General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Sep 2017/9 Jaguar
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The Aztec monkey calendar/day sign

The monkey’s earring

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Holly Smith, Perry Elementary 5H Teacher, Shoemakersville, PA, USA: My 5A class was wondering why the monkey is always pictured wearing an earring? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Mixtec gold monkey finger-ring with pear-shaped earrings, British Museum
Mixtec gold monkey finger-ring with pear-shaped earrings, British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

An interesting question; you’re very observant! First of all, it’s important to realise that Monkey was one of the 20 Mexica/Aztec Calendar day signs (in fact, no. 11 in the cycle). Secondly, the Aztecs loved to depict in particular the spider monkey in their sculpture - it’s one of three species of monkey that are indigenous to Mesoamerica. Thirdly, the monkey was a creature that had for long been linked to ancient Mesoamerican gods, as an aspect of their character. All humans and gods were believed to have one or more ‘companion spirits’ from the animal world - such a spirit was called a nahual in Náhuatl.

A priest dressed as a Xochipilli spider monkey, with pear-shaped earrings, Codex Magliabecchiano folio 55r (detail)
A priest dressed as a Xochipilli spider monkey, with pear-shaped earrings, Codex Magliabecchiano folio 55r (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Fourthly, the good natured spider monkey was seen by the Mexica/Aztec as one of the most lively and playful in the animal kingdom, and so was associated above all with pleasure in general and with the god of music, dance, song, poetry and games, Xochipilli-Macuilxochitl (‘Prince of Flowers/5-Flower’). Anyone born under the calendar sign ‘1-Monkey’ was predicted to have a cheerful and friendly character in life. Part of Xochipilli’s regalia were hanging pear-shaped ear adornments - you can see them clearly in the pictures on this page.

Stone sculpture of a monkey head with ear ornaments, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Stone sculpture of a monkey head with ear ornaments, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Because of its great agility, long spiral-shaped tail and the way it constantly swings through the trees, the spider monkey was also
associated with the wind god Quetzalcóatl-Ehécatl, but in this case with different ear ornaments, often made of shell, obsidian and pyrite. According to Mexica beliefs one of the four previous Suns (world eras) - ‘4-Wind’ - was destroyed by hurricanes and humans were transformed into monkeys...

Picture sources:-
• Illustration of Monkey calendar sign: painted specially for Mexicolore by Felipe Dávalos
• Mixtec gold ring: photo © Trustees of the British Museum, ref: Am1977,13.1
• Image from the Codex Maglabecchiano: scanned from our copy of the facsimile edition by ADEVA, Graz, Austria, 1970
• Photo of stone monkey sculpture by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore

Learn more about the ‘nahual’

Study the... WIND GOD

Spot several examples of pre-Columbian gold monkey images sporting earrings...

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