For the wanderers who became the Aztecs history was a chorus of voices | Aeon Essays

The Aztec historians, creators of a genre called the xiuhpohualli (SHOO-po-WA-lee), developed a highly effective way of keeping satisfying memories alive. The pictographic texts that Itzcoatl burned were only a part of the Aztec way of keeping history. The glyphs served as mnemonic devices designed to elicit volumes of speech. The image of smoke billowing from a burning temple reminded the speaker to describe a certain group’s defeat. A winding sheet over a chief’s head sparked the story of his death. Certain memorable moments were always told exactly the same way. When a chief who ruled during the Aztecs’ early years in the central valley was captured in war, for instance, and he pleaded that his naked daughter be given a bit of clothing, the enemy always sneered and said the same few words: ‘No, she will stay as she is.’ Everyone waited eagerly for the memorable line they had been hearing all of their lives. But most of the time, the speakers enjoyed licence to improvise or simply change, as they liked. And in the details of the stories they told, a pattern emerges of a rotating vantage point.

It was a way of keeping history that literally depended on multiple speakers standing up at different moments
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