General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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John Bierhorst

Question for January 2017

Why did the Aztecs dance when they fought? Asked by St Thomas of Canterbury RC Primary School. Chosen and answered by John Bierhorst.

Model of an Aztec jaguar warrior in action
Model of an Aztec jaguar warrior in action (Click on image to enlarge)

The Conquistador Anónimo tells us, “While they fight, they sing and dance.” Conversely, he says, when they make music they behave as warriors. In the militaristic Aztec songs known as Cantares Mexicanos there are many occurrences of paqui, “to be glad, to rejoice”; the word ihtotia:mo, “to dance,” is also common in the Cantares - and it has a second meaning “to exult, to be joyful, to jump for joy.” One of many passages reads, “Let there be dancing! Let there be sacrifice in war!” (folio 8v, line 4). In short, warfare was a joyful exercise - like dancing. You can find much more on this in my Cantares Mexicanos, p. 28, and in my Nahuatl-English Dictionary and Concordance to the Cantares Mexicanos (see ihtotia:mo and paqui).

Picture - Model of an Aztec Jaguar Warrior with headdress by George Stuart, courtesy of Leroy Becker, Gallery of Historical Figures.

John Bierhorst has answered 2 questions altogether:

If you died from hunger or disease, which underworld or heaven would you go to?

Why did the Aztecs dance when they fought?

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