"I Am A Singer, I Remember the Lords": History in the Sixteenth-Century Aztec Cantares

Peter Christian Bjorndahl Sorensen*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Other contribution


    This dissertation studies the song lyrics that make up the manuscript known as the Cantares Mexicanos. I argue that the songs are a source of communal memory of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Valley of Mexico. I contextualize the lyrics with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Nahuatl language annals (xiuhpohualli) to show that they tell coherent and comprehensible histories in layers developed over decades, and maybe even centuries, by a multitude of singers. I also show that the precolonial tradition of public and private singing adapted to the realities of Spanish colonialism by invoking the challenges and successes of the Mexica and their neighbors’ pasts. The Mexica and their closest allies (commonly called the Aztecs) sang about their ancient past as a wandering tribe, their precolonial past while managing the Aztec Empire, the history of their wars against the Spanish (ending in the Conquest of Mexico), and finally, the moment they were living in as colonial subjects in the late sixteenth century. Rather than just accepting colonialism, the Nahuas of the Valley of Mexico used their own stories for inspiration, protest, and mourning in a variety of settings. In this way, the songs were very early intellectual and poetic reflections by Indigenous nobles and commoners attempting to understand their place in a world that was now global, and had a very different political, economic, religious, and social role for the residents and neighbors of Tenochtitlan. The singers sang about their new place in the world and used their traditional art form as a way to navigate the constantly shifting colonial landscape of power, death, and environmental change with their audiences.
    Original languageEnglish
    TypePhD Dissertation
    Media of outputDissertation
    PublisherRutgers, The State University of New Jersey
    Number of pages510
    Publication statusPublished - May 2022

    Publication series



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