Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Life of Hungry Coyote

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Life of Hungry Coyote

Article excerpt


Ce Mazatl Acolmiztli Nezahualcoyotl was born on the day 1 Deer in the year 1 Rabbit, or April 28, 1402. He was the first legitimate son of the Texcocan ruler Ixtlilxochitl and his queen, Matlalcihuatzin, an Aztec princess. His blood joined the peoples of Texcoco with Tenochtitlan, which was to became his second home. Acolmiztli, his original given name, means "Shoulder of Puma." Later he received the name Nezahualcoyotl, Hungry Coyote, during his hard years in exile. He was also known by the astrological day of his birth, Ce Mazatl, 1 Deer, and the nickname Yoyontzin. He had many siblings and half-siblings.

Somewhere between the ages of six and eight, he started attending the calmecac school, where noble children were sent. There the foremost Aztec scholar of his time, Huitzilihuitzin, took him under his wing and taught him the history and wisdom of the Toltecs. The calmecac was presided over by the Toltec deity Quetzalcoatl, while the telpochcaltin schools, which the majority of the population attended, were presided over by the patron deity of the city, Tezcatlipoca. Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca were in many ways opposites and opponents, yet they also formed a strange unity, a dynamic dichotomy that worked itself out in the society and was to play an essential role in Hungry Coyote's life.

Originally, Hungry Coyote's metropolis of Texcoco, which means "Place of Rest," had been founded by a wandering Chichimec people who called themselves the Alcolhuans and were hunters and nomads from the desert, formerly living in caves and wearing animal skins. They arrived about the year 1000 at Lake Texcoco. The Alcolhuans settled there, receiving permission from Xolotl, the Chichimec overlord of the region, who had taken over hegemony of the Valley of Mexico after the fall of the Toltecs of Tula.

One branch of the Toltecs' own ancestors had also been Chichimec nomads, immigrating from the north a century earlier into the area where Teotihuacan's great civilization had once flourished. Although Teotihuacan was deserted when they arrived, many of the descendants of people who had dispersed from that great city still lived in towns nearby, while others had moved further on, notably to Cholula. By living near them over a period of time and intermarrying, these rough Chichimecs became the sophisticated Toltecs of Tula, the inheritors of Teotihuacan's culture. In Nahuatl, toltecatl means a craftsman, artist, or engineer.

A century later, Hungry Coyote's Alcolhuan ancestors went through a similar process of transformation. The same civilizing forces continued at work in the Valley of Mexico. Near the spot where the Alcolhuans began to build Texcoco was a small community of Toltec refugees from Tula. Learning the ways of civilization from them, the Alcolhuans soon shed their animal skins for cotton clothing, their nomadic ways for farming and village life.

Through several generations, the Alcolhuan chiefs adopted Toltec-Teotihuacan culture as their own. Under Xolotl's grandson, the Chichimecs changed from a hunting to an agricultural people. The succeeding ruler, Quinatzin, moved the Chichimec capital from Xolotl's Tenayuca across the lake to Texcoco. Thus Texcoco became the political center of the region. The fifth ruler, Techotlala, Hungry Coyote's grandfather, decreed that their official tongue would no longer be their rough Chichimec language, but the silvery Nahuatl of ancient Tula. He summoned learned scribes from the land of the Mixtecs, where the Toltec arts had been highly preserved, to teach them hieroglyphic book painting. The Texcocans began to follow the Toltec religion, taking Quetzalcoatl as their cultural divinity, while integrating their old tribal deities into Tezcatlipoca, the patron of the military orders. The dichotomy of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca, peace and war, day and night, opposites in an eternal struggle but forming a strange unity, runs through Mexican history. …

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