Nahua Philosophy: The Rebirth of a Cultural Identity

As a Mexica (Aztec) dancer, I’ve noticed that those of us caught in the Mexican diaspora find ourselves in search of a deeper connection with our ancestry. After 500 years of colonization, we are looking for something that is culturally significant instead of following religious beliefs that have been forced upon us. So what is Nahua philosophy? From the Eurocentric colonial perspective, the answer is Aztec savages that removed hearts and indulged in cannibalism. For those of us who are not culturally inept, the answer is invariably different. It is a philosophy of kindness, respect and self-analysis.

When the Spaniards first came to the New World, they not only burned thousands of sacred books and killed spiritual leaders, but severely misinterpreted the images and words they saw and heard. The word Teotl in Nahuatl means “energy,” which was taken by the Spaniards to mean “God” for its resemblance to the Greek word Theus. In reality there is no plethora of gods, but only sacred energies that exist in the natural world. The Nahua people, being in constant observance of nature, developed a philosophy that focuses on how to live in harmony with the universe and the elements that exist within it.

These beliefs where transmitted through the huehuetlatolli, meaning “ancient word,” or discourse of the elders. It’s in the huehuetlatolli that the ancestors left modes of conduct, morality, philosophy and advice called the 20 consejos. Here are three of the consejos that have given me the most guidance.

  • First consejo: Respect your father, mother, grandmothers and grandfathers, but respect even more everything and everyone that surround you. Only in this way will you live in harmony with life.
  • Second consejo: Everything that surrounds you is moldable. With your thoughts and hands, make it more beautiful than when you first found it.
  • 10th consejo: Don’t forget that you are a star and that you have to shine. Otherwise, the hole you fall into will be more profound the farther you get from the sky.

You might be asking, “Jenine, what do they mean?” The first is pretty straightforward. The second, as I learned from a master from Mexico, is that we are responsible for our own actions. Everywhere we go we must go with the thought, “How can I make things better?” The 10th consejo was explained like this: when children threw tantrums or were disrespectful, the ancestors would say, “Have you forgotten you’re a star?” When you do these things, you are not only forgetting your luminosity, but digging yourself into a hole. As stars we must remember to shine and by this allow others to see.

Simple, right? If only we were taught this in school instead of human sacrifices and demon gods. At the end of the day, why does it matter? Why should we care about indigenous spiritualities? The fact is you don’t have to, but as Latinos who are culturally invested in our histories, there comes a responsibility to realistically and honorably represent the places and people we come from. We owe it to ourselves and the millions of people that history has shamelessly misrepresented. The revival of our cultural past is nothing short of a revolutionary act. We are, and always have been, deep, forward-thinking people, and it’s about time the world acknowledged us as such.