General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 1 Mar 2021/6 Grass
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Aztec birth symbol gifts, Codex Mendoza, fol. 57r (detail)

Aztec birth symbols

As part of the all-important baby naming ceremony, Mexica (Aztec) parents presented their child with miniature symbolic gifts, indicative of the future gender-bound career in store for the newborn. The evidence comes from the encyclopedic Florentine Codex and from the Codex Mendoza. (Written by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

A ‘toy’ Aztec shield with a bow and four miniature arrows, alongside a small spindle and whorl and miniature reed broom
A ‘toy’ Aztec shield with a bow and four miniature arrows, alongside a small spindle and whorl and miniature reed broom (Click on image to enlarge)

In the picture from the Codex Mendoza (above) we can see five objects associated with Aztec male trades and professions: a shield with four arrows (the classic symbol for war) and tools used by a carpenter, featherworker, scribe and goldsmith. Lower down the picture we see three items linked to female household jobs: a broom, cotton spindle, and reed basket for storing materials. After bathing the child, the midwife. amid prayers and chants, offered the babe up four times to the heavens, and then presented him or her with the appropriate symbolic gifts, full of special meaning.
Sahagún speaks of the symbolic gift of a little shield, bow, and four arrows... one for each of the cardinal directions. ‘And they made him a tortilla of amaranth dough, which became a shield on which arrows were extended, with a bow.’ The missionary chronicler Fray Motolinía states that at the bathing/naming ceremony, the tiny shield was placed in the baby’s left hand and in his right, an arrow.
Sweeping was of huge ritual importance in Aztec society, and filled spindles represented fertility.

Picture sources:-
• Top picture:detail of fol. 57r of the Codex Mendoza, scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London, 1938 (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford)
• Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.
Quote from The Essential Codex Mendoza by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt, University of California Press, 1997, p. 148.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on May 21st 2016

emoticon An Aztec riddle:-
Q. What becomes pregnant in only one day?
A. The spindle!

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