dark/light skin color differences in pre- and post-conquest Mexico

David Becraft david_becraft at hotmail.com
Thu May 1 08:20:08 UTC 2008

Dear Listeros,

In response to Carolines e-mail I ran across a website that has a curious quote.  I cannot verify the source (sorry) but if anybody knows or has seen this quote, maybe they can produce the source.  The website is: 


What I find interesting in this quote is that sick people stained their skin black before partaking in the temescal.

"""In the 16th century, a Spanish priest expressed his contempt for the native bath in this note: "This is a picture of the baths of the Indians which they call 'temazcalli.' At the door is an Indian who was the mediator for illnesses. When a sick person took a bath he offered incense, which they term copal, to his idol and stained his skin black in veneration to the idol Tezcatlipoca. Many Indians, men and women, stark naked, took thesebaths and committed nasty and vile sins within.""""

Just some food for thought.


> From: ced22 at leicester.ac.uk
> To: nahuatl at lists.famsi.org
> Date: Wed, 30 Apr 2008 12:58:04 +0100
> Subject: Re: [Nahuat-l] dark/light skin color differences in	pre-	and	post-conquest Mexico
> Dear Listeros,
> In response to Pancho's email, bathing was certainly both a sanitary and ritual activity, but it was not practised by Mexica priests. I wonder if you are thinking of the fact that it is believed that lay people (from the tlatoani downwards) liked to bathe twice a day. I don't know whether ritual bathing was common amongst priests in other indigenous Mexican cultures, but I think I am right in saying (though would welcome hearing about any source to the contrary) that bathing was prohibited amongst Mexica priests. Sacrificial victims were frequently bathed as part of the ritual, however.
> And, yes, Tenoch is usually regarded as a priest or priest-king. Coester posits that he was 'priest and chief of a tribe representing the theocratic element of the population' (as opposed to Mexitli who represented the warriors). If true, that would link him fairly closely to the priestly side.(A. Coester, 'Mexico or Mejico?', Hispania, 8.2 (1925), p.113) This is contradicted by Caso and Wicke, however, who say he was 'only a military chief'. (A. Caso and C.R. Wicke, 'Land Tenure Amongst the Ancient Mexicans', American Anthropologist, 65.4 (1963), p.865) There's clearly some controversy about this, probably because we don't really know. Ingham collated the claims of Torquemada, Duran, Tezozomoc and the Codex Mendoza about the founders and came to the conclusion that Tenoch was the chief or King and Meci was the high priests, so it clearly isn't a conclusive link. (J.M. Ingham, 'Time and Space in Ancient Mexico', Man, 6.4 (1971), p.621) Tenoch is certainly usually described!
>  s a priest, however, and it may be that the semi-sacred status of rulers in early Mexico makes the distinction unhelpful in some contexts.
> Yours,
> Caroline
> ------
> Dr Caroline Dodds
> Lecturer in Early Modern History
> School of Historical Studies
> University of Leicester
> University Road
> Leicester
> LE1 7RH
> http://www.le.ac.uk/hi/people/ced22.html
> -----Original Message-----
> From: David Becraft [mailto:david_becraft at hotmail.com]
> Sent: 30 April 2008 08:18
> To: Dodds, Dr C.E.; nahuatl at lists.famsi.org ((messages))
> Subject: RE: [Nahuat-l] dark/light skin color differences in pre- and post-conquest Mexico
> Hello Listeros,
> Didn't Priests commonly and ritually bathe twice a day?  My understanding is that bathing was not only a sanitary practice, it was also a ritual one.  Also, Tenoch is depicted as a very dark man in contrast to the other founders of Mexico-Tenochtitlan; is there any evidence that Tenoch was a Priest?  I don't recall the source, so I apologize beforehand, but I remember that possibly status was given to darker skinned people.
> Pancho
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