Research Paper - Capps 1 Joshua I. Capps Dr. Buchanan...

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Capps 1 Joshua I. Capps Dr. Buchanan Modern Languages 260 17 April 2007 Pre-Hispanic Commemorations of the Deceased in Mesoamerica and their Continuance into Modern Times Death. In today’s society this word conveys a sense of morbidity and is often deemed unspeakable. In the United States we do not use this word unless we are speaking in a somber tone. According to José Tomás de Cuéllar, “From the most savage to the most civilized, all cultures divide their public ceremonies into two categories: rejoicing and funerals…we have divided ourselves into two cities: the silent cities called cemeteries and the happy cities where survivors cry and laugh.”(Alfaro 79) However, this segregation of happiness and death is not consistent throughout the world. For example, in Mexico they celebrate The Day of the Dead, an ancient ritual in which locals honor the dead and welcome them back to the Earth. Cuéllar finishes his statement by concluding that, “Only Mexico could convert funereal pomp into rejoicing.”(Alfaro 79) These traditions of rejoicing death date back to 1500 B.C.E., whenever the Aztecs inhabited Mesoamerica. Even after Hernán Cortés invaded this area in 1514 bringing Catholic traditions which mingled with the Aztec beliefs, many of the ancient rites are still a major part of today’s Day of the Dead. “Human mortality is the result of an accident,” states a Nahuatl creation myth. “Had Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, the great Mesoamerican creator god, not stumbled and dropped the bones of our predecessors on earth, we might all be mortal.”(Carmichael and Sayer 25) After Quetzalcoatl gathered these bones he took them to Tamoanchan, the “paradise” of the
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Capps 2 Aztecs. There the bones were ground up by the Earth Goddess, Cihuacoatl and mixed fertilized with Quetzalcoatl’s blood. These bones gave rise to a new race of human that was fatally flawed, because of the damage these bones had incurred, this new race was mortal. The Aztecs of pre- Hispanic Mesoamerica were a very culturally complex group. This cultural labyrinth is the result of the adoption of the beliefs and gods of the other indigenous groups whom the Aztecs had conquered. The Aztecs believed that the destiny of a soul was determined by the manner of death and not the conduct during life. Hence, they believed that the each type of death would lead to a different type of afterlife. The souls of those who died from natural causes went to Mictlan, which was the place of the dead. It was believed that those who died in this way encountered a 4 year journey to reach Mictlan. Juanita Garciagodoy says that after these people had died, citizens of the community would make offerings to them at the time of their death, eighty days later and on the anniversary of their death for the next four years in order to aid the dead person’s soul on their journey to Mictlan. (Garciagodoy 110-111) This act is still practiced today in Mexico where families will build large altars in their homes called ofrendas, which they decorate with skulls and religious
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This note was uploaded on 04/25/2008 for the course ML 260 taught by Professor Buchanan during the Spring '07 term at University of Louisville.

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Research Paper - Capps 1 Joshua I. Capps Dr. Buchanan...

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