Nahua Peoples: Culture, Religion & Language

Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

The Nahua people of Mesoamerica are a group of Native Americans originally associated with the ancient Aztec people. While the modern Nahua people have very different views, the ancient culture, religion, and language continue to influence the Nahua.

The Nahua People: History and Development

How important is your culture, religion, and language? What if you were suddenly forced into a cultural, religious, and linguistic environment you had never known and were expected to leave your old ways behind? This was a reality for the Aztec people in the sixteenth century in the face of the Spanish invasion.

The Nahua people of Mesoamerica are a group of Native Americans originally associated with the ancient Aztec people.

The Nahua tradition included several different dialect groups throughout the region of modern day Mexico. The language itself is estimated to be around 5,000 years old, originating around the time of ancient Egypt and other eastern cultures.

The Nahua people actually were one of the earliest progenitors of the tribes of Mexico and Central America. Their culture, language, religion, and society influenced all who came after them.

The rich history and influence of the Nahua is still of interest to historians and sociologists today. Let's explore their culture, language, and religion of the Nahua in ancient times with a brief look into some of the more modern developments of their society.

The Nahua People: Culture

The Nahua people have lived in the Mesoamerican region for at least 5,000 years. As a result, many peoples have adopted and continued elements of Nahua culture, including in native tribes throughout Central America, South America and Canada (especially through language patterns).

The art of the Nahua is a widespread element of this rich culture. The artistic expressions of dance, poetry, and music included ceremonial aspects of their religion and of everyday life. They produced a wide array of decorative art including jewelry, pottery, and vivid paintings.

The Nahua people were well known for their agricultural pursuits. They produced and traded copious amounts of corn, tobacco, beans, cacao, and various other staple crops. Through their cultural establishment and heritage of growing food, the Nahua furthered the agrarian societies upon which great empires would eventually be built.

The rearing, chores, and punishment of Nahua children.
Nahua culture

The Nahua People: Religion

Ancient and modern Nahua religion are difficult to separate. While the ancient religion is steeped in a type of naturalistic pantheism, it is now practiced in a decidedly Catholic manner. However, with some help from ancient sources of art and culture of the Mesoamerican region, the ancient Nahua religious practices can be clarified to some extent.

The ancient Nahua people recognized nature as a huge part of their existence and everyday lives. The weather affected the crops, seasons affected health and migration patterns of animals, and other natural events such as storms and drought carried with them the usual uncertainty.

Most of the religious ceremonies of the ancient Nahua revolved around sacrifice to their gods, who were pagan deities that oversaw the seasons, Sun, Moon, and other aspects of nature. The sacrifices generally were used to entice the gods to send the rains and other seasonal weather events in the proper proportions, ensuring societal prosperity.

Modern Nahua subscribe to a sort of quasi-Catholicism that fuses pagan traditions with Catholic religious beliefs and practices. In the sixteenth century, during the Spanish invasion, Catholicism was brought in and basically forced upon the indigenous tribes. This cultural upheaval caused great confusion and disruption to the Nahua, who were still committed to their nature worship and familial closeness.

However, what eventually evolved from this confusion was a fusion of Catholic understanding and practice with pagan rituals. Some of these include the identification of elemental spirits with God and the importance of godparents as a close-knit community practice. Altogether, the religious practices of the ancient Nahua seem to have carried on at least in some small fashion.

The deity Quetzlcoatl, named and worshiped by the Nahua people.

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