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GOD IN ILHUICAC, CHRIST IN ANAHUAC: ENCOUNTERING THE CHRISTIAN DEITY IN A NAHUATL SONG-DANCE OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY Stephanie Schmidt University of Tulsa The Cantares mexicanos, from Central Mexico of the early- to- latemid -sixteenth century, is an alphabetic manuscript comprised of eightyfive folios of song-dances in the Uto-Aztecan language of Nahuatl. The genre of these pieces is Mesoamerican, and many concern exclusively pre-Columbian themes. However, these texts in their present form were performed, arranged, or – in select cases – newly authored during the first decades that followed the Spanish conquest of Mexico, of 1519–1521. The songs in the Cantares mexicanos were first transcribed in alphabetic script in a Franciscan setting (Bierhorst 9), as a collaborative project of Nahua scribes and an anonymous priest who hoped to repurpose traditional song metaphors in a new corpus of Christian literature in Nahuatl (6r).1 As a result of this context of manuscript production, a number of song-dances in the Cantares mexicanos reveal influences that are not strictly pre-Columbian. For example, some incorporate Spanish or Latin loan words, such as “xileh” (silla or saddle) (71r), “coloz” (cruz or cross) (30r), “quelopinesme” (querubines or cherubim) (59v),” and “gloria in excelsis” (38r). Other pieces more substantively engage with Christian thought or comment on colonial realities. How to interpret foreign influences in these otherwise traditional Nahuatl song texts has been a long-standing question for scholars. When a Spanish proper noun, such as “Santa Marı́a,” appears in a given piece, it is often unclear if this is a substitution for the name of a Mesoamerican deity,2 whether it refers more comprehensively to the identity and affiliations of the Christian Mother of God or, somewhat differently, if this loan represents the Virgin Mary encountered, understood, and portrayed in a distinctively Nahua fashion.3 The more elaborate Christian references present an even greater interpretive challenge. For example, many pieces in the Cantares mexicanos pair references to “Dios” with the noun “ilhuicatl” (the heavens) (17r, 67r, 21v, 70v) or the locative phrase “ilhuicac” (in the heavens; the place in the heavens) (7v, 21v, 38r, 63r). Nahuas traditionally understood the skies above to be a thirteen-faceted realm. In the highest level was the primordial pair Ometeotl, or the Dual God (León-Portilla 135–136). Another level was “ichan tonatiuh ilhujcac” (Home of the Sun in the Heavens), an afterworld for warriors and sacrifice victims (Sahagún 4: 49). Meanwhile, C  2015 Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 87 The Latin Americanist, March 2015 early Franciscan missionaries borrowed the terms “ilhuicatl” ot “ilhuicac” to describe the heavenly realm of the Christian deity and final home for the baptized. This parallel between Mesoamerican and Christian ideas about the heavens as an abode of both the god/s and the dead heightens interpretive ambiguities in early colonial Nahuatl texts that discuss ilhuicac. For example, in one song-text that describes both pre-Columbian and post-conquest scenarios of warfare, rule, and religious practice, the Christian divinity appears seated with glory and authority in the heavens, “in tlacuilolxochipetlatl ipan” (upon a painted, florid reed mat”) (70v). This phrase explicitly describes the heavenly throne of Dios as a reed mat, a traditional Mesoamerican seat for rulers or deities. The terms that describe this mat, however, invite at least two possible readings. “Tlacuilolli” at the beginning of the compound noun “tlacuilolxochipetlatl” (writing/paintingflower -reed mat) can mean either “ornamental painting” or “painted script.” Dios is therefore enthroned upon a reed mat that is “painted with flowers” or a mat of “writing and flowers,” that is to say, upon a mat-astext that is both conceptually inscribed and symbolically ornamented. In either translation, flowery adornment signals the hallowed nature of this seat. Yet it is difficult to know precisely what this phrase would signify for Nahuas of the time and context in which this song-dance was performed and transcribed; whether it would convey an image of Dios in an ancestral realm, seated upon the sumptuously painted mat of a Mesoamerican deity; or whether a Nahua living in one of the populous centers of Central Mexico, during the first generations of contact with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1557-203X
Print ISSN
1557-2021
Pages
pp. 87-99
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-25
Open Access
No
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