The Destruction of the Aztecs as a Result of Miscommunication and Lack of Cultural Understanding

Written By Marjorie Montenegro

Home | Short Stories | Essays | Literary Reviews | Term Papers | Poetry | Contact Me

The collision of the Spaniards and the Aztecs was a collision of two alien cultures that had evolved over thousands of years, each unknown to the other. Here we have two empires that see the world through two totally different perspectives. Miscommunication and lack of cultural understanding were major factors in the breakdown of diplomatic relations between the Aztecs and Spaniards. The Aztec perspective was based on prophecy and sign but the Spanish were led by tangible real-world concerns such as riches and power. Thus, the Aztec's were defeated prior to the coming of the Conquistador. It was not the Spaniards who killed the Aztec nation, but the Aztec nation itself. Was the conquest an act of genocide? First, let us decide on a definition for genocide. For clarity purposes, this paper will adopt the definition given by the 1994 U.N. Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide describes genocide beyond outright murder of people as: "the destruction and extermination of culture." Weighed against the above definition, all indications say, "Yes, it was". However, this was an act of genocide perpetrated upon a nation who itself was content to commit the same atrocity upon people of its own nation. For years, the Aztecs conquered and plundered their way across America either assimilating, destroying or enslaving other Indian tribes. Activities such as these enabled the Spaniards to sail into America with nothing and walk away with the whole enchilada.

Through an exploration of the events of the conquest of Mexico, we can get a clear picture of how the Aztec nation, purportedly consisting of millions of Natives, was defeated by 600 marooned conquistadors and a band of disgruntled natives. I will attempt to show how neither the conquistadors nor smallpox were the sole causes of the destruction of the mighty Aztec nation. Rather, it was a breakdown in diplomacy and an inability on the part of the Aztecs to co-exist with others on a temporal plane, thinking only in the context of prophesy and omen. The Aztec nation, although fabulous to behold, was structured for destruction because it lacked the ability to adjust and adapt to reality on a human level.

The Aztecs created their great city of Tenochtitlán upon the backs of its neighboring tribes. The Aztec's city was founded in the year 1325. The Aztecs then extended their rule from the Gulf coast to the Pacific and as far south as Guatemala through conquering and assimilating the people who already inhabited that land. They accomplished all this in only one century.

The expansion of the Aztec rule and culture over vast regions was simultaneous with another expansionist movement, that of Spain. When the Spaniards of the Old World and the Aztecs in the New World met face to face on that November day in 1519, their attitudes toward each other were very different. The Aztecs were looking at events through the fog of prophesy and omen, while the Spaniards saw the Aztec people as savages and thought only of seizing their riches, forcing them to convert to Christianity and pressuring them into pledging loyalty to the Spanish empire. Although Cortés recognized the Aztecs as great warriors and civilized savages, their lack of Christian belief allowed him to justify the conquering of these people. This confrontation was the meeting of two radically dissimilar cultures with two fundamentally different modes of interpreting existence and two separate agendas.

Ironically, much of the growth of Aztec power was as a result of the royal counselor Tlacaelel, nephew to Itzcoatl. He established a number of important changes in the tribe's political, religious, social and economic structure, but it is his decision to slant the history of the Aztec people that bears attention. One of the indigenous texts in the Códice Matritense describes how Itzcoatl and the king decided to give their people a new version of Aztec history.

They preserved an account of their history,
but later it was burned,
during the reign of Itzcoatl.
The lords of Mexico decreed it,
the lords of Mexico declared:
"It is not fitting that our people
should know these pictures.
Our people, our subjects, will be lost
and our land destroyed,
for these pictures are full of lies....

(Auxillou, p. 9)

In the new version, the Aztecs claim to be descended from Toltec nobility. In addition, their gods, Huitzilopochtli in particular, are raised to the same level as the ancient creative gods Tezcadipoca, and Quetzalcoatl. This rewriting of the cultural base of their history is a form of genocide as it constitutes the wholesale destruction of the true culture of the Aztecs, replacing it with a self-serving creation of its author. This new "history of the Aztecs was the predecessor of the morals used by the Aztecs in reference to warfare, as now it was the duty of the Aztec people to conquer all other nations. In part, the motive was to extend the rule of Tenochtitlán, but the major purpose was to capture victims for sacrifice. This practice of sacrifice was to be the undoing of the Aztecs as it demonized them in the eyes of the Spaniards.

This leads to the reasons that the conquistadors were able to enlist the assistance of the indigenous people of America against their neighbor. As a result of the Aztec's domination of the region and the demands put upon these tribes, the people of the tribes were disgruntled with the status of their nations. The Aztecs set out to conquer the other city states and, one by one, they were forced to submit. Other states, alarmed by the Aztecs' growing power, elected to sign treaties with Tenochtitlán and to deliver it tribute. This system is similar to that of Spain upon its discovery of America.

However, the Aztecs did not conquer their neighbors the Tlaxcaltecas, although they could have easily done so. This would not have been in its best interest as it was a continual source of victims for human sacrifice. Therefore the Aztecs maintained a state of war with Tlaxcala, but never actually conquered it in order to continue to farm victims. The Tlaxcaltecas were so hateful that when Cortés arrived they became his most loyal native allies. This alliance was of monumental importance to Cortés and the Spaniards as it enabled them to have the upper hand in deciphering the important aspects of the Native American societal actions, which they were able to manipulate to their advantage, such as the prophetic return of Quetzalcoatl.

The Indian's battlefield experience, however, was the result of complex political rivalries that had existed in the region for centuries, rivalries the Spanish under Hernando Cortés were able to turn to their advantage. As one scholar of Aztec military strategy recently emphasized, "while the Spanish conquest is now seen as a major watershed in the history of the New World," to the various competing Indian polities at the time "the Spanish were simply another group, albeit an alien one, seeking to gain political dominance in central Mexico." As such, although the first people the Spanish confronted, the Tlaxcaltecs, could easily have defeated the conquistadors, they saw in them instead potential confederates against their traditional adversaries. (Stannard, p. 75-76).

The Spaniard entered into the conquest waiving the banner of conversion to Christianity; therefore, they felt that they were justified in what actions they took in order to expedite the salvation of souls for the Christian faith. Believing that the Native Americans were heathens guilty of idolatry, the Spaniards took up the cause of minister to the lost souls of America. If we look closely however, we find that in actuality the religions of these two great nations were not totally divergent. Remarkably, they contained numerous similarities in both belief and practice.

In Tenochtitlán, and other cities there were groups of wise men known as tlamatinime. Despite the popularity of the cult of the war-god, Huitzilopochtli, the tlamatinime preserved the old belief in a single supreme god, who was known under a variety of names. The long list of names; however, were merely different titles for a single god, but the people believed it referred to a whole pantheon of separate deities. This caused the Spaniards to regard the Aztecs as an idolatrous nation. However, as we will see, this practice is not unique to the Aztecs.

The Spanish religion of Catholicism, which rather than having tlamatinimes had priests, preached one supreme god. It appears that Christianity, like the Aztecs, gave more than one name to one god, such as the trinity, consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Another way Catholics could be seen as idolatrous is in their worship of saints. Saints were mere people who performed great acts of faith under trying circumstances, thus, Catholics worshiped them every time they were faced with a trouble that a saint was known to have overcome. One example of this can be found during the battle of Cholula. The Cholultecas understood and believed that the God of the white men was more powerful than their own. The Tlaxcaltecas, seeing themselves in the very thick of that battle and massacre, called upon St. James the Apostle having earlier heard the Spaniards calling to him. In loud voices they called out, "Santiago! " Therefore, from that day to this, when they are in some difficulty or danger, the Mexican people invoke the saint.

The Aztec's religious conception of warfare may have motivated the expansion of their empire, but it also contributed to its destruction. On several occasions, the Aztecs could have wiped out the Spaniards but the ceremonial elements in their attitude toward war prevented them from taking full advantage of their opportunities.

A war or battle always commenced with a certain ritual: shields, arrows and cloaks of a special kind were sent to the enemy leaders as a formal declaration that they would soon be attacked. This explains the Aztecs' surprise when the Spaniards, their guests, suddenly turned on them without any apparent motive and-more important-without the customary ritual warning. This ritual can also be used to demonstrate how important diplomatic relation and communication was at this time.

For instance, when the Spanish first made contact with the Tlaxcalans, a simple mistake on the Spaniards' part set relations off on the wrong course. The Spaniards sent the Tlaxcalans "a crimson taffeta hat, a sword and a crossbow (it was an ancient Mexican custom to send arms to prospective adversaries)." Knowledge of the Native American culture could have averted this. (Davies, p. 252-253).

The Spaniards also used God in order to justify war. They committed more acts of aggression in the "Name of the Father" than any other nation on Earth. Proof being the Spanish Inquisition which sought to persecute and destroy peoples of any faith not considered ordained by God. Although begun in order for Spain to attain the property of the Jews, the fervor of this period sailed its way into America. From the moment Christopher Columbus landed in America and announced the words of the requerimiento the peoples were subject to the oppression of the Inquisition.

This text, a curious example of an attempt to give a legal basis to the fulfillment of desires, begins with a brief history of humanity . . . . Juridical reasons for the Spanish domination being thus posited, it remains only to establish one thing: that the Indians be informed of the situation for they may have been unaware of . . . . This unawareness will be remedied by the reading of the Requerimiento . . .. If the Indians show themselves convinced . . . one has no right to take them as slaves . . .. If however they do not accept this interpretation of their own history, they will be severely punished. "But if you do not do this, and wickedly and intentionally delay to do so, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall forcibly enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and we shall do all the harm and damage that we can as to vassals who do not obey and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him." (Todorov p. 147).

Here we see that although the major difference originally being religion, in reality the approach of both empires is strikingly similar.

The Aztecs believed strongly in the importance of symbols to foretell the future, a future they believed to be preordained. Ten years prior to the coming of the Spaniards, the Aztecs reported eight omens which they believed foretold of the coming of the Spaniard. These omens had become an integral part of the Aztec lore and great importance and belief were placed upon them.

Montezuma, immediately upon hearing of the Spaniards, begins to succumb to fear because he equated the omens to the Spaniards domination of the Aztec Empire. As a conqueror himself, surely Montezuma must be looking through that perspective. He, as once the stranger appearing in the land of another, knows what consequence could arise of this event. This fear, partially as a result of the omens and partially of the unknown invader, paralyzes Montezuma which causes a very costly delay in action.

Montezuma, in trying to interpret the omens, calls upon the village magicians to tell him what they know. At first they were reluctant to tell their leader of their interpretation; however, after being thrown in jail they tell Montezuma that, "The future has already been determined and decreed in heaven, and Montezuma will behold and suffer a great mystery which must come to pass in his land." (Auxillou, p. 21).

When Montezuma wanted to know further of their insight, he sent the guards to the jail to press for further answers; however, the magicians had escaped. This created a great fear in Montezuma as the magicians were being closely guarded and could not have escaped easily. When told that they were gone Montezuma said:

"Let the villains go. Call the chiefs together, and tell them to go to the villages where the magicians live. Tell them to kill their wives and all their children, and to destroy their houses." He also ordered many servants to go with them to ransack the houses.

When the chiefs arrived, they killed the women by hanging them with ropes, and the children by dashing them to pieces against the walls. Then they tore down the houses and even rooted out their foundations. (Auxillou, p. 21).

During the original discovery of the Americas the Spaniards that landed with Columbus committed similar atrocities:

"For a lark they tore babe fro their mother's breast by their feet, and dashed their heads against the rocks.' The bodies of other infants they spitted . . . together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords." (Stannard, p. 71).

Of course, when it is done by the Aztecs it is a savage action done by a pagan. Meanwhile, when it was done by the Spanish it was a justifiable punishment heaped upon heathens who would not bow down to the word of Christ.

Montezuma was well versed in the art of espionage and sent a continual source of spies to keep watch over the Spaniards. This was occurring unbeknownst to the invaders. Therefore, one would believe that Montezuma would have the upper hand with this pre-confrontational information; however, judging by his reaction to the different reports brought by the messengers we see this is untrue.

During the first phase of the conquest, when the Spaniards are still close to the coast, the main message sent by Montezuma is that he does not want any exchange of messages to take place! He receives this information clearly, but this does not please him quite the contrary; here is how the Aztec accounts describe him: Montezuma lowered his head, and without answering a word, placed his hand upon his mouth. In this way he remained for a long time. He appeared to be dead or mute, since he was unable to give any answer.' Montezuma is not simply alarmed by the content of the messages; he shows himself literally incapable of communicating, and the text establishes a significant parallel between "mute" and "dead." (Todorov p. 71-72)

Montezuma then sent messengers to the Spaniards with fine gifts. The messengers canoed to where the strangers were anchored. One by one they did reverence to Cortés by touching the ground before him with their lips. They then dressed the Captain in the richly decorated costume of Quetzalcoatl.

The Captain asked them: "And is this all? Is this your gift of welcome? Is this how you greet people?" (Auxillou, p. 26).

Here we have an excellent example of the differences in each leader's perspective. Cortés, seeing the gifts as material items misinterprets their importance as religious and ceremonial treasures. His question belittles the gifts chosen to honor him and weighs them only on the scale of monetary value.

Montezuma's preparation of fine and religiously significant gifts to appease the "Gods" proves to be an error in diplomacy because of the messages that are inherit in this action. First, the finery serves to convey to the Spaniards that the Aztecs feel the need to bribe them, thereby, conveying that they are frightened of the conquistadors. It is also a mistake because the sight of gold serves to whet the appetites of the Spaniards.

After delivering Montezuma's gifts, the messengers were chained by the feet and neck. Cortés then gave them swords, spears and leather shields. He wanted to test the fighting skills of the warriors he had heard so much about; however, that was not the duty of the messengers. Fearing death at the hands of an angry Montezuma, the messengers decline the invitation to battle and quickly flee. Keeping in mind the rituals of war, the gifts to the messengers of swords and shields were, in the Aztec culture, a way of declaring war. Cortés inadvertently declared war on the Aztecs.

Also, through his uncivilized treatment of the messengers, Cortés scoffs at the ideal of diplomacy and destroys the dialogue that should have occurred at this point. Had he given more thought to what these men had to offer, such as information on the current mood of the Aztecs, he would not have so frightened them thus chasing them off without learning anything.

When the messengers returned they explained the wonders which they beheld. Everything, from their perspective, was godlike in appearance. The told of the large dogs, "deer" (which were actually horses described in that way as horses were thus far unknown), exotic foods, and most importantly the cannon which appeared to be able to explode the trees on shore from within.

When Montezuma heard this report, he was filled with terror. It was as if he was conquered by despair. It is not that the Spaniards are Gods that causes the terror, but the belief that he cannot conquer these strangers. As fear paralyzes his reason, his mind does not process like a conqueror but as the conquered. While Montezuma ponders these thoughts, the Spaniards are planning their invasion of Mexico.

One of the biggest misunderstandings occurs in the sacrificial practices of the Aztecs. Although a honored religious rite to the Aztec people, the rite is a seemingly horrific butchery in the eyes of the Spaniards. Thus, when Montezuma wishes to appease the Spaniard "Gods" he does so by honoring them with a sacrifice.

Montezumasent forth magicians who offered human sacrifices before the Spaniards so as to honor them:

Montezuma ordered the sacrifice because he took the Spaniards to be gods; he believed in them and worshipped them as deities. That is why they were called "Gods who have come from heaven." As for the Negroes, they were called "soiled gods." (Evangelism, Link 3).

The description below shows the Spaniards' perspective of this event.

Montezumaalso sent captives to be sacrificed, because the strangers might wish to drink their blood. The envoys sacrificed these captives in the presence of the strangers, but when Cortés and his men saw this done, they were filled with disgust and loathing. They spat on the ground, or wiped away their tears, or closed their eyes and shook their heads in abhorrence. They refused to eat the food sprinkled with blood, because it reeked of it; it sickened them, as if the blood had rotted. (Auxillou, p. 30).

Montezuma again fails to communicate. He only vilifies himself and his people by offering sacrifices. This action displays barbarity incurring the Spaniards' anger rather than the hope for peace. Here lies one of the problems, when one side does something from their viewpoint and does not understand, nor seek to understand the other party's viewpoint.. Both sides then lose as each walk away harboring their perspective based judgments against their counterpart.

Montezuma's confusion would now be transferred to his people. As the Aztecs lost faith in their emperor they become unorganized and their military might unstructured. The indecisiveness of Montezuma throws all parties into the dark. Even the Spaniards are confused and begin to ask many questions about Montezuma. Montezuma represents the unknown to the Spaniards while the Spaniards represent the unknown to him. Because so little is known of each other, the confusion builds because due to the lack of information exchanged; therefore, each side is perched, wondering what surprises the other has in store.

Montezuma, because of indecision and confusion, did not act. This lack of action on his part was a delay that the Spaniards could take for weakness. Additionally, this time that is given the Spaniards allows them to ally with the Aztecs' enemies.

The Tlaxcaltecas, hearing of the approach of the Spaniard, as well as the defeat of the Otomies, talked (communication) among themselves in order to devise the best method for dealing with the strangers and therefore survive. They decided to meet the Spaniards and welcome these lords to their land. Here, the Tlaxcaltecas sought to align themselves with the powerful stranger in the hopes to neutralize their own enemies, mainly the Aztecs.

The Tlaxcaltecas, enemies of the Cholula, created suspicion in the minds of the Spaniards by aligning their enemies with the Aztecs. By doing this, they were able to portray the people of Cholula as a branch of the Aztec nation and instill ideas in the minds of the conquistador against them. They also created fear in the Spaniards by pointing out what great warriors these people were and preyed upon the Spanish fear of the Aztecs. This was done merely through the subtle use of language skills in an effort to communicate feelings to the Spaniards.

When they arrived, the Tlaxcaltecas and the men of Cholula called to each other and shouted greetings. An assembly was held in the courtyard of the god, but when they had all gathered together, the entrances were closed, so that there was no way of escaping.

Then the sudden slaughter began: knife strokes, and sword strokes, and death. The people of Cholula had not foreseen it, had not suspected it. They faced the Spaniards without weapons, without their swords or their shields. The cause of the slaughter was treachery. They died blindly, without knowing why, because of the lies of the Tlaxcaltecas.

But when the Tlaxcaltecas heard the Spaniards call out to St. James, and saw them burn the temples and hurl the idols to the ground, profaning them with great zeal and determination, and when they also saw that the idols were powerless, that no flames fell and no rivers poured out-then they understood the deception and knew it was all falsehoods and lies. (Auxillou, p. 33).

When the battle of Cholula was finished, the Cholultecas believed that the God of the white men was more potent than their own. Quetzalcoatl had not served the Cholultecas, as they were utterly destroyed in quick order. The telling of this story among other natives robbed them of their belief system and left them vulnerable to attack. Cholula was not destroyed only by the Spanish arms but by the loss of their god to the Spaniards' Saint James. Notice here that the Spaniards, supposedly Christian zealots, did not call to God but to a Saint and thereafter allowed the natives, who it was their job to convert, to pray to a saint, an idol, a once human epitome of holiness.

Montezuma then dispatched various chiefs to meet the Spaniards.

They brought gifts of golden collars and quetzal-bird feather banners. The Spaniards "were in seventh heaven," says the Nahuatl text preserved in the Florentine Codex. "The lifted up the gold as if they were monkeys, with expressions of joy, as if it put new life into them and lit up their hearts. As if it were certainly something for which they yearn with a great thirst. Their bodies fatten on it and they hunger violently for it. They crave gold like hungry swine." (Galeano, p. 19)

When they were given these presents, the Spaniards became visibly ecstatic. In an effort to make peace and dissuade the Spanish from conquering, the Aztecs once again offer them gold. This action is like breadcrumbs being spread across the forest floor leading Hansel and Gretel back home. Unfortunately, it was home to Mexico.

When Montezuma heard of the approaching of the Spaniards he called together his nephew Cacama, his brother Cuitlahuac and the other lords in order to decide whether they should welcome the Christians when they arrived. Cuitlahuac replied that they should not welcome them in any manner, but Cacama disagreed, saying that it would show a want of courage to deny them entrance once they were at the gates. He added that it was not proper for a great lord like his uncle to turn away the ambassadors of another great prince. Montezuma agreed with his nephew over the objections of Cuitlahuac. The other lords agreed with Cuitlahuac, but Montezuma was resolved to welcome the Spaniards.

Montezuma went out to meet the Spaniards in Huitzillan. He presented many gifts to Cortés and his commanders. It is worth note that the other tribes greeted the strangers without gifts and warranted a continuation of their existence. Montezuma greets them with rich gifts, which he gave away easily; therefore, the Spaniards believed that the treasures were abundant. The Aztecs inadvertently opened the Spaniards' eyes to the treasures that they might acquire and thus started a chain of greed. When Cortés met Montezuma, by his own account, he was given supreme authority; however, this would not stay the case for long. Cortés, surprised by Montezuma's knowledge of not only their travels, but also the discussions which occurred between the Spaniards and their allies, would be more apt to be suspicious of Montezuma's plans.

So be assured that we shall obey you and hold you as our lord in place of that great sovereign of whom you speak; and in this there shall be no offense or betrayal whatsoever. And in all the land that lies in my domain, you may command as you will, for you shall be obeyed, and all that we own is for you to dispose of as you choose. Thus, as you are in your own house, rest now from the hardships of your journey and the battles which you have fought, for I know full well of all that has happened to you from Potonchan to here, and I also know how those of Cempoala and Tlaxcala have told you much evil of me; believe only what you see with your eyes, for those are my enemies and some were my vassals, and have rebelled against me at your coming and said those things to gain favor with you. I also know that they have told you the walls of my houses are made of gold, and that the floor mats in my rooms and other things in my household are likewise of gold, and that I was, and claimed to be, a god; and many other things besides. The houses as you see are of stone and lime and clay."

Then he raised his clothes and showed me his body, saying, as he grasped his arms and trunk with his hands, "See that I am of flesh and blood like you and all other men, and I am mortal and substantial. See how they have lied to you? It is true that I have some pieces of gold left to me by my ancestors; anything I might have shall be given to you whenever you ask. Now I shall go to other houses where I live, but here you shall be provided with all that you and your people require, and you shall receive no hurt, for you are in your own land and your own house." (UCSB, p. 2)

It would appear that the Aztecs, because of fear, are giving away their treasure to the Spaniards. At this point, the Spaniards are victorious. Cortés attempts to ally those fears and offers love to Montezuma. Certainly, considering the fact that he is outnumbered, it is in Cortés' best interest to welcome his adversary. Using his knowledge of the legend of the Aztecs, provided by his translators and acquired allies, he does not show surprise at Montezuma's belief in his being a god. Rather, he adapts quickly to the role and offers his hand in friendship.

The Spaniards, knowing that they were outnumbered, apparently felt it necessary to have leverage in their very precarious position. This leverage was to be the imprisonment of Montezuma. He was to be kept prisoner in his palace under the watchful eye of the Spanish.

In the morning the Spaniards told Montezuma what they needed in the way of supplies. . . . Montezuma ordered that it be sent to them. The chiefs who received this order were angry with the king and no longer revered or respected him. But they furnished the Spaniards with all the provisions. . . . (Auxillou, p. 46).

Here, the Spaniards are telling Montezuma to provide them with supplies; but the chiefs, as well as the people, are displaying dissatisfaction at their presence. The Aztecs do not easily succumb to the Spaniards because the Spaniards are not treating them well. The Spaniards have lost their enthusiasm to be charismatic and have abandoned their Christian mission in lieu of gold. In their fervor, they have frightened the Aztecs and placed themselves in the position of invader rather than that of God. By emasculating Montezuma, the chiefs no longer see him as a powerful leader and are therefore beginning to be resentful. Had the Spaniards practiced diplomacy and tact, the Aztecs would have given over much of their treasure, as they had said they would. Rather than being satisfied with that, the Spaniards chose to take all of their treasure through the use of force. This is where the conflict escalates.

Once the Spaniards had settled into the palace, they inquired about the Aztec treasures. Montezuma takes the Spaniards to the treasure house and lo and behold, the Spaniards are pleased. The Spaniards view this treasure in its realistic monetary view and begin the process of stripping feathers and melting down the gold. This is to the horror of the Aztecs as they view these treasures through their religious and spiritual significance. It is an abomination that the Spaniards are defiling their relics, but to add insult to injury, it is Montezuma leading them to the treasures. At this point, he ceases to be leader to his people and becomes the Spaniards' whore. The Aztecs are now in a state of confusion, disorientation and fear. After the desecration of the treasure house, the Aztecs are called together by La Malinche, and it is here where we see their position.

La Malinche called the nobles together. She climbed up to the palace roof and cried: "Mexicanos, come forward! The Spaniards need your help! Bring them food and pure water. They are tired and hungry; they are almost fainting from exhaustion! Why do you not come forward? Are you angry with them?" (Escribano, p. 2).

The Mexicans were too frightened to approach. They were crushed by terror and would not risk coming forward. They shied away as if the Spaniards were wild beast. Yet, they did not abandon the Spaniards to hunger and thirst. They brought them whatever they needed, but shook with fear as they did so. They delivered the supplies to the Spaniards then turned and hurried away. (Auxillou, p. 47).

Now, not only is Montezuma confused and afraid, but also his people are. Keeping in mind that many of them were not kept as well informed as he, they are only beginning to realize what their King had already figured out, that these were not gods but enemies. That sudden realization had them working on autopilot rather than as strategists. Even now, it would not have been too late to repel the invasion; however, coupled with the realization that these are mere men, they are facing the loss of leadership. Montezuma is in prison working with the invaders while many of the chiefs had turned tale and ran. Nobody among the people is able to take over the reins.

Because the Spaniards wanted to see how the Aztecs celebrated their religion, they gave the Aztecs permission to hold the fiesta of Huitzilopochtli. While the women were preparing for the festival on the patio, the Spaniards watched carefully. Afterwards they went back into the palace. It is said that they planned to kill the celebrants if the men entered the patio. Clearly, this indicates the tension which the Spaniards now feel. They are watchful and suspicious at this point, and therefore, extremely high strung. This is not an ideal situation at the best of times, however, when being left without leadership themselves, in a foreign land where they are severely outnumbered, this can be, and was cataclysmic.

The celebration included the construction of a statue of Huitzilopochtli. The statue was given a very lifelike appearance:

When the statue was finished, they dressed it in rich feathers, and they painted crossbars over and under its eyes. . . . Next they wrapped it in its cloak, which was painted with skulls and bones, and over this they fastened its vest. The vest was painted with dismembered human parts: skulls, ears, hearts, intestines, torsos, breasts, hands and feet. They also put on its maxtlatl, or loincloth, which was decorated with images of dissevered limbs and fringed with amate paper. This maxtatl was painted with vertical stripes of bright blue. They fastened a red paper flag at its shoulder and placed on its head what looked like a sacrificial flint knife. This too was made of red paper; it seemed to have been steeped in blood. The statue carried a tehuehuelli, a bamboo shield decorated with four clusters of fine eagle feathers. The pendant of this shield was blood-red, like the knife and the shoulder flag. The statue also carried four arrows.

The Spaniards were comfortably situated in the palace by this time so were taken aback when faced with what they believed were heathens celebrating one of their festivals. As they prepared for this ceremony, the Aztecs created a representation that resembled a person. From the description of the statue, it would appear that the Spaniards would have reason to worry. Their captain, and many of their compatriots, had left them alone in this savage nation and here they are faced with a statue that looks human, wearing clothes adorned with body parts. On his head was what looked like a knife dripping in blood. The various body parts painted on the costume would help with the assertion that the Aztecs were cannibals. After the earlier fiasco with the sacrifice, it was not unreasonable for the Spaniards to be afraid.

Early the next morning, the statue was uncovered. The Aztecs gathered in front of the idol in single file and offered it gifts of food, such as round seedcakes or perhaps human flesh. All the young warriors were eager for the fiesta to begin . . . They had sworn to dance and sing with all their hearts, so that the Spaniards would marvel at the beauty of the rituals.

The procession began, and the celebrants filed into the temple patio to dance the Dance of the Serpent. When they were all together in the patio, the songs and the dance began. Those who had fasted for twenty days and those who had fasted for a year were in command of the others; they kept the dancers in file with their pine wands. (If anyone wished to urinate, he did not stop dancing, but simply opened his clothing at the hips and separated his clusters of heron feathers.) (Auxillou, p. 49).

To the Spaniards, this was a barbaric scene. First, you have a human looking statue with body parts decorating it. Then the natives feed it human flesh. Afterwards, to the beat of the drum, an instrument that traditionally signifies war, the warriors begin a fevered dance in order to impress the Spaniards. As is the custom, nothing should break the dance therefore if they need to urinate they merely open their cloth and go where they are. None of this impressed the Spaniards favorably. This is tantamount to a Christian's nightmare. Imagine being in this foreign place in a room full of warriors who are contorting about with reckless abandon urinating at will to a god which is covered in body parts and has been feed flesh. It is important to keep these details in mind when passing judgment upon the Spaniards.

During the fiesta, without warning, the Spaniards attacked. They ran in among the dancers, forcing their way to the place where the drums were playing. They attacked the drummer and cut off his arms and head. Afterwards, they attacked all the celebrants. All of the Aztec's greatest warriors were struck down at once.

When the news of this massacre was heard outside the Sacred Patio, a great cry went up: "Mexicanos, come running! Bring your spears and shields! The strangers have murdered our warriors! " (Auxillou, p. 104).

Thus, it is at this point when the two great empires declare war. This war could have been averted using diplomacy, tact and tolerance. But this chain of events did not occur in today's culture but in a culture which bred intolerance, prejudice, violence, and hate. Throughout this paper there is the underlying theme of "if only" but "if only" can never be, therefore, the great Aztec nation is no more. Society as a whole can only function if it is willing to accept and adapt to one another's differences. The first step in this endeavor is to understand what and why those differences are. Communication is the key that unlocks that door and allows people to accept and enjoy rather than decimate and destroy.

Enter supporting content here