Nahuatl, the Past, and the Future

Welcome to 2019, everybody! It’s great to be present in this future that will soon be the past.

Speaking of which, for the Nahuas (“Aztecs”), time was relative. Though their language, Nahuatl, had both past and future tenses, it had no simple word for “past” or “future.”

Instead, they spoke of “in ompa tihuāllahqueh” (the time or place we’ve come from) and “in oc ompa titztihuih” (the time or place we’re headed off to see).

You’ll note that their words for “time” and “place” were the same. For example, cehuetzilizpan could mean “freezing place” or “winter.”

Other expressions for the past/future included “in tïcampa in totepotzco” (that which is at our backs, behind us), as well as … “in īquin, in cānin” (at some distant time and place).

Here’s to our future. May both the time and place we’re headed be more beautiful, just, and fulfilling than the times and places at our backs.

Tlā xipāquicān! May you all be happy!

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The Mexica leave Aztlan and journey to an uncertain future.

A Mexican-American author and translator from deep South Texas, David Bowles teaches literature and Nahuatl at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley.

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