mamalhuaztli (Mdz15v)

mamalhuaztli (Mdz15v)

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This iconographic example of a mamalhuaztli (fire drill) is meant to provide a comparison for the hieroglyphs in this collection. This one, from the Codex Mendoza, differs from the one on folio 7 verso. The color here is predominantly turquoise blue, given to both the wooden log and the drill (possibly a reed, acatl). The reed has feather decorations reminiscent of the arrow, mitl, but in the other example of the mamalhuaztli, the reed drill has the more typical coloring of the mitl. Here, the down feathers are white (which is similar), but the eagle feather is turquoise. A small bit of red appears at the top of the drill. In both examples of the drill setup, there are markings on the log as though fire could be drilled in multiple places. In this depiction of the drill, but not the other, two smoke curls (purple and orange) rise on either side of the drill, as though the action of drilling is taking place, mamali. The mamalhuaztli examples from the Teleriano Remensis do also use arrows to drill the fires (see below).

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

The colors of this glyph are significant. The "pairing of red and [turquoise] blue" may have had references to the atl tlachinolli (sacred warfare) and imperial expansion according to Andrea Feeser. Feeser also cites Eleanor Wake for noting that turquoise and red combined "as the chromatic metaphor for the source of life." [See: The Materiality of Color, 2017, p. 57.] Mutsumi Izeki identifies fire and the color red as an "extended sense" of xihuitl as exemplified in Xiuhtecuhtli, a divine force often called the "god of fire," the "god of year," and the "god of turquoise." [See: Conceptualization of 'Xihuitl,' 2008, 34–35.]

The fire drill was part of a sacred ceremony acknowledging the passing of the fifty-two year calendrical cycle. That ceremony was called the xiuhmolpilli. The word mamalhuaztli had other meanings, including a carrying frame used on a person's back, a pectoral, and a certain constellation that looked like sticks or wands, possibly the Belt of Orion or the Keys of St. Peter (in European terms). Marc Thouvenot's database of glyph, Tlachia, shows various additional glyphs of the mamalhuaztli, and these have clear indications of how a pole was held vertically and was spun with the hands with the intention of creating friction at the base. Smoke rises from that site as the fire is started. In U.S. culture, this is a practice taught to Boy Scouts. Fire-making instruments are mentioned still in the late seventeenth century in, for example, Juan Buenaventura Zapata y Mendoza's Historia cronológica de la Noble Ciudad de Tlaxcala, as shown in our Online Nahuatl Dictionary. One wonders whether the use of an arrow decorated with eagle feathers (implying a possible warrior association) also implied a war dimension to the calendrical ceremony.

Added Analysis, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Source Manuscript: 
Date of Manuscript: 

c. 1541, but by 1553 at the latest

Creator's Location (and place coverage): 

Mexico City

Semantic Categories: 
Cultural Content, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood


drills, drilling, fires, ceremonies, reeds, tules, carrizos, plants, arrows, darts, fire, wood, logs, drills, fuego, madera, troncos, taladros, ceremonias, xiuhpohualli, año, turquesa, xihuitl

Glyph or Iconographic Image: 
Relevant Nahuatl Dictionary Word(s): 

mamalhuaz(tli), a tool or setup for drilling on wood to make fire,
mamali, to drill,

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 15 verso,, image 41 of 188.

Image Source, Rights: 

Original manuscript is held by the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1; used here with the UK Creative Commons, “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License” (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0)