General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 14 Jul 2020/10 Wind
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When does a day ‘start’ in the tonalpohualli?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - Marco Amatori: In the Tonalpohualli, when does a day ‘start’? At sunrise, noon, sunset, midnight? I can’t find an anwer anywhere. I read that the Maya count days from sunset/night. [Apparently] In the Florentine Codex, book 6, pt. 7 chap. 36:197, the Mexica counted days of the Tonalpohualli from midnight... Since I can’t read the Codex, I was humbly asking you if it’s true? (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: The parents consult a soothsayer, Florentine Codex Book VI
Pic 1: The parents consult a soothsayer, Florentine Codex Book VI (Click on image to enlarge)

Yes! The exact text of the Florentine reads:-
’[The soothsayers summoned by the parents to name their child - pic 1] first enquired carefully exactly when the baby was born. If it was perhaps not yet exactly midnight, then they assigned the day to the day sign which had passed. But if he had been born when midnight had passed, they assigned the day to the day sign which followed... If it was born at daybreak, or [when] there was a little sun, or at about that time, its very lot was the day, the day sign, and its companions which governed there.’

However, it appears that the Nahua (Aztec) system was far from universal in Mesoamerica. In his classic study The Book of the Year, Munro S. Edmonson gives two variants:-

Pic 2: Sunrise and sunset, Florentine Codex Book XI
Pic 2: Sunrise and sunset, Florentine Codex Book XI (Click on image to enlarge)

• The Mixe people (inhabiting the mountainous region north east of the city of Oaxaca), as well as ‘the natives of Hibueras and Honduras’ count(ed) the days ‘from noon to noon’; in evidence, Edmonson quotes from Antonio de Herrera (a Spanish chronicler writing at the end of the 16th century) who in turn cites documents held in the Archivo de Indias (Seville).

• For the Jacalctec Maya people of Guatemala/Chiapas, ‘the day begins and ends at sunset’.

Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain (Fray Bernardino de Sahagún), Book 6 Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy, trans. by Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O. Anderson, School of American Research and University of Utah, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1969
The Book of the Year: Middle American Calendrical Systems by Munro S. Edmonson, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1988.

Picture sources:-
• Images from the Florentine Codex (original in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence) scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

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