The purpose of every marriage was to produce children. The bride’s primary task was to become a mother. The couple wanted sons because
Sons took care of their parents when they got old. Sons could take over a business, a trade, or farmland.
Aztec families loved their children. Each birth was a blessing, and each child was treasured. When a woman reached her seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, a midwife came to help her from that time through the delivery of her baby. Midwives made sure pregnant mothers were well fed and healthy.
When the baby was born, the midwife blessed the baby and honored the new mother for her bravery and strength. The cutting of the
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
The Warrior Mother
The Aztecs believed that giving birth was as much a battle as warfare was for men. A "victory" meant the birth of a healthy baby. Women who were "defeated"—who lost their lives in childbirth—were considered as noble as men who died in battle. Here is part of the ceremony midwives performed after a woman successfully gave birth.
A goddess who, along with Quetzalcoatl, helped create the human race. The eagle and the jaguar were two sacred animals to the Aztecs.
The midwife also spoke if the woman died in childbirth. Here is part of her blessing. The last two lines suggest the Aztecs' belief that the dead mother would live forever as a goddess.
O my daughter, O valiant woman, you worked, you toiled.
You soared like an eagle, you sprang like a jaguar,
You put all your strength behind the shield; you endured.
You went forth into battle, you emulated our Mother Cihuacoatl Quilaztli, and now our lord has seated you on the Eagle Mat, the Jaguar Mat.
You have spent yourself, O my daughter, now be tranquil.
O My little one, my daughter, my beloved mistress,
You have wearied yourself, manfully you have fought.
By your labors, you have won our Lord's noble death, glorious death...
Eternally, you shall live and joy and gladness
Next to, beside, our mistress, the divine woman.
Emulated means "copied" and tranquil means "calm." Cihuacoatl Quilaztli was
(Source: Knabb, T. J., editor. A Scattering of Jades: Stories, Poems, and Prayers of the Aztecs. Translated by Thelma D. Sullivan. New York: Touchstone Books, 1994.)
Umbilical cord was important. A boy’s cord was given to warriors to take to a battlefield, so they could bury it there. This act symbolized the boy’s future role as a warrior. A girl’s cord was buried by the hearth. These two events symbolized the lives of adults: men as warriors, women as cooks and keepers of the sacred hearth.
Taking on Responsibility
Girls began spinning thread at age 4, sweeping at 12, grinding maize at 13, and weaving at 14. At 4, a boy might be responsible for fetching water. He learned how to fish at age 6, and a 14-year-old boy might be fishing on his own from a canoe.
Aztec parents called in a fortuneteller as soon as a child was born. That person arrived with the tonalamatl, the Book of Days. The fortuneteller decided which signs would influence the child’s life. Then the fortuneteller set a date and time for the baby’s naming. This would usually be four days after the birth.
On the fourth day, the family held a ritual bathing ceremony. The bath took place on a mat made of reeds. Items that would be important in the child’s life were placed on the mat. For a girl, the items might be a spindle used for spinning thread, pots and pans, and foods. For a boy, the items would relate to a craft or trade: farm tools for a farmer, weapons for a warrior, and so on. The baby was washed and raised to the sky in each direction. The midwife gave the baby his or her name. Children then ran through the village calling out the baby’s new name.
Mothers raised their children to follow the customs of the time. Children were taught from birth that they must behave well and do as they were told. Up to the age of 3 or 4, children played in the home. They had simple toys—dolls for girls and tools or weapons for boys. Education started early. Young people were trained from age 4 to meet their responsibilities to the family, the calpulli, and the Aztec Empire.