Dr. Garza, associate professor of Communication, examined Standpoint theory and the "Outsider Within," a challenge she encountered while conducting research on Coyolxauhqui, the legendary Aztec moon Goddess. In most translations, Dr. Garza argued, Coyolxauhqui is the warrior moon goddess (Broda, Carrasco & Matos Moctezuma, 19897; Lathrop, 1998; Anzaldúa, 1987). More recent scholarship identifies her as the goddess of the Milky Way galaxy (Aguilera García, 2001; Taube, 1993). In any case, Coyolxauhqui’s distinguishing features are the bells on her cheeks, which become most visible during her full cycle, when she appears in a rich orange red hue. Her mother, Coatlicue, is the mother of the heavens as well as the Earth goddess. The Centzon Huitznahua, the 400 southern stars, are Coyolxauhqui’s siblings. This family represents the powers of natural order in Mexica cosmology.
The issues of voice, agency, and vocality emerge from the onset of the story. In the traditional version, Coatlicue is depicted as having little voice in her destiny. Though she accepted the plumes, she had no say over what fell upon her in the first place. When Coatlicue has the opportunity to convey her situation to her children, she is does not denounce her oppression and instead chooses a univocal expression of faith in the very force that denied her a voice in the matter. This situation enrages her children. From their perspective, the violation of their mother is, by extension, a violation of their collective identity and as such a surrender of their power. Misguided by their anger, the children see their mother’s quiet resolve as a form of collusion. Their resentment of external intervention, along with their mother’s perceived complicity, fractures the family unity.
Coyolxauhqui employs her rhetorical skill to incite her 400 siblings, the Centzon Huitznahua, to avenge what she argues is a transgression of their family honor. She makes a call to action. She convinces the Centzon Huitznahua that in order to prevent the birth of their half-brother Huitzilopochtli (represented by the hummingbird of the south) from becoming the warrior god of the sky (the Sun) they must take immediate and conclusive action. She persuades them that the only solution to prevent the birth of this powerful intemperate war god is to kill their mother while his power is still contained in utero.
Sensing impeding disempowerment, Coyolxauhqui forges an argument that accentuates a moral imperative multivocally. She utilizes multiple rhetorical strategies to provoke the ire of her siblings. She dramatizes their humiliation by reiterating the indignity to their mother and to their family honor. She also alleges that without unified conclusive action, they will continue to suffer further indignities. She convinces them that the only solution for self-preservation is a pre-emptive strike that will halt their menacing half-brother. Coyolxauhqui is able to rally her 400 siblings, the Centzon Huitznahua, and together they take collective action.
As they are about to carry out their plan, Huitzilopochtli is born. He emerges full grown, dressed as a warrior, and armed for combat. Huitzilopochtli, enraged by his sibling’s plot, unleashes his irascible fury on his older sister, Coyolxauhqui. Brandishing a burning weapon known as “a serpent of fire,” Huitzilopochtli decapitates his sister and dismembers her body (Broda, Carrasco & Matos Moctezuma,1987; Carrasco, 1990). Coyolxauhqui’s mutilated body plummets down the hill. Religion historian and Mesoamerican culture scholar, Davíd Carrasco (1998) translates the ancient text in this way, “her body went falling below and it went crashing to pieces in various places, her arms, her legs, her body kept falling” (75).
Huitzilopochtli’s mutilation of Coyolxauhqui illustrates a hypervocalic episode in the narrative. His choice of a weapon, the burning serpent of fire, is extreme. His method of execution is not simply to kill, but to overkill. His decision to decapitate and physically dismember Coyolxauhqui overstates his desire to see to it that she will never again rejoin or unify with others. Her body falling down hill, crashing to pieces, symbolizes Coyolxauhqui’s exceeding loss of control and her utter displacement.
Although most translations of the story end with Coyolxauhqui’s dismemberment, Broda, Carrasco, & Matos Moctezuma (1987) extend the translation of the narrative. After Huitzilopochtli destroys Coyolxauhqui, his power intensifies. His anger turns into a vengeful fury against his remaining siblings, the Centzon Huitznahua. Unsatisfied with simply defeating them, a ruthless wrath consumes Huitzilopochtli. His siblings plea for his mercy. Broda, Carrasco, & Matos Moctezuma, (1987) explain it in this way:
Finally, he takes their costumes, their symbols and ‘introduced them into his destiny, he made then his own insignia.’ In this act of symbolic possession, Huitzilopochtli transforms their obliteration into his own power, integrating the ritual array, the spiritual forces of their costumes into his own design (136).
Without Coyolxauhqui to contest him, Huitzilopochtl becomes relentless in his pursuit of power. Despite their supplication, Huitzilopochtli not only kills the Centzon Huitznahua, but he dictates an extreme form of rhetorical violence. In yet another hypervocalic act, Huitzilopochtli annihilates the Centzon Huitznahua through an act of symbolic erasure. He co-opts their identity, assimilates their power, and renders them silent.
In the narrative of Coyolxauhqui, each character’s voice exhibits a different form of vocality. Coatlicue, the mother figure, represents univocality. She is resolute in her belief of miraculous conception, and in her resolve to protect the new life she will bring forth—even if her other children disagree with her decision. The characters of Coyolxauhqui and the Centzon Huitznahua, her 400 siblings, signify multivocality. Coyolxauhqui’s rhetorical strategies are effective in gaining the support of her 400 siblings and together they hold the potential to sound a vociferous refrain. Huitzilopochtli stands for hypervocality. He delivers his rage against Coyolxauhqui and the Centzon Huitznahua through excessively hostile and violent destruction. As the story concludes, Huitzilopochtli appears victorious. However, in the end, he Coyolxauhqui, the Centzon Huitznahua, and their mother Coatlicue share the sky, albeit at different times. Ultimately, they exercise their power interdependently in the natural cycling of day and night. On rare occasion, they reunite—if only temporarily.
Excerpted from:Garza, T. (2011). The Rhetorical Legacy of Coyolxauhqui: (Re)collecting and (Re)membering Voice” In M.A. Holling and B. M. Calafell , Latina/o Discourse in Vernacular Spaces: Somos de una Voz? (pp. 31-56). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (an academic division of Rowman & Littlefield).
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