In Codex Florentino, Sahagún wrote that Pedro de Alvarado had asked about Huitzilopochtlis feast, how the feast for the god was held.
He wants to admire it, he wants to see in what way, and how, it goes. Then Moctezuma give orders. Those of his vassals who still went to him, brought his order. And after the order had come out, from where Moctezuma is kept trapped in the house, they grind the seeds of amaranth and prickly poppies, the women do it, who have fasted a year there in the temple yard.
It might sound as if the ethnographic interested Sahagún would describe a ceremony. But the chapters Aztec column – written by Sahagúns Indian staff, readable only to a few Spaniards, but centuries later translated by Hvidtfeldt into Danish – is much longer than the Spanish column, and continues horrendously:
The Spaniards came out, heavily equipped, always in war equipment; they had equipped themselves for war, they had equipped themselves as men; they go in between the women who grind flour, mix themselves between them, surround them, look closely at them, look them into the face, investigating. And then, when they had seen them, they entered the palace – it is said, as you know, to murder in the moment many people, many of our men, have gathered.
The Spaniards lined up for anything but feast!
The Aztecs continued their preparations without delay:
When the time of the feast Toxcatl had come, near sunset, they start to shape the body of Huitzilopochtli, they formed it like a human, they gave it the appearance of a human, they made it appear as a human being. And this body they made of dough, of a dough made of the grinded prickly poppies seeds; on a layer of twigs they formed it, on twigs of hummingbird-shrub and ear-shrub.
And after he had been shaped, they stick down on his head and provide him with painted cross stripes on his face and with his snake ear-plugs of glued turquoise. And from his snake ear-plugs, the thorn disc, of gold, carved into tabs, cut into small strips. And his nosejewel with the shape of an arrow, of gold, worked, hammered and decorated with stones, thinly hammered, trimmed with stones; also from that hung what they call the thorn disc. Cross stripes in the face; these cross-stripes on the face consist of blue color and yellow color; and on his head they put his hummingbird mask. Then they let follow what is called Anecuyotl of feathers, beautifully processed, rolled, often pointed downwards, slightly narrower downwards. Then they on his back put a lump of yellow parrot feathers; thence they hang the curl of boys hair. And they dress him in his nettle robe, black colored, in five places decorated with feathers, adorned with fine eagle feathers; and his robe, he is dressed in from below, it is provided with images of skulls and bones. And at the top they tie him with his doublet, which is also painted with bits and pieces of human bodies: there are painted bare skulls, ears, hearts, intestines, liver, lungs, hands, feet. And his loincloth; the loincloth is very precious, and its pattern also consists of bits and pieces of human bodies that are intertwined.
Certainly it’s a feast, a ceremony for the god of war Huitzilopochtli, a feast the Spanish commander Alvarado has wanted to see. But is it due to his curiosity, his desire for documentation that they, as their god, are cannibals or does he seek an excuse to strike the Aztecs? Will Alvarado provoke a clash?
The Indian source had hardly been in doubt, because in the manuscript it’s written, translated from Aztec:
The Spaniards came out, heavily equipped, always in war equipment; they were equipped for war, they had equipped themselves as men.
The Aztec warriors had been proud and in festive mood:
And all men, all the young warriors, were like eagerly determined, were like exhorted to celebrate the feast, to have the feast, thus showing it, let it admire, display it to the Spaniards; they run, everyone hurries, as they go to the temple courtyard, to dance there in windings.
Sahagún’s subsequent Spanish chapter is short, while the chapter in Aztec is longer. The Aztec starts almost while the drums have been hammered:
And then, while they were having the feast, when they were dancing, singing, when they danced in windings, and the song was roaring, then it was time, then it was time for the Spaniards to kill them. Then they came out, eqipped for fight, they blocked on all sides the way out and in: the four gates to the temple courtyard: The Eagle Gate, At The Little Palace, At the Arrowhead, At the Mirror Serpent. And when they had blocked them, and all places were cut off, nobody could ever slip out.
Now everybody has understood why the Spaniards had come in heavy war equipment, why they investigative had looked the Aztecs in the faces. TO KILL, I say in capital letters, because I do not know what else to say. That was the reason they met equipped for fighting. To murder! In the decisive moment.
Damned Spaniards, I must think and say.
Perhaps it also was what Sahagún himself thought when in 1585 – six years after he had written the last sentence of Codex Florentino – he re-wrote the story in the Boston Manuscript. The short Spanish and the harsh Aztec Chapter 20 got a new introduction, a monks moral reflections on the occasion of the forthcoming Spanish mass murder:
The greatest evil that one can do to another is to take his life when the victim is in moral sin. This is what the Spaniards did to the Mexican Indians because they provoked them by being faithless in honoring their idols. The Spaniards catching the Indians enclosed in the courtyard for the feast of Huitzilopochtli, killed them, the greater part of whom were unarmed, without their knowing why.
Sahagúns startingpoint was that the Aztecs had been in moral sin by honoring an idol. That is – well for him – sinful. But the Spaniards – under leadership of the second-in-command Alvarado – had lured the Aztecs to sin, to worship their god and then kill them. And that was the GREATEST evil.
In the Aztec column in Codex Florentino, the Spanish slaughterhouse was described:
Then they enter the temple courtyard to kill them. Those who have the task of killing, walking on foot, with their leather shield, some with their iron shields and with their iron sword. Then they surround those who dance and go to the place where the big drums are. They cut the hands of the drummer, cut both hands, and afterwards they also cut off his head so it flies far away. Then they pierce them all with iron lances and chop them with iron swords. Some they hit from behind, so that their intestines fall out, some heads they cleave, they chop their heads into pieces, their heads are thoroughly chopped. And some of them they cut in their shoulders, they shattered, they shattered their bodies. Some of them they cut in the leg, some of them cut in the thigh, some stabbed in the stomach, so that all intestines fell out. And if one of them still will try to escape, he will drag his intestines along the ground, he is like a raw, skinned fruit. Any who will try to rescue him self can come nowhere. And if one tries to get out, they cut him there, chop him there.
But some climbed the wall and thus rescued. Some slipped in to the tribal temples, there they rescued themselves. And some saved themselves among the others by hiding between the really dead.
Closing the eyes, thinking OH NO, and why do they do it, why do the Aztecs put up with the massacre? One answer might be: Because the Aztecs were unarmed, powerless, impotent. Because they were in the middle of a religious feast with sacrifices. Another might be: Because they considered the Spaniards as divine. Other answers could be given. The big question must be: HOW SHOULD THIS ONLY END?
After several have screamed, more blood has flowed, only this is in the Aztec column:
And when it became known, there was a shouting: Chiefs! Aztecs! Hurry up here! Take your warrior decoration, shields, arrows, come here, hurry up here, the chiefs are dead, they are killed, they are destroyed, they are extinct – Aztecs! Chiefs! There was a huge alarm, there became a shouting, shouting with hands striking the mouth. Quickly the chiefs assembled – as with one will – they carry arrows and shields. Then there is fought, they shoot at them with arrows with the sawtooth tip, by throwing spears and tree-hooked birdspears, and toothed arrows with wide obsidian tips they throw these against them with spearthrower. Like a big yellow mass, the arrows spread over the Spaniards.
After the assault on the ritually dressed Aztec chiefs, Aztec warriors had rushed for weapons. The Spaniards had entrenched, shot from their shed and Aztecs responded. The Spaniards put Tlatoani Moctezuma in iron. Dead chiefs were carried away and were identified. Mothers, sisters and loved ones were crying.
According to Sahagúns Aztec text, Tlatelolcos Tlatoani Itzquauhtzin shouted to the assembled Indians:
Aztecs! Men from Tenochtitlán, men from Tlatelolco! Your ruler, Lord of the men, Moctezuma, beg you, let say to you: Let the Aztecs hear! We are not their equals, let’s stop! Lay down arrow and shield! Miserable are the son-deprived old men, the son-deprived old women, all people, those who do not yet understand, those who rise and again crawl, those who lie in the cradle, those who lie in the cot, those who yet not have learned. Therefore your Lord says: We are not their equals, refrain from fighting – for they have chained him, they have put iron on his feet!
A call for non-violence in the Aztec warlike culture after the Spanish assault.
Was it tactically necessary because Tlatoani Moctezuma was put in iron? Was it the fear because the fight was futile? Or had the returned god Quetzalcoatl harvested? Was everything as expected? Was the divine, the inevitable, fulfilled? Was that why the Indians should refrain from fighting to follow the fate they knew would come?
According to Sahagúns Aztec text, something more happened, something important, something drastic. Pent-up anger that had to come out. And that happened when Tlatelolcos Tlatoani Itzquauhtzin had spoken.
Sahagúns Aztec text continued after Itzquauhtzin’s speech:
When he had said this, fierce cries were shouted against him, they scolded him, the Aztecs become even more excited in their anger, even more anger is coming, they shout: What does he say about Moctezuma, my friend? Isn’t he one of his men? A loud noise, an alarm arises, and then the arrows fly towards the roof. And the Spaniards cover Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin with their shields to avoid the Aztecs from shooting them. The Aztecs were in such great anger, because the Spaniards had exterminated the chiefs without warning, because they had assassinated them. But they did not just give up.
Neither this night was not called The Sad.
MOCTEZUMA KILLED BY HIS OWN
The situation is exceptional. Doublefire! CHAOS! Aztecs have dethrowned their ruler, killed him, assassinated him. Or rather: some Aztecs have killed him. There were no sender on the arrows or stones that hit him. One can assume that a noble or a priest, who has had the opportunity to get hold of him, would no longer accept the puppet-ruler Moctezuma.
The wrath against Moctezuma was not only due to the fact that he had accepted Cortés as lord and the King of Spain as ruler. The dissatisfaction had long been on its way.
(pp. 382-389 in volume 1, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
476 pages + 540 pages. Richly illustrated in colors
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