Domesticating the Nahuas: Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s Cultural Translation of Nahua Gods and Ceremonies in Book I of Historia universal de las cosas de Nueva España

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This essay studies the Franciscan missionary Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's cultural translation of Nahua gods and ceremonies in Book I of his work Historia universal de las cosas de Nueva España (1577). In 1558, under missionary commission, he completed his first text in Nahuatl, which sought to supply his fellow missionaries with a linguistic and cultural tool to extirpate what was considered indigenous idolatry. From 1575 to 1577, following a royal request for accounts on New World territories he translated his own interpretation of the Nahua world into Spanish. This essay aims to demonstrate that, regardless of different translation briefs, translation purposes, and target-text audiences, in both tasks Sahagún understood, relocated, and confined the source culture of the Nahuas into a written text according to his Western ideology and cosmological order. Two sections are devoted to proving these assumptions. The first examines how Sahagún organized the material he had collected according to an encyclopaedic schema inherited from classical authors and prevalent in medieval compilation literature. The second provides examples of the way in which Sahagún made manifestations of Nahua religion practice comprehensible by establishing recognisable associations with his Christian mentality and clerical training.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-222
Number of pages12
JournalRomance Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009



  • Cultural Translation
  • Domestication
  • Colonial Latin America
  • Conversion

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