mamalhuaztli (Mdz7v)

mamalhuaztli (Mdz7v)
Element from a Compound

Glyph or Iconographic Image Description: 

This element of a hand tool (mamalhuaztli) that was used for drilling fire on a log has been carved from the compound sign for the place name, Mamalhuaztepec, which also shows a hill or mountain (tepetl). Here, the drill looks much like an arrow (possibly made from the acatl, reed/cane), decorated with white feathers, and standing perpendicular to a log with four black marks (perhaps where the arrow was spun between the hands and fire was made). Another example of a mamalhuaztli in the Codex Mendoza (included in this collection as an example of iconography) shows three locations for drilling.

Description, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Added Analysis: 

The fire drill was part of a sacred ceremony acknowledging the passing of the fifty-two year calendrical cycle. 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). Tlachia shows various additional glyphs showing 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 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

Shapes and Perspectives: 

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,

Additional Scholars' Interpretations: 

fire drill

Glyph/Icon Name, Spanish Translation: 

la herramienta para crear el fuego

Spanish Translation, Credit: 

Stephanie Wood

Image Source: 

Codex Mendoza, folio 7 verso,, image 25, of 188.

Image Source, Rights: 

The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, hold the original manuscript, the MS. Arch. Selden. A. 1. This image is published here under the UK Creative Commons, “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License” (CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0).