How the Aztec (Nahua) Raised Sons as Warriors
Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded this text in the mid-16th century as part of an effort to gather information about native Aztec history and customs. Sahagún went to Mexico in 1529 as one of the first missionaries assigned to the newly conquered territory of New Spain. He remained there until his death, preaching and instructing youth in Spanish, Latin, science, religion, and music. He acquired mastery of the Aztec language and collected information to help missionaries and government officials convert the indigenous people to Christianity.
The 12-volume manuscript included text, illustrations, and a grammar of the Aztec language. Completed in 1569, authorities in Spain did not want the work published in New Spain for fear of encouraging the continuation of indigenous practices. It was first published in 1829 as Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España with an English translation in 1831.
The document illustrates elements in the socialization of boys who were among the nobility, whose way of life and culture by the time of Sahagún had been irrevocably altered by Spanish rule and the influence of the Catholic missionaries. Other passages in this book of the Florentine Codex refer to values such as chastity for boys as well as girls, the civic duties and roles of a ruler, and other personal virtues.
And behold how began the life of the young boy. At first, while still a small boy, his hair was shorn. And when he was already ten years old, they then let a tuft of hair grown on the back of his head. And when he was fifteen years old, then the tuft of hair became long. [This was] when he had nowhere taken captives.
And if he took a captive with the help of others, —perchance doing so with the aid of two, or of three, or four, or of five, or of six, at which point came to an end [the reckoning] that a captive was taken with others' help—then the lock of hair was removed. And this was the division of their captive: in six parts it came. The first, who was the real captor, took his body and one of his thighs—the one with the right foot. And the second who took part [in the capture] took the left thigh. And the third took the right upper arm. The fifth took the right forearm. And as for the sixth, he took the left forearm.
And when the tuft on the back of his head was removed, he was shorn so that he was left [another] lock: his hair dress kept, on the right side, the hair hanging low, reaching the bottom of his ear; to one side [only] was is lock of hair set. When this [was done], he assumed another face, he appeared otherwise, so that it might be seen that he had made a captive with the help of others [and that] the tuft of hair on the back of his head had been removed.
And then his grandfather, or his beloved uncle, addressed him. He said to him: “My beloved grandson, the sun the lord of the earth, hath washed thy face. You have taken another face; and you have gone to throw yourself against the foe. Let them take you if, without profit, once more you take a captive with the aid of others. What would you be? Would you have a young girl's lock of hair? Take care lest you again take a captive with others' help. Cast yourself against our foes…
Bernardino de Sahagún (translated by Charles E. Dribble and Arthur J.O. Anderson), Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain, Book 8—Kings and Lords, Chapter 21 (Santa Fe: School of American Research and the University of Utah, 1954), excerpt from pages 75-77. (accessed February 2, 2010). Annotated by Susan Douglass.