General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Apr 2021/3 Alligator
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Nahua (Aztec) husband and wife growing and cooking maize/corn

The education of Aztec men and women

In his book La educación de los Aztecas (1996), Fernando Díaz Infante has painted a sympathetic and powerful image of the complementary nature of gender roles in Mexica/Aztec Mexico. Here we quote (our translation) from two chapters...

‘Song to Nature’ - (Maya) painting by Paula Nicho Cúmez
‘Song to Nature’ - (Maya) painting by Paula Nicho Cúmez (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Nahua tlacahuapahualiztli – the “art of bringing up and educating a person” – was not limited to just training for a profession or an art, but included the teaching of the moral and ethical values of the community.
Alongside being taught how to grow crops, they were infused with love for the land, gratitude towards the gods of sustenance, the enjoyment of labour, the desire to share the produce of the land with family, neighbours and the needy. Farming techniques encapsulated a profound respect for nature. If a woman was taught how to make a cape, this was accompanied by an increase in her praise and respect for the gods of weaving, and in her valuing of beauty, of things well made, and of productive effort in general.

‘People of maize’; tending a ‘milpa’ (traditional plot of land), Codex Vindobonensis, pl. 11 (detail)
‘People of maize’; tending a ‘milpa’ (traditional plot of land), Codex Vindobonensis, pl. 11 (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

‘If men dedicated themselves to fishing, farming, cutting firewood, war, priesthood, government, etc., women cooked, helped in the harvest, lit and tended to the hearth at home, wove strong garments so warriors would never fight in rags, bore offerings to the priests, swept the temples and palaces... The labour of one had consequences for the other. If man built, woman maintained the finished product; if he was a potter, she put the pots to good use; if he was a farmer, she sold the harvested crops at market; if he was needed on the battlefield, she looked after the home; if she made the clothes, he wore them with dignity and pride, and taught their children the value of what their mother had made; if it was the mother who nursed and cared for the family, it was the men – adults and children alike – who brought water and the ingredients needed for cooking to the house.

Heading to the (Aztec) market: illustration by Felipe Dávalos
Heading to the (Aztec) market: illustration by Felipe Dávalos (Click on image to enlarge)

‘By the nature of their position and roles in society, participating more in religious and civic life, men enjoyed more opportunities than women. The latter were never, however, reduced to ignorance or inactivity. Her moral strength matched his physical strength. Their complementarity ensured that they fulfilled the dual roles of divine couple Ometecuhtli-Omecihuatl: they were in effect Lord and Lady of the home, Lord and Lady of the necessities of life.’

La educación de los Aztecas: cómo se formó el carácter del pueblo mexicano by Fernando Díaz Infante, Panorama Editorial, Mexico City, 1996

Picture sources:-
• Main: painting by unknown artist, Mexico City, c.1982; Mexicolore archive
• ‘Song to Nature’ courtesy of and thanks to Joseph Johnston/Arte Maya Tz’utuhil
• Image from the Codex Vindobonensis scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1974
• ‘Heading to market’: scanned from Viaje al mercado de México by Leonardo López Luján, Historias de México, vol. III, no. 2, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico City, 2000, courtesy of Felipe Dávalos.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Mar 06th 2021

‘Mexica man, Mexica woman’: click here to read the original Spanish version...

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