’s view that the field of Americanist studies would benefit from more open
debate and discussion concerning an array of challenging problems in our understanding
of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican civilization, especially in the areas of religion, ritual,
myth, native history, and calendrics. Consequently, I would urge my Belgian colleague
to consider initiating action to raise support for an international conference(s) to
discuss and debate issues such as those dealt with so cursorily in our exchanges,
inviting as participants some of the younger Mesoamericanists most interested in and
knowledgeable concerning these topics. Although I would not be able to attend in
person, if it would help I would be glad to lend my support to any effort along this
line – and, most certainly, invoke upon it the blessing of Quetzalcoatl!

H. B. Nicholson
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
University of California, Los Angeles

3. María Teresa Rodríguez (CIESAS-Golfo, Xalapa, Veracruz) invites critical commentary on her work, “Dinámica de un complejo ritual: El ciclo ceremonial de los nahuas de la sierra de Zongolica, Veracruz”:

La celebración del ciclo anual festivo en los pueblos indígenas de
tradición mesoamericana puede ser considerada una de sus expresiones
socioculturales básicas, especialmente por sus implicaciones en el campo de las
reciprocidades sociales y simbólicas. En muchos de estos pueblos, el paisaje
ceremonial incluye una sucesión de festividades que adquieren su más
amplia significación – más que por sí mismas – por su lugar en el
seno del conjunto.

Los datos relativos a los calendarios festivos y las instituciones asociadas a
ellos, han sido observados como aspectos centrales en el estudio de la
organización social de los pueblos indígenas de México. El ciclo
ritual y los tipos de organización que lo sustentan, han sido vehículos
para recrear o tratar de comprender formas de pensamiento y órdenes sociales. En
este panorama, ha llamado especialmente la atención el enorme gasto desplegado
en el mantenimiento de las fiestas y la elaborada jerarquía o sistemas de cargos
que organiza socialmente su celebración.

Tomados como objeto de estudio, estos aspectos han dado lugar a distintas
interpretaciones, en torno a sus funciones y sus orígenes. Se han constituido en
una instancia recurrente para estudiar como se trasmite – hacia distintas direcciones –
un mismo mensaje, puesto que las reglas, secuencias y convenciones se encuentran
claramente explícitas. Desde mi punto de vista, su importancia también
radica en su capacidad para reproducirse en condiciones de asimetría y para
resistir a transformaciones más radicales.

Entre los nahuas de la sierra de Zongolica, en el centro de Veracruz, la
celebración del ciclo anual festivo, a través de los sistemas de cargos o
mayordomías, ha funcionado como un modelo de organización de la
experiencia religiosa y al mismo tiempo, como un espacio de recreación. Es
claro, no obstante, que los participantes, inmiscuidos en un cuerpo social con sus
relaciones y conflictos de poder y con su historia particular, han asignado
significados acordes con sus propias imágenes y propósitos.

El ciclo ritual de los nahuas tiene en la marcación del tiempo uno de sus
principales propósitos. La repetición del calendario que establece los
días festivos, con base en el santoral católico, permite delimitar a
través de los rituales, el tiempo mismo. Al ordenar el tiempo, estas
celebraciones cumplen también con la función de trascender en el orden
social. Por ello, cada festividad forma parte de un mismo sistema ritual, visto como un
todo. Cada fiesta es un fragmento de este sistema que inicia y termina en
repetición. La realización del ciclo festivo puede ser entendida como una
dimensión expresiva de las relaciones sociales, y puede mostrarnos, por lo
tanto, la definición y adaptación de un grupo social a contextos y
procesos específicos. Esta realización se externaliza a nivel discursivo
y tiene una dimensión fundamentalmente pragmática, en distintos planos de
interacción que recuerdan la interpretación de Marcel Mauss (1971) sobre
el hecho social total.

En las localidades nahuas de la sierra de Zongolica, la filiación local
está ligada al principio de participación en los asuntos políticos
y religiosos, cuyas terminales se asientan, estrechamente relacionadas, en la aldea o
cabecera del municipio. De modo que las oficinas del Ayuntamiento y el templo
principal, son el referente común para el conjunto de los asentamientos
residenciales ubicados dentro de los límites de cada municipio. Estos se
involucran en una red social, a través de nexos normativos y marcos
simbólicos de referencia, cristalizados en buena medida a través de las
celebraciones asociadas al ciclo ritual.

El ciclo ritual está encaminado tanto a enfatizar las diferencias entre las
localidades y agrupaciones residenciales, como a reafirmar la unidad. Este conjunto de
celebraciones ha representado una forma eficaz de organizar la
institucionalización de formas de intercambio interesectorial, desarrolladas a
nivel de organización comunal. La pluralidad de asentamientos se vincula a la
vida del municipio participando en el sistema ceremonial y administrativo global. La
manifestación más evidente de esta vinculación se expresa en las
“ceremonias de renovación anual del centro ceremonial” (Wasserstrom 1989). En
Atlahuilco, municipio de la parte alta de la sierra, estas ceremonias se celebran en
cuatro momentos específicos a lo largo del año: durante la Semana Santa,
en la fiesta de Corpus Christi, en las fiestas patronales y en la ceremonia de
Año Nuevo.

Además de las fiestas principales se efectúan aquellas dirigidas a las
imágenes de los santos que se encuentran en el templo principal y en las
capillas ubicadas en las rancherías. El protocolo establecido para la
celebración de cada una de ellas, requiere de diecisiete días al
año, siete al inicio del ciclo y diez al final del mismo; este procedimiento
hace necesaria la realización simultánea de distintas fases del
ceremonial dedicado a cada una de las imágenes: mientras que en un hogar se
celebra la terminación del ciclo anual de la gestión como mayordomo
encargado de una imagen determinada, en otro se celebra e recibimiento de la misma
imagen, es decir, el inicio de su ciclo. Cada imagen, por lo tanto, es festejada en dos
hogares anualmente, mediante un elaborado ceremonial en el que intervienen un
número considerable de invitados, además del grupo doméstico y la
parentela del mayordomo responsable. De este modo se consigue que una cantidad
considerable de personas participen directamente en el mantenimiento de cada ciclo

La organización ceremonial en San Martín Atlahuilco: Un ciclo general
y 42 ciclos individuales

Unos meses antes de la ceremonia del recibimiento de cada imagen, es decir antes de
iniciar un ciclo, el mayordomo respectivo, acompañado por su cónyuge y
por la pareja de especialistas rituales que lo asesorará en todo momento, acude
a invitar ceremonialmente a los individuos y sus cónyuges que fungirán
como colaboradores (los teachkame ). Estos aportarán trabajo y bienes o dinero
en efectivo para la fiesta de “entrega” de la imagen. Algunos de ellos se echan a
cuestas el compromiso de pagar la música de banda, la pólvora y los
grupos de danzantes para la gran fiesta de culminación del ciclo, la cual
incluye banquetes, bailes, procesiones y celebraciones litúrgicas.

Todos estos colaboradores del mayordomo realizarán sus aportaciones al final
del ciclo, cuando se “entregue” la imagen al mayordomo entrante y se realice la
culminación de su actuación anual. Mientras que en la fase de
“recibimiento,” que incluye también banquetes y otras ceremonias, el mayordomo y
su grupo doméstico deben disponer de sus propios recursos. Los mayordomos han
fijado una cuota específica como cooperación por cada grupo
doméstico invitado. Con el dinero reunido se podrá adquirir el animal que
será sacrificado para el banquete de entrega de la imagen. Mientras más
colaboradores o teachkame participen en la fiesta, habrá más manos que
trabajen en los preparativos y más posibilidades de realzar la secuencia
ceremonial respectiva al final de la gestión anual.

Los asistentes a este gran banquete serán únicamente estos
colaboradores y la comitiva de dos o tres imágenes invitadas para
acompañar a la imagen festejada en esta ceremonia de culminación del
ciclo. El procedimiento mediante el cual un mayordomo, al asumir su compromiso se
dirige a quienes desea que cooperen económicamente para la comida de entrega del
cargo, permite que éstos se preparen con anticipación para disponer del
dinero o los recursos que aportarán un año después. Antes de ese
momento, tanto en el ceremonial de recibimiento como en los primeros días de la
fase de entrega, su cooperación consiste básicamente en una botella de
aguardiente en cada ocasión, lo cual resulta bastante accesible para la

Cada uno de los colaboradores es consciente de que dicho gasto es una
inversión, puesto que será devuelto por el mayordomo actual cuando ellos
a su vez se responsabilicen para la celebración de alguna festividad. Es decir,
el mayordomo adquiere una deuda con sus colaboradores, comprometiéndose
tácitamente a devolver lo recibido en el momento oportuno. Por ello, al
invitarlos, se considera en primera instancia a quienes se sabe que tienen un
compromiso próximo -de un año en adelante- o a quienes deben una banda de
música, por ejemplo, por haberla recibido tiempo atrás por parte del
grupo doméstico que ahora la solicita.

Desde mi punto de vista, y de acuerdo con Catherine Good (1988), quien ha estudiado
este tipo de organización entre los nahuas de Guerrero, lo relevante de estos
mecanismos sociales que se ponen en funcionamiento para organizar y dar forma a la vida
ritual, es la magnitud de la movilización social que promueven y sostienen. Este
sistema de relaciones de intercambio y reciprocidad es refrendado continuamente. Cada
grupo familiar tiene presente sus deudas por concepto de préstamos en especie
para la realización de un compromiso de este tipo, así como de lo que
espera recibir en algún momento a cambio de sus aportaciones para la
realización de las fiestas a cargo de otros grupos domésticos.

Esta clase de relaciones de intercambio recíproco se extiende a otros
ámbitos de la vida social. Un padre de familia puede solicitar a otro que le
ayude comprando la cerveza que se requiere para la boda de una hija,
comprometiéndose a devolverla – en especie – cuando éste lo requiera
aunque sea varios años a futuro. De este modo, cada grupo familiar planea sus
compromisos rituales, considerando lo que ha invertido en cooperaciones. Es éste
un mecanismo que posibilita las maneras de ahorrar para las fiestas con suficiente
previsión, en un contexto de bienes escasos. De esta forma, la mayor parte de
los habitantes del municipio se ven involucrados en una urdimbre compleja, y a largo
plazo, de intercambios y redes de reciprocidad. El desarrollo del ciclo ceremonial
implica pues un circuito múltiple en el cual se intercambian y circulan: (a) las
imágenes de los santos, (b) objetos de consumo ritual (flores, velas, alcohol,
cerveza, comida, música, danzas y pólvora) y © dinero en

Cada una de las fiestas del calendario, incluye mecanismos de confirmación de
la unidad de todos los participantes en este circuito múltiple, de tal manera
que los esfuerzos individuales no se queden en las esferas domésticas y puedan
manifestarse en un sólo engranaje que los incluya a todos. La celebración
de la misa, al final de cada ciclo individual, es la manifestación más
explícita de que los mayordomos responsables de la fiesta a cada una de las
imágenes del calendario están proporcionando un servicio al pueblo
entero, puesto que al otorgar sus dones a las divinidades, garantizan que éstas
a su vez los retribuyan mediante el don de la protección simbólica hacia
toda la colectividad.

Sin embargo, la realización de un convite en el atrio que ofrece el mayordomo
saliente después de la celebración litrgica, está dirigida a
sintetizar el engranaje del sistema de cargos que sostiene el ciclo ritual. La comida
en el atrio, expresa sintéticamente las distintas escalas que operan en este
sistema. Los invitados a este convite se seleccionan en función del calendario.
Esta fase del ceremonial puede ser considerada un modelo mecánico del
funcionamiento del sistema, siguiendo la terminologa de Claude Levi-Strauss (1983). En
seguida trato de ilustrar esta idea.

Si se trata del final de la celebración de cualquiera de las fiestas menores
del ciclo ritual, el mayordomo saliente debe invitar al resto de los 41 responsables de
las fiestas del calendario, pero sin incluir a sus respectivas comitivas de
colaboradores. El efecto visual es el de un grupo de medio centenar de personas
departiendo en el atrio después de la misa y proporciona una perspectiva
vertical del ciclo ritual. Durante las cuatro fiestas principales, los 42 responsables
de cada una de las imágenes, ofrecen comida y bebida a sus colaboradores (an
cuando no se celebre el da del onomástico de su imagen respectiva), es decir a
todos aquellos que en el año participan directamente en el mantenimiento del
ciclo festivo.

Por lo tanto, al concluir las cuatro festividades mayores del calendario, en el
atrio de la iglesia se asientan 42 crculos de comensales que en conjunto son quienes
están sosteniendo el guión simbólico que se reproduce ciclo tras
ciclo, y cuya celebración garantiza la protección de las divinidades
hacia todo el cuerpo social. Esta versión de la comida en el atrio proporciona
la perspectiva horizontal del calendario. Es por ello que éstas pueden ser
consideradas como las cuatro “fiestas de renovación del centro ceremonial” y de
cristalización del funcionamiento del sistema global. Estas “fiestas de
renovación” se realizan, como ya se mencionó, en las siguientes

1. El Domingo de Pascua, que se celebra en el mes de marzo o abril y coincide con el
inicio del ciclo agrcola.

2. El da de Corpus Christi, cuya fecha es también movible, casi siempre en el
mes de junio y corresponde al inicio de la época de lluvias.

3. La fiesta del santo patrón, San Martn, los
das 10 y 11 de noviembre, en el inicio de la cosecha.

4. La fiesta del santo Cristo del Sacristán Mayor, el primero de enero, en la
cual se transfieren los cargos y se inicia un nuevo ciclo festivo.

Por otra parte, podemos distinguir dos bloques de actividad ceremonial intensa: (a)
del inicio de Cuaresma a Corpus Christi, periodo que coincide con el inicio de la
siembra a las primeras lluvias, y (b) de noviembre, a partir de las fiestas de Todos
Santos, hasta el fin de año o principios del nuevo año, cuando se ha
realizado ya la cosecha de maz. Las festividades decrecen en dos periodos muy marcados:
de julio a octubre, época anterior a la cosecha, cuando se cuenta con escasos
recursos económicos, y durante los meses de enero y febrero, antes del inicio
del ciclo agrcola. No obstante, ello no implica la interrupción total de la
actividad ceremonial, puesto que se celebran en estas temporadas algunas fiestas

Este sistema de celebraciones sostenidas en el circuito mltiple permite que todos
los participantes tengan oportunidad de asistir a un nmero considerable de banquetes a
lo largo del año. Permite una distribución de los recursos y una
disposición de comida y bebida a la que resultara difcil acceder en el seno de
cada grupo doméstico.

Una manifestación más de este engranaje se presenta a una escala
estadstica: consiste en la costumbre de invitar a dos o más imágenes para
que acompañen a la imagen festejada durante las ceremonias realizadas en las
esferas domésticas. Este hecho implica que el mayordomo responsable de cada
imagen invitada debe asistir a los banquetes, acompañado de una pequeña
comitiva. Terminados los das de celebración de la imagen en cuestión, se
lleva de nuevo la imagen a su hogar, y el responsable de ella convida a su vez a otros
santos y sus comitivas a que lo acompañen en los momentos cruciales de su ciclo
festivo individual. Es esta otra forma de propiciar y fomentar relaciones
interpersonales entre habitantes de todo el espacio municipal.

De modo que es frecuente observar que de un punto a otro del municipio y en
cualquier época del año, se trasladan imágenes de santos
antecedidos por el sonido de campanillas anunciando su paso. Los mayordomos de mayor
solvencia económica, tienen por supuesto un mayor nmero de santos invitados en
su altar doméstico, lo cual significa que tendrán más comensales
en su mesa.

Para concluir este punto, me gustara destacar la imagen de los desempeños
individuales engranados en un sólo sistema general: un ciclo anual y 42 ciclos
individuales con su propia rotación. Esta idea permitira esbozar
gráficamente la analoga de un planeta y sus satélites, en la cual todos
los elementos mantienen su propio movimiento pero en una misma dirección.

As, tenemos que cada mayordomo inicia y finaliza su ciclo individual en el seno de
su hogar y con un nmero restringido de participantes. Los procedimientos rituales que
desempeña culminan con su presencia en la iglesia, y posteriormente en el atrio,
donde tiene lugar la manifestación explcita de su participación en el
seno de un ciclo general: el convite en el atrio para sus 41 copartcipes responsables
del funcionamiento anual del sistema. Pero la expresión del nivel más
inclusivo se efecta en las “fiestas de renovación del centro ceremonial,” donde
todos los mayordomos convidan simultáneamente a sus colaboradores en un espacio
pblico y central: el atrio de la iglesia principal.

Comentarios finales

El desarrollo de la secuencia del ritual de la mayordoma o culto a cada santo del
calendario, propicia de manera eficiente, que los habitantes de las distintas
localidades del municipio se interrelacionen continuamente. A través de
encadenamientos sucesivos, se fomentan las relaciones entre habitantes de diferentes
puntos del territorio municipial. Estos mecanismos tienen incidencia también, en
la implementación de estrategias muy claras en torno a las alianzas
matrimoniales. As mismo, la rotación de los cargos religiosos proporciona
espacios para conciliar posibles conflictos y fricciones entre facciones o agrupaciones
residenciales. Por otra parte, se ejerce cierto control sobre el acceso y los medios y
fuerzas necesarias basadas en las relaciones recprocas, indispensables para la
reproducción en un ambiente hostil donde muchas familias carecen de dinero y
otros recursos materiales.

Mi intención en estas páginas ha sido mostrar la vigencia y fuerza
social de este tipo de estrategia basada en la organización ceremonial en torno
al culto a las imágenes de los santos. Un análisis más detallado
acerca de la vigencia y potencialidad real de estos mecanismos sociales, mostrara que
también en las facciones, – es decir, en las rancheras y pequeñas
localidades – se expresan diferencias e intereses. Esta forma de organización ha
reforzado la supremaca de una elite de mayordomos de la cabecera municipal para
mantener sus posiciones dominantes. Sin embargo, durante los ltimos años se
gesta una tendencia a autoorganizarse en el seno de las facciones para desligarse del
excesivo control de los habitantes de la cabecera, estableciendo sus propias capillas y
el culto a sus propias imágenes.

En los ltimo años, se protagoniza también el cambio religioso, la
conversión hacia denominaciones no católicas. El cambio religioso ha
prosperado, o por lo menos se ha mantenido estable, en los casos en que un sector
importante de la localidad se ha convertido, proporcionando nuevas alternativas de
organización y solidaridad. La trascendencia de la conversión constituye
una creciente desarticulación de los mecanismos ya señalados, pero en la
cual intervienen no solamente los conversos, sino también miembros de las nuevas
generaciones que expresan cierta resistencia hacia los requerimientos de
inversión económica que impone el sistema de cargos. Se puede decir que
en las ltimas dos décadas, el sistema, basado en diferencias de edad reguladas
por la participación en el sistema de cargos religiosos se dirige hacia otra
dirección, en la cual dichas categoras de diferenciación social resultan
cuestionadas. Una nueva estratificación socioeconómica estimula
también la conformación de novedosas formas de identificación
grupal, incluyendo aquellas relacionadas con la incorporación a otras
denominaciones religiosas o las asociaciones de carácter poltico.

Considero estos fenómenos como inherentes al proceso en el cual los pueblos
indgenas de hoy en da adecuan parámetros y valores acordes con la realidad
contemporánea. Desde mi punto de vista, sintetizan la manifestación de
dos necesidades alienadas: la oposición entre tradición y modernidad, en
la cual los miembros del grupo deben establecer, en determinadas coyunturas y
situaciones, qué es más importante: la inserción en la modernidad
y los beneficios que de ello pueden obtener, o la preservación de la
tradición y la costumbre. Creo que en cada caso se combinan de manera muy
especfica los vnculos, articulaciones o intermediaciones que se gestan en
relación a la sociedad dominante. Se trata de procesos de “renovación
selectiva de la tradición” (Sierra 1995) que inciden en las relaciones de poder
y en el orden social que estructura una realidad determinada.

He tratado de mostrar una estrategia que ha implementado durante décadas, un
pueblo indgena nahua para el sostenimiento una intensa vida ritual. Como hemos visto,
esta estructura ceremonial ha estado orientada a reforzar y reafirmar las relaciones de
intercambio de trabajo, especie y dinero, sujeta a una concepción de
reciprocidad entre los individuos, y entre éstos y las fuerzas vitales que
emanan de las imágenes de los santos.


Good, Catherine. 1988. Haciendo la lucha: Arte y comercio nahuas de Guerrero.
México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultural Económica.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1983. Antropologa estructural. 3a ed. Mexico, D.F.: Ed. Siglo

Mauss, Marcel. 1971. Sociologa y antropologa. México, D.F.: Ed. Tecnos.

Sierra, Mara Teresa. 1995. “Articulaciones entre ley y costumbre: Estrategias
jurdicas de los nahuas.” In Pueblos indgenas ante el derecho. Victoria Chenaut y Mara
Teresa Sierra , coords., pp. 101-123. México, D.F.: Centro Francés de
Estudios Mexicanos y Centroamericanos, CIESAS.

Robert. 1989. Clase y sociedad en el centro de Chiapas. México, D.F.: Fondo de
Cultural Económica.

Illustrations in this issue

The illustrations in this issue of the Nahua Newsletter
were taken from a chapter by Patricia A. Anawalt entitled “Textile Research from the
Mesoamerican Perspective,” in Beyond Cloth and Cordage: Archaeological Textile Research
in the Americas. Penelope Ballard Drooker and Laurie D. Webster, eds., pp. 205-228.
Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000. ISBN 0-87480 662-3.

Directory Update

Editor’s note: For privacy reasons, Directory mailing lists are only provided on the print version. If you have any questions, please contact the editor.

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