Kamis, 26 Juni 2008

The Mythical Foundation of Tenochtitlan

The Aztec began as a tribe of people known as the Mexica or Mexitin, their name derived from their lord, Mexi. They left Chicomoztoc (the Seven Caves) located in the mythical land of Aztlan in 193 C.E. in search of their promised land. The migration was long and hard, lasting hundreds of years, and many settlements were founded en route. They were Huitzilopochtli, who would communicate to his people and advise them along their course via the priests, who were mediators between the earthly and the celestial realms.
When the Aztec finally reached the Valley of Mexico in the 13th century, they knew that they were close to their promised land, but Huitzilopochtli warned them of hardships to be encountered in this already-settled land. He urged them to prepare themselves accordingly. This land was none other than the area once controlled by the great city of Teotihuacan and later by Tula, which had been settled for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the Aztec to that region. There were still many settlements in the area that were remnants of those grand civilizations, and so following the advice of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec fortified themselves and prepared for battle in Chapultepec. However, the Aztec and their patron god had other adversaries to contend with, namely Huitzilopochtli’s nephew Copil, who was out to avenge his mother, Huitzilopochtli’s sister Malinalxochitl. Huitzilopochtli had ordered that Malinalxochitl, who was once part of the caravan in search for the promised land, be left behind, for she had developed wicked and evil practices of witchcraft and could contaminate the rest of the caravan. Accordingly, Malinalxochitl and her flock were abandoned, left alone to fend for themselves.
Copil could not bear his mother’s betrayal by his uncle, so he set out to search for Huitzilopochtli. He soon learned of Huitzilopochtli’s arrival at Chapultepec in the Valley of Mexico. Once in the valley, Copil gained support from the surrounding towns by telling them of the atrocious and tyrannical ways of the Aztec, thus joining forces and gaining the military support necessary to overcome the Aztec. Certain of the Aztec defeat, Copil went to the hill called Tepetzinco, or Place of the Small Hill, to view the massacre from a good vantage point. However, Huitzilopochtli could not be outwitted, as he was well aware of his nephew’s plans. He therefore instructed his people to go to Tepetzinco, where hot springs ran at the base of the hill. Huitzilopochtli demanded that they slay Copil, pull out his heart, and bring it to him.
The priest, Cuauhtlequetzqui, carrying an image of Huitzilopochtli, led the delegation to Tepetzinco and proceeded to do as Huitzilopochtli instructed. Once the heart of Copil was presented to Huitzilopochtli, he instructed the priest to throw the heart into the center of the lake. The place where Copil’s heart landed was called Tlacocomolco. Despite this defeat, the peoples from the region still wanted the Aztec to be ousted from their territory and so began to wage war against them. The enemies, namely the Chalca, continued to surround Chapultepec Hill and attacked the Aztec. They succeeded in their attack and even managed to capture the Aztec leader, Huitzilihuitl. The survivors, who included women, children, and the elderly, sought asylum in a deserted town named Atlacuihuayan (Tacubaya). The Chalca did not find it necessary to follow the survivors, as they were few and disenfranchised.
After replenishing themselves, the defeated Aztecs rebuilt their forces, and upon Huitzilopochtli’s request for them to be strong and proud, they went to their enemies at Colhuacan to ask for a place in which their wives and children could stay and live in peace. After much deliberation with his council, the king of Colhuacan granted the Aztec a site by the name of Tizapan, a most undesirable site, where snakes, reptiles, and other beasts resided. However, the Aztec took the offer and made that land theirs, taming the harsh environment and making do with what was given to them.
Later, the king of Colhuacan had his messengers report on the status of Tizapan. He was amazed to learn that the Aztec had cultivated the land, built a temple to Huitzilopochtli, and made the snakes and local reptiles a part of their diet. Impressed with the news he received from his messengers, the king granted the requests made by the Aztec that they be allowed to trade in Colhuacan and that they be able to intermarry with the people of Colhuacan. This was not the promised land of the Aztec, however, and Huitzilopochtli requested, via the priests, that they leave this land in search for the true Aztec capital, adding that their departure must be a violent departure, not a peaceful one. Huitzilopochtli ordered his people to ask the king of Colhuacan, named Achitometl, for his daughter, so that she might serve Huitzilopochtli and become a goddess, to be called the Woman of Discord. The Aztec did as they were told by their god.
King Achitometl agreed to this honor, and after the pageantry that followed this transaction between the tribes, the young woman was taken to Tizapan. Once in Tizapan, she was proclaimed Tonantzin (Our Mother) by the Aztec and then sacrificed in the name of Huitzilopochtli. As was customary and part of Aztec ritual practices, after the young woman was sacrificed, her skin was flayed. Her flayed skin was worn by a “principal youth” who sat next to the Aztec deity. From that time on, she was both Huitzilopochtli’s mother and bride and was worshipped by the Aztec.
King Achitometl was summoned and, not knowing that his daughter had been killed, accepted the invitation and attended the ceremony with other dignitaries of his town, bringing precious gifts in honor of his daughter, the new Aztec goddess, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli. When King Achitometl entered the dark temple, he commenced his offerings and other ceremonial rights. As he drew closer to the figures, with a torch light in his hand, he was able to discern what was before him, the youth wearing the flayed skin of his daughter and sitting next to their deity. Disgusted and filled with fright, the king left the temple and called on his people to bring an end to the Aztec.
The Aztec fought vigorously, and although they were pushed into the water by the opposition, they managed to flee to Iztapalapa. The Aztec were in a state of desolation. Huitzilopochtli tried to comfort his people who had suffered so much in search of their promised land. They were not far from it, so the Aztec continued moving from town to town, seeking refuge where they could.
One day as they roamed the waters, they saw signs that had been prophesied by the Aztec priests. One was a beautiful, white bald cypress (ahuehuetl), and from the base of the tree a spring flowed. This spring was surrounded by all white willows. All around the water were white reeds and rushes, and white frogs emerged, as well as white snakes and fish. The priests recognized all these signs as predicted by their god and rejoiced for they had found their promised land.
Soon after, Huitzilopochtli came to the priest named Cuauhtlequetzqui and told him Copil’s heart, which was thrown into the lake as prescribed by him, had landed on a stone, and from that stone a nopal (prickly pear cactus) sprang. The nopal was so grand and magnificent that an eagle perched there daily, feeding from its plentiful fruits and enjoying the sun. It would be surrounded by beautiful and colorful feathers from the birds that the eagle fed on.
The priest relayed this message to the people, who responded with joy and enthusiasm. Once more they went to the spring where they had seen the wonderful revelations of their god but were surprised to find two streams instead of one, and instead of white, one stream was red and the other was blue. Seeing all this as good omens, the Aztec continued their search for the eagle perched on a nopal, which they soon beheld. The people bowed their heads to this sight in all humbleness, and the eagle did the same in turn. They had finally reached their promised land, and here they built Tenochtitlan.
On the Mexican flag today is an eagle proudly standing on a nopal, which grows from a stone. This symbolism speaks to the Aztec myth and to the Aztec’s perseverance and spiritual belief system. Indeed, Tenochtitlan went on to be the capital of the Aztec Empire.
In pre-Hispanic imagery of this myth, the fruit that grows from the cactus is represented as human hearts, and in the eagle’s beak is an atl tlachinolli, a symbol of fire and water that could have been mistaken for a snake by the colonists, for this is what appears in the eagle’s beak on the modern-day flag. Today, Aztecs Art is sometimes used for Interior Design all around the world.

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