Short Research and Writing Assignment (The Meeting of Two Worlds)

Balderas’ paper titled “Death During the Conquest Era” connects to our group’s theme “The Meeting of Two Worlds” through their discussion of funeral rites practiced by the Mexica/Aztec/Nahua people (which I will refer to as Mexica as that is the term Balderas uses) and how these rites changed during the Spanish Conquest.

Balderas first mentions how the Mexica belief system focuses on “death as the main creator of life” with different rites depending on how a person died- where a person’s being went also depended on their death (167). It is important to note that although there is a list of some rites, the author recognizes that there was a fair amount of diversity and not one universalized practice (182). Some rites include the cremation of people who passed away from “common illness or old age” and the burial of those who died from resaons relating to water (170). Those who died in battle or childbirth were considered very important because both were thought to go to “Solar Heaven” to keep the sun in motion (170). Most people were given various offerings after their death as “they were [considered to be] for the next world” (184). Balderas also acknowledges that there are some sources that state class played a role in a person’s funeral rites (172-174). This one aspect of society clearly shows that before the Spaniards came the Mexica people had a complicated and developed culture. The Spanish did not come to a land that was uncivilized or without tradition.

The Spanish Conquerors practiced Catholicism which differs from Mexica beliefs in that “where one’s soul will travel after death…[depends on] one’s behaviour on earth” and there was only one funeral practice (burial)  regardless of how the person died (178).  The change in tradition for the Mexica people was not one entirely of “blind acquisition of the rites and beliefs of the Spanish conquistadors” (184). Balderas indicates through remains found in cemeteries near old hospitals that there was a mixing of both cultures as people had been buried, but had been buried with various objects (183). Clearly, the people did not choose to change their beliefs and did not entirely discard them.

As it was mentioned earlier, the Mexica people did not abandon their practices in favour of new ones, but rather those practices somewhat fused together (184). The people “had to give up [some]…rituals and practices”, but the “new institutions, forms, and meanings” that were created still somewhat reflected their traditions. (184). Lastly, to tie in with an important point made by Balderas is that the Conquest “established the bases for the development of new practices” in the emerging colonial society (184). At this time societal norms and practices seemed to be fairly undefined, so Balderas’ article provides some insight on how at least one area of society may have begun to develop.







Balderas, Ximena Chavez. “Death During the Conquest Era”. Invasion and Transformation: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico, Brienen, R. P. and M. A. Jackson. University Press of Colorado. 2008. Pp. 167-184. Project Muse.

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