The Flower and the Scorpion

Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture

The Flower and the Scorpion

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 43 illustrations Published: November 2011

Author: Pete Sigal

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > Latin American History

Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Nahua indigenous peoples of central Mexico did not have a notion of “sex” or “sexuality” equivalent to the sexual categories developed by colonial society or those promoted by modern Western peoples. In this innovative ethnohistory, Pete Sigal seeks to shed new light on Nahua concepts of the sexual without relying on the modern Western concept of sexuality. Along with clerical documents and other Spanish sources, he interprets the many texts produced by the Nahua. While colonial clerics worked to impose Catholic beliefs—particularly those equating sexuality and sin—on the indigenous people they encountered, the process of cultural assimilation was slower and less consistent than scholars have assumed. Sigal argues that modern researchers of sexuality have exaggerated the power of the Catholic sacrament of confession to change the ways that individuals understood themselves and their behaviors. At least until the mid-seventeenth century, when increased contact with the Spanish began to significantly change Nahua culture and society, indigenous peoples, particularly commoners, related their sexual lives and imaginations not just to concepts of sin and redemption but also to pleasure, seduction, and rituals of fertility and warfare.


“The scholarship offered by this study is sound, enlightening, and interesting. This work contributes to our understanding of Nahua perceptions of gender and sexuality according to autochthonous frames, and how they adjusted to the demands of Christianity. The Flower and the Scorpion is clearly written and very enjoyable to read.” — Rocío Cortés, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This is an important and provocative book, which deserves to be widely read by both Nahua specialists and gender historians. This is challenging territory, but those brave enough to venture there will find ideas which encourage us not only to rethink Nahua ideas of sexuality, but also to challenge the fixed nature of individual and collective identity.” — Caroline Dodds Pennock, Gender & History

“By exceeding any previous analysis of Nahua rituals’ sexual aspects, Sigal has made a valuable contribution to the history of religion and the history of sexuality.” — Louise M. Burkhart, American Historical Review

“Pete Sigal has written a fine book on a very difficult subject.” — Camilla Townsend, The Americas

“Sigal is a historian of sexuality and provides an excellent discussion of the dangers of writing about this topic, particularly in a cross-cultural context.” — Alan R. Sandstrom, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“[A] masterful job…. This is a fascinating and challenging work. Sigal has taken the reader back to pre-Columbian times and attempted to strip away the colonial layers of Spanish discourse and worldview in order to reach the Nahua of before the conquest. His is a compelling argument and will certainly serve as a point of departure for further research.” — John F. Schwaller, Ethnohistory

The Flower and the Scorpion is a thought provoking work which will be of interest to anyone engaged in the challenges of writing the history of ritual, but especially in the premodern world.” — Jacob M. Baum, Sixteenth Century Journal

“[The Flower and the Scorpion] can serve as a useful compendium for specialists in gender studies and Mesoamericanists interested in the topic.” — Anastasia V. Kalyuta, Bulletin of Latin American Research

The Flower and the Scorpion is a fascinating history of understandings of Nahua sexuality from the precontact era through the early colonial period. Drawing on a stunning array of Nahuatl- and Spanish-language primary sources, Pete Sigal considers what the Nahua wrote about their beliefs, deities, rituals, and activities relating to sexuality. But The Flower and the Scorpion is not only about the Nahua; it is also about the Spaniards and what they thought about sexuality, their own and that of the Nahua. Sigal shows us how different the perceptions of the Nahua and the Spaniards were, especially as they related to sex, and how different their ideas remained well into the seventeenth century, even as they lived in close proximity to one another.” — Susan Schroeder, editor of The Conquest All Over Again

“This book emerges from a scholarly utilization of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century primary sources to illuminate not only very complex Nahua thought and practices but also the colonial context that shaped the discourse around themes that defy our modern labels, such as ‘sex’ itself. Pete Sigal employs his training in Nahuatl to analyze terms and texts in their original language, producing his own translations and interpreting meanings, always with an effort to delineate Western frames and biases that might color our understanding.” — Stephanie Wood, author of Transcending Conquest: Nahua Views of Spanish Colonial Mexico


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series ix
Illustrations xi
Acknowledgments xiii
Preface. The People, the Place, and the Time xv
1. The Bath 1
2. Trash 29
3. Sin 61
4. The Warrior Goddess 103
5. The Phallus and the Broom 139
6. The Homosexual 177
7. Sex 207
8. Mirrors 241
Appendix. The Chalca Woman's Song 255
Abbreviations 263
Notes 265
Bibliography 327
Index 353
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2012 Erminie Wheeler-Voeglin Prize, presented by the American Society for Ethnohistory

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5151-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5138-2
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