Colonialism is the immovable stain on the fabric of humanity. A nation free from its grasp may strive to erase its dark past, yet its indelible marks remain on the land and its people. Survival of the fittest, they brand it, the strong devouring the weak has become the blueprint for mass murder, providing ample justification for military occupation, the raping and pillaging of lands, the dehumanization of a people ultimately stripping an entire nation of its identity. Those that opt to defend and protect their homeland face imprisonment and death. The skewed and twisted ideologies borne out of greed, racism and a flawed theology inspire men to lay waste to whole communities. Only when submission is seen as the only viable option is hegemony allowed to run its course, convincing a nation that their actions are morally justified, its people now contained inside the walls of their invisible prison, enjoying faux freedoms. Despite the efforts to take control of an occupied land and its indigenous people, resistance remains and victory is measured in terms of independence. And yet, as much as any oppressed nation feels a sense of liberation, the shackles of influence left behind are harder to remove.
This is the reality I saw all too clearly while travelling through Mexico City. Five hundred years sit between present day Mexico and the Mexico which the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortés would have encountered in 1519, but its history is in plain view, only for those paying attention to it. There is a strange dualism that exists within the walls of this historic city, two separate cities weaved into one, each relaying their own narrative. It is no coincidence that both the Metropolitan Cathedral housed within the Zocalo that flanks the Templo Mayor or the Catholic church of Santiago in Tlatelolco within the Square of the Three Cultures, are both erected on top of Aztec ruins. Their positioning feels all the more intentional, another statement signifying dominance; Roman Catholicism, the import of Spain superseding the archaic, primitive religion of old. It is worth noting that though Cortés succeeded in desecrating the Aztec temples, known for the worship of multiple deities, most notable being Tlaloc, the god of water and Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, yet the endless canonisation of saints and the worship of Mary, to the point where Jesus appears a mere afterthought seems to have replaced the old religion only to end up with more of the same. Though Roman Catholicism now accounts for roughly 80% of people residing in Mexico, there have been huge strides within archaeology to excavate the majority of the Aztec sites. It feels much like the resilient spirit of a people, proud of their heritage and ancestry displaying their history for the world to see.
Whilst the Mexican people relish in their rich history, I often wonder whether time has been somewhat kind to the memory of Cortés. After five hundred years, he still cuts a splendid figure, his legend unmarred by the atrocities he committed in the name of the Spanish crown. Should the slaughter of thousands of innocent people and the theft of their homeland based on an ideology rooted in ethnocentrism be seen as piracy or even better still terrorism? Then again, the Spanish colonial period could also be seen as a balancing of the books with history coming full circle. After all, the Aztecs, after initially migrating to what is known as the Valley of Mexico and founding Mexico-Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) immediately implemented a system of expanding their sphere of authority and influence by carving for themselves an empire consisting of neighbouring tribes they conquered. Ultimately history is decided by its winners.
Much of ancient Aztec worship was rooted in their sacrificial system. Human sacrifice was a constant feature based on the belief that blood was the an essential component needed to enable the sun to rise every day, and became the theological framework by which they fought wars against neighbouring tribes, taking prisoners for human sacrifice. New discoveries in archaeology are beginning to shed more light on the culture surrounding Aztec human sacrifice. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/01/tower-human-skulls-mexico-city-aztec-sacrifices.
It is a notion which continues to be one that we gaze upon with utter disbelief and one that seems to offend all our moral sensibilities. Our common response to these seemingly inhumane, archaic, primitive forms of worship is to look upon them with disgust and to vilify this ancient civilization that has much to teach us. As i visited these sites, I began to wonder just how the Aztecs would view our willingness to sacrifice our children on self made altars of ‘financial burden’ or the ‘altar of inconvenience’ all in the name of reproductive rights. When placed in juxtaposition with the Aztec sacrificial system, is abortion any less inhumane because our tools are sterilized or it takes place under the safe haven of a clinic?