General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 1 Mar 2021/6 Grass
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Is there a symbol that means family in Aztec culture?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Joel: Hello. Your website is awesome! Is there a symbol that means family in the Aztec culture? Or a God that represents family? (Answer compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

‘A family of deities’ - ceramic figures, Museum of Anthropology, Xalapa, Mexico
‘A family of deities’ - ceramic figures, Museum of Anthropology, Xalapa, Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

Great question (and thanks for your kind words). The short answer is ‘Not that we know of...’ This is difficult to answer because for many things there just are not simple equivalents. Dr. John Schwaller, a professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York - and member of our Panel of Experts - has sent us the following insightful commentary:-
’Our understanding of the world is so culturally defined that most of the time it is hard to envision a world which does not share our same notions regarding basic concepts. Family falls into this category. For those of us from a western culture it is so deeply ingrained that it is difficult for us to even imagine alternative organizational structures. Certainly there is a whole school of anthropologists who focus on families and the terminology used to describe family members. Some cultures use the same term for a father’s brother that they do for the father himself. There are many different conventions. Thus, what we find is that the Mexica family system did not envision the family the way we do as Westerners. We tend to think of the nuclear family generally including parents and children. Some places in the West might also include grandparents. Quite simply there is no single word in Nahuatl for this concept. There are less than a handful of words that approximate the notion of family.

Cemithualtin - meaning those of one patio or courtyard (cem = one, ithual = patios , tin = plural) So this would refer to an extended family that lives in a single living unit around a patio or courtyard.
Cencaltin - meaning those of one house (cem = one, calli = home, tin = plural). This refers to just the people living in one of the dwellings in the courtyard. It is perhaps the closest thing to our idea of the nuclear family.
Cenyeliztli - meaning the act of living together (cen = one, yel = life, -iztli = non suffix). It is also an approximation of the Western idea of a nuclear family.
’Then further down in meaning we have:-
centalaca - one person, one people, and by extension persons of a shared lineage
ticemehua - for all to be of the same lineage.
’I would be cautious about using any of these words since there is a strong possibility that one or more are calques [a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal word-for-word or root-for-root translation] or neologisms attempting to reproduce in Nahuatl the Western concept of family.’

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

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