General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 Feb 2021/4 Dog
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The Atamalcualiztli festival, Primeros Memoriales

The Atamalcualiztli festival

Thanks to the talents of artist Daniel Parada (learn more about his work in the links below), we’re delighted to offer here his visual exploration of the main costumed protagonists in the week-long Atamalcualiztli festival of the Mexica. We asked Daniel to set the scene for his striking artwork...

Tamales featured in at least 7 of the 18 monthly festivals of the Mexica; Florentine Codex Book 2
Tamales featured in at least 7 of the 18 monthly festivals of the Mexica; Florentine Codex Book 2 (Click on image to enlarge)

As part of my series on reconstructing Mesoamerican clothing through illustrations one of the aspects of historical fashion I had to begin focusing more on is ceremonial and ritual attire. The Atamalcualiztli ceremony of the Aztecs has a wonderful illustration in the Primeros Memoriales (see main picture), and more detailed depictions of the deities appear in other parts of the document. My hope is to give a glimpse as to what it may have looked like or at least the main participants involved.

The Ceremony:
The atamalcualiztli festival occurred every 8 years, where people celebrated by fasting and consuming only water tamales. This ceremony overlapped the Quecholli and Huey Tecuilhuitl month festivals and it celebrated a liminal or threshold moment:-
Tezcatlipoca seduces Xochiquetzal, maize resurges, clouds form in the mountains, birds, who also represent dead souls, announce the rains, Tlazolteotl gives birth, and the sun appears with the help of Venus.

Daniel Parada’s rendition of the costumed participants in the Atamalcualiztli festival
Daniel Parada’s rendition of the costumed participants in the Atamalcualiztli festival (Click on image to enlarge)

Costumed Participants:
The “Mazatecatl” (pl. Mazatecah). These were brave people who swallowed snakes and frogs whole from a pond. They were named after the real Mazatec people {learn more from the link below)
The bird dancers. The birds here seem to represent messengers of the underworld and the souls of the dead such as the crow, and owls, and birds associated with life who announce the rains like the hummingbirds.
The Teteoh (Gods) who “arrive”:
The ixiptlas or deity impersonators consisted of the following: the Tlaloque who come in a group of five, Tlaochcalcatl Yaotl, Chicomecoatl, Xilonen, an unspecified pulque God, Napatecuhtli, Macuilxochitl, Xochipilli, Tzaputlatena, Tezacoac Ayopechtli, Ixcozauhqui, and Tezcatlipoca. Xochiquetzal appears by a tree, weaving on a backstrap loom.

• Morales Damián, Manuel (2010). El ayuno de tamales de agua. Iconografía de la lámina de Atamalcualiztli, Primeros Memoriales
Primeros Memoriales by Bernardino de Sahagún.

Picture sources:-
• Main pic: Image scanned from our own copy of Primeros Memoriales by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Facsimile Edition, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1993
• Image from the Florentine Codex, Book VI, scanned from our own copy of the Club Internacional del Libro 3-volume facsimile edition, Madrid, 1994.

Editor’s note:
According to Manuel Aguilar-Moreno, during this festival ‘Aztecs ate plain tamales steamed in water; lime, ash, flavouring, chilies and peppers were not included in the recipe. This pure method of cooking the tamales ritually allowed the maize a moment of freedom from the tortures of being worked and seasoned.’

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Feb 02nd 2021

Acrobat logo Download the poster ‘Atamalcualiztli festival’ here

Learn about Daniel Parada’s work

See Daniel’s resource sheet on Aztec clothing styles

See Daniel’s resource sheet on Aztec hair styles

‘Dancing with snakes - and swallowing them!’ Learn more about the festival...

Learn more about tamales...

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