General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Jan 2021/7 Jaguar
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Huehuetlatolli images of Aztec elders

Classical Nahuatl greetings

Professor Louise Burkhart has called the indigenous genre of flowery, formal Nahua speech huehuetla(h)tolli ‘a treasure trove of moral philosophy’ (follow the link below). This term, meaning something like ‘ancient discourse, inherited wisdom’ refers to a set of prayers, speeches, lessons, greetings and generally elegant orations that formed the basis of a noble education, passed down from generation to generation through the elders of each family. Here we present some of the most common greetings, culled from a superb collection, published as The Art of Nahuatl Speech: The Bancroft Dialogues in 1987 (compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore).

Artist’s impression of a Mexica/Aztec visitor bowing before his host; drawing by Steve Radzi
Artist’s impression of a Mexica/Aztec visitor bowing before his host; drawing by Steve Radzi (Click on image to enlarge)

‘The most common greeting by far in the Dialogues is ihiyohuia... used primarily by the stationary party in addressing the arriving party, who ordinarily speaks first. This is appropriate, since the thrust of the greeting, at least originally, was to comment on the effort of the arriver had put into the journey, with consequent fatigue and need to rest. The verb ihiyohuia derives from ihiyotl “breath” and literally means... “to expend breath on”. Otiquihiyohuih is “you have expended breath on it (getting here)”, or a bit less literally... “you have worn yourself out getting here”.’
Nothing as fixed exists when it comes to what the arriver would say - (s)he would focus mainly on urging the host to remain seated, and apologising for the intrusion or interruption. However the arriver would most certainly bow low before his or her host.

Artist’s impression of a conversation between Mexica/Aztec visitor and host; drawing by Steve Radzi
Artist’s impression of a conversation between Mexica/Aztec visitor and host; drawing by Steve Radzi (Click on image to enlarge)

‘As soon as the arriving party has finished with his preliminary obeisances [showing of respect] and apologies, he or she asks about the stationary party’s health...
’Often attention goes specifically to how one felt on rising, the main expression involving the verb tlathui, literally “to dawn”’ - hence the universal morning greeting in Spanish throughout Mesoamerica ¿Cómo amaneciste? (‘How did you dawn?’)
When it comes to showing appreciation (for a visit), ‘no entirely straightforward word meaning exclusively “thanks” seems to appear in older Nahuatl. There was, however, a pervasive formula, “you have befriended me”, using the verb icnelia: otitechmocnelilih “you have befriended us (by visiting)”, i.e. “we thank you for visiting us”.
’Another formula for thanking is tlazohcamati... Occurring only once in the Dialogues and apparently less prominent in older texts generally than icnelia, tlazohcamati has nevertheless become the standard word for thanks in some dialects of modern Nahuatl.’

Line drawing by Rafael López Castro
Line drawing by Rafael López Castro (Click on image to enlarge)

Info source:-
The Art of Nahuatl Speech: the Bancroft Dialogues, edited with a preliminary study by Frances Karttunen and James Lockhart, UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles, 1987.

Image sources:-
• Main pic/line drawings: images scanned from Huehuehtlahtolli, introductory study by Miguel León-Portilla, transcription and translation from Nahuatl into Spanish by Librado Silva Galeana, SEP/Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico DF, 1991; drawings, based on the Mendoza and Florentine Codices, by Rafael López Castro
• Colour drawings commissioned for Mexicolore by and ©Steve Radzi, Mayavision (link below).

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Dec 27th 2020

Nahua Moral Philosophy

Traditional Nahuatl greetings

Mayavision website
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