The year 13-Reed . It was at this time that the people of Ame-cameca and the Chalcas Tlalmanalcas came to sing for the first time in Mexico. At that time they performed the song of the women of Chalco, the Chalca Cihuacuicatl. They came to sing for the lord Axayacatzin.
The song and the dance were begun in the patio of the palace while Axayacatl was still inside in the house of his women. But in the beginning the song was poorly performed. A noble of Tlalmanalco was playing the music very clumsily, and making the great drum sound in a lazy offbeat way until finally in desperation he leaned down over it, not knowing what else to do.
There, however, close to the place of the drums, was a man called Quecholcohuatzin, noble from Amecameca, a great singer and musician as well. When he saw that all was being lost and that the song and the dance were being ruined, he quickly placed himself next to the drum section. He picked up a drum and through his effort he gave new strength to the dance so that it would not be ruined. Thus Quecholcohuatzin made the people sing and dance. . . . Axayacatl who was still inside the palace, when he heard how marvelously Quecholcohuatzin played the music and made the people dance, was surprised, and his heart filled with excitement. He quickly arose and left the house of his women and joined in the dance. As Axayacatl approached the place of the dance his feet began to follow the music and he was overcome with joy as he heard the song and so he too began to dance and spin round and round.
When the dance was over, the lord Axayacatl spoke, saying, “Fools, you have brought this fumbler before me, who played and directed the song. Don’t let him do it again.” The people from Chalco answered him, saying, “It is as you wish, supreme lord.” And because Axayacatl had given this command, all the nobles of Chalco became terrified. They stood there looking at each other, and it is said that truly they were very frightened.
. . . But the lord Axayacatl was well pleased [with Quecholcohuatzin] and continued to take delight in the “Song of the Women of Chalco,” the Chalca Cihuacuicatl. So it was that once again he had the Chalcas, all of the nobles, return, and he asked them to give him the song and he also asked all those from Amecameca, because the song was theirs, it belonged to the tlailotlaque, the men who had returned. The song was their property, the “Song of the Warrior Women of Chalco.” Chimalpahin, Seventh Relation Ms. Mexicain 74, Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris
The indigenous historian Chimalpahin seemed quite certain that events on a certain day in 1479 had unfolded as he described them, though he wrote over a century later and saw it all through the refracting lens of the intervening Spanish conquest. Posterity has been the
more inclined to believe him since there exists a song amongst those collected in the sixteenth century under the auspices of the Franciscans entitled “The Song of the Women of Chalco” (Chalca cihuacuicatl) in which the singer addresses Axayacatl as the conqueror of Chalco and as her own lord and master. But what can we in the twenty-first century make of these two sources? We might pursue a number of interpretive avenues. In this article I will ask specifically what we actually know about the fifteenth-century performance event, and what, if anything, we can glean from the song concerning the lives of the Nahua women in that nearly untranslatable category whom we know in English as “concubines.”