The Aztec Indians
Tonatiuh has yet to rise from the East
and shine upon us all, but already I hear stirs and murmurs coming from
the street and even from the apprentice quarters of my own home.
It has been an exhausting month for me and I would like nothing better
than to sleep all day. However, here in Texcoco, the market only
meets once a week and I must sell my goods as soon as possible.(Smith,119).
My wife, heavy with child, slowly begins to wake beside me, so I rise to
the new day.
My name is Tochtli, born to that day some
33 years ago. I am of the Mexica tribe, born and raised in the
sacred capitol city of Tenochtitlan. I am of the pochteca and am
proud to serve my gods and lords faithfully in war and sacrifice, as my
father did before me. I have been very successful and have been able
to provide my wife and two (soon to be three) children a comfortable life.
It is wise to say that the god Yacatecuhtli, looks generously upon me and
I owe all to him (Smith, 213).
Before I am even dressed I can smell my
wife and daughter preparing tortillas from the patio. Being from
the highest order of pochteca, my home is larger than most in my calpolli.
It is built in a half-moon fashion around a central patio. The structure
is made up of four rooms, or quarters: The sleeping quarters of my wife
and I, the room my children share, a room for my apprentice and any tlamama
I may have under my service at the time, and a small shrine room where
my family and I can worship.
In the patio, the tlamama, my apprentice
and my son eat a breakfast of tortillas before we head to the market.
I had just returned the night before from a most successful, but long trade
expedition. I had set out a little over a month ago, along with two
other pochteca from my guild, two of our apprentices, and four tlamama
who are professional porters. I was worried to leave on such a long
expedition when my wife was so close to bearing our third child, but after
consulting with the calendar and the priests of my patron god, Yacatecuhtli,
it was determined that the day we left on was surely the luckiest (Smith,256).
Besides that, my son, Ocelotl, is now nine and almost old enough to guard
We left loaded with cloth, jewels and
spinning tools and set out for Acolman, where we traded the bulk of our
goods for slaves. In these other cities, markets meet weekly or only
periodically, so it was important to time our route well. From Acolman
we set out for Pachuca where we planned to trade the remainder of our goods
for some of the obsidian tools that the region is renowned for (Smith,
87). That was the most dangerous part of our journey because of its
length, the size of our payload and how close our path came toward enemy
territory outside of the triple alliance. Pochteca are generally
allowed free travel throughout the world, enemy or friendly without harm
(Smith, 122). In my time I have traveled throughout the far reaches
of this land, but I am still wary of enemy territory, and always travel
well armed and ready for battle. After a rest in Pachuca, where we
bartered for the obsidian, we began our long journey home.
We finally reached Texcoco early yesterday
morning, but camped outside the city until nightfall. Upon returning
from any expedition, pochteca always enter the city under the cloak of
darkness. We then quickly unload our goods from the canoes, so that
it is all hidden in our homes by daybreak (Smith, 121). This has
been a practice as old as the guild itself. It is very useful since
it is wise to keep the success of ones expedition a secret. Pochteca,
no matter how successful, are not nobles and not allowed to display such
wealth openly (Smith,121). To do so might offend our lords, and hence
our gods. I agreed to keep the obsidian and two of the tlamama at
my home for the night, while my partner kept the slaves at his home.
My wife, Calli, calls for me to eat before
I must leave for the market. She hands me warm tortillas and smiles
at me lovingly. I admire the roundness of her belly, and only then
do I realize how much I have missed her. Teteoinnan, the mother of
gods, has truly blessed me with a wife both fertile and beautiful.
As the tlamama, my apprentice and my son load up for the market, I kiss
my wife and daughter good-bye before setting out. They will spend
most of the day purifying the home in anticipation of the coming baby.
As I left, my wife was already sweeping our house clean of evil spirits.
She also tells me that she is going to make tamales and sauce to take to
the temples as an offering for my successful and safe trip. My daughter,
the beautiful Xochitl, will no doubt continue the weaving she has been
working on, she has become quite talented and will make a fine wife (Smith,
The sun breaks as we start out for the
market in the center of the city. My son and I walk ahead of the
tlamama, with my apprentice in the rear. We dress in the modest clothing
of the pochteca. My son begs for stories of my most recent expedition,
his eyes wide and thirsty as I recall foreign cities and rugged country.
He squeezes every detail out of me. I cant help but smile at his
exuberance, after all I was no different when my father would return from
his journeys. It shocks me how much the boy has grown in just the
last month. Soon he will be ten years old and of school age.
You can imagine the pride I felt when I learned that he will be attending
the calmecac of Texcoco. When I was a boy back in Tenochtitlan, I
attended one of the cities many telpochcalli. It was there, living
under spartan conditions, that I was trained in the song and dance of rituals.
We also aided on construction of temples and were trained in the art of
war (Smith,137). I can still remember my first time in battle as
a novice warrior. Many a god was appeased with the sacrifice of the
captives we returned with on that day!
Yet, there will be an even brighter future
for my son. His intelligence and strength has not gone unnoticed
in the city. The calmecac is a school for nobles and only the most
exceptional commoners. There he will train in the temples, under
the tutelage of only the wisest priests (Smith,138). He will be trained
for a future in government, or priesthood, or military! Working under
priests will no doubt teach him the self-discipline, obedience and control
that the gods look most favorably upon.
As we enter the market, I once again admire
the grandeur of it all. I think only those who have traveled can
truly appreciate the spectacle of the Texcoco market, the second
largest in the empire. Thousands upon thousands gather to barter
or sell their goods. In the vast plaza, vendors set-up countless
stalls in streets according to their goods. One vast street holds
any type of game or dog a person could eat ( and more stench than a person
should bear). Another consists of herbs and medicines, while yet
another sells food and drink (Smith, 116). This is all done under
the watchful eyes of the gods whose images can be seen everywhere, inspecting
and guarding. Almost every artisan and merchant has a patron god.
I meet with my partners where we agree
to split-up with my partners handling the slaves and me the obsidian and
other goods. We agree to meet later and divide the profits.
Along with my son and my apprentice I go about my business, already knowing
which nobles or wealthy merchants were interested in my expensive goods.
Although I am always open to barter, today I look to sell much of the goods
for money in the form of cacao beans or quachtli (Smith,124). Some of the
obsidian tools I have are easily worth five quachtli each.
The market place swirls with conversation
of all sorts. Haggling here, gossip there, old friends meet as do
new ones. I can think of few places more exciting and pleasurable
than the Texcoco market. As I buy my son a fish pie, two tlanecuilo
approach me for help. As pochteca of the highest order it is our
duty to oversee and pass judgment on market affairs (Smith,117).
These two common merchants tell me of another commoner who has been passing
off counterfeit cacao beans filled with sawdust. Though busy, it
is my duty to investigate the matter. The merchant in question swears
that he has never counterfeited beans and was unaware that they were filled
with sawdust. I see that the old man is not lying and is a victim
of some other culprit. I order him to reimburse the two other merchants
along with a small fine and warn him to be wary of the people he does business
with in the future. The man gratefully heeds the advice and I once
again assume my business.
As it approaches noon, I see an old friend
and partner of mine, Ozomatli. We have known each other since I first
moved to Texcoco after my marriage. Our fathers who were pochteca
before us became good friends after one of my fathers frequent expeditions
to Texcoco from my native Tenochtitlan. They remained close throughout
the years and when I came to settle in Texcoco he looked out for me like
I was his own son. Since then Ozomatli and I have become like brothers
in life and work.
Although we have not spoken in a month,
I remember our last conversation and realize we may soon become true relatives.
His son, now eighteen and out of school, is ready for marriage and his
teachers and relatives have all suggested my daughter as a fine bride.
A matchmaker had already approached my wife while I was gone and little
is left but my approval. My daughter, now 13 years old, is has been
ready for marriage for sometime now, yet I have been reluctant to let her
go to just any commoner. But Ozomatli’s son is a good, strong young
man perfect for my daughter. I tell Ozomatli that nothing would make
me happier than to see them married and us family. Ozomatli shares
my happiness and excitement. He tells me that tomorrow he and his
wife will consult a soothsayer and determine a lucky day for the marriage,
because a marriage on an unlucky day will surely not succeed (Smith, 138).
We part, both eager for our upcoming plans.
As I finish up my business, we pass the
great temples in the center of town. It has been a while, so I stop
to pay homage and respect to our gods. It is for and through them
that I have governed my life the way I have. I remind my son of this
and he listens intently and thoughtfully as I speak, knowing the seriousness
of what I speak. As I speak to him, I begin to remember when my father
told me the same things at the great temples in Tenochtitlan. I remember
how he told explained to me our creation and how we all are indebted to
the gods through a cycle of blood: the blood they gave to create us and
the sacred blood we sacrifice to appease and thank them. The year
before, I took my son to Tenochtitlan to witness the great Toxcatl ceremonies.
The Toxcatl ceremonies come at the height of the dry season and are dedicated
to the god, Tezcatlipoca, in supplication for the start of the coming rainy
season (Smith,236). My son marveled at the immense city and elaborate,
beautiful ceremonies the same way I did so many years before. The
priests stoked roaring fires of incense as the sacrifices were conducted.
The temple was stained red that day and the air filled with the smell of
blood. Once again the gods were fed and in time the rains came again.
Dusk approaches and the market begins
to die down. I remember I still have an important errand to run and
we head back toward our capolli. As we walk back my son asks when
he will be allowed to join me on expeditions and I tell him he will soon
be on expeditions of his own. In my heart I feel he will succeed
in his life to degrees I dare not dream. My apprentice, who is my
faithful shadow, and I discuss and analyze the days events. He is
a fast learner and I am glad to see him and my son becoming friends.
We come to the home of Molotecatl,
the Tecuhtli lord of our capolli and one of the most favored nobles of
our tlatoni, the Imperial Ruler of Texcoco. At the gates of his huge,
two-story home, I tell my son and apprentice to wait outside as I go in
to conduct business. Molotecatl has been a wise and good lord to
our family and I know he looks upon me with great respect and admiration.
I have a suspicion that he had a major influence in having Ocelotl invited
to the calmecac. I have served him faithfully since I’ve been his
subject and have helped him prosper.
He greets me graciously and I bow with
respect. He offers me food and drink that I dare not refuse and asks
me of my most recent expedition. Often time I have traded goods directly
for him, but this time I had not. This time he was more interested
in information I had gathered from my trip. The pochteca have long
and respected tradition of spy work and information gathering ( Smith,123).
He is curious of the conditions in the northeastern realm of the empire
from which I had just returned. I tell him that I saw little to cause
alarm and assure him the enemies to the east have not grown too bold.
I can tell he is happy to hear this and assures me that when he conveys
this information he will attribute the source. It fills me with pride
that my voice will reach the tlatoani’s ear.
Molotecatl then presents a most serious
and interesting proposition to me. He asks me to head an expedition
to the southeastern parts of the Triple-Alliance empire in an effort to
gather information on strange rumors of floating cities off the western
coast. Although it is greatly interesting, I remind him that I am
older now and not of the same spirit and strength that I once was, when
I made yearly expeditions to the most dangerous corners of the world.
But, now I tell him I fear I’m too old. He offers to send me with
armed guard and promises handsome rewards hard to turn down. I tell
him that my wife will be with child soon and will need me to stay close
to home with my daughter getting married, but that I shall consider it
in a few months time. He seems hopeful of this and assures me I’m
the only man he is considering to send. I thank him for his regard
and pay my respects to his family before leaving.
It is dark by the time I emerge from his
home to find my son and apprentice throwing stones at large stump in the
field next to the house. We hurry home where my wife has had food
prepared for sometime and is busy keeping it warm. Though full from
the food I had just eaten at my lords home, I eat my share of my wife’s
cooking, not wanting to upset her. As we eat, we discuss the upcoming
marriage of our daughter and I see that both my wife and daughter are excited.
After dinner we all head to our quarters
for sleep and I tell my wife of my lord’s proposition. I can tell
she doesn’t want me leaving on any more expeditions and with my success
I really don’t need too. She says she will still support any decision
I make and suggests I consult a soothsayer on the matter. I agree,
and pull her close to me as I rub her belly.
Three children! Nothing could make
a man happier, and truly I was looked favorably upon by the gods.
In the path they had set for me in life, I had not failed and in the role
they had chose for me, I served dutifully. I pray that my own children
will be as lucky and favored. Ocelotl shall truly make a fine warrior,
and Xochitl the most fertile of mothers. And my unborn child?
Who knows what extraordinary life the gods had planned for it! And
dreaming of his still unwritten life, I fell into a peaceful sleep.