More Lessons from the Aztecs
June 25, 2022
A few more points to highlight from Camilia Townsend's Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs.
"It required thousands of years of effort on the part of Mexico's women to turn those little tufts [of kernels on teosinte] into what we would recognize as ears of corn."
Why is this observation significant? One of her themes in the book is the resilience of the people of central Mexico in facing hard times and a constantly changing world. So way in their prehistory we have this example. Untold generations slowly genetically modifying a plant into a nutritious, edible grain. Could we draw any hope and inspiration and resolve from this?
Writing about the formation of early Nahua culture in the central valley, she says, "To do good, a person had to suppress egotism and do what was best calculated to keep his or her people alive and successful in the long term. Everyone was expected to give thought to the future." What a good lesson for us.
She writes about how Nahua storytellers had different versions of stories and histories that would be publicly, orally performed. And part of the ritual was purposely to hear these various versions. From this she concludes, "The expression of different points of view, they knew, worked to bind people together." And in another place, "To them, truth was necessarily multiple; they knew that no single person could give a full account of an important moment."
In a chapter about the Mexica's attempts to respond and survive in the early days of the conquest, she writes about how they worked hard to record stories and preserve their language and states, "If they could not remember their past, how could they articulate demands for their future?"
In a chapter on the third generation after the conquest, she writes, "They would experience loss, but it would never be permanent. Life was not easy, but it was nevertheless profoundly good. It was too simple to say that any enemies, including the Europeans, could ever bring pure evil or utter devastation to the land."
As I wrote in previous posts while reading and reviewing this book, I resonated with its key takeaways about a life of resilience in the midst of catastrophe, about learning to live well in a world that is constantly changing, of being flexible and persistent. Virtues that we definitely need for the times in which we live.
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