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HUEHUEHTLAHTOLLI: the ancient word.

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The Anahuac civilization is one of the 6 oldest ancient in the world with an endogenous origin. It is supposed that agriculture began in the sixth millennium BCE, and during 4500 years they invented, developed and polished, the foundations for uprooting the human development project.

Indeed, the Olmec culture, known as the mother culture began between the States of Veracruz and Tabasco in 1500 BCE., however, it was not an "spontaneous creation". In those 4500 years, between the invention of agriculture and its appearance in La Venta,[1] the ancient peoples of the Anahuac built the foundations of civilization through the creation of an efficient food system, an efficient health system, a strong educational system and an adequate system of social organization and a legal regime, allowing the ancient Mexicans to start the spiritual project of their civilization, which culminate in the apex of their "knowledge pyramid" their greatest existential quest, as the Egyptians and the Babylonians did, to cite two ancient civilizations.

Thus, with the Olmec in the preclassical period we find the first bases of the education system. The Telpochcalli (House of youth), as well as Cuicacalli (House of singing), and the Calmecac (House of measure), became the basis of their society and shall remain present in the splendor period known as classical with the Toltecs, the Spanish were able to observe this system during the postclassic or decadent with the Aztecs. One of the things that marveled Hernan Cortes was not to find any children without school in 1521, as it was compulsory and free. Public education in Europe was only launched in Italy 1596 AD.

For this educational system there had to be the means to maintain and transmit knowledge. As the civilization was based on orality, codices were not books that could be “read”. Instead, were books with drawings that reminded those using them as "histories learned from memory". Mnemonic resources to remember what they learned. Although presumably the Maya developed a writing system that is only beginning to be decoded. The majority of peoples kept their knowledge through codices made in amate paper[2]  and deerskin.

When colonization arrived and since the College of Santiago Tlatelolco was opened, school designed by spaniards for children of indigenous nobles who were their allies, a handful of students learned to speak, read and write Latin, the Spanish and developed the grammar to write nahuatl.

It was thanks to this initiative of the missionaries that much of the knowledge which were kept for millennia in the language and in the codices, could be "transcribed" to the written culture. Padre Las Casas, Fray Andrés de Olmos, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún and Alfonso de Zurita, among others collected fragments of this legacy.

One of the "sacred books" of the ancient Mexicans certainly can be considered what today we know as HUEHUEHTLAHTOLLI or ancient word book. Originally written in nahuatl has several spanish translations, as some diligent missionaries also picked up this “book” which stood for thousands of years in the language of the peoples of the Anahuac.

This book contains the "speeches" that parents gave their children to educate them. The moral, ethical and religious foundations with which ancient Mexicans lived are found.

It is important to underline that we must consider that the Anahuac civilization is one, regardless of multiple cultures in different spaces and times. Thus, we assert that the HUEHUEHTLAHTOLLI, despite being written in nahuatl (which was the lingua franca) was also known in all the languages of the different ancient peoples, and to date, they survive in the nationwide popular culture. Indeed, in many indigenous and peasant peoples of the current Mexico survive some of these tips that have been inherited from generation to generation and, although are said in Spanish, remain with the essence of the ancient word.

These "advice or speeches" were learned from memory and were used for very special occasions, both for the education of daughters and sons, and to interact with people of high rank in very special moments.

When reading "the ancient word" one can penetrate into the moral and ethical values of the Anahuac’s society. One can know the roles that young people had to observe, their responsibilities and commitments with family and spouse. The HUEHUEHTLAHTOLLI are written with parables and poetic-philosophical figures. The tenderness and sweetness of its forms move the reader.

The symbols of nature are everywhere and the relationship with the divine and sacred is total. Values for honesty, purity, work, respect for the elderly, the responsibilities with children and the elderly. As well as the relationship with chaste, frugal and austere life, are present in the HUEHUEHTLAHTOLLI.

WORDS of EXHORTATION that a mother thus speaks, instructs her daughter.

"Now my little girl, little dove, little woman, you have life, you were born, you've fallen from my breast, my chest. Because I have forged you, I have modeled you, you were made, you father formed you petite, your lord. Hopefully you will not wander suffering on Earth. How will you live next to people, with the people? Because in dangerous places, scary places, with great difficulty one lives. Thus there are roughness on Earth, because the faces of the people finish, people's hearts and person’s shoulders, backs, elbows, knees. Thus, give people a little consideration, it makes them deserve fame, their honor, warmth, sweetness, their flavor, our Lord.

And you, don't you give up, do not to be wasted, don't stay behind, you are my necklace, my quetzal feather; do not let your face be damaged, your heart or your shoulder, your back, your elbow, your knee, if you sweep, to clean, to wash the hands, face, mouth to others. And also put yourself next to the water, the metate, and catch well, take the molcajente, the basket; to the people, next to them, arrange them, separate them.

Don’t go looking for discussion, do not offer it without consideration; only calmly, slowly expose (your words), and not you'll go as a fool, you'll not go panting, laughing, you'll not go seeing in front of you, or through, you'll not glance directly at people, you will only go straight forward, you'll only go seeing to the front when you address people or go before them or when you find them. So there you’ll have fame, honor. As such nobody will set you aside, so you will not annoy anyone. Only then, in the Middle, is what corresponds to the community, honor.

HUEHUEHTLAHTOLLI. Testimonies from the ancient word. Miguel León Portilla. SEP/FCE México. 1991.

 


[1] La Venta is a pre-Columbian archaeological site of the Olmec civilization located in the present-day Mexican state of Tabasco. Some of the artifacts have been moved to the museum "Parque - Museo de La Venta", which is in nearby Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco.

[2] Amate from Nahuatl language: ?matl  is a type of bark paper that has been manufactured in Mexico since the precontact times. It was used primarily to create codices.

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