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Cantares Mexicanos
Cantares Mexicanos

Cantares Mexicanos

In the Cantares Mexicanos entry on Wikipedia, they write: “The Cantares Mexicanos is the name given to a manuscript collection of Nahuatl songs or poems recorded in the 16th century. The 91 songs of the Cantares form the largest Nahuatl song collection, containing over half of all known traditional Nahuatl songs. It is currently located in the National Library of Mexico in Mexico City. A description is found in the census of prose manuscripts in the native tradition in the Handbook of Middle American Indians.

“The ninety-one songs are made up of short stanzas averaging about thirty words each, presented in the manuscript as hanging paragraphs (of which there are about 1,700). Many of the songs have eight stanzas; most have more, and the longest has 114.

“From internal evidence and the contemporary ethnography of Sahagún and other observers, we know that such songs were performed to the accompaniment of the upright skin drum (huehuetl) and the horizontal log drum (teponaztli), each capable of producing two tones spanning an interval such as a fifth or a major third. Gongs, horns, and other instruments could be added; the full program might include costumed dancing, often with mimicry.

“A Spanish edition and translation of much of the manuscript was given by the great Mexican scholar, Ángel María Garibay Kintana, in the second and third volumes of his Poesía náhuatl (1965, 1968). It was not until Miguel León-Portilla edited a two-volume Spanish translation of the codex, published by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, that entire Cantares was rendered in Spanish.

“A complete paleographic transcription and English translation of the Cantares was published in 1985 by John Bierhorst as Cantares Mexicanos: Songs of the Aztecs, as well as a dictionary and concordance. Although Bierhorst’s transcription was appreciated by scholars for its accuracy and faithfulness to the original manuscript, his translations were criticized as misleading and colored by his view that the Cantares are “ghost songs”, part of a colonial revitalization movement parallel to the ghost dances of the Plains Indians. David Bowles, in his translations of selected poems from the Cantares and other Mesoamerican codices, agrees with León-Portilla and Garibay that the songs are part of a long aesthetic and philosophical tradition predating the Conquest.”

You can read and download the John Bierhorst translation on the Mexika.org website. The website describes itself as “The Official Website of Yankwik Mexikayotl” and as having values of “Resilience, Resistance, Reason.” The songs start in the Bierhorst translation on p. 134 of the book, p. 147 of the pdf.

An excerpt from book p. 135, pdf p. 148:

“I wonder where I can get some good sweet flowers. Who will I ask? Let me ask the quetzal hummingbird, the jade hummingbird. Let me ask the troupial butterfly. They’re the ones who know: they know where the good sweet flowers bloom. It me wander through this needle grove where the trogons are, let me wander through this flower grove of roseate swans. That’s where they’re bending with sunstruck dew. That’s where they blossom in beauty. Perhaps I’ll find them there. If they showed them to me, I’d gather a cloakful, and with these I’d greet the princes, with these I’d entertain the lords.

“Ah, here’s where they live! I hear their flower songs. It’s as though mountains were echoing them. Ah, the plume water, the cotinga spring, is flowing in their midst. And there the mockingbird is throbbing with song, reverberating with song. The bellbird echoes these precious ones, these sundry songbirds: they’re rattle-shrilling: they’re culogizing World Owner there. They’re the very ones who fill our throats.”

An excerpt from book p. 143, pdf p. 156:

“I wish that you, my heart, concocted nothing. Is such the fashion in the Place Where One Is Esteemed, where there is life? Ah, it is he who does not hate, whose rage is nothing, who lives the pure life here on earth.

“If I cry, it is that my heart knows this: the mere and very truth that we are friends, the very truth that there is life on earth. And you would weary of your friends! O God!”

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