FIGURE 6. Man in a maize field, from page 11 of the Codex Vienna.
FIGURE 7. Maize plants (left) destroyed by the hot breath of the wind god (right), from page 27 of the Codex Vienna.
FIGURE 8. Priests discuss the covenants with Earth and Rain (left); burnt offerings are made to a skyband and the jaws of the Earth (center); and maize plants grow to maturity (right), form page 27 of the Codex Vienna.
FIGURE 9. Lord 5 Alligator draws blood from his ear in autosacrifice in order to feed a sacred bundle, from page 25 of the Codex Nuttall.
FIGURE 10. Lord 10 Monkey presents incense to the ñuhu -marked sacred bundle in the temple of Añute, from page 14 of the Codex Selden.
FIGURE 11. Lord 10 Reed presents an offering to a sacred bundle in the temple of of Añute, from page 4 of the Codex Selden.
Alimentary images and metaphors pervade Ñudzavui concepts of morality and sociality, in both the past and the present. Something as simple as a tortilla is the product of literally months of labor, spanning from the planting, the weeding, and (if the crop survives frost, wind, drought, insects, and many other natural dangers) the harvest of maize to the soaking, grinding and cooking of those harvested kernels (Figure 6). Given the amount of labor and risk that goes into producing food, it is not surprising that the acts of feeding and eating are key symbols in contemporary Nnudzavui thought. Eating and feeding were key symbols in ancient Ñudzavui thought as well, appearing, among other places, in religious imagery.
In the contemporary Ñudzavui community of Nuyoo (located in the southern Mixteca Alta), images of feeding and eating are found in religious beliefs about the Earth and Rain. Nuyootecos consider themselves to be in a reciprocal relationship with these two (super)natural forces. In exchange for the food that Earth and Rain help Nuyootecos to grow, Nuyootecos are obligated to “feed” their benefactors in return. This feeding is done through sacrificial offerings, the most prized of which are humans who, at their death, are fed back to the Earth in burial.8
According to Nuyootecos, the relations between humans and the Earth and Rain have their origins in an ancient covenant made by the Ñudzavui ancestors at the beginning of time. This covenant was also an aspect of ancient Ñudzavui belief, for it is depicted in the Postclassic Codex Vienna.9 Both ancient and modern accounts begin with the first attempts of the Ñudzavui ancestors to grow maize, attempts which fail due to the interference of the (super)natural world. In the Vienna account, these first crops are destroyed by hot and cold winds and the rays of a burning sun (Figure 7).
The Vienna account continues with the meeting of two elderly Ñudzavui males, blackened with the body paint traditionally used by priests (Figure 8). The men discuss what to do about the disasters that have befallen their crops. Their discussion is followed by the image of a priest holding smoking torches up to a skyband and to the open jaws of an earth monster. He is making offerings to—or feeding—the Earth and Sky. These offerings are rewarded, for later images show the maturation of a healthy crop of maize—the fulfillment of the covenant between humans and natural forces.
Acts of alimentary exchange between humans and the (super)natural were not limited to the primordial past. In both ancient and contemporary Ñudzavui communities, offerings were and are continually being “fed” to the supernaturals. These feedings renew the ancient covenants. In the screenfolds, one of the most common religious acts is the “feeding” of divine objects by Ñudzavui priests and elites. These scenes of feeding generally involve gifts of blood or copal smoke offered to a sacred bundle housed in a temple.
One such scene is shown on page 25 of the Codex Nuttall (Figure 9). Standing before a temple is Lord 5 Alligator, the high priest of Tilantongo (in the Mixteca Alta). Like most priests, he can be identified by his black face and body paint (candlewood soot, according to the seventeenth century chronicler Herrera) and by the fringed garment he wears—a xicolli.10 A stream of blood flows from Lord 5 Alligator’s ear to nourish the sacred bundle housed within the temple.
Sacred bundles were one of the most important religious objects of the ancient Ñudzavui, much as the cross and images of the saints were to the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries.11 Sacred bundles were composed of yards of cloth wrapped around a precious object, an object associated with one of the many supernatural forces that pervaded the ancient Ñudzavui world. These aspects of the divine included the spirits of the deceased ancestors, personified deities, and, perhaps most importantly, natural forces such as dzahui, Rain. From codical images we know that objects associated with all three types of these divine forces were wrapped in sacred bundles. Sacred bundles might house effigies of named gods, such as the bundle of the god Lord 9 Wind on page 15 of the Codex Nuttall. Sacred bundles might house the bones of the ancestors, such as those of Lord 4 Alligator on pages 13-14 of the Codex Bodley. Finally, sacred bundles might house unnamed Earth sprits, or ñuhus, such as that shown on page 14 of the Codex Selden (Figure 10).
The importance of sacred bundles in ancient Ñudzavui religion and politics is suggested not only by the multiple depictions of their “feeding,” but also by the fact that screenfold narratives depicting the foundation of a polity typically involve the transport of a sacred bundle. In the polity foundation narratives of Lady 3 Flint “Shell Quechquemitl” in the Codex Nuttall and of Lord 10 Reed “Fiery Eagle” in the Codex Selden (Figure 11), bundles are taken from the founder’s homeland, carried across the landscape of the Mixteca, and finally deposited within the temple of the newly founded polity and “fed” with offerings.12
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8 Monaghan 1995, 213-227.
9 The following discussion is taken from Monaghan 1990.
10 Herrera 1947, 168-169.
11 For discussions of Ñudzavui sacred bundles, see Pohl 1994a, 23-31 and Hermann Lejarazu 2008.
12 Furst 1986, Joyce et al. 2004.