Published Date

May 1, 2004

Resource Type

Primary Source

This resource was developed in 2004 as part of “The Conquest of Mexico” by Nancy Fitch.

From Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, The Florentine Codex, Book 12, Chapter 19 (Mexica)

Here it is told how the Spaniards ordered the Mexicas to observe the festival of Huitzilopochtli; yet this did not take place in the presence of the Captain: at this time he had gone to the coast where Pánfilo de Narváez had arrived.

And then the Sun [Pedro de Alvarado] asked about the Festival of Huitzilopochtli, how the festival [was celebrated]. He wanted to admire it and see in what form it is celebrated.

Thereupon Moctezuma gave the order, and those who came to the Emperor’s palace spread the word.

And when the notice [la licencia] came from Moctezuma’s prison, the women who had fasted for a year began to grind the chicalote seeds in the temple courtyard.

The Spaniards appeared together [in the courtyard] with their weapons of war. They were decorated; they were armed. They walked among the women, encircled them, scrutinized each of the women who were grinding seeds. And then they then entered the Great Palace. As is known, it is said that at that time they had the intention of killing people if men had been assembled there.

And when the Festival of Tóxcatl had arrived, toward sundown, they began to shape [with dough made of the ground chicalote seeds] Huitzilopochtli into a human form, with a human semblance, with all the appearance of a man.

[Eliminated here is a long section on further preparations.]

And when dawn came on the day of the fiesta early in the morning, those who had made vows before him unwrapped him [Huitzilopochtli]. They stood before their idol in single file and offered him incense and gifts of festival food: (maybe food of human meat), round seedcakes and thick amaranth [dough]. And things being this way, they did not lift it, they did not carry it to [the top of] its pyramid.

And all the men, the young warriors, were totally willing with all their heart to celebrate the festival, to commemorate the festival in order to show, exhibit proudly, and demonstrate it so that the Spaniards would admire [their rituals].

The procession began, and everyone went into the temple patio in order to dance “The Dance of the Snake.” And when everyone had gathered before their major god, they began to sing and dance.

And those who had fasted twenty days and those who had fasted a year, stood aside facing the others: they maintained the dancers in file with pine sticks. And if someone wanted to urinate [he did not stop dancing], he opened his clothing at the hips and separated his heron feathers.

If anyone showed disobedience or was not in his proper order, they struck him on the hips, on the legs, and on the shoulders. Then they violently tossed him out of the patio, beating him and shoving him to the ground, and they dragged him outside with his face in the dirt by the ears. No one said a word about the punishment.

Those who had fasted for a year were feared and were worthy of adoration; they had earned the exclusive title, “Brothers of Huitzilopochtli.”

The great captains, the great leaders, the brave ones, danced at the head of the files to guide people. Youngsters followed at a short distance. Some of the youths wore their hair in large locks, indicating that they had never taken any captives. Others had jar-shaped headdresses indicating that they had taken prisoners but only with other people’s help.

Then came the young warriors, those who had already taken one or two captives. [The leaders] said to them: “Let’s go friends, show the people [how good you dance], then leave.”