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Latin American perspectives a program of comment and analysis about current Latin American problems and their historical setting. The commentator for these programs is Dr. C. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University. Here now is Dr. Gardner. Hello there. Currently in the religious life for the Western world there is a rage. For one this the concept of One God spurs on those ecumenical efforts that may and again may not result in one church. You know earlier today however in a neighboring region the gods were numerous very numerous. I refer to the gods of Mexico of India and Mexico in those long centuries before the first white man arrived there. We know as much as we do of this period of Mexican history thanks to the survival of many of their pictorial manuscripts.
These are called codices. There are a number of them for the Hispanic area of life and there are a number that have come to us thanks to the capacity the Spaniards had for admiring the beauty of these works and sending them off to Europe is to be remembered that the ancient Mexicans did not have a vocabulary that could be rendered in two syllables. They didn't have hieroglyphics in the manner of the Egyptians but they did have what are called glyphs pictorial representations of basic ideas. It's in this pictorial representation in the form of glyphs that we have these various painted drawings which become the historical records of the ancient Mexicans. I said a moment ago that most of these are to be found in Europe today. In fact you find them in Dresden and in Paris and in Madrid in
London at the Vatican. At Oxford university in Liverpool in Milan young indeed one wonders where they are in reference to Mexico indeed. If you are in this part of the world and if you're wondering how they got so thoroughly bred in Europe I would remind you that in early 16th century Hughes the man who was then king of Spain was also imper of the Holy Roman Empire and so it was not impossible for things to go to Vienna as easily as Madrid had because there was such a great church effort in the Spanish conquest of the New World it was not difficult for some things to be sent to the Vatican. And then remembering such European periods of history as the Napoleonic era when the wealth of libraries looted and moved from place to place. So we have it distributed it all over again but keeping it on the European side of the Atlantic Ocean. These courses I repeat become one of the basic ways of our
understanding. Knowing anything about the life in general has been to Mexico and particularly of the religion of that Mexican life. One of the greatest students that Spain sent to the new world in the form of a Churchman named saw good a student of Indian culture proceeded to write as thoroughly as he could on the basis of his 16th century experience in Mexico. This wise old father who set up a school at something I go to local this in Mexico today very educated the young sons of the nobility and in their deep respect for their teacher they were able to share with him much of the wisdom and knowledge that they had received from their fathers and grandparents. He made notes as he conversed with his students corrected them
against the testimony of others and passed them around to the students on occasion for their reaction for their correction and then out of all this massing of information he proceeded to write an enormous manuscript which today is the truest the best of the accounts of Aztec life. However he was not given nor was he able to see the curious rationality behind many of those religious ceremonies. It's doubtful if any but the very oldest Indians of the time had any true knowledge of the system and the manner in which it was supposed to work. After all saw goon was writing for that generation after the Conquest and many of his informants realized that they could ingratiate themselves to him to their conquerors by telling him what he wanted to know. They give him the information that he seemed to be wanting.
This meant that they could in turn a safe guard keep secret that which he didn't directly ask for. And so we don't know how full This record is. We do know for example though that on occasion his students went back to have conferences with their elders and they would discuss some point of question that had been raised by so good. And if they failed to agree after many hours of discussion and I might add that the Aztecs loved debate they might feel it nonetheless the polite thing to send some answer to the man who was curious and so they formulate some sort of compromise statement which might be far from the exact truth. We must assume then that in some of those work though it be the best we have. There's a sort of middle common denominator. Awareness of what the religious life of
the ancient Mexicans was like by middle common denominator I mean that it was above the level of the half educated warriors of Mexico and yet it was below the level of the well educated high priests. However this is I repeat our major source of information however incomplete that is of in estimable value and through so going and his reportage. We have a picture of Aztec civilization as a whole. The like of which causes us to understand better the calendar system and the relationship of various religious ceremonies. We have very often heard with somewhat to the blanket a reference only of a famous bowl game that the people in Mexico played. It had religious tone to it. It had a great deal of basic cultural content. I'd like to tell you a bit about treacly as
they called it This favorite ball game of Mexico. It was both dangerous and highly dangerous because it was played with a solid rubber ball about six inches in diameter that which could easily kill one if it struck you the wrong place. And it was wholly because the very scheduling of the games was based on the movement of the stars and the changing relationship of fate and the prospects of the nation in the tribe. The game was played in a big court. Described generally as a sort of capital I in shape at either end was a raised wall with a temple on it. Notice even in the physical setting the religious significance along the side where the rows of seats for the spectators in the middle of these walls usually about 12 feet high. This would be a little high even for a Wilt Chamberlain. You had stone rings on either side of the court. The stone rings were set in on the vertical rather than the horizontal fashion of basketball
and the hole was just big enough in that ring to let it burn through with only a breath to spare. Well considering the fact that it was on the vertical and so close to the very size of the ball it took an exceedingly accurate shot to score. The players wore protective helmets had gloves on one hand so they could slap the ground when making a stroke at the ball and they had leather pads on their hips. They did a great deal of bouncing of the ball from person to person playing a ball off the padded hips. Indeed it wasn't unusual for some of the specially dream athletes to wear a wooden yoke under their costume the better to give momentum to the ball. A blow on the neck or the solar plexus could easily kill a player with the ball or indeed if you happen to be hit with someone heavily studded hip star players tried to hit the
ball through the stone ring. These goals were exceedingly rare. In fact the first person to score a goal just automatically ended the game there and then but there was much more to the game than trying to get the ball through that REG. You're trying to control the ball in an area of the court and any time the opposition brought the ball into your area it was a point against you and so it was a matter of off offensive defensive play that scored most of the points. You could always have this grand finale however of a shot through the ring. So the game was an unusual one in terms of the spectator interest the player participation. The wagers that went along with it. I might add that the Spaniards didn't have to teach the native Mexicans anything about gambling. They were accustomed to wagering on these games.
They wagers went along with the flow of the game and also the prospect of plunder because it was not at all unusual for the spectators to be divided between the teams and and their support as a team won. The supporters of that team felt free to plunder the spectators of the opposing side. And if you could get away with somebodies jewelry some of his clothing that was to your advantage. These games were often arranged by the local chieftains so they might in a manner be generous to their people. For example a chieftain would wager with his tribespeople for a collection of new clothes from them if he won. And if he lost he would rather give them some of his things a sporting way for him to give what he didn't need or want any longer to them. But most important of all is the fact that the name was coupled with a great deal of religious
significance. I've said that the gods of Mexico were many and they called to mind of course such names as we put Chile who had kids of collateral and look like the famous god of rain the gods were as numerous as they were because the Mexican saw the working of higher forces of their spiritual world in all areas of life. They had a god for the production of one crop or another. They had gods for war they had gods for peace. Gods permeated each and every area of their living. There is in consequence a question that arises do we have a significant relationship between those gods of yesterday and today. The story of the Aztecs. I do believe has a relation to the modern world because we
too are subject to periods of irrationals objection and the eruption of the emotional the emotionally charged fantasies in our political spheres of life can be just as dangerous to us as they were to the Aztecs and it was emotional response to some of their gods that kept them from fighting as thoroughly and as early as they could against the invading hordes of Spaniards there can be little doubt that there are many insane acts of cruelty and destruction in the world in recent years that are similar phenomena to the Aztec religion. This of course then means that if the Aztecs can see just nothing else they can warn us against the terrible dangers coming from emotional obsessions related to religious life. This was a Latin American perspective with Dr S. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University. Your notes for our next program on Dr. Gardner will examine another aspect of life in Latin America
Latin American perspective is produced and recorded by station WFIU FM at Southern Illinois University and distributed by the national educational radio network.
Latin American perspectives
Religion in early Mexico
Producing Organization
WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on religious life in Mexico before the arrival of Europeans.
Series Description
A series of comment and analysis about current affairs in Latin American countries.
Global Affairs
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Host: Gardiner, C. Harvey (Clinton Harvey)
Producing Organization: WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-3-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:13:59
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Chicago: “Latin American perspectives; Religion in early Mexico,” 1967-11-22, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 30, 2023,
MLA: “Latin American perspectives; Religion in early Mexico.” 1967-11-22. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 30, 2023. <>.
APA: Latin American perspectives; Religion in early Mexico. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from