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Were the Aztecs Murdering "Animals"?

A response to Were the Aztecs Murdering "Animals"? by Erik Mattila. In particular, Erik responds to comments by "Just an Old Man":

>> Right. That was the point of the calculations I posted back then.. to show how absurd the "expertise" was.. There were (I believe) rituals of "incorporation of the spirit of" admirable beings, human or other, such as the fingertip of ashes of cremated deceased put to the tongue in Wyandot 'Feasts of the dead' (much like the bread which symolizes the 'body of jesus' that catholics eat at their mass) but no Nation I know of ever ate humans for hunger or appetite.. Such talk is bullsh*t..

jaom/énéthekwé <<

Nonsense, JAOM, the Donner Party is well documented. (I'm joking). I wouldn't go so far as saying cannibalism didn't exist. In Mark Twain's "Roughing It" he has some oral accounts -- one Hawaiian who claimed to have eaten Captain Cook's big toe, another Islander connoisseur who claimed "A White Man, properly cooked, tastes like a ripe banana," and some complaints about English sailors being too salty.

There was an anthro who took it to task, claiming cannibalism only existed symbolically, in a book a few years back. He had a solid argument, although it may only explain a part of the 'record' although it may be a large part. I can't remember his name off-hand, but he was on TV not to long ago arguing against the Anasazi Cannibalism theory.

I do think it is important to consider the symbolic aspects, however. In Tenochtitlan, for example, Sahagun himself described the original Tamale -- "They have this wonderful food here, called "Tamal." Now the original Tamale was holiday food, like it still is in Mexican culture. But the originals (I mean those of Tenochtitlan) were shaped like people -- very elaborate corn-husk work- and there was a symbolic cannibalism involved insofar as the ceremonial use of this food was concerned. I suppose it's similar to the Christian Eucharist -- the symbolic cannibalism of Christ, washed down with His blood. I think that a devout Christian would defend the 'realism' of the act, since only if it is believed will the ritual have a religious significance.

So an early ethnographic Friar would have asked his Aztec informant -- "Did your people practice cannibalism?" and the informant would have said "Yes" referring to the tamales — especially the symbolic importance of the tamale — and may have claimed "I once ate 50 people in a weekend!" (I'm thinking of "Cool Hand Luke" — " I can eat 50 eggs." ) It's like a Baptist would state flatly that he experienced death and rebirth in the river -- it would be ridiculous for him to argue that it wasn't real.

I think this is how the numbers get so inflated. The Spaniards had a very good motive for doing so, considering the findings of the Council of the Indies.

BTW, all this talk about Aztec brutality is interesting, but the earlier Toltecs were the real bad-asses, as far as I have learned. They made the Aztecs look like peaceniks. They even used psychological warfare -- namely, the warriors would got to battle naked, exposing themselves openly. The rest of Mexico at the time was modest and conservative, and the Toltec nudity had a real psychological advantage.

A really good book that challenges the mainstream interpretation of the Aztecs is "On the social organization and mode of government of the ancient Mexicans" by Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier. If my memory serves right, it was written around 1890, when interpretation of Aztec was big news in the halls of the Smithsonian. He was really out in left field — but his method was superb. He took all the 'source material' and pointed out the internal contradictions and lies -- Sahagun, Torquemada, Duran, Bernal Diaz and so on. His argument was that Tenochtitlan was the seat of an enlightened confederacy, rather than the seat of a brutal empire. He makes a very good argument. But the general opinion seems to be that since Cortes had managed to convince thousands of Indians, 'oppressed' by the Aztecs, to invade Tenochtitlan, that the Aztecs must have been oppressive. It's a weak argument, in my opinion. I mean it is just as easy to imagine that Cortes' Indian allies were -- say -- overly ambitious-maybe more interested in collecting taxes than paying them.

The really amazing thing that I once read about was that Mexican culture was in a dramatic state of transition when Cortes intervened. The merchant class (Pochteca) was gaining important political power, and if history hadn't been so cruel there were indications that the Mexican states would have turned into Merchant states -- remarkable when one considers that that was exactly what was happening in Europe at the same time. Sort of a parallel social evolution sort of thing. It's interesting to speculate what would have happened without the Spanish intervention. During the 15th and 16th Centuries Tenochtitlan could have emerged as the head of a great early industrial state, and we would be driving XipeTotecmobiles and visiting newsgroups on Tlalchialoni CPUs. (probably communicating in Nahuatl to boot.)

Erik Mattila

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