Exploring the Aztec feast of Kecholli

Hunters embark on the ceremonial hunt during Kecholli, from Primeros Memoriales

The feast of Kecholli is named for the roseate spoonbill, a bird with resplendent pink feathers that migrates south into Mexico during the winter months. The word Kecholli literally means “rubber neck” in the Nawatl language. The feast was held in honor of Kamaxtli/Mixkoatl, the lord of the hunt, who is depicted in the codices painted in red stripes and holding his hunting instruments. The first several days of the month were used to craft the arrows, darts, and spears that would be used in the upcoming hunt.

The symbol for Kecholli, from the Florentine Codex Book 11
Kamaxtli/Mixkoatl with his atlatl and darts, from the Codex Borgia

The Florentine Codex describes the feast as follows:

“When they made the arrows, for a space of five days all took blood from their ears, and with the blood they anointed their temples. They said that they did penance in order to go to hunt deer. Those who did not bleed themselves had their capes taken away as punishment. No man lay with his wife on those days; neither did the old men nor the old women drink pulque; because they did penance.

At the end of the four days during which they made the arrows and darts, they made a number of very small arrows, and bound them in fours with bundles of four torches. These they offered upon the graves of the dead. They placed also, along with the arrows and torches, two tamales. All this remained for a whole day upon the grave, and at night they burned it and performed many other ceremonies for the dead on this same feast.

On the tenth day of this month, all the Mexicans and Tlatelulkans went to those mountains which they call Zakatepek. And they say that this mountain is their mother. On the day that they arrived, they made huts or cabins of grass, and they lit fires, and nothing else did they do that day. Next day, at dawn, all broke fast and set out for the country and formed a great wing, wherewith they surrounded many animals deer, rabbit, and other animals — and little by little they kept coming together until they rounded up all of them. Then they attacked and hunted, each one what he could.

When the hunt ended they slew captives and slaves on a pyramid which they call Tlamatzinko. They Bound them hand and foot, and carried them up the steps of the pyramid as one carries a deer by the hind and forelegs to slaughter). They slew with great ceremony the man and the woman who were the ixiptla of the god Mixkoatl and of his consort. They slew them on another pyramid which was called Mixkoatkopan. Many other ceremonies were performed.”

Florentine Codex, Book 2 pp 25–26

A hunter participating in the ceremonial hunt during Kecholli, from Codex Duran

(Chicano/Nawa/Mazewalli) Archaeologist, filmmaker, and founder of the Chimalli institute of Mesoamerican Arts. Professor of C/S at Colegio Chicano del Pueblo.

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