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Ancestral identity

An eagle’s gold toned pupils dilate as its talons pierce the cactus’s green flesh. Today’s hunt slithers for the last time and becomes a toy snake for the eagle’s enjoyment. At last the Aztec community’s prophecy has been fulfilled for the vision of an eagle with a snake in its beak perched on a cactus, has been achieved. And now the Aztec people will build their empire’s fortress, Tenochtitlan near the area of the vision and become one of MesoAmerica’s greatest native civilizations.

In celebration of Aztec culture, UTPA will host Flower, Song and Dance, a poetic and musical celebration of Aztec culture. The event commences Sept. 21 at the UTPA library auditorium from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Brief Aztec History

The Aztecs who called themselves Mexica or Tenocha spoke the Nahuatl and Nahuat languages. During the 14th to 16th centuries the Aztec empire flourished thanks to their accomplishments in architectural, artistic, mythological and religious traditions. However, in 1521 Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes brought the Aztec’s to their knees and with Spain’s victory the majority of Aztec people assimilated to foreign languages and religious beliefs, such as Christianity. Therefore the traces of Aztec ancestry can be found in Hispanics because of history’s intermixing of different societies.

According to an article on the website Everyculture, central Mexico is home to the largest group of “Nahuatl” (generic label for those who speak dialects of the Aztec language) speaking community. The Nahua live in four major regions: the Huasteca, the northern Sierra de Puebla, the southern Sierra de Puebla and Morelos and Guerrero.

The 2010 Mexican Census states there are, 1,544,968 Nahuatl-speaking peoples existing today. Nahuatl speakers, in fact, represent 23.08 percent of all indigenous speakers.

Flower, Song and Dance

During the presentation David Bowles will read from his newly published translations of Aztec verse against the backdrop of Carl Seale’s Toxcatl. The presentation will be accompanied by video of the historic 1989 performance of Toxcatl featuring the UTPA Folkloric Dance company, under the artistic direction of Francisco and Maria Munoz.

Bowles, an associate professor of education leadership at the University, said his poetry readings will emphasize an Aztec warrior’s destiny and how his death on the battlefield or ritual sacrifice assured him a place in the House of Sun (Paradise in the East).

“The warrior upon his death will then transform into a butterfly or bird and accompany the sun to its zenith (upper region of the sky) each day,” he explained. “The price of this reward, of course, is separation from his loved ones and the pleasures of the earth. So many of the poems I’ll be reading extol the virtues of self-sacrifice and honor and underscore the trials and tribulations of earthly existence.”

The backdrop to Bowles reading, the Toxcatl ballet was inspired by the celebration of the fifth month of the Aztec calendar.

According to an article on the website Wired, the Aztecs used two different types of calendars. The calendar used for rituals had a 260 day rotation and 20 divine symbols for each week. Each week was associated with a god and had 13 numbered days. The agricultural calendar had 18 months of 20 days each and was used to keep pace with the seasons. Each month was divided into four market weeks of five days each leading the calendar to 365 days.

Bowles explained that the two interlocking calendars (365-day solar and 260-day ritual) were important because they drove community rituals.

“And the calendars also determined a person’s tonalli or animal soul, thereby determining their likely personality, strengths and weakness,” he said.

However, dance ceremonies also played a major role in the Aztec culture. Dr. Carl Seale’s Toxcatl  ballet focuses on the dance rituals used as a way to call down Huitzilopochtli, chief god and lord of the sun, or his warrior companions to share the divine song with bards and dancers.

According to an article on the website Sacramento Press, the Xipe Colores Company praises Xipe Totec, the Aztec god of spring and new vegetation and also the patron of gold mines. Participants dance with “Codo de Flailer” (ayoyote-seeded) ankle bands with drums for background music.

The Flower, Song, and Dance event is meant to encourage audience members to take time to research their roots and find appreciation for their heritage or other cultures. Bowles noted that the celebration’s purpose is to give deeper appreciation of the philosophical complexity of Aztec culture.

“Although we know a lot, superficially, about Aztec history and their conflict with Spain, few people have been exposed to the poignant musings of that culture,” Bowles said.

Amy Cummins, an associate professor of English literature at the University, hopes to hear some good poetry by Bowles, whose work she admires.

“I also hope to enjoy and learn from seeing the recording of the ballet Toxcatl,” Cummins said. “I expect the audience may be amazed by the beauty of the poetry and the ballet.”

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