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AZTEC CANNIBALISM: Nahua versus Spanish and mestizo accounts in the Valley of Mexico

  • Barry L. Isaac (a1)

Abstract

This article engages the debate about Aztec cannibalism principally through the analysis of three accounts of cannibalism by trickery set in the Valley of Mexico. These three tales are practically the only form in which cannibalism appears in the major Nahua (indigenous Nahuatl-speaking) writings of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The stories portray cannibalism as shocking, even abhorrent, to Aztecs—rather than as customary—and as a stratagem for humiliating an enemy or provoking a community to war. The contemporaneous Spanish writings, in contrast, are replete with allegations of customary cannibalism, while the major mestizo (Nahua mother and Spanish father) authors are divided in their treatment of the subject. The three-way critical comparison (Nahua, mestizo, Spanish) raises the possibility that the idea of customary cannibalism originated in Spanish culture and was then transmitted to the indigenous population during post-Conquest religious conversion and Hispanicization.

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E-mail correspondence to: barry.isaac@uc.edu

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