Aztec (Mexica) religious practice has much overlap with European norms, including the observance of fasts. The festival of Atamalqualiztli occurred every eight years, and fasting was central to its practice. The break of this fast was celebrated with the hymn that follows.
Bernardino de Sahagún informs us in the Appendix to the second book of his Historia that “When the Indians celebrated the festival called atamalqualiztli, which took place every eight years, certain natives called Mazateca swallowed living serpents and frogs, and received garments as a recompense for their daring.” Perhaps this celebration with snakes reinforced the importance and sacred nature of the festival.
Atamalqualiztli (The Eating of Water Tamales or the Festival of the Water Pancakes) was an held either in the month of Quecholli (late October-early November) or in Tepeilhuitl (beginning of October). As Bernardino de Sahagún describes, it involved a week-long period of fasting, in which people ate nothing except for a daily midday portion of unseasoned tamales soaked in water. It is thought that the festival was celebrated in order to allow the food to rest from being treated and cooked, with the belief that in this way the food would be revitalized, a festival to insure abundance. The morning after the festival was known as ‘It is sprinkled with the acid of pepper’, in honor of the end of the fast. The hymn is recited at this time.
“The flower in my heart” is a metaphorical expression for song.
Tonan, “Our Mother” is Tlazolteotl, the goddess of carnal love, the Venus of the Aztec.
Centeotl is the god of maize and fertility.
The flowers referred to in the Hymn are the youths and maidens who die young.
The house of the ballplayer may refer to a tomb; the ballgame was the Mexica gladiator games.
Quetzalcoatl is the plumed serpent, with Tlaloc, the creation forces.
This is the Hymn which they sang every eight years when they fasted on bread and water.
The flower in my heart blossoms and spreads abroad in the middle of the night.
Tonan has satisfied her passion,
the goddess Tlazolteotl has satisfied her passion.
I, Cinteotl, was born in Paradise,
I come from the place of flowers. I am the only flower, the new, the glorious one.
Cinteotl was born from the water;
he came born as a mortal, as a youth,
from the cerulean home of the fishes, a new, a glorious god.
He shone forth as the sun;
his mother dwelt in the house of the dawn,
varied in hue as the Quetzal bird, a new, a glorious flower.
I came forth on the earth,
even to the market place like a mortal,
even I, Quetzalcoatl, great and glorious.
Be ye happy under the flower-bush varied in hue as the Quetzal bird;
listen to the Quetzal singing to the gods;
listen to the singing of the Quetzal along the river;
hear its flute along the river in the house of the reeds.
Alas! would that my flowers would cease from dying;
our flesh is as flowers,
even as flowers in the place of flowers.
He plays at ball, he plays at ball,
the servant of marvelous skill;
he plays at ball, the precious servant; look at him;
even the ruler of the nobles follows him to his house.
O youths! O youths! follow the example of your ancestors;
make yourselves equal to them in the ball count;
establish yourselves in your houses.
She goes to the mart, they carry Xochiquetzal to the mart;
she speaks at Cholula;
she startles my heart; she startles my heart;
she has not finished, the priest knows her;
where the merchants sell green jade earrings she is to be seen,
in the place of wonders she is to be seen.
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
I fold my hands to sleep,
I, O woman, sleep.
In Nahuatl – the native tongue of the Mexica:
Izcatqui yn cuicatl chicuexiuhtica meuaya iniquac atamalqualoya.
Xochitl noyollo cuepontimania ye tlacoyoalle, oaya, oouayaye.
Yecoc ye tonan, yecoc ye teutl tlacolteutla, oaya, ooayaya.
Otlacatqui çenteutl tamiyoanichan ni xochitlicacani. Çey xochitli yantala, yantata, ayyao, ayyaue, tilili yao, ayaue, oayyaue.
Otlacatqui çenteutl, atl, yayaui cani tlaca pillachiualoya chalchimichuacan, yyao, yantala, yatanta, a yyao, ayyaue tilili yao, ayyaue, oayyaue.
Oya tlatonazqui tlauizcalleuaya inan tlachinaya nepapan quechol, xochitlacacan y yantala, yantata, ayyao, ayyaue, tilili yao, ayyaue, oayyayaue.
Tlalpa timoquetzca, tianquiz nauaquia nitlacatla, ni quetzalcoatla, yyao, yantala, yantata, ayyao, ayyaue, tilili yao ayyaue, oayyayue.
Ma ya auiallo xochinquauitl itlani nepapan quecholli ma ya in quecholli xicaquiya tlatoaya y toteuh, xicaquiya tlatoaya y quechol amach yeua tonicauh tlapitza amach ychan tlacaluaz, ouao.
Aye oho, yyayya, ça miquiyecauiz ça noxocha tonaca xochitli ye izqui xochitla, xochitlicacan, yyaa.
Ollama, ollama uiue xolutl nauallachic, ollama ya xolutl chalchiuecatl xiquitta mach, oya moteca piltzintecutli yoanchan, yoanchan.
Piltzintle, piltzintle toçuitica timopotonia tlachco, timotlalli yoanchan, yoanchan.
Oztomecatla yyaue, oztomecatla xochiquetzal quimama, ontlatca cholola, ayye, ayyo, oye maui noyol, oye maui noyol, aoya yecoc centeutl, matiuia obispo, oztomecatl chacalhoa, xiuhnacochtla, yteamic ximaquiztla yteamico, ayye, ayye.
Cochina, cochina, cocochi ye nicmaololo, ni cani ye çiuatl ni cochina yyeo, ouayeo, yho, yya, yya.
Rig Veda Americanus. Sacred Songs of the Ancient Mexicans, with a Gloss in Nahuatl.
Edited and annotated by Daniel G. Brinton
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.