Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The True Story of the Aztec Conquest

The True Story of Cortes, the Conquistadors and the Battle for Tenochtitlan

Contray to popular belief, Hernan Cortes was not a hero. He is not a figure to be worshipped. Rather, he was a supreme manipulator, who's greed was only surpassed by his bloodlust. The following is an account of the Rise and Fall of the Aztec Empire, according to sources that were dictated by Aztecs who survived the conquest, recorded by missionaries loyal to the Mexica.* While some of the signs and omens seem a little hard to believe, keep in mind the these same events were witnessed by three separate people, in three different locations in the empire. Futhermore, I am only relaying what they have seen.

The Aztec's ancestors, the Toltecs, lived under the guidance of Quetzalcoatl. But eventually, they had to abandon their home in Tula because of the invading tribes. Quetzalcoatl departed eastward, promising that some day he would return from across the sea. Aztecs in Tenochtitlan and Tlateloco recorded the same events as follows: Centuries later, Quetzalcoatl became a legend and a God. It was predicted that he would return in the Year of Reed One (1519) to rule over the Aztecs. Two years before, Reed One, the Aztec recorded many bad omens (which indicated something was about to happen). The first omen was a fiery signal that was shaped like an ear of corn. The Aztecs said appeared at midnight, burned until the break of day and vanished at sunrise. The second bad sign: the temple of Huitzilopochtli burst into flames, and the people could not put out the mysterious fire. The third sign: the temple of Xiuhtecuhtli was struck by lightening. The fourth bad omen: three lines of fire streamed through the sky during the day. The fifth sign: water of lake Texcoco became violent and flooded the island, destroying many homes. The sixth bad sign: people heard a woman crying at night, saying "My children, we must flee far away from this city." The seventh sign: a strange creature that was captured by Aztecs in a fishing net. It looked like a crane that was the color of ashes. They brought it to King Motecuhzoma. The bird wore a mirror in the middle of its head. Although it was day time, the mirror reflected the moving night skies. The second time Motecuhzoma looked at the mirror, he saw an army moving across a plain in great haste, it appeared that they were riding animals that looked like deer. When the king told his magicians and wise men to look at the mirror, the images had vanished. The eighth sigmonstrousous beings that appeared in the streets, men with two heads. But after they were captured, they too disappeared.

Year of Reed One: An Aztec commoner reported seeing strange objects on the horizon, they looked like floating towers or mountains. Motecuhzoma sent his messengers and magicians to observe these strange things. They too saw the same things in the water. They also saw people with skin and hair much lighter than theirs. They believed that the Gods had descended to Earth and were here to take the throne. It was the Year of Reed One and Quetzalcoatl promise was coming true. Or so they thought.

Motecuhzoma sent messengers to greet the Gods. They brought the finest gold, emeralds, armor, headdresses made with feathers, and rich cloth. The king also sent them with fine foods. The Spanish accepted these gifts. But Cortes had heard the rumors that the Aztecs were great warriors (he had stopped at other island before he reached Mexico). He gave the two messengers Spanish weapons and said they would fight two Spanish soldiers in the morning to see who was really better. Instead of fighting, Motechuzoma sends more gifts (because he does not want to fight with the people who he believed were gods). He also sent magicians to do their magic and make the Spanish leave; however, their spells failed and the Spanish invaders remained.

Now the Spanish knew that there is a large supply of gold in the capital of the Aztec Empire. Cortes and his army decided to march to Tenochtitlan to see how much treasure was there. Along the way, the meet the Tlaxcaltecas, who have been paying in tribute and blood to the Aztecs for many years. They became allies drew closer to Tenochtitlan, Motechuzoma decided, against the advice of his brother and other lords, to let the Spanish into the capital and welcome them. He still believed that they could be the gods.

The Spanish were greeted with food, such as tortillas, hens' eggs, fried chicken, pure water, flowers shaped like hearts, and more gold and precious stones. The Spanish stayed in the King's palace. Then they began to demand more gold. They ripped the feathers off of the shields that the Aztecs gave to them, putting all the gold in one pile, and burning everything else. Then they melted the gold down into bars. The Aztecs became very frightened when they saw the SpaniardsÂ’ greed.

Cortes was now holding King Motecuhzoma prisoner in the palace. Cortes left Tenochtitlan for a while to take care of some business in Cuba. While he was away, an important day on the Aztec Calendar arrived.

The day to honor the God Huitzilopochtil had arrived. The Aztecs begged the imprisoned King to let them celebrate their holiday. The Spaniards decided to allow this; they were curious to see the tradition. The Aztecs gathered in the Main temple, without weapons or armor of any kind. "At this moment, in the fiesta, when the dance was loveliest and when song was linked to song, the Spaniards were seized with an urge to kill the celebrants. They all ran forward, armed as if for battle. They closed the entrances and passageways, all the gates of the patio... They posted guards so that no one could escape, and they rushed into the Sacred Patio to slaughter the celebrants. They came on foot, carrying their swords and their wooden or metal shields... They attacked all the celebrants, stabbing them, spearing them, striking them with their swords. They attacked some from behind and these fell instantly to the ground with their entrails hanging out. Others they beheaded: they cut off their heads or split their heads to pieces... Some attempted to force their way out, but the Spaniards murdered them at the gates. Others climbed the walls, but they could not save themselves. Those who ran into the communal houses were safe there for a while; so were those who lay down among the victims and pretended to be dead..."

When the news of this massacre was heard outside of the Patio, those Aztecs tried to attack the Spaniards. But the Spaniards retreated and hide in the palace, safe for the now. "The Mexicans who had died in the massacre were taken out of the patio one by one and inquires were made to discover their names. The fathers and mothers of the dead wept and lamented. Each victim was taken to his home and then to the Sacred Patio, where all the head were brought together. Some of the bodies were later burned in the place called the Eagle Urn, others in the House of the Young Men."

Cortes began to return to the capital. The Aztecs made plans to ambush him, however, he escaped. Angry at the Aztecs, he ordered the cannons to be fired. The Aztecs renewed their attack on the palace and the battle lasted for 4 days. Motecuhzoma was killed during this battle.

Cortes and his army decided to flee from Tenochtitlan after this battle. They left in the middle of the night, but their retreat was discovered. The Aztecs attacked them as they left by canoes. This became known as the Night Of Sorrows. Spanish bodies and dead horses clogged the canals by the end of the night. The Aztecs had their revenge.

The Aztecs celebrated their victory the next day, convinced that they Spaniards would not return. But their luck ran a short time after. A plague of smallpox struck the city, which lasted 70 days and killed a vast number of people. Aztec account: "The illness was so dreadful that no one could walk or move. The sick were so utterly helpless that they could only lie on their beds like corpses, unable to move their limbs or even their heads. They could not lie face down or roll from one side to the other. If they did move their bodies, they screamed with pain. A great many died from this plague, and many others died of hunger. They could not get up to search for food and everyone else was too sick to care for them, so they starved to death in their beds."

With the Aztecs weakened by the plague, the Spaniards took the opportunity to attack again. They rode in on their horses and set fire to temples. Warriors rallied and began battle with their enemies again. The Aztecs won many small battles, successfully pushing back the Spaniards. But they were no match for the Spanish cannons and guns. They were losing the war. The

Aztecs took refuge in Tlateloco, the market district. Soon the Spaniards set up a blockade around Tlateloco, cutting off all canals and causeways. "The Spanish blockade caused great anguish in the city. The people were tormented by hunger and many starved to death. There was no fresh water to drink, only stagnant water and the brine of the lake. The only food was lizards, swallows, corncobs and the salt grass of the lake. The people also ate water lilies and the seeds of the colorin, and chewed on deer hides and pieces of leather. They roasted and seared and scorched whatever they could find and ate it. They ate the bitterest of weeds and even dirt. Nothing can compare with the horrors of that siege and the agonies of starving. We were so weakened by hunger, that little by little, then enemy forced us to retreat. Little by little, they forced us to the wall."

The Spaniards attacked the city again, the Aztecs tried to defend themselves. Then one night, neither side fought; they watched and waiting for a whole day. That night, the Aztecs witnessed a final omen. "In the sky, was a great fire, it wheeled in enormous spirals, giving off showers of red sparks. It circled the wall nearest the lakeshore, then hovered for a while. It moved out to the middle of the lake and then disappeared. No one cried out when this omen came into view: the people knew what it meant and they watched it in silence."

Many people tried to flee the city. Spaniards searched them for gold, even the women. Many were killed because the Spaniards were angry that the men still wore armor and carried their macanas.

The next day, the new King, Cuahuatemoc called for the warriors to surrender. Out of the 300,000 bravest warriors, 240,000 had been killed. Almost all of the nobility had perished. All that remained were a few lords, knights and the little children.

Cortes demanded the remainder of the gold in the capital. He told some of the remaining Aztecs that they could live in Tlateloco, but they were forbidden to ever return to Tenochtitlan. According to Cortes, the Aztec capital was now home of the Gods.^

Not too much is known about the Aztecs' culture. The codices that contained information about their rituals and traditions were burned by the first missionaries who attempted to Christanize them. Many of their temples were taken apart and new Catholic Churches were built on top of them. To the priests, this signified that the Aztecs' religious beliefs were wrong and that Catholisim was right. Yet the Aztecs had chosen to build their temples on these certain locations based on the belief that the area had spiritual energy. So when they saw the priest building the churches on the same location, it reinforced their belief about the sacredness of the location.

While present day Mexico City now stands upon Tenochtitlan, there are still some surviving ruins. The culture of the Mexica has also survived. Some still speak Nahautl, although it is becoming increasingly difficult. The ancient language does not have words for the technology we have access to today, because these objects did not exist during the times of the Aztecs. For instance, "train" is called "metal snake," and "television" is referred to as "far away pictures. The Mexica are working to build a movement today and calling for recognition of their culture. For more information, please visit: http://www.mexica-movement.org/

*Aztecs were also known as: the Mexica, Nahau and "the people of the sun."

*All quotations take from "Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico" by Miguel Leon-Portilla

^Referring to the Europeans.

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