Human sexuality has been defined and understood differently by various cultural groups. The different perceptions and beliefs over the human sexuality are associated with the different cultural practices. From the pre-contact period, people have had different ideas and thoughts regarding sexuality, which are mainly associated with their respective cultural backgrounds. This essay reviews the book "The Flower and the Scorpion" authored by Pete Sigal, in which he examines the historical understanding of sexuality from the context of the Nahua culture.
The book "The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture" authored by Pere Sigal, offers an explicit and fascinating historical context of the Nahua culture. The book provides the historical understanding of the Nahua community's sexuality between the pre-contact period and the early colonial era. Based on the stunning array of the Nahua as well as the primary sources from the Spanish language, the author examines the writings of the Nahua regarding their beliefs, religious practices, rituals as well as sexuality practices. Together with the clerical documents and Spanish primary sources, Sigal seeks to interpret numerous texts written by the Nahua indigenous scholars. In his view, the Nahua notion of fertility was formed from what he defines as "tlazolli complex," which translates to sin in Spanish (Sigal 23). Even though "tlazolli" was considered central to fertility in the indigenous Nahua culture, but life was also built upon it (Sigal 23). Sigal has not only examined the Nahua culture in his book but also included the Spaniards' thought and belief in sexuality. The book is organized into eight chapters where every chapter is dedicated to a specific topic. For example, chapters 2 and 3 provide the interesting concepts of "Trash" and "Sin," which also form the methodological core of this book.
In the book, "The Flower and the Scorpion" Sigal places the uncertainty of the sources as he tries to trace the indigenous Mexican sexual behaviors and experience. Sigal not only examines the sexual lives of the Nahua community, but he also includes how the indigenous scholars "produced ideas regarding the Nahua sexuality" (Sigal 11). He achieves this by emphasizing on encoding both sexual behaviors and beliefs, through which he produces a book which has a wide range of significance than the practical study of sexual behavior (Pennock 376). According to Sigal, before the Spanish conquest, the Nahua indigenous community did not have any idea regarding the sexuality. He tries to shed new light on the Nahua sexuality concept without relying on the modern Western notion of sexuality.
In his view, Sigal believes that the modern researchers have exaggerated the significance and power of the Catholic sacrament of confession to alter the ways people understood themselves and their behaviors. For Sigal, the Nahua community had stayed that way until they came in contact with the Spanish, who spontaneously started to change their beliefs and culture. Sigal explains that the indigenous Nahua people believed that sexuality is related to concepts of sin, redemption, pleasure, seduction, rituals of fertility as well as warfare. Therefore, for the Nahua people, "the earth always signified life and fertility, but it also signified danger and death" which "one needed to control" (Sigal 23). Sigal further differentiates the Christian view and the indigenous Nahua view on sexuality. According to Sigal, unlike the Christian view, which allowed a binary model of good and bad, in which the notion of sex was connected with sin, the indigenous Nahua balanced the "tlazolli complex" which allowed positive sexuality as long as it was practiced in moderation. Sigal believes that instead of the Christian's notion of sexuality as a sin becoming gradually adopted, the Nahua people decided to adopt what Pennock describes as "a changed discursive framework in which excess would result in spiritual condemnation" (376).
In general, this book can be characterized as curious, sound, enlightening and interesting. Pete Sigal has offered both interesting and enlightening insights on the different perceptions of sexuality between the indigenous Nahua and the Spaniards. This book relies on the clerical documents that illuminate the complex Nahua understanding of sexuality from the pre-contact era through the colonial period. I would recommend this book to any historian who seeks to understand the Nahua notions of gender and sexuality based on the indigenous Nahua authors as well as how they accommodated and become assimilated to the Christianity frameworks. This book has made a significant contribution to both history of religion and also sexuality through the analysis of the Nahua rituals and sexuality notions.
In conclusion, Pete Sigal in his book "The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in Early Nahua Culture" takes the readers to pre-contact period and tries to separate the colonial layers of the Spanish worldview of sexuality in an attempt to isolate the Nahua notion of sexuality before the colonial era. This book is not only clearly written but also enjoyable to read. For Nahua specialists and gender historians, this is the book to read as it challenges the fixed notion of the nature of individuality and collective identity.
Pennock, Caroline Dodds. "Pete Sigal, the Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in early Nahua Culture (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011), pp. xvi+ 361. ISBN 978 082235138 (hb); 978 082235151 (pb)."
Gender & History 25.2 (2013): 376-377. Accessed on September 2, 2018 from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1468-0424.12024_1
Sigal, Pete. The Flower and the Scorpion: Sexuality and Ritual in early Nahua Culture. Duke University Press, 2011.
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