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The Flower and the Scorpion

Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture

Pete Sigal

Publication Year: 2011

Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Nahua indigenous peoples of central Mexico did not have a notion of “sex” or “sexuality” equivalent to the sexual categories developed by colonial society or those promoted by modern Western peoples. In this innovative ethnohistory, Pete Sigal seeks to shed new light on Nahua concepts of the sexual without relying on the modern Western concept of sexuality. Along with clerical documents and other Spanish sources, he interprets the many texts produced by the Nahua. While colonial clerics worked to impose Catholic beliefs—particularly those equating sexuality and sin—on the indigenous people they encountered, the process of cultural assimilation was slower and less consistent than scholars have assumed. Sigal argues that modern researchers of sexuality have exaggerated the power of the Catholic sacrament of confession to change the ways that individuals understood themselves and their behaviors. At least until the mid-seventeenth century, when increased contact with the Spanish began to significantly change Nahua culture and society, indigenous peoples, particularly commoners, related their sexual lives and imaginations not just to concepts of sin and redemption but also to pleasure, seduction, and rituals of fertility and warfare.

Published by: Duke University Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii-viii

About the Series

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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

Over the past years, I have noticed that my intellectual debts have grown far and wide. I was lucky enough to have James Lockhart introduce me to his incredible passion for the study of Nahuatl. Once I began research for this book, a series of individuals encouraged me with their suggestions, often providing...

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Preface: The People, the Place, and the Time

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pp. xv-xvi

For the reader unfamiliar with Nahua scholarship, my use of the term ‘‘Nahua’’ may need explanation. First, the term prioritizes linguistic unity, referring simply to people who spoke the language Nahuatl. Second, the alternative term, ‘‘Aztec,’’ implies some sense of national identity and cohesion that did not...

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1. The Bath

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pp. 1-28

A mid-sixteenth-century rendition of the Nahua temazcal, a steam bath (figure 1), depicts a relatively minor structure, but it signifies both the difficulties that Spaniards had understanding Nahua sexual activity and the ambiguities involved in writing about Nahua sexuality when the Nahuas did not have...

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2. Trash

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pp. 29-60

In 1589, in the small town of Chihuatzinco on the outskirts of central Mexico, a Catholic priest, Bartolomé López, attempted to seduce the never-named wife of an indigenous commoner, Miguel Hernández. Six years later, Miguel, with the help of a notary, wrote a petition in Nahuatl to a local representative of...

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3. Sin

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pp. 61-102

In his Spanish-language introduction to a discussion of Tlazolteotl, Bernardino de Sahagún states that she was ‘‘the goddess of carnal matters, who was called Tlazolteotl, otherwise Venus.’’ Further, ‘‘This goddess had three names: the one where she was called Tlazolteotl, which means goddess of carnality;...

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4. The Warrior Goddess

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pp. 103-138

The tlazolli complex that so perplexed the friars emanated from a Nahua notion of common sense, a need to maintain and protect the community from the many dangers presented to it by the unknown—always thought to have the potential to cause catastrophe. Most important in this respect was the...

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5. The Phallus and the Broom

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pp. 139-176

Tlazolli overwhelmed the senses in the massive ceremonies designed to make life continue in the city. One can imagine hundreds of thousands of people watching ceremonies in which merchants and warriors take captives in large groups up to the main pyramid, offering these captives to priests, who wield...

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6. The Homosexual

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pp. 177-206

The cuiloni: the sodomite, the penetrated man, the homosexual, the passive, the third sex, the faggot, the queer. Cuiloyotl (or cuilonyotl): sodomy, homosexuality, the act without which the cuiloni could not exist.1 The term cuiloni reveals much about sexuality and the many homosexualities present in early...

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7. Sex

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pp. 207-240

This chapter examines three tales of seduction that provide moral lessons for the Nahuas and for historians and theorists of sexuality. In the first, the Toltec leader, Huemac, in 994 CE seduces two women, but the seduction takes a wrong turn as he learns that the two women are the gods Tezcatlipoca and Yaotl....

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8. Mirrors

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pp. 241-254

Using the concept of the black mirror to think about colonialism in Mexico, Pedro Lasch, in the art installation ‘‘Black Mirror/ Espejo Negro,’’ placed preconquest indigenous figures on pedestals; the figures faced panels of black translucent glass, behind which he hung reproductions of art by Spanish...

Appendix: The Chalca Woman’s Song

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pp. 255-262


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pp. 263-264


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pp. 265-326


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pp. 327-352


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pp. 353-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780822394860
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822351511

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 43 illustrations
Publication Year: 2011