Monday, March 5, 2012

Avel-lí Artís-Gener, Paraules d’Opoton el Vell, Words of Opoton the Elder: A Mexican Chronicle of the XVIth Century, trans. Edgar Garcia

The sea turned in and away from the land of Old Aztlán as if it had its doubts—and please forgive my crude way of saying things—, as if it didn’t know what to do, like a man that hesitates between going or staying. It was impressive to see how deformed those coasts were, so gnawed at by the sea, and it is truly a shame that it is now time to explain why we called that land Old Aztlán, and, above all, what it was about it that made us think what we thought it was.

I will have to tell you the history of our Náhuatl race and it shames me to have to do so, since these are the kinds of things that all of you should know from memory and, nonetheless, you have forgotten them all. Now, that we have been left without calmecac and without telpochcali and that there is nobody who can speak of our Pilgrimage from the Seven Caves. Opoton knows well that such labors benefit few these days. But, in spite of all that, he knows that there is a need to do these things so says: Hear ye, Aztecs, called also Mechichin or Mexicas or Tenochas. From the Seven Caves, all this shall come forth, and I am seeing it so it would be better to go on with story, which was going fine, and which will be explained through one of the warriors called Uitzilatl, who took one of the Sususas and then, when they found her hiding

[. . .]

From the Seven Caves came forth the Seven Tribes of Náhua which, with respect to their natural order, were: the Xochimilcas, the Tecpatecas, the Chalcotecas, the Acólhuas, the Tlahuicas, the Tlaxcaltecas and us, the Aztecs called Aztecs. The Seven Tribes set off from the western part of the world I will call South and the journey lasted Sheaves upon Sheaves. We had to find the land designated for us by Huichilopotztli and our Lords and Priests only knew that it was downward, always to the right of that western part of the world which I am calling South. It is well known that along the way we fought much and that, in the end, each of the Tribes went their own way. But the best Aztec blood belonged to us, the Aztecs, and we have proven that many times.

It has been two epochs since we settled in the Palm Grove and Reed of the Valley that is today called Anáhuac, only because there is a damned custom of speaking without thinking. With the blessings of Huichilopotztli the land was ruled by his brother Quetzalcóatl, the Sun which came from the Eastern part of the world. And in no way, Tiachcauhan, in no way come to me saying today that history isn’t worth it, you in your repose, who knows not a word of these stories anyway, so who understands nothing. Here there was all manner of bad faith shown and likeways it seemed that he was responsible for our minginesses, and the only ones who remained faithful to his faith were we, the Aztecs called Tenochcas. What you do know well is that at last there was a day when the great God got sick of it and walked off with the sky before him. He said he would return and he has never returned and every time it seems less likely that he will do so. But it is not for men to judge the designs of the Gods.

He had said that he would return to rule our land and that he would never leave again, and he went up to the Snowy Peak, called ever since the Peak of the Star, and he turned himself into a star and left and we know for sure that he has never returned and that other Gods have come who are the same Him, but with a different name, as will be related later on. With words and customs so different that no longer seems it is Him the same and we would say that Old Aztlán is the oldest of Aztlans; that is, from whence He had come. And that Original Place was what we were looking for so don’t say that I haven’t spelled it out clearly. What happens is that the Rising Sun is always further off and the true East is one of those things that can never be reached. When we arrived at Old Aztlán we had had to be like the Chichimecas in Tenayuca: recounting and counting and by this very token Old Aztlán should have been called Nepaualco, which would have been much better. What’s certain though is that we didn’t do that and for all history the name of Old Aztlán has been fixed instead of Nepaualco, which would have been much better. Today we can no longer change it.

Now that I have explained all of this I feel more at peace and I can go on with the story of our journey, in poor form called the Conquest, what with all my hardships in that land of Galicia, which were many and tremendous, I thought that I would end up being called Opotontzin, but I did not attain it despite my efforts, let’s say I didn’t have the fortune of it.

The ins and outs of the sea shape the immense kinds of bays and those which are not so large, where the water is flat and smooth, and the land is peopled and the houses are of good stone, for they build well in spite of their being natural Galician folk. Nothing has the size of our things, the truth always set first, but everything tends to be stunted because they haggle their space with handspans and sticks here and there. The truth is that you can’t expect much from a people living as backward as we were some twenty Sheaves ago. . .

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