Xicohtencatl, the Elder: "I Say This"

About the Document
Xicohtencatl, the Elder, was Lord of Tizatlan. He was also a composer of songs. What is known is that he was born in about 1,425 and lived until 1,522 C.E., after the arrival of the Spanish. Xicohtencatl was also a warrior. It is said he took part in important battles and conquests involving the Mexicas (Aztecs), but in the end Xicohtencatl was forced to come to an agreement making Tizatlan an ally of other chiefdoms in the lake region near Mexico-Tenochtitlán.

Warfare for these people, in this era, had very specific rules. A field needed to be marked, and the battle could not go beyond its boundaries. The battles provided an opportunity for sons of lords to practice warfare, but they could not attempt to gain land for chiefdoms out of the war. The warriors captured would be sacrificed to the gods.

Warfare was about the political ambitions of the combatants and brought out the Mexican "worldview" that they were the chosen people of Huitzelopochi, the god of war. Xicohtencatl made a decision to take advantage of the arrival of the Spanish to aid in his fight against surrounding chiefdoms. However, the Spanish were ultimately not interested in helping native groups, but in conquering them.

The Flowery Wars tells of the past struggles of the people of Tlazcala (the wider confederacy of cities of which Tizatlan was a part). The poem speaks to the value of war in the life of Tlazcala, because "flowery war" is sacred war. However, there is irony in telling the glory of wars that eventually, with the coming of the Spanish, brought doom to the people of Tlazcala.


The Document

I say this, I the lord Xicohtencatl:
Do not go forth in vain!
Take up your shield, the vessel of flowery water!
Your little bowl with a handle.
Your precious vessel, color of obsidian, stands upright,
with it, we will bring the water on our shoulders,
we will carry it there in Mexico,
from Chapolco, on the shore of the lake.

Do not go forth in vain,
my nephew, my little children, my nephews,
you, children of the water!
I make the water flow,
O Lord Cuauhtencoztli,
let us all go!

We will bring the water on our shoulders,
truly we are going to carry it!

Captain Motelchiuhtzin wants to announce it,
my friends!
He says it is not yet dawn.
We take up our burden of water:
crystal clear, precious, color of turquoise,
which moves in waves.
Thus you will come there, to the place of the vessels,
do not go forth in vain!

Nanahuatl [the god] will perhaps make noise there.
My little son!
You, leader of men, you, precious creature,
a painting with gold in the Toltec manner,
paint the precious bowl, Lord Axayacatl.
We go together to partake,
we approach the precious waters.
They are falling, drops rain down,
there, close to the small canals.

He who carries my flowery water, Huanitzin,
now comes to give it to me,
O my uncles, Tlaxcalans, Chichimecs!
Do not go forth in vain!

The flowery war, the shield's flower,
have opened their corollas.
They resound,
the sweet-smelling flowers rain down,
Thus perhaps for this,
he came to conceal gold and silver;
for this I take the painted books.
O my little canal, with my vessel the water flows!
O my old ones!


Source: Xicohtencatl, the Elder, "I Say This," in Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, ed. Miguel Leon-Portilla (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), pp. 239-40.


Glossary

Tenochtitlán

Aztec capital originally built on two small islands in Lake Texcoco at present-day Mexico City. The Aztec expanded the city by a process of construction that submerged reeds and other materials to build a base upon which to build structures. Its "streets" were canals, and the Spanish likened it to Venice.

Flowery Wars
Flowery wars were considered sacred wars. They often consisted of wars between groups for political reasons. The Aztec had very specific rules of fighting.


Analysis Questions

  1. Both documents refer to the "field." What is the significance? Why would there be a specific place for warfare?
  2. How do the documents speak of the warriors?
  3. How do you see the place of warfare in the life of a people? Would it have been the most important thing in a community’s life? What does it tell us about the overall culture?
  4. What is the relationship of the gods to the warriors? What part do the gods play in war?
  5. What is the significance of flowers? What is the connection between flowers and warfare?



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