The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries

By James Lockhart | Go to book overview
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3
Household

THE ORGANIZATION OF familial life and kinship ties is no less a central aspect of Nahua society than of any other. Yet looking at the many Nahuatl sources touching on family matters (above all the numerous wills), no single term for a general organizing concept, comparable to "altepetl" in the larger sociopolitical sphere, seems to emerge. The promising-looking tlacamecayotl, consisting of the roots "human being" and "rope," plus a nominal suffix that sometimes denotes a collective entity, apparently means simply the totality of kinship ties as seen from the vantage point of some particular individual, not any actual, functioning, independently existing unit. 1 In any case, the word is extremely rare in texts. Nor do naming patterns, either preconquest or postconquest, emphasize lineages as surnames in the Mayan region do. 2


Terminology and Constitution of the Household Complex

Not only do any lineages tend to remain unnamed and undiscussed in Nahuatl sources;* no word appears that would have approximately the same scope as English "family." Looking in Molina's dictionary under familia, one finds the following collection of terms: cenyeliztli, "being together"; cencalli, "one house"; cencaltin, "those in one house"; cemithualtin, "those in one patio"; and techan tlaca, "people in someone's home." "Cenyeliztli" receives the alternate gloss "people who live together in a house." All the words, then, emphasize the setting in which a joint life takes place, not the origin of the relationships between those living together; as a set, the terms converge on something akin to the English notion of "household," which can therefore serve to lend a title to the present chapter.

Some of Molina's words are not unheard of in actual texts, but none is very common. 3 More frequently seen is the metaphorical doublet in quiahuatl, in ithualli, literally "the exit, the patio," which is like "altepetl" in

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*
The teccalli or "lordly house," a specific and important manifestation of the lineage, will be discussed in Chapter 4.

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