3 Transfer of Moral Knowledge in Early Colonial Latin America

Lars Kirkhusmo Pharo

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Pharo, Lars Kirkhusmo (2016). Transfer of Moral Knowledge in Early Colonial Latin America. In: The Globalization of Knowledge in the Iberian Colonial World. Berlin: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften.

Transfer and Imposition of Moral Epistemology

The category “morality” refers to codes of conduct put forward by a society, community, institution or organization.1 The epistemology of morality, that is, moral knowledge, is significant because it contributes to the conception, production and practice of other categories of knowledge not only of the social (human) but also the interrelated natural world.

Not long after their arrival in the Americas, missionaries endeavored to transfer and translate knowledge, in particular moral knowledge, into the languages of Indigenous peoples through Latin alphabetic script and various Indigenous pictorial-logographic systems. These scriptures could also be intersemiotic consisting of both the Latin alphabetic and Indigenous semiotic systems. In order to expound the (intended) transfer of moral epistemology in early colonial Latin America, I employ a methodology of analyzing moral “core concepts” and “key concepts,” which Christian missionaries endeavored to transmit to Indigenous peoples. The transfer of historical-epistemological concepts of the early colonial period in America can be examined by explicating translations. Executing a systematic and comprehensive methodology through the analysis of dictionaries, grammars, manuscripts and comparative (diachronic/synchronic) anthropology makes it possible to recognize linguistic categories and terminologies of the knowledge systems of both Indigenous American and European cultures.

In this essay, I explicate the epistemological transference and encounter in the early colonial period through a comparative analysis of translations of the moral philosophical-theological key concept “sin.” I employ examples from primarily Nahuatl (the lingua franca of the Aztec Empire) of central Mesoamerica, with examples from Mixtec and Yucatec Maya of southern Mesoamerica, as well as from Aymara and Quechua (Quechua was a lingua franca of the Inka Empire) of the Andean region of South America. In particular, as I will elaborate, it is undeniably remarkable that the early colonial missionaries applied various translated concepts (nouns and verbs) for “sin,” later substituted by a unique noun, from the above-mentioned Indigenous languages correspondingly.2

The translated words for “sin” into categories of Indigenous American languages contain a wide range of connotations falling beyond Christian morals and ethics. These lack a Christian meaning of an exclusive individual or common inherited transgression or wrongdoing and a metaphysical (post mortem) consequence, that is, a transcendental and eschatological judgment. There are two types of “sin” in Christian doctrine: “original sin” (peccatum orginans), which is “sin in principle” inherited from Adam and “actual sin,” which refers to moral failures committed by the individual human being (Burke 1961, 222). “Actual sin” comprises evil actions, deeds, thoughts and words of the individual. “Original sin,” the sin of Adam outlined in Genesis 3, belongs to the human race as a collective. Paul outlines a corporate or collective inherited sin in Rom. 5: 12–21. But the specific doctrine of original sin was developed after Paul and is therefore absent in the New Testament (Lewis 1973, 158). Conversely, Indigenous moral philosophies are principally concerned with transgression against the community and the natural world. I put forward the theory that the core concept in the missionaries’ translation of moral epistemology into Indigenous linguistic-philosophical categories is not, although it is a highly significant and interrelated key concept, “sin” but “salvation.”

There is a fundamentally different conceptualization of moral transgression between Indigenous non-soteriological and European-Christian soteriological knowledge systems. Moreover, the European-Christian missionary enterprise of moral conversion differs radically from the non-missionary Indigenous cultures. The European missionary linguists intended to impose new moral principles upon the original concepts taken from the Indigenous language in order to obtain conversion. It is therefore impossible to translate the Christian concept of “sin” without concurrently making a cognitive transformation, a moral epistemological conversion, of the Indigenous culture.

Ideologically related to European missionary dogma, early colonial period Eurocentric morality was imposed in America in what is known today as “The (Christian) Doctrine of Discovery.” This early colonial judicial doctrine, signifying European dominium of the natural and social world, is practiced in the legal systems of contemporary postcolonial national states in order to repudiate not only Indigenous autonomy and self-determination, but also moral identity and ethics. The heritage of colonial North Atlantic (i. e. European) epistemological obscurantism or unawareness, that is, anti-knowledge and disregard for Indigenous knowledge abilities and moral systems, is closely related to the issue of Indigenous self-determination.

Despite essential religious and philosophical differences, however, there are principal similarities between European-Christian and Indigenous moral epistemologies. Finally, I advocate that specific pre-European/pre-Christian concepts of “morality” exist in Nahuatl and in Quechua and Aymara—and probably in many other Indigenous American philosophic and religious vocabularies as well.

First, I will briefly explicate the different scriptural and semiotics sources on the encounter between Indigenous and European moral epistemology in early colonial Latin America.

European Missionary Linguists and Ethnographer Missionaries’ Records of Indigenous Moral Philosophy

From the beginning of the sixteenth century representatives of the Spanish monastic orders—the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Augustinians, later followed by the Jesuits—began to create systematic descriptions of Latin America. In so doing, the various missionaries composed a quite extensive epistemological corpus outlining nature, geography, society, economy, beliefs, ritual practices, institutions, history and languages. Accordingly, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries numerous, more or less contemporary, non-doctrinal descriptions of Indigenous cultures were produced by the Spanish “ethnographer missionaries” (henceforth: EM) or “missionary linguists” (henceforth: ML).3

The missionaries were preoccupied with transmitting Christian moral philosophy to the Indigenous peoples. Spanish EMs and MLs translated doctrinal writings—that is, catechisms or “doctrina,” sermons or “sermonario,” manuals of confessions or “confessionario,” passages from the Bible, and other edifying scriptures—into Indigenous languages, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although written in an Indigenous language, these manuscripts reflect Christian theology and do not demonstrate ample knowledge of Indigenous linguistic-categories of moral philosophy.

An exceptional non-doctrinal source to Indigenous moral philosophy in an Indigenous language is Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s4 bilingual (Nahuatl and Spanish) Florentine Codex5 or, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España (“A General History of the Things of New Spain”), copied in Mexico City c. 1578–1580. The encyclopedia Florentine Codex is the most illustrious work written by an ethnographer missionary in the Americas. The Franciscan Sahagún (c. 1499–1589) arrived in Mexico in 1529, only eight years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. He acted as a missionary while gathering data on the language, history, culture, philosophy and religion of the Nahua. Nahua (“intelligible,” “clear,” “audible”) refers to the Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica speaking one of the related dialects of Nahuatl.6 So-called Classic Nahuatl,7 the language of the Aztec Empire,8 was a lingua franca in the post-classical and early colonial periods in Mesoamerica.9 Because the Aztecs had dominated a great part of Mesoamerica before the Spaniards arrived at the beginning of the sixteenth century,10 numerous written recordings outline Nahua culture in Central Mexico. Spanish civil and religious officials used Nahuatl as an administrative language in the early colonial period.11 Sahagún recognized that he had to outline, within a historical and anthropological perspective, the ancient traditions in Nahuatl, in order to reveal customs that were potentially dangerous (“demonic” or “diabolical”) for the missionaries. The Florentine Codex constitutes an extraordinary book, not only because the data were collected and composed just after the European conquest but most importantly because it is written in Nahuatl.12 The Florentine Codex records various moral concepts in Nahuatl of a non-Christian European origin. Sahagún collaborated with Indigenous assistants and applied standardized questionnaires for interviews with Indigenous informants (López Austin 1974). Sahagún’s assistants comprised a small group of converted trilingual (Nahuatl, Spanish and Latin) sons of the ancient Indigenous aristocracy educated at the Colegio de Santa Cruz, which was founded in 1536 in Tlatelolco, not far from Mexico City.13 Sahagún and his assistants conducted interviews with anonymous informants of the Nahua realm of Tepepolco (Hidalgo), Tlatelolco and Tenochtitlan of Central Mexico.

Apart from ML dictionaries and grammars (Sp. Arte) of Indigenous languages, the research of the EM Sahagún gives unique access to reconstructing moral-linguistic categories and philosophy of Indigenous peoples, not influenced by European Christianity.

Transfer of Moral Epistemology in (Inter) Semiotic Systems

Not long after the Spanish conquest the Franciscan EM Torbio de Benavente Motolinía relates that in the city Cholollan or Chollan in Puebla (Mexico) he asked the Nahua to confess their “sins” written in their own writing or semiotic system. He apparently received many of these “confessions” (Motolinía 1971; Boone 2000, 245). Both early colonial European and Indigenous peoples appropriated knowledge of each other’s respective writing and semiotic systems. They also produced scriptures where both graphic methods were applied “in a intersemiotic manner,” that is, simultaneously. These various strategies of communication made it possible to convey or translate various ideas, concepts and practices.

In particular in Mesoamerica and the Andes of South America, where the European encountered numerous civilizations with refined semiotic and writing systems, missionaries constructed various intersemiotic (hybrid) pictorial-logographic catechisms and confessionals based upon Indigenous and European semiotic, symbolic and iconographic conventions. Both (converted) Indigenous peoples and missionaries produced these manuscripts. Indigenous pictographic-logographic systems, although with European conventions, were employed to convey Christian moral theology and practices. For instance, the Lord’s Prayer is depicted with the use of Nahua principles of logosyllabic writing in a seventeenth-century manuscript (Edgerton 2001, 28–30). Semiotically, this represents a “disjunction” where the viewer is encouraged to identify a Christian meaning in a non-Christian religious sign (Durston 2007, 63). The pictorial-logographic catechisms and confessionals could also be accompanied with glosses translated into an Indigenous language or Spanish in Latin script.14 It is important to emphasize that the (moral theological) context, semiotic code and language had to be known in order to interpret the meaning.

Pictorial-logographic catechisms, called Testerian manuscripts after the Franciscan Jacobo de Testera (1490?–1554), were made from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century in Mesoamerica. Forty-two manuscripts are extant containing Roman Catholic doctrine including the Our Father, Hail Mary, Salve Regina, Apostles’ Creed, Ten Commandments, Seven Deadly Sins and Church sacraments. This manuscript tradition represents a hybrid (intersemiotic) combination of pre-Hispanic pictorial and European catechistical manuscript tradition (Leibsohn 2001, 214–215). Pictographic Roman Catholic catechisms were also produced for Quechua and Aymara speakers from the Lake Titicaca region of Boliva and Peru in the Andes as late as in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Mitchell and Jaye 2008, 265–267). Besides (intersemiotic) pictorial-logographic scripture there were also other Latin American semiotic systems applied by the Europeans in the early colonial period.

Khipu (dyed knotted strings), originally used by the Inka15 and other (earlier) linguistic cultures of the Andes in order to record and communicate a variety of information, were also employed by European missionaries (Urton 2009, 823–824, note 10). Khipu (pl. khipukana)—from Quechua or chinu from Aymara (pl. chinunaka), which both signify “knot”—constitute a complicated system. It represents a combination of dyed knotted strings in which apparently ply, form, structure, color, direction, placement and number are significant for communication (Hyland 2014; Urton 2002; 2008). Khipu contains interrelated accounts (narratives) and transference of quantitative (mathematical) information. This system—which may have a binary codified, mnemonic or phonetic (i. e. writing) principle—is, however, not satisfactorily deciphered.16

Khipu were transcribed, translated and recorded in the early colonial period for administrative archives, but no extant example of a corresponding khipu transcription exists today.17 Together with Latin script and European numeracy the Spanish viceroyalty used khipu-masters (khipukamayo) in economic records (accounting and tribute census), demographic census, registries, in judicial and political affairs among the Quechua and Aymara speaking peoples from the 1570s. Accordingly, there was “a semiotic co-existence” of khipu together with Castilian and Latin literacy in the early colonial period. It was employed until the late eighteenth century in local (vernacular) Indigenous administration, even later in some places that recorded communal work and non-Christian rituals with “khipu-boards” (Salomon 2008, 286–287, 290–292, 297, 299–300).

Spanish Catholic missionaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries applied khipu with the purpose of making confessionals and catechisms.18 The hybrid khipu-alphabetic objects known as “khipu boards” were developed by Spanish clerics. At the end of the sixteenth century, Mercedarians produced khipu-boards with alphabetic writing for evangelization. According to the Jesuit EM José de Acosta in 1590, confessional khipus (e. g. confessional manuals) recorded sins, in particular among women. Elders also employed khipu as catechisms. Lay specialists recorded confessions on khipus into the early seventeenth century and even in the twentieth century. The Roman Catholic calendar was even recorded on khipus according to the Mercedarian Martín de Murúa.19

The European missionary innovation of a novel semiotics signifies how Christian moral epistemology was transferred to the Indigenous target culture with the intention of redefining the semantics of the Indigenous language, graphic and symbolic system—thereby converting Indigenous moral knowledge and practices.

Missionary Translations of the Moral Concept of “Sin” into Indigenous Languages

“Sin” (Sp.“pecado”) comprises a highly complex multiple-reference conception, whose semantics depends upon the moral system in question.

The Mixtec, who refer to themselves and their territory “La Mixteca” as Ñuu Savi, Ñuu Sau or Ñuu Dzavui,20 “people of the rain” or “the people belonging to the rain god,”21 are especially known for their impressive pictorial-logographic manuscripts (ñii ñùhu, “sacred skin”) from the post classic and early colonial period (c. 900AD—c. 1600).22 La Mixteca—which is comprised of three geographic zones: Mixeca Alta, Mixeca Baja and Mixteca de la Costa—was geo-politically fragmented, consisting of chiefdoms and city-states, with different dialects from the pre-colonial period.23

“Sin” is recorded in Fray Francisco de Alvarado’s Catholic colonial Spanish-Mixtec dictionary with the entry kuachi.24 The many glosses of kuachi (also spelled as kuachi or kuachi) in the entry comprise “guilt” (“culpa”), “crime” (“crimen”), “flaw” or “defect” (“defecto”) and “fault by guilt” (“falta por culpa”).25 The Dominican Fray Francisco de Alvarado’s (1558–1603) collected and prepared the Spanish-Mixtec dictionary Vocabulario en Lengua Mixteca published in 1593. This dictionary does not contain one-to-one translations of words, but various long explanatory paraphrases creating inadequate conceptual translations. This lexicographic strategy is interesting and revealing because it suggests that Alvarado believed that many Spanish lexemes could not be translated into Mixtec. Moreover, Alfonso Caso has reconstructed from a grammar, Arte en lengua Mixtec published by the Dominican missionary Fray Antonio de los Reyes (?–1603) in 1593, a brief word list where Mixtec entries are translated into Spanish. We do not know much about Alvarado and Reyes other than they learned to speak Mixtec fluently and that they built their work upon earlier friars and cooperated with Mixtec informants and assistants (Jiménez Moreno 1962, 34–40).

The first known example of Mixtec-language alphabetic writing is, however, the Doctrina Cristiana en lengua Misteca by the fluent speaker Dominican, Fray Benito Hernández in 1567/1568, probably in collaboration with (converted) Mixtec aristocrats. The grammar and vocabulary of Reyes and Alvardo refer to the Doctrina of Hernández (Terraciano 2001, 7, 69–70). The same Mixtec word for “sin” (kuachi) is employed in the Doctrina26 for: “evil life” (“vida mala”), “vice” (“vicio”), “guilt” (“culpa”), “falsehood” (“falsedad”), “fault” (“falta”)” (Jansen and Pérez Jiménz 2009, 154). In addition, Fray Antonio de los Reyes defines kuachi as an “excuse” besides “sin” and “guilt.”27 Mixtec is a tonal language where the meaning of the words changes depending on whether it is a high, medium or low tone. In the colonial dictionaries tone is not marked by separate entries. There is accordingly a semantic ambiguity with kuachi as well as with other Mixtec concepts. Kuachi was often modified by other words in order to convey a different meaning according to context. Kevin Terraciano has observed that this moral notion is applied in criminal records from the colonial period. “Crime” therefore probably represents the non-Christian/non-European ethical meaning of kuachi. For instance, Pedro de Caravantes from the pueblo Yanhuitlan of the Mixteca Alta applied the word kuachi to refer to his criminal act of murder according to a note from 1684. In addition, he employed kuachi “in reference to his anima (“soul”) and God. Thus, the instigator of the murder conveyed a Christian concept by extending the semantic range of a native-language word in conjunction with a basic loanword (Sp. anima)” (Terraciano 2001, 305).

In The Slippery Earth. Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (1989), Louise M. Burkhart analyzed the concept of “sin,” which was translated by Catholic colonial missionaries as tla[h]tlacolli into Nahuatl in the sixteenth century. In the colonial period, the Catholics translated original sin as tlatlacolpeuhcayotl “the beginning of sin” or “the sinful beginning,” tlatlacolnelhuayotl, “the origin of sin,” achto tlatlacolli, “first sin,” huehuetlatlacoli, “old sin.” The latter concept was employed according to Motolinía (1971, 369) to categorize a type of inherited slavery.28 Burkhart (1989) explicates how the Spanish EM and ML translated and applied tlatlacolli in ethnographic and various doctrinal scriptures translated into Nahuatl in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In his dictionary from the early colonial period, Fray Alonso de Molina records tlatlacolli as “sin” (“pecado”); “guilt” (“culpa”) or “flaw or defect” (“defecto”) (Molina 1977 [1555 and 1571], 137r). “Mea culpa” was for example translated with Nahuatl notlatlacol, literally expressed as “my damage” (Burkhart 1989, 32–33). The earliest and most outstanding (extant) colonial dictionary of Nahuatl is the Spanish-Nahuatl, Nahuatl-Spanish Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana Y Mexicana Y Mexicana y Castellana, published 1555–1571 by the Franciscan Fray Alonso de Molina, O.F.M (1513–1579). Molina, who had grown up in “New Spain,” prepared the dictionary with Nahua collaborators and informants.

Nahuatl is a polysynthetic or agglutinate language. It comprises complex words consisting of (several) morphemes or combinations of word elements. Accordingly, Nahuatl can express compound ideas with relative ease. The noun tlatlacolli derives itself from the intransitive verb tlatlacoa, which originates from the transitive verb itlacoa, “to damage, spoil or harm.” When the nonspecific object prefix tla is attached, the meaning is “to damage things (or something).” Burkhart maintains that tlatlacolli can be translated literally as “something damaged or corrupted.”29 Molina records the possessive tlatlacolli, (i)htlacoa, which alludes to “something or someone being corrupted, spoiled, damaged; ruined or injured.”30 Burkhart makes the case that tlatlacolli connotes a broad range of meanings: wrong deeds, faults, mistakes or something wrong in the sense of a criminal act. The word tlatlacolli does indeed have many different connotations in the Florentine Codex and in the dictionary of Molina associated with many types of intentional and unintentional misdeeds, offences, damages or errors like sexual (excesses),31 theft and intoxication according to Burkhart’s analysis.32 Slaves were for instance considered to be damaged, tlatlacoliztli (Molina 1977 [1555 and 1571], 78r, 109r; Austin 1980, 463). Moreover, the concept is applied to characterize cultural defects of non-Nahua groups, things being off balance, destroyed, dislocated or displaced, duties being not executed etc. Even good (Nahuatl: cualli) day-signs of the 260-day calendar could be corrupted, itlacauhtiuh (Burkhart 1989, 28–29) as stated in the Florentine Codex (Sahagún IV, 9).33

The Spanish ML translated catechisms, confessionals, sermons and other types of doctrinal scriptures into Quechua, and to a lesser degree, into Aymara in the Andean region (Durston 2007, 67–75, 105–115; Urton 2009, 817–818). They applied the term hucha from Quechua and Aymara to translate “sin” (“pecado”),“guilt” and “fault” (“culpa”).34 “Sin,” “guilt,” “fault” and “debt” etc. are among the categories distinguished in Christian moral theology but not in Mixtec, Nahuatl, Quechua and Aymara. Non-Christian religions and languages outside the Americas illuminate equivalent structural differences. For example, E. E. Evans-Pritchard observed that a comparative linguistic-religious significance is lacking in the Nuer language of southern Sudan because there is no distinction between “sin” and “fault” (Evans-Pritchard 1967, 192). This suggests that a comparable ethical concept does not exist in Indigenous moral philosophies and religions. “Sin,” “crime” and “offence” could very well refer to moral wrongdoings or transgressions in a theological context but “guilt” conveys a quite different meaning, as do “shame,” “regret” and “remorse.” “Sin” is the accomplishment of the offence and transgression whereas “guilt,” “shame,” “regret” and “remorse” constitute the emotion of the individual after conducting the misdeed. There is accordingly an unambiguous semantic discrepancy between “sin”: “as the wrong act itself, the guilt which thereafter rests upon the sinner, and the consequences of the sin which fall sometimes on the sinner and usually on the innocent” (Burke 1961, 227–228). These Christian moral doctrinal principles do not correspond well with Indigenous ethic codes. For instance, for the Navajo of the southwestern United Stated “virtue is knowledge” since the moral code of misdeeds does not constitute willful acts but is the result of not having ethical knowledge. Consequently, in Navajo moral conduct there is no concept of “sin,” as understood in Christian theology. Wrongdoings are “mistakes” but not “crime,” “guilt” or “sin.”35

Various Moral-Linguistic Categories for “Sin” Translated from Maya, Mixtec, Nahuatl, Quechua and Aymara

In addition to the Mixtec noun kuachi, Reyes and Alvarado record the verb dzatevui for “to sin.”36 Dzatevui is translated as: “to cause damage” according to Reyes.37 This verb is also employed in the Doctrina by Hernández where yodzatehui can be rendered as to “perish,” “damage,” “pervert” and “make rot,”38 which is contrasted with chihi ñuhu (“poner como Ñuhu”), which signifies, “to venerate God” (“venerar a Dios”).39 Dzatevui is used among contemporary Mixtecs of Chayuco with the implication of “destruction.”40 Moreover, Fray Andrés de Olmos records various Nahuatl verbs41 for “sin”—not containing the roots for the nouns tlatlacolli or (as we shall see) tlapilchihualli (tlapilchiualiztli)—but molicie (“to hurry oneself”), xixitla (“urinate” or “defecate”) and machihua (“do not do or make something”).42

The ML did not only make use of the noun tlatlacolli as a translation for “sin” in Nahuatl but also the concepts tlapilchihualli or tlapilchiualiztli. Molina records tlapilchiua as “sin” (“pecado”) or “defect or flaw” (“defecto”) (Molina 1977 [1555 and 1571], 132r), with the connotation of “guilt” or “fault,” as a synonym for tlatlacolli.43 This concept is also recorded by Alonso Urbano in his trilingual Spanish-Nahuatl-Otomí dictionary from 1605.44 But what does this concept refer to linguistically? The root word is pilīn(i).45 I analyze the meaning of tlapilchihualli or tlapilchiualiztli as “make something wither or deflate,46 which accordingly signifies moral deficiency (Kirkhusmo Pharo Forthcoming(a)). It is therefore interesting that the Florentine Codex, the preeminent source of non-European/non-Christian Nahua moral philosophy employs tlatlacolli and tlapilchihualli or tlapilchiualiztli interchangeably.47 As in Catholicism, the Nahua practiced “confession” of “sins.” The Nahua confessed wrongdoings to the deity Tlacolteotl (“Goddess of vice”) of evil, perverseness, lust and debauchery Sahagún I, 23). The penitent or wrongdoer called, tlapilchīhualeh, “confesses” his or her “sins,” ītlapilchīhualiz (Sahagún I, 24–25). He or she is said by the soothsayer (tlapouhqui) to overcome (poliuitz) his or her faults (motlatlacol) and his or her “sins” (motlapilchioal) through “penance” and ritual practice of self-sacrifice. The “sins” and “penance” (tlapilchihualli) were also offered to the Lord of the near and the nigh, Tezcatlipoca (Sahagún I, 26). Tlacolteotl “forgave” the “sins” of the “confessor.” He/she could confess moral transgressions to calendar specialists of the indispensable 260-day calendar, tlapouhqui, who demanded “penance,” “expiation” and “cleansing” of “faults” (tlatlacolli) and “sins” (tlapilchihualli) (Sahagún I, 8–11). As a worship of Tlacolteotl, “confession” by not only the Nahua but the Mixtecs of his or her “faults” and “penance,” that is, ītlapilchīhual was presented to the religious specialist when he or she was about to die (Sahagún VI, 34). Tlapilchihualli or tlapilchiualiztli is, however, not employed in contemporary Nahuatl (John Sullivan pc, 16 November 2010) or by Protestant ML (i. e. SIL or Wycliffe Bible Translators) of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.48

The Nahuatl moral concept tlazolli, that is, “pollution” or “filth” may seem to be an appropriate non-Christian Nahuatl word for “sin” or transgression.49“Sin” is represented in the pictorial Catholic colonial catechism “Gante I” with tlazolli (Boone 2011, 207–208) and not the word tlatlacolli (or tlapilchihualli), which is commonly used in alphabetic script.50 This choice of translation was probably made because “filth” is a graphic (concrete) concept easier to communicate as a metaphor than the more abstract “something damaged” (tlatlacolli). Tlazolli is associated in particular with sexual transgression and is connected to the deities Tlazoteotl (“filth deity”)51 and Tezcatlilpoca (Pettazzoni 1929; 1931; Austin 1980, I, 250; Burkhart 1989, 91–93).52 Tlazolteotl was associated with the five Cihuateteo earth deities whose purpose was “adultery” (tetlaximalitzli) according to Sahagún’s Primeros Memoriales (Burkhart 1989, 92). In his grammar (Arte) The Jesuit ML Horacio Carochi provides lexical examples of Nahuatl metaphors, associated with filth, for “sin”: “The verb potōni, “to smell bad”; “stink” from the possessive pluperfect “nopotōnca, my stench, and metaphorically my sins.” “Ìyāc, something foul smelling [...] Metaphorically our sins are called tìyāca, our stench; tocatzāhuaca, our filth, from the adjective catzāhuac, something dirty; [...] Topalānca, our rottenness, form the verb palāni, to rot” (Carochi 2001 [1645], 192–194). Moreover, Carochi combines “filth” with “sinner”: “īcatzāhuaca or īcatzāhuacāyo in tlàtlacoāni, the filthiness of the sinner” (Carochi 2001 [1645], 194–195).

Although not making a theological exegesis, Carochi indirectly opposes lexemes for “filth” with concepts for “something clean” or “pure,” chipāhuacāyōtl and qualnēci, “beauty” or “to have good appearance” referring to Virgin Mary: “Īchipāhuacāyōtzin īqualnēzcāyōtzin in ilhuicac cihuāpilli, the purity and beauty of the Queen of heaven” (Carochi 2001 [1645], 194–195). The moral system of the Nahua is comprised of a dichotomy of “purity” (chipahua) and “pollution” or “filth” (tlazolli) where the latter is associated with a concept of damage, chaos and anti-structure, that is, corresponding to tlatlacolli, according to Burkhart (1989, 87–91). To my knowledge there are, however, no philological or linguistic evidence in the extant sources for an intimate relation between tlatlacolli (or tlapilchihualli) and tlazolli or other words for “filth” or “pollution” in the moral philosophy of the Nahua.

Regarding the concepts of  “filth” and “pollution” as opposed to purity, it can be useful to examine comparative examples from other moral systems. Robert J. Priest has identified a rich vocabulary practiced for “moral evil” in the language of the Aguaruna-Jívaro from Peru (Priest 1997, 30–31). He emphasizes filth, as does Burkhart for the Nahua (1989) and Paul Ricour’s The Symbolism of Evil (1967), as a transcultural symbolic concept for moral evil (Priest 1997, 33). Guilt after defilement can be removed through a purification ritual, whereas guilt as debt can be removed through offering gifts (Priest 1997, 33). Among the Nahua sex and filth were associated with “sin” with the metaphor (Sp. difrasismo) in teuhtli, in tlazolli or “the dirt, the trash” according to Alfredo López Austin (López Austin 1997, 205). But Pettazzoni maintains that the sexual nature of Tlazoteotl is intimately associated with motherhood as represented in the Nahua pictorial-logographic manuscripts Codex Borbonicus (p. 13), Codex Vaticanus B (p. 41, 74) and Codex Borgia (p. 16) (Pettazzoni 1931, 192–193). Tlazoteotl is connected to fertility and vegetation, which is symbolically related to sexuality (Pettazzoni 1931, 198). This beneficial function of Tlazoteotl suggests that tlazolli did not have an exclusive evil or anti-structural moral meaning corresponding to “sin.” Christian moral dualism with a radical dichotomy between “good” and “evil” do not exist in Indigenous philosophical systems where there is a complimentary relation between these two notions.

Colonial ML applied both keban and çibil or zipil as translations for “sin” in Yucatec Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. But keban is associated with Christian moral doctrine whereas çibil (zipil) relate to all other offenses according to William F. Hanks (2010). While keban seems to be associated with “confession,” this significance does not apply to çibil (zipil). As opposed to çibil (zipil) in the dictionaries keban is connected to negative emotions. For example, “In the ‘Our Father,’ ‘we’ are said to forgive the çibil (zipil) of others but not their keban.”  Moreover, in the doctrina keban is differentiated into mortal and venial “sins” but çibil (zipil) does not have these connotations (Hanks 2010, 137, 196–202, 265). Can a ML secular and a religious dichotomy translation of these Yucatec Maya concepts, also be the case for the Nahuatl nouns tlatlacolli and tlapilchihualli?53 In the Spanish-Nahuatl section in the dictionary of Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 94v) and in the dictionary of Urbano (1990 [1605], 328v) only tlatlacolli is combined in the entries with Christian theological concepts: “original sin” (pecado original), “mortal sin” (pecado mortal), “great sin” (pecado grande), “venial sin” (pecado venal), “sin that can be purified through sacrifice” (pecado que se purga por sacrificio). Keban and tlatlacolli were therefore most likely appropriated by the ML in translations of the Christian moral concept “sin.”

The Quechua dictionary of Diego Gonzalez Holguín (1952 [1608]), an anonymous Quechua dictionary of 158654 and the Aymara dictionary of Ludovico Bertonio (1879 [1612]) translate “sin, business, occupation or work, contract, dispute, debate” with both hucha and cama.55 Because of language contact for more than a thousand years, Aymara and Quechua, which are of two different Andean language families, have quite a few grammatical features and lexical items in common.56 Hucha has the meaning of “sin” in the genitive, whereas it has the meaning of “business” without the genitive (Zuidema 1982, 425–429). Gerald Taylor associates “sin” (transgression by an offender), law and transactions with hucha whereas cama refers to an animating force from a deity or ancestor implying debt and (ceremonial/reciprocal) obligation. Therefore it “imply debt and obligation to the community, for the originating force emanates from the deities.” Also for the Andeans hucha signified a debt to society, a social and political transgression towards the common good. According to Taylor, in Catholic moral doctrine cama and hucha both received the meaning from “a debt not repaid, an obligation not carried out, similar to the relationship in Spanish between deber (to owe) and deuda (debt).” Cama and hucha both originally refer to reciprocity between human beings and society and deities or ancestors. Cama refers to structure, order and harmony whereas hucha is the negative opposite. As a negative word, hucha became the preferred moral term for “sin” for the ML.57 Alan Durston and Gary Urton maintain that the Quechua noun cama with the meaning of “task,” “order,” “creation” (“structure”) “responsibility,” not related to the verb cama,58 constitutes an antonym to hucha (disorder; destruction) or “sin”—the latter was used in the religious terminology of the Third Council of Lima (1583) in Peru.59 This case represents an illuminating example of the difficulties in establishing meaning of moral-linguistic categories of Indigenous philosophies and their translations (semantic extension) into European (Christian) terminology.60

The ancient Hebrews and Greeks had many different Biblical words (c. 20) translated into the English term “sin.” None of these concepts were, however, originally applied with a religious meaning as “a term speaking of moral failure in relationship to God,” which they were given later (Priest 1997, 29–30). It has been established that various colonial ML and EM operating among Indigenous peoples in the Americas acquired words from both the religious domain and the non-religious domain in order to give these a Christian theological moral value of “sin.” That the EM and ML employed various concepts for “sin” appropriated from both an Indigenous religious and non-religious linguistic context suggests that they had a serious predicament in their endeavor to obtaining knowledge of Indigenous moral philosophy.

Confession, Penance and Forgiveness of Moral Failure (“Sin”) in Indigenous and Catholic Moral Philosophy

Conceptions of “confession,”61 “repentance” and “forgiveness” of various moral wrongdoings and transgressions (“sins”) exist in quite different moral-religious systems.62

In a comparative study Gary Urton argues that the Inka and European colonial Catholic cultures had a fundamentally equivalent rational concept of “sin” and “confession.”63 A governmental bureaucratic system of double entry bookkeeping of the equilibrium of checks and balances and debit and credit as well as its moral equivalent of recording “sin” and “confession” was developed independently in Europe and the Andean region to maintain social authority and the structure of the divine order. The respective accounting and bookkeeping or record-keeping (khipu for the Inka) systems registered individual transgressions and asocial actions that threatened to undermine society by the rhetoric of double entry. This constituted a statistical and political arithmetic of collecting and organizing data in order to survey and control the moral behavior of the people.64 The Indigenous (Inka) chronicler Felipe Guáman Poma de Ayala (c. 1535–c. 1615) outlined the organization of accountants where the upper level of the Inka hierarchy contained an official called contador mayor hatun hucha quipoc (major accountant of the great “sin” khipu) while at a lower level was the contador menor huchuy hucha quipoc (minor accountant of the small “sin” khipu). The accountants of “sin” mediated between the sinners and the confessors. The religious specialists divined the cause and origin of the “sinful” actions by ritual techniques. They also demanded the sinners to perform penance (Urton 2009, 819).

The concepts of “sin” and “confession” have, however, fundamental semantic discrepancies in Christian and Indigenous moral philosophies respectively. Sahagún adopted the Nahua moral categories neyolcuitiliztli/neyolmelahualiztli (“confession”) and tlamacehualiztli (“penance”) transferring Christian theological doctrine (Klaus 1999, 93, 140). The non-Christian Nahua acknowledged (“confessed”) their carnal transgressions of adultery (“sins”) to the deity Tlazoteotl, as related by Sahagún in book I, chapter XII and book VI, chapter VII of the Florentine Codex (Pettazzoni 1931, 198–199, 208). Guilhelm Olivier maintains that the deity Tezcatlipoca was the “master of penance and confession” forcing the Nahua to “repent” their moral transgressions through ritual fasting and offering. This could be both an individual and a communal admission (Olivier 2003, 24–25) whereas Christian acts of “confession” of “sins” constitutes an exclusive act of individual, not communal, repentance with the purpose to obtain forgiveness from “sin” in order to achieve future salvation (redemption) from God in an eternal life after death.

The Mixtec word for “confess” is recorded with the entry yonamandi65 in Catholic colonial vocabularies.66 Nanama, “the act of confessing,” is applied in the Doctrina as an admonishment to “straightening ones heart” (quidzandaa quidzacuite yni). A verbal metaphor of the “heart” is equivalent to the non-Christian Nahuatl word for ritual of confession or neyolmelahualiztli, “the act of straightening the heart” (Burkhart 1989, 81–182) according to Terraciano (2001, 305–306, note 326).67 For the Nahua of the pre-Christian European era, the purification rite of confession—when slaves of merchants were sacrificed (Sahagun IX, 56, 59) teiolmelaoa, “it straightens people’s hearts”—was called neyolmelahualiztli, “straightening one’s heart.” This notion the Catholic colonial missionaries later employed to designate Christian confession. The verb “to confess” is yolmelahua or yolcuita.68 In the Florentine Codex yolcuita is applied in various contexts of Nahua religious practice. “Confession” to the deities Tlazoteotl and Tezcatlipoca, (Sahagún I, 23–27; VI, 29–34) was articulated by “in her presence confession was made, the heart was opened; before Tlazolteotl one recited, one told one’s tlachihual” (iixpan neyolcuitilo, iixpan neyolmelahualo, in tlazolteotl, iixpan mopoa, mihtoa, in tetlachihual) (Sahagún I, 24). Moreover, the Huaxteca is said to: “not to confess” (ahmo nō moyōlcuītiāyah) to the deity Tlacolteotl because covetousness was not conceived as a wrongdoing in their religion (Sahagún VI, 34). Admitting transgressions to a deity or to religious specialists was not foreign to Nahua moral philosophy because there was a non-Christian word for this practice in the language. But yolmelahua or yolcuita were never combined with a conception of obtaining “salvation” or avoiding eternal perdition (damnation). The ML simply appropriated these words and gave them a novel ethical definition in Nahuatl.

Finally, let us look at the translation of the Christian doctrine of “forgiveness” of moral wrongdoings, which further corroborates the radical difference between soteriogical and non-soteriological moral philosophies/religions. The Nahuatl word for “forgiveness” or tetlapopolhuiliztli was taken over by the Catholic colonial ML.69 Molina includes the entries tlahtlacolpohpolhuilliztli, “forgiveness of sin” and tlatlacolpopohuia, “to pardon sins, to grant absolution.”70 Burkhart maintains that the lexeme tetlapopolhuia “pardon” or “forgiveness” of a moral transgression refers to “to destroy things in regard to someone” (Burkhart 1989, 144). It is remarkable that the root of the word has, besides “pardon someone,” the semantics of “to destroy something for someone,” that is, the transgression or fault with “the lexicalized sense of specifically obliterating someone’s sins or guilt.”71 In the appendix to book I of the Florentine Codex, where Sahagún refutes “idolatry” and criticizes “idolaters,” he employs pohpolhuia in a Christian ethical context saying that the Lord in tlahtlacoānih ahmo niman tiquimmopohpolhuia or “Thou dost not at once destroy sinners” (Sahagún I, 60), but which also can signify “Thou dost not at once forgive sinners” making pohpolhuia an ambiguous moral conception. A quite different idea of pardon or forgiveness exists in non-Christian moral philosophies and practices in Mesoamerica. It is related in the Florentine Codex that during the ceremonies during the Nahua 365-calendar time period of Tecuilhuitontli, peoples intoxicated with pulque abused other people but “the offense was pardoned” (motlapohpolhuia), that is, “destroyed” according to the translation of Dibble and Anderson (Sahagún II, 95). In non-Christian morality the semantics of the root pohpolhui refer to “destruction” or “perdition” (Sahagún I, 60; III, 4; IV, 24, 25, 43, 45, 69, 93, 102, 105; IX, 87; X, 30, 31, 48; XII, 1), “disappearance” (Sahagún VII, 81) and “consumption” (Sahagún VI, 48, 55), but boded neither the (Christian) promise of salvation nor threat of perdition.

Moral Transgression (“Sin”) in Non-soteriological and Soteriological Knowledge Systems

An ideological or epistemological system consists of a terminology of one or a few core concepts and a quite few additional interrelated key concepts. This means that core concepts epitomize the primary idea and/or knowledge, although they are inevitably related to the important secondary key concepts. In his analysis of Quechua mathematics, Urton exemplifies this analytical model with the verb “to add.” This core concept encompasses the key concepts “augment”; “increase”; “extend”; “unite” etc., where each moderately interconnects with “add” (Urton and Llanos 1997, 143–144). An equivalent methodology of analyzing concepts representing ideas and knowledge provides a constructive approach to an explication of the essential principles of various moral epistemological systems.

There are great local variations between different Indigenous American religions/moral philosophies and languages. But the translated Christian core concept “salvation” demonstrates that there is a fundamental philosophical difference between Christianity and Indigenous epistemological knowledge. The Christian key concept of “sin” cannot be comprehended without related moral theological concepts. The antonyms “salvation” and “sin” constitute a moral dualism of good and evil. In colonial Christian soteriology, salvation is understood as liberation of evils or sin. A redemption or deliverance of sin will result in eternal life with God. The idea of salvation rests upon there being some sort of unsaved sinful state by moral corruption and transgression from which the individual (and mankind) is to be redeemed or condemned to perdition.

The key concept of “sin” as is the case with “repentance” and other ethical notions, are closely related to the core conception of “salvation” and “damnation” in Christian moral-soteriological theology. This gives it a particular meaning quite different from similar or apparent synonymous moral-linguistic categories in Indigenous languages. One of the quandaries, not only in the translation enterprise of missiology and theology but also anthropology,72 is whether the concept of “sin,” as a Christian idea, can be used outside this religious context. Problematic translations of moral-linguistic concepts in non-soteriological religious systems appear in both anthropologic scholarships as well as in missionary scriptural translations.

I advocate that the key concept “sin” and related Christian theological notions—“repentance,” “conversion,” “faith,” “baptism,” “confession” etc.—can only be defined in relation to the core moral-soteriological concepts: “salvation” and “eternal perdition” (“damnation” or “judgment”).73 The Christian notion of “sin” cannot be translated into languages of non-soteriological or non-missionary-religions in missiology/theology and should not in comparative religious studies and anthropology, because it bears neither a transcendent or metaphysical dimension of “salvation” or “perdition” (“damnation”). This is simply because, the consequences (divine judgment) for “sin” differ in soteriological and non-soteriological ethics. Moreover, the Christian moral doctrine of individual soteriological “sin” is radically opposed to an Indigenous moral philosophy of collective “transgression” or  “wrongdoing.”

Moral prescriptions and epistemology exist in every society where ethical precepts regulate the social order. Culture therefore contains principled imperatives and values, which sanction transgressions against religious mores, divine order, and judicial and social conventions. Moral contravention—expressed in Christianity by the concept “sin”—has certain theological-judicial consequences, however. In a soteriological-eschatological religion like Christianity there are two possible final outcomes for the individual human being: either eternal salvation or eternal perdition post mortem. Conversely, within a non-soteriological moral system, such a judicial idea of a metaphysical or transcendental destiny does not exist. Indigenous moral systems of the Americas do not conceptualize individual wrongdoings or transgressions (“sin”) associated with a subsequent metaphysical post mortem judgment where the outcome consists of either personal salvation or perdition. For Indigenous American peoples the consequences for committing moral crimes against the divine order can be severe, but concerns only the social and the natural (mundane) and not a transcendental world. The wrongdoings or transgressions can be corrected through (symbolic) ritual practice.

In an effort to translate the moral system of a non-Western and non-Christian culture, “sin,” however imprecise, has been a much preferred notion by various anthropologists. J. Goetz calls “sin” a breach of taboo and a relation with impure objects among so-called “primitive people” (Goetz 1960), whereas Hywel D. Lewis identifies two common features of “sin”: “moral evil, something you are blamed or held accountable of, and offence against deities” (Lewis 1973, 149, 151). Bleeker (1973, 74) maintains that ethical “sins” constitute murder, robbery and adultery and cultic transgressions (abusing the deities and not observing the prescribed rituals, cosmic “sins” like crimes against nature). The Nuer have a concept of “sin” that is associated with “a breach of interdiction” of various transgressions or violations followed by divine (religious) sanction in this world, different concepts of which exist in their language according to Evans-Pritchard (1967, 177). In his analysis of pre-Christian Mesoamerican religions, Alfredo López Austin insists on employing the translated concept “sin” (pecado). He argues that this moral category, which has “many conceptual variations” in different religious concepts,  “is found in all deist religions.” López Austin uses the term “sin” as a synonym for transgression against a “divine order” either by human beings or by gods (López Austin 1997, 46, note 9). In the same manner as the scholars quoted above, Robert Hertz in Le péché et l’expiation dans les sociétés primitives (1922) also avoids making the necessary distinction between the soteriological religions with non-soteriological religions. Because they do not distinguish between the consequences for committing “sin” in the soteriological or non-soteriological system. “Sin” (péché) is a transgression of the moral order, which implies severe mundane (i. e. non-soteriological) penalties for the instigator, but none in the afterlife (i. e. soteriological)74

In The Sense of Sin in Cross-Cultural Perspective, Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf constructed an interesting analytic model in order to explicate the various uses of the concept of “sin.” He argues that “sin” outlined in numerous European-American Christian languages (“peccatum,” “péché,” “sin,” “Sünde,” “synd” etc.) expresses the same idea but becomes problematic when compared with, that is, translated from, linguistic concepts in non-Christian religions (von Fürer-Haimendorf 1974, 540). Fürer-Haimendorf made the following classification of categories of moral systems in the world:

Category A embraces all those societies whose ideologies discount any causal link between human actions of a moral nature and the intervention of supernatural powers in the fortunes of men either in this life or in a life beyond death. Category B includes societies which recognize that certain human actions, such as breaches of taboos, do bring about an intervention of supernatural powers, but assume that any sanctions exercised by such powers are restricted to man’s fortunes in this life, and do not affect his fate after death. Category C consists of societies which believe in a universal moral order, according to which all human actions are rated as either morally positive, and hence generating merit, or morally negative and hence diminishing a person’s store of merit. Rewards and punishments are believed to be automatic without the intervention of divine powers, and they are located in the life after death, either in the form of reincarnation or in heavens and hells. Category D, finally, is made up of all those societies that believe in a personal God or a number of deities acting as guardians of the moral order and rewarding or punishing man’s actions in the hereafter.” (von Fürer-Haimendorf 1974, 553–554)

Judaism, Christianity and Islam—where retribution or punishment and “reward,” that is, salvation, represent the central religious moral doctrine—belong to category D according to Fürer-Haimendorf (1974, 554), whereas the pre-Christian Nahua religion belongs to category B according to Burkhart (1989, 30–31). Category B—where there is a divine intervention during the human life span but not a religious doctrine of a post mortem eternal judgment affecting moral behavior—does apply to Indigenous moral philosophies of the Americas. To be saved in Christian theology is to be rescued from hell and redeemed by God in heaven. Oxtoby is exactly right when he writes that in “Christian theology, in effect, salvation is not a comparative category at all, but a unique one” (Oxtoby 1973, 29). The morphology of salvation in non-Christian moral philosophies constitutes relief of the human condition in the human world from insecurity and danger, which can be obtained by ritual (sacrifice) (Oxtoby 1973, 31, 33). Furthermore, Pettazzoni distinguishes between the subjective, or the will to “sin,” and the objective, or the reality of the “sin,” the fact of “sin.” For non-Christian religions the latter constitutes evil, which is followed by suffering and misfortune (Pettazzoni 1953, 266). Evil and misfortune constitute a sign for a “sin” being committed without will or previous knowledge. Instead “sin” as a religious concept is a violation of the sacred order by transgressing certain taboos or committing offences followed by divine punishment and suffering. The non-Christian seeks “salvation” or rather deliverance in this world from terror, misfortune or pain (Pettazzoni 1953, 267–268).

Despite this fundamental structural ontological difference, there is considerable variation between the many indigenous religious cosmological and moral systems. In the book A Native American Theology (2001), scholars of various Indigenous cultures in North America—Claire Sue Kidwell (Choctaw/Chippewa), Homer Noley (Choctaw) and George E. Tinker (Osage/Cherokee)—question the religious dogma of the concepts of “deity,” “Christology,” “sin” and “eschatology” of Christian theology compared to American Indigenous religions. They contend that the concepts of “sin” and “salvation,” outlining a moral doctrine of human evil and corruption, do not exist in Indigenous languages of the Americas (Kidwell et.al. 2001, 18–19):

From the Indian point of view, sin can be defined as a failure to live up to one’s responsibility, sometimes deliberately but more likely as a result of impulsive or unthinking behaviour, a mistake. Salvation can be defined as the ability to return to a state of communitas. (Kidwell et.al. 2001, 19)

“Sin” constitutes a personal responsibility for individual salvation in Christianity. But in many Indigenous cultures moral transgressions and their consequences are not related to the individual human being but to family (ancestors and descendants), kinship, clan and/or the community. For instance, collective transgressions because of lack of game make up an important part of the belief of the Iglulik Eskimo according to Knud Rasmussen (Hallowell 1939, 195, note 3; Rasmussen 1929, 123). For the Nuer, wrongdoings not only affect the culprit but also non-responsible people (Evans-Pritchard 1967, 189). Hucha suggests “debt and obligation to society” according to Inka moral philosophy. R. T. Zuidema (1982) maintains that it was considered hucha to do or think badly against a lord or to not fulfill ritual obligations according to the calendar. Taylor (1987, 30) points out that hucha represented a combination of sin, transactions and law with morality to perform ritual duties.75 For the Inka, the concept hucha was associated with acts towards the community and failure to perform (ritual) obligations to the sacred order rather than personal faults and moral thinking of the individual. Hucha can, according to Harrison, be perceived as an unsettled debt to society (Harrison 1992, 13; Urton 2009, 819–820). Moral flaws constituted a breach of the reciprocity between individuals towards the community and divine order. Europeans emphasized the moral of the individual mind, whereas the Inka focused on acts towards the community (Urton 2009, 820–821, note 7). Kuachi, “sin, fault, transgression,” is the concept for offence towards the nu ñu ‘un “the face of the Earth” or “the place of the Earth,” which is likened to saints—they have Christian names—or ndiosi among the contemporary Mixtecs in Santiago Nuyoo. For misconduct (kuachi) against this divine order there is punishment, although not necessarily towards the individual transgressor but the community at large by making people sick. There is consequently a moral principle of collective accountability (Monaghan 1995, 99–104, note 8).

Individual “sin,” “repentance,” “conversion” and “salvation” are simply not moral principles in American Indigenous philosophical systems. The Quechua category hucha refers originally to “debt” or “obligation” concerning the reciprocity between social groups or individuals and a huaca (an Andean divinity manifested by various objects in the natural world), where a ritual transgression had mundane consequences of misfortune. Contemporaneous Spanish observers claimed that Indigenous peoples of the Andes “confessed” their hucha to religious specialists (“confessors”) who ordered various forms of “penance” (Harrison 1992, 13–14, 2002, 270; Urton 2009, 816, 818–823). Durston asserts that these were divination rituals. There was no Andean concept of “sin” where an individual voluntary action polluted the soul and had to be purified. The Andean notion of hucha referred to social groups and not individuals, indicated by the employment of the same confessional khipu by various people (Durston 2007, 211, 287). The pre-Hispanic/pre-Christian hucha was an Andean (Inka) moral concept given a new and quite different religious (Christian) meaning by the missionaries.

Indigenous religions are communitarian whereas the salvation religions focus upon the individual. These moral philosophical systems contain a covenant between the community and the sacred order and are accordingly not perceived as a personal relation. There is no concept for “salvation” and no doctrines of heresies since an abstract theology is not needed where religion constitutes a communal experience. It is the participation in the community that is judged and not “sins” leading to a transcendental world post mortem. Individualism does not have a pivotal role in Indigenous moral philosophy/religion. Instead there is an interdependence of individual and collective identity. There is no Indigenous mission, claiming a divine truth. Accordingly, it is not possible to convert to an Indigenous religion by accepting its religious principles. The individual must be born into the family, clan and community, participate in the ceremonies and follow the customs and religious duties (Deloria 2003, 194–195). Consequently there are quite different concepts for “sin” or moral transgression in Christian theology and Indigenous religions. In the latter moral philosophy there is no eschatological doctrine of a transcendent post mortem existence where there is either an eternal punishment or eternal reward—that is, a soteriology.

The literal meaning of tlatlacolli in Nahuatl comprises a metaphor, as it conveys an image of something being damaged or corrupted. Hence there is no distinction between a moral cause and effect relation in using Nahuatl to translate Christian doctrinal categories (Burkhart 1989, 32–33).  Disregarding the different literal and metaphorical semantics of “sin,” I hypothesize that this is also the case for similar categories in other Indigenous moral-linguistic systems. But moral misbehavior in American Indigenous cultures has consequences, although these have nothing to do with eternal damnation in an afterlife but instead concern the human existence and condition in the natural world. This also applies to Indigenous peoples outside the American continent where the effect of moral transgression or failure, for example with the Nuer, is physical sickness or various other diseases. This is because the spiritual condition is polluted, made unclean or contaminated (Evans-Pritchard 1967, 191–192, 195). A. Irving Hallow undertook an investigation of the relation of “sin” with sex and sickness among the hunting people Berens River Saulteux of Ojibwa decent living east of Lake Winnipeg in North America. For the people of Berens River Saulteux sickness derives from various types of transgressions.76 As has already been established, in the Mixtec community of Santiago Nuyoo, kuachi is rendered as “sin, fault, transgression” (Monaghan 1995, 103), but not according to Christian morality. Offending the earth deities nu ñu ‘un (“the face of the Earth” or “the place of Earth”) is considered to be a kuachi (Monaghan 1995, 97, 99, 103–104). “Complain” can be translated with ka’a kuachi, “speak fault” as for instance to the rain deities ñu ‘un savi (Monaghan 1995, 114, note 13). The punishment for transgressions against the nu ñu ‘un is that they make the offender sick. Thus they are often defined to be “an illness in the ground.” Illness is associated with fault and blame. The individual and/or his/her family is punished and made ill through the loss of ánima (animating life force) (Monaghan 1995, 97, 99, 103–104). As already note, the retaliation from the nu ñu ‘un is not automatically directed towards an individual offender, but rather to another member of the household (Monaghan 1995, 103–104, note 8). For instance, not to share food with other people is considered a moral failure, a crime or injustice (kuachi) and will be punished as it is told in stories where the solar deity (i. e. Jesus Christ) who is said to punish people in this world (Monaghan 1995, 47). Ethical values represent knowledge of punishment and reward in this life and not post mortem for Indigenous peoples of the Americas. It is ceremony, which restores the natural world to perfection, as there is no need for Christ’s sacrifice to redeem humanity (Kidwell et.al. 2001, 107). There are accordingly healing deities, in ceremonies, and not saviors (Kidwell et.al. 2001, 75). Moreover, there is no praise but thankfulness in worship, because of a collective or communitarian, and not individual, reciprocal relationship with the divine order (Kidwell et.al. 2001, 56).

From this I deduce that concepts that have been translated as “sin” in the languages of non-soteriological religions should rather be translated with “crime,” “transgression,” “wrongdoing” or “offence”—depending upon the linguistic context.77 The concept of “sin” in Christian moral doctrine belongs to a dual ontology where it is intimately associated with individual salvation and perdition.78 Indigenous non-dualistic moral systems do not contain the concept of an individual soteriology related to a metaphysical or transcendental world but are focused upon the community in the natural (e. g. social or mundane) world.

(Post) Colonial Anti-knowledge: The Doctrine of Discovery

From the late fifteenth century, the European “discovery” of continents and various cultures had a profound moral philosophical and religious impact upon European and non-European epistemologies. From the early colonial and continuing into the present postcolonial period, there is European moral-epistemological imperialism, through mission of Christian doctrine, upon Indigenous peoples.

European war, conquest and subsequent colonization of the continent later denominated as “America” from the beginning of the sixteenth century constitutes the political, social, economic, moral, philosophical and religious background for a principle ethical debate about the human dignity and human rights of Indigenous non-European and non-Christian peoples. The Council at Valladolid in Spain or Castilla (1550–1551) was originally about economic interests and the claiming of territory during the initiating phase of the colonization of the Americas. The King of Spain and the Catholic Church wanted to control the authority of the “encomenderos” in Spanish America. Christian religion, natural law and natural dominium were, in this context, fundamentally interrelated moral concepts during the disputation at Valladolid. The inalienable right to dominium rerum or property could only apply to rational human beings created in the image of God (imago dei) according to Thomistic Humanist natural-law principles of the relations between human beings and nations. At the Council of Valladolid it was accordingly disputed whether Native Americans were capable of self-determination over territory. In opposition to Francisco de Vitoria/Victoria (1483–1546) and at the Council at Valladolid against Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484–1566), Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (1489–1573) argued that Indigenous peoples lacked civilization (civil society), violating and abusing the laws of nature and therefore did not enjoy this fundamental right.79

The theoretical position of Sepúlveda disclaiming the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination prevailed in the colonial and contemporary (postcolonial) periods through a judicial-theological “Doctrine of Discovery.” Papal Bulls of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries aka “Doctrine of Discovery” gave Christian explorers the “right” to claim territories they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for “discovering” Christian nation-states.80 Any land that was not inhabited (terra nullius) by Christians, that is, devoid of human beings, was available to be “discovered,” asserted and exploited.81 This judicial-theological doctrine, which embodied a moral-soteriological knowledge system, claimed imperium, dominium and slavery of Muslims and so-called “heathen” peoples in Africa, Asia, and America. The Papal Bull The Bull Inter Caetera (May 4, 1493) of Pope Alexander VI82 illustrates the North Atlantic powers imposition of imperialistic moral epistemology:

[...] the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself [...] you have purposed with the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith. [...] by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south [...]

The so-called “ethical principle” of “just war” or a military “sovereign right” to occupy Indigenous land was upheld through the “Requerimiento” of Latin America (1512) and later in “Manifest Destiny” in North America from the middle and latter part of the nineteenth century. Manifest destiny was conceived as an ideology of “divine sanction” legitimizing the US’s expanding its territory over the whole of North America in order to extend and enhance its political, social, cultural, and economic and eventually linguistic influences. Applying principles of the Doctrine of (Christian) Discovery, this led to the process of dispossession of territories and self-determination of Indigenous peoples of North America.83 Virginia Garrard-Burnett made a succinct categorization of the early Protestant mission from North America as “spiritual manifest destiny” (Garrard-Burnett 1990). The same can be contended about the previous colonial Spanish Catholic missionary inter-linguistic transference of moral philosophy.

The colonial Christian discovery doctrine is still a concept of public international law in various countries of the Americas and also in many other countries outside this continent.84 The judicial principle was originally expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions, from the (postcolonial) precedence of “rights of discovery” and “ultimate dominion” in Johnson v. M’Intosh in 1823. The doctrine was Chief Justice John Marshall’s explanation of the way in which colonial powers laid claim to newly discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Under it, title to newly discovered lands lay with the government whose subjects discovered new territory. The doctrine has been primarily used to uphold decisions invalidating or ignoring so-called “inferior” autochthonous rights to land in favor of colonial or postcolonial authorities. Today this doctrine governs US Indian Law.85 but it has also had an impact on (post) colonial Latin America.86

There is a correspondence between the ethnic-religious moral conception argued by Sepúlveda (partly by Las Casas) and the judicial-theological Doctrine of Discovery debasing non-Christian Indigenous peoples by not acknowledging their right to territory and self-determination. The European unawareness or obscurantism, that is, anti-knowledge and disrespect for Indigenous intellectual and moral systems are intimately related to the issue of Indigenous self-determination today.87 The North Atlantic epistemological morality of the Doctrine of Discovery has an enduring impact that persist in the policies of national governments and court systems against Indigenous peoples in the contemporary (postcolonial) period.

Indigenous Concepts of “Morality” and Epistemology of the Natural World

Moral categories and imperatives affect the conception, production, practice and exploitation (instrumentality) of knowledge in general. Various domains of epistemology are accordingly intimately interrelated, not disjointed, in moral philosophies. Moral epistemology is therefore exceedingly significant because it determines other categories of knowledge—not only of the human and social but also the natural world.

In the colonial period, Catholic missionaries did not only evangelize the gospel but also the European economical system in Latin America according to Anthony Pagden. They connected mission with commerce, trade and business. Judicial-theologians advocated that the right to do business justified European expansion, “just war” and conquest because it was part of “natural law.” Moreover, they asserted that trade meant an exchange of moral epistemology between rational human beings, which created a consensus of what was ethically right or wrong. In this way, Indigenous peoples would be integrated into the order of international law.88

The North Atlantic Doctrine of Discovery opposes Indigenous ecological-moral conceptual knowledge because of its radical dichotomy between human and natural beings. The Christian principle of a human moral supremacy over other beings of nature, as outlined in Doctrine of Discovery, is inspired by Genesis 1: 26–29 of the Old Testament according to Steven T. Newcomb:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”89

In Indigenous American ecological ethics there is no such divine moral principle legitimizing an exploitation of nature to the exclusive benefit of human beings.90 This can be linguistically substantiated in Burkhart’s hypothesis of a non-Christian religious and philosophical moral significance of tlatlacolli, which implies a “damage” of the Nahua cosmic (i. e. natural) order. Tlatlacolli relates to transgressions or misdeeds towards deities or not fulfilling religious obligation—a damage or violation of the sacred order as an effect not as a cause in the Nahua moral system, disrupting not only the individual being, but also society and the world order (Burkhart 1989, 29). According to Nahua philosophy there was a constant anxiety that the world would fall into chaos, from a state of structure/order into anti-structure/disorder which radically oppose the Christian theological concept of “sin” as associated with the dualism of good vs. evil (Burkhart 1989, 34–39). Crime and misdeeds for the present-day Nahua constitute an imbalance for the interrelated socio-political and religious (moral) order (John Sullivan pc, 16 November 2010) of the social and natural world. If Burkhart’s theory is correct, tlatlacolli was one of the core concepts in the moral system of the Nahua. Ecological sins are indeed pivotal in Andean moral philosophy (Harrison 1993, 177–178). As aforementioned there is an antonym concept to “sin” (hucha)—or misbehavior, transgression; antisocial, antistructure, failure to fulfill (ritual) obligations of reciprocity towards community and deities. This is cama with the meaning of “task,” “order,” “creation” (“structure”), and “responsibility.”91 There is accordingly a conflicting dichotomy (disjunction) in this moral philosophy: order, structure, and creation as opposed to disorder, anti-structure and destruction. This complementary opposition is mediated by confession and penance and expiation—in a religious political economy of a credit and debit system and Indigenous moral philosophical systems and practices.92 Conversely, Christian theology operates with a moral dualism of good, Christ, grace, salvation opposing evil, devil, and sin (Urton 2009, 823). Like Nahuatl tlatlacolli Quechua/Aymara hucha has moral implications for the relation between human beings of the social world with the natural world.

Indigenous language systems contain various linguistic categories for morality not affiliated with European philosophy and religion. The (Christian) non-doctrinal Florentine Codex categorizes various vices and virtues of peoples of different status and professions with either good (qualli) or bad (amo qualli; tlahueliloc) moral qualities in book 10 (Sahagún 1950–1982 [1565])—a chapter is dedicated to “bad” or “evil” peoples (Sahagún 1950–1982 [1565], 37–39, 55–57). Tlahuelliloc, tlaueliloc signify “perverse,” “bad.”93 Tlahueliloca is “someone malicious, a villain or rogue” (Karttunen 1992, 269). Besides the non-doctrinal Florentine Codex, the Nahua chronicler Don Domingo de San Antón Muñón Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin writes: Auh ca cenca huey nahualle amo mach iuhqui yn inan yn itoca Mallinalxoch. ca cenca huey tlahuelliloc yn copil, “He was exceedingly wicked and a very great nahualli. Copil was not the equal of his mother, Malinalxoch by name, but [nonetheless] was exceedingly wicked”(Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin 1997, 86–87).94 Conversely, Book 3 of Florentine Codex requires that the religious specialists of Quetzalcoatl do not need to be born of a certain lineage but required to lead a good, righteous life, and be of a compassionate, pure and good heart (Sahagún 1950–1982 [1565], 67–68). This is also stated in book 6, which outlines moral philosophy and rhetoric (Sahagún 1969, 114). Book 6 of the Florentine Codex and the didactic oratorical moral scriptures known as Huehuehtlahtolli. Testimonios de la Antigua palabra [1600] (“words of the elders”; “ancient discourse”; “testimonies of the ancient word”)—also called tenonotzaliztli, which signifies “admonishments” or “exhortations”—outlines the moral philosophical knowledge and practice of Nahua society.95 Taken from the Nahua pictorial-logographic manuscripts, the huehuehtlahtolli teach conduct, self-control, respect and tolerance. Moreover, there is a call for moderate behavior, humility, generosity, courtesy and avoidance of excess and passion (Sahagún 1950–1982 [1565]; León-Portilla and Silva Galeana 1988; 1990, 30–32; Baudot 1995, 225–234).96 But moral awareness was also outlined in other contexts. For instance, the moral qualities and knowledge of the lord whom shall govern are stated in Book 8 (“Kings and Lords”) of the Florentine Codex as: in mjmatinj, in mozcalianj, in tlamtinj, in qualli iectli īnezcaliliz, inneoapaoaliz, in vellatoa, in vellacaquj, in tetlaçotlanj, in jxe in iollo; “the prudent, able, wise; of sound and righteous rearing and upbringing; who spoke well and were obedient, benevolent, discreet, and intelligent” (Sahagún VIII, 61).

As opposed to hucha, the term cama, reflecting “order,” “structure” or simply connoting “anti-transgression” may be translated as a Quechua/Aymara abstract category for “morality.” Likewise for the Nahua: in quite a few manuscripts of the early colonial period the Nahuatl concepts cualli, “good” and yēctli, “just” (León-Portilla and Silva Galeana 1988, 54–55; Launey 1992) can in certain contexts be translated with “morality.”97 The ML usurped this category. In Franciscan sermons of the sixteenth century, the expression cualli yectli, acualli ayectlli (“the good/proper, the bad/impure”) in different linguistic variants gave the moral idea of “good”; “pure,” originally used by the Nahua tlamatini (“wise person,” “sage,” “scholar”)98 before the Europeans arrival (Sahagún 1950–1982 [1565], X, 48; Klaus 1999, 104–105). Cualli signifies “good” whereas yectli can literally be translated as “something finished or completed” according to J. Richard Andrews. Abstract derivatives of these nouns are cualiztli and yectiliztli “goodness” or acualiztli and ayectiliztli, “badness.”99 Furthermore, qualli and yēctli are recorded with the meaning “good” in the supposedly non-doctrinal grammar (Arte) by ML Horacio Carochi.100 He records, albeit in a Christian frame of reference, people as being “good” with the collocation in qualtin in yectin (Carochi 2001 [1645], 400–401, 109–109v), but which may well have been a pre-Christian concept.101 On the other hand, the formula qualli tlacatl telpocatzin, “a good or virtuous person” appears in a non-religious context (Carochi 2001 [1645], 412–413, 112v–113, cf. note 3). Carochi observes moreover, that the inchoative verbs qualti and yēcti, “to become good,” can take the grammatical form qualtilia and yēctilia, “to restore or fix what is damaged, make it good” (Carochi 2001 [1645], 222–223, 57v, 59v–60, 230–231). The translation of these moral concepts as “to restore or fix something that is damaged” can be conceived as directly opposing moral corruption of “sin” or tlatlacolli, which signify “something damaged.” This may well also apply to tlapilchihualli or tlapilchiualiztli, which means to “make something wither or deflate.” Both these Nahuatl concepts indicate moral deficiency. It seems that cualli and yēctli outline moral order combatting evil and disorder (anti-structure). This conceptualization of principled epistemology further implies that the Nahua have a meta-category for virtuous thinking and practice, e. g. “morality.”

Indigenous American moral knowledge is undeniably expressed by their various linguistic-philosophical categories—not influenced by European Christianity or philosophy. In addition, conscientious linguistic categories for the conception “morality” exist in Indigenous languages of the Americas. Further systematic research is required, however, on key and core ethical concepts and ideas from Indigenous American languages and epistemologies that structure their moral philosophical systems and practices. This may well have an impact beyond inconsequential moral philosophical and linguistic investigation. As has been propounded, the inter-linguistic transfer of moral knowledge is intimately connected with epistemologies of business and natural sciences. As moral philosophies are interrelated with systems of religion and socio-political institutions and organizations of a culture or society it does indeed contribute to how nature and its resources are used, exploited and even transformed. Beginning under European colonial domination—that is, introducing the present (proto-)Anthropocene or human-influenced, or anthropogenic epoch102—human-nature-interactions exhibit the long-term consequences of human interference and the impact of human ethics, behavior and cultural practices. The colonial period of moral knowledge production, organization and systematization and the related socio-political processes and institutions accordingly instigated the contemporary significant global impact on ecosystems and climate. Indigenous moral epistemologies of long term rationality and universal value for every organism, specie and being of the natural world may contribute to generate sustainable human-nature-interactions.


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Cf. Gert (2011 [2002]).

For various concepts of “sin” in colonial Yucatec cf. Schrader-Kniffki and Yannakakis (2014) and Yannakakis (2014).

The “ethnographer missionary” described the culture, religion and history, whereas the “missionary linguist” wrote dictionaries and/or grammars outlining the languages of Indigenous peoples.

Cf. Nicholson (2001).

The Florentine Codex is named after the manuscript’s (ms. 218–220, Col. Palatina) present residence at Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, Italy.

Quite a few descendants of the Nahua, who once formed the Aztec Empire, still live in Mexico. The Nahua comprise c. 1.5–2 million people of Northern and Central Mexico who speak Nahuatl, which is more than any other family of Indigenous languages in contemporary Mexico. In addition, quite a few Nahua reside in the US as migrant workers, Sandstrom (2010, 23).

Classical Nahuatl refers to the colonial Nahuatl dialect that is generally used in documents from Central Mexico, Dakin (2010).

The Prussian scholar Alexander von Humboldt and the American historian William H. Prescott introduced the word “Aztec” to the Western public in the early nineteenth century. I apply the term “Aztec” instead of “Mexica” despite the fact that several scholars, since Robert Barlow in 1949, have pointed out that this designation is incorrect. The term “Aztec” derives from aztecatl, “person from Aztlán.” Aztlán, which can be paraphrased as “the white place” or “the place of the herons” in Nahuatl, was the designation for their mystic place of origin. The name “Mexica” was given to the Aztecs by their patron deity, Huitzilopochtli, during their migration from Aztlán. The Aztecs or Mexica were originally a Nahuatl-speaking nomadic tribe. They founded the city of Tenochtitlan, today’s Mexico City, which became the capital of their short-lived realm in the northern and central part of Mexico from 1345 AD to 1521 AD.

Mesoamerica has been defined as a cultural-geographical region incorporating the north-western, central and southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and the western part of Honduras and El Salvador. In this area peoples, like the Maya, Aztec, Olmec, Zapotec, Toltec, Tlapanec, Teotihuacano, Tarascos, Otomí, Mixtec etc., lived in sophisticated urban civilisations from c. 1000 BC to–1521 AD. ‘Mesoamerica’ was originally outlined as a cultural and geographical unity by Paul Kirchoff in 1943, Kirchhoff (1943). Other definitions of this region have been suggested as well, cf. Carrasco (2001, ix, xiii).

Three Franciscan missionaries from Flanders arrived in “New Spain” as early as 1523. But the first official missionaries were twelve Spanish Franciscans who came the following year, in 1524. The Dominicans and the Augustinians followed the Franciscans correspondingly in 1526 and in 1533. The Jesuits entered a bit later, in 1572.

Dakin (2010); Karttunen and Lockhart (1977); J. H. Hill and K. C. Hill (1986); Lockhart (1992). But cf. Schwaller (2012).

An earlier work than the Florentine Codex is Primeros Memoriales (a name given to it later by Francisco Paso y Troncoso). Primeros Memoriales is based upon interviews with Indigenous aristocrats (1558–1560) from Tepepolco, a city about 60 kilometers northwest of Mexico City, Sahagún (1997 [1560], 3–4).

Sahagún names his four trilingual Nahua assistants as Antonio Valeriano from Aztcapotzaloc, Alonso Vegerano from Cuahuahtitlan, Pedro de San Buenaventura from Cuahuahtitlan and Martín Jacobita from Tlatelolc, Sahagún (1950–1982 [1565], 55).

Cf. Boone (1998, 2011); Glass (1975); Normann (1985); Resines (2007); Valenzuela (2003).

The Inka ruled the largest known empire, c. 1430 AD–1532, in the Americas before the European invasion. They spoke a dialect of Quechua, which became a lingua franca within the multicultural and multilingual empire and after the Spanish conquest (early colonial period).

Durston (2007); Salomon (2008, 300–301). Frank Salomon (2008, 286–287), cf. also Quilter and Urton (2002), has summarized three fundamental theoretical positions for the principle of Inka khipu formulated as: a Quechua syllabography or phonography; a semasiographic system; a neutral binary code.

Urton (2009, 823–824, note 10); cf. Pärssinen and Kiviharju (2004, 2010).

Cf. Urton (2009, 824–827); Salomon (2008, 295–296); Harrison (1992, 1993, 1994, 2008).

Acosta (1590); cf. Urton (2009, 824–827); Salomon (2008, 295–296); Harrison (1992, 1993, 176–178, 1994, 1995a, 1995b, 2002, 2008). The pictorial-logographic manuscripts and khipu may have been a scriptura franca able to communicate theology and moral epistemology into the various languages of the Andes, Kirkhusmo Pharo (Forthcoming(b)).

There are different spellings according to the various dialects, Jansen and Pérez Jiménez (2003, 4). Cf. Josserand (1983) about the various dialects of the Mixtec language.

The term “Mixtec” derives from Nahuatl Mixtecatl, meaning “Cloud People.”

Today the Mixtec mainly reside, in more than sixty villages, in the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero (the Mixteca homeland) but many have migrated to in particular Mexico City and the US. The statistical data are not certain but several hundred thousand people speak Mixtec (Ñuù Sàu; Dzaha Dzavui, “language of the rain”), cf. Caballero (2008, 391–392).

Jansen and Pérez Jiménez (2003, 5). Cf. Pérez Jiménez for references (2003, 5, note 1).

Pecado, kuachi, dzica, yeca kuachi, Alvarado (1962 [1593], 163). The use of the word dzica, according to Reyes (1976, 74), is distinctive of the Mixtec reverential language iya. This language was used in the rhetoric about divine beings or people (iya), Jansen and Pérez Jiménz (2009, 189–190).

Alvarado (1962 [1593], 54, 57, 59, 68, 109). In colonial Mixtec original sin is recorded as: “pecado original: kuachi noho tutnu ñoho dziñe; pecado original: kuachi caa q cata cusi; pecado original: kuachi sa ndidzo sa tavui; pecado original: kuachi yehe dzeque yehe tnaa sa dzuchi yocacu,” Alvarado (1962 [1593], 164v).

The Doctrina was also translated from Mixtec to Chocholteco (Ngiwa), cf. van Doesburg and Swanton (2008).

Kuachi, culpa, pecado, excusa, Los Reyes (1976, 129).

Burkhart (1989, 114). Tlatlacolpeualiztli, pecado original, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 137r). Tlatlacolpoliuiliztli, pecado original, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 137r). Tlatlacoltzintiliztli, pecado original o comencio de pecados, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 138v).

Burkhart (1989, 10, 28). Tlathalcoā, to sin, to do wrong. Molina also includes in the entry “to damage, ruin something” which is the literal sense of the transitive (I)HTLACOĀ with the nonspecific object prefix TLA, Karttunen (1992, 263). Tlahtlacōlchīhu(a), to sin, Karttunen (1992, 263). Tlahtlacōleh, sinner, Karttunen (1992, 263). Tlahtlacōani, sinner, Karttunen (1992, 263). Hacer daño, itlacoa. 274v., 246r., Olmos (1985 [1547], 218).

Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 43r); Karttunen (1992, 100). Itlacalhuia, dañar algo a otro, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 43rv). Itlacauhcayotl, daño, o estrago. Itlacauhqui, cosa dañada, or corropida, o muger reziempreñada, o huevo huero y empollado. Itlacauhtica, esta malpuesta, desconcertada, o dañada alguna cosa. Itlacaui, corromperse dañarse, o estragarse algo o empollarse el hueuo. Itlacauiliztli, corrompimiento tal, o preñez de muger. Itlacoa, estragar o dañar algo. Itlacoa, enfermar por se dar mucho a mugeres, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 43r). (I)tlacoā, to be corrupted, spoiled, damaged; to spoil, damage something. (I)tlacahu(i), to go wrong, to be ruined or corrupted, to injure oneself, to spoil. (I)htlacalhuiā, to ruin something for someone, Karttunen (1992, 100).

Sexual intercourse was associated with illness and death (celicayotl itzmolincayotl) among the Nahua: “A pregnant woman” was called ococox, itlacahui, meaning “to have fallen ill,” “to have been damaged.” Likewise, according to Molina’s dictionary, the terms itlacauhqui, itlacahui, and itlacahuiztli mean, in that order, “a damaged or corrupted thing, a newly pregnant woman, or a damaged or fertilized egg”; “to corrupt, damage or ruin something [...] or fertilize the egg”; and last, “corruption or a woman’s pregnancy,” López Austin (1997, 205). Itlacaui, corromperse dañarse, o estragarse algo o empollarse el hueuo. Itlacauiliztli, corrompimiento tal, o preñez de muger. Itlacoa, enfermar por se dar mucho a mugeres, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 43r).

Cf. non-possessive lexemes—Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 137r–138v); Siméon (1997 [1885], 661–662); Karttunen (1992, 263)—and possessive lexemes Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 43r); Karttunen (1992, 100); Siméon (1997 [1885]) of tlatlacolli.

Burkhart argues that damaging at ritual or breaking the fast constituted a “sin” for the Nahua religion, Sahagún (1950–1982 [1565], III, 11–12), which brought on divine sanctions by the powerful deity Tezcatlipoca, Burkhart (1989, 31). But tlatlacolli is not employed as a religious concept for transgression in this passage from the Florentine Codex.

Harrison (1992, 13–14, 2002, 270, 2014); Urton (2009, 816, 818–823). Cf. Gónzales Holguín (1952 [1608], 199).

Ladd (1957, 272). In the following brief summaries of linguistic examples from the Florentine Codex, “crime” or “transgression” would be a more appropriate translation than the Christian moral theological concept of “sin” or “guilt” for tlatlacolli: It is said that tlahtlacoāni, evildoers, were kept in jail, which consisted of a wooden house (quauhcalli), Sahagún (VIII, 44). Tlatlacole is something characterized as being bad: “he goes joining that which is bad (tlatlacole), the corner, the darkness, the secret road, He goes to seek, to find, that which is bad (tlatlacole),” Sahagún (XI, 268). In describing the deities whom the Nahua worshipped Tezcatzoncatl (belonging to Centzontotochti, “The Four Hundred Rabbits”) said that “he was the wine in times past considered full of sin (tlatlacolli)” because he killed people, Sahagún (I, 51). An admonishment of a dignitary states “[...] he censured the evils (tlatlacolli), which the ruler first mentioned,” Sahagún (VI, 79). In rhetoric and moral philosophy, tlatlacolli refer to fault defined as adultery and theft, Sahagún (VI, 259). In the trial “And in order that the ruler might verify one’s accusations and guilt (tetlatlacol) [...]” Sahagún (VIII, 54). A snake called petzcoatl is said not to be dangerous (ano tle itlatlacol), Sahagún (XI, 86). The errors (ītlahtlacōl) of a city, altepetl, Sahagún (VI, 58). On the day-sign of the 260-day calendar, One Dog (Ce Itzcujntli), a court of justice told people were to take a bath in Chapultepec “to lay aside their crimes (in-tlatlacol),” Sahagún (IV, 91). People born under the day-sign Nine Deer (Chicunavi Macatl) were said to be bad, “who brought others into sin (tlahtlacōlnāmictia),” Sahagún (IV, 51). Likewise people born under the day-sign One Rabbit (Ce Tochtli) “they had incurred sin (motlahtlacōlnāmictiah)” and commited “great sin (huetlatlacolli),” Sahagún (VII, 24). A merchant who had done something really wrong (otlatlaco/itlatlacaio), that is, a crime could be severely punished with the death penalty, Sahagún (VIV, 23). The bad featherworker and lapidary harms (tlatlacoa) and damages (tlahitlacoa) his feathers, Sahagún (X, 25–26). Sahagún outlines Indigenous deities in an appendix admonishing idolatry (tlateutoquiliztli) and “those who often call upon His holy name commit a sin (tlatlacoa),” Sahagún (I, 60). “When a fault had been committed (otlatlaco)” in the house (calmecac) of the religious specialists it had severe consequences for the transgressor, Sahagún (VII, 17). An illicit relation of a woman is described as “having erred” (otlatlaco), Sahagún (II, 103). Pulque may corrupt (quihtlacoa) a human being, Sahagún (VI, 69). “Singers did something amiss (quihtlacoa),” Sahagún (VIII, 56). “If some had done wrong (quihtlacoah) in battle,” Sahagún (VIII, 53). Tezcatlicpoca was angry when someone “had injured (quitlacoaia) the fasting,” Sahagún (III, 12). People “did not err (quihtlacoa)” against Quetzalcōātl, Sahagún (X, 169). Sexual venereal diseases (in āquin mihtlacoa, “one who has a venereal disease) or excesses are characterized as tlatlacoa, Sahagún (XI, 154, 183, 174).

Alvarado (1962 [1593], 163); Los Reyes (1976, 11). Dzatevui, pecar, Los Reyes (1976, 115). Peccar. yodzatevuindi, yonducundi kuachi yoquidzandi kuachi, Alvarado (1962 [1593], 163). Reyes also incorporates the designation for a sinner: (tay) yodzatevui, el pecador o el que peca, Los Reyes (1976, 141). In his grammar Reyes uses dzatevui as an example of conjugation of the verbs, Los Reyes (1976, 57–62).

Yodzatevuindi, dañar. Nitevui: dañose, Los Reyes (1976, 141).

“Echar a perder, dañar, pervertir,” “hacer pudrir,” Jansen and Pérez Jiménz (2009, 154).

Jansen and Pérez Jiménz (2009, 215). Cf. Dzo eeni kuachi, ña niquidzata kuachi ñaha dzehe, tay kuachi tay taqui ñuhu nicuhuita. Pero esto fue su único pecado, no hizo pecado con mujeres, mozo virgen fue, Jansen and Pérez Jiménz (2009, 216).

Zatɨvɨ, yo, lo destruimos, Pensinger (1974, 58).

Cf. also Carochi below.

Pecar generaliter, nitlatlacova, nitlapilchihua, Olmos (1985 [1547], 101). Pecar generaliter [en general], itlacoa; pilchihua. 279v., 274v., Olmos (1985 [1547], 235). Pecar./pecatuz (sic.) molicie, ninoxixitla, ninomachihua, Olmos (1985 [1547], 101). Pecar pecatuz [cometer el pecado de] molicie, xixitla, machihua, Olmos (1985 [1547], 235).

Tlapilchiualiztli, pecado, o defecto, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 132r). Pecado, tlatlacolli, tlapilchiualiztli, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 93r). Defecto o culpa, tlatlacoli, tlapilchiualli, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 37r). Culpa, pecado, o defecto, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 33r). Falta por culpa, tlatlacoli, tlapilchiualli, tlapilchiualiztli, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 62r). Tlapilchiuani, defectuoso, o pecador. Tlapilchiualiztli, defecto, cosa malhecha, o pecado. el acto de pecar. Tlapilchiuhtli, cosa malhecha, o culpa cometida, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 132r). Pilchiua, pecar o hazer algun defecto, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 81v). Tlapilchīhual-li, sin, failing, Karttunen (1992, 291).

Pecado, tlatlacolli, tlapilchiualiztli, Urbano (1990 [1605], 328v).

Pilīn(i), to wither, to deflate, Karttunen (1992, 195). Cf. also F. Brewer and J. G. Brewer (1971, 174).

tla-pil-chihua-lli; something-wither/deflate-make-ABS.

Cf. Kirkhusmo Pharo (Forthcoming(a)).

Cf. Burkhart for the etymology of tlazolli, Burkhart (1989, 87–89).

Cf. K. Th. Preuss Die Sünde in der Mexikanischen Religion (1903) for an analysis of the representation of the concept of “sin” in Nahua pictorial-logographic manuscripts.

Tlazoteotl is a Huastec, Olmec and Mixtec (of the Atlantic coast, south of the state Veracruz, Mexico) goddess whom people “confessed” to according to the Florentine Codex, VI, 7.

The term for “gold” in Nahuatl is teocuitatl (“divine excrement”). Ordure and filth was an Aztec symbol for gold, the sun, urine and “sin,” Lipp (1998, 76–77); Preuss (1903, 257, 1906, 355–356).

A systematic analysis of the variety of Indigenous moral-linguistic concepts can contribute to expound non-Christian Indigenous moral philosophies and practices.

Not every colonial dictionary in colonial Quechua registers, however, both cama and hucha for “sin,” only hucha, Harrison (2014, 95).

Cama, peccado, Bertonio (1879 [1612], 34). Cama, vel hucha, negocio, Bertonio (1879 [1612], 34). Hucha, vel hocha, peccado, negocio, pleyto. Huchani, Camani, peccador, y uno que tiene muchos negocios o pleytos, Bertonio (1879 [1612], 160). Cama, El pecado, o culpa, Gónzales Holguín (1952 [1608], 47). Hucha o cama, Peccado, o negocio o pleyto, Gónzales Holguín (1952 [1608], 199).

Cf. Adelaar (1986); Heggarty (2005); Cerrón-Palomino (2008).

Harrison (1992, 12–15, 1993, 172–174, 2014, 95–98); Taylor (1987, 30); Salomon and Urioste (1991, 16).

The verb cama outlines a “divine activity of infusing a vital force into living things and was used by the ML for the Christian concept of creation,” Durston (2007, 208, 211, 215).

Durston (2007, 215, 238); Urton (2009, 816, 821–823). Regina Harrison has summarized the scholarly explications of hucha and cama in Andean moral philosophy and later colonial Catholic doctrine, Harrison (2014, 95–114, 128).

Scholars have noticed the use of corresponding translated Mesoamerican Indigenous concepts for crime and sin both in judicial and religious contexts by ML in the colonial period, Terraciano (1998); Sousa (2002); Yannakakis (2014).

“Confession” constitutes an oral declaration and symbolic practices with the purpose to revoke “sin,” Pettazzoni (1953, 263–264).

For the Nuer, confession at sacrifice in order to expiate “sin” may reveal resentments and accusations towards other people. Sacrificial rituals erase the transgression but “[...] not even sacrifice is sufficient by itself to change it, only sacrifice which carries with it the will and desire of the sinner,” Evans- Pritchard (1967, 190–193).

Harrison conducted made in-depth analysis of translations of sin and confession in colonial Quechua in Peru, Harrison (2014).

Cf. Urton (2009). I am grateful to Gary Urton for giving me a copy of his article.

Mixtec phrases were employed to translate “confession” by ML. Cf. “ña nacuhui yoyuhuindo cachi kuachindo, no es posible que temáis confesar vuestros pecados,” Jansen and Pérez Jiménz (2009, 225–226).

Yonamandi, confersares por 1a. vez. Yona námandi, confersares por 2a. o 3a o más veces (Los Reyes 1976, 34). yonamandi: confesar, Alvarado (1962 [1593], 55r).

Cf. corresponding terminology in the Mixtec dictionary of Alvarado (1962 [1593], 50).

Burkhart (1989, 181–182). Yolcuitia, confessarse, confessar a otro, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 40v). Teyolcuitiliztli, confession, que haze el confessor, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 95v). Confesar al confesor, yolcuitla; yolmelhua, 265v., 232v., Olmos (1985 [1547], 198). Confesar delito, cuita, 265v., 232v. Confesar lo que sabe, machitoca, 267r., 255r., Olmos (1985 [1547], 198).

Tetlapopolhuiliztli, perdon o dispensacion hecha a otro, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 109r). Tlapopolhuia/tlapopolhuilia, perdonar a otro, o dispensar con alguno, o echar suertes de baxo del arena, o dela tierra, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 133v). Perdonar a otro, tlapopolhuia, 279r., 231r., Olmos (1985 [1547], 236).

Karttunen (1992, 263). Tlatlacolpoliuiliztli, remissio o perdon de pecados. Tlatlacolpopolhuia, perdonar, o absoluer de los pecados, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 137r).

Karttunen (1992, 201). The original meaning of tlapohpol is “disappear, to lose or to consume, destroy, obliterate something” Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 133); Karttunen (1992, 201); Brockway, Hershey de Brockway, and Santos Valdés (2000, 116).

For instance, in explicating Indigenous moral philosophies/religions Andeanists disagree on whether to apply this translated term, cf. Urton (2009, 822, note 9).

The related problem of translating the moral dualism of good vs. evil of Christology where the concept of Jesus Christ (good) opposes the Devil (evil).

Cf. Hertz (1922, 51–52).

Harrison (2002, 270). Cf. Harrison (1992, 1993, 1994, 2014).

Hallowell (1939, 191). Ironically, the group that Hallowell examined, were supposedly “Christianized and less aboriginal” (note 1).

Cf. Gruzinski (1989) about the Indigenous peoples of Mexico interpretations and practices of the various Catholic “sins” in the colonial period.

In certain Christian denominations a healing in this world can be theologically emphasized sometimes at the cost of a theology of (transcendal) salvation. For example, among Pentecostal churches in Brazil sickness, intimately associated with the condition of poverty, is the result of “sin” in the mundane world where also the cure of sickness is sought, according to Andrew Chesnut’s study (1997).

Cf. Kirkhusmo Pharo (2014).

The Doctrine of Discovery constitutes the following series of Papal Bulls from the mid-1400s: Papal Bull Dum Diversas (18 June 1452); The Bull Romanus Pontifex (8 January 1454); The Bull Inter Caetera (4 May 1493). Expansions of the principle of Doctrine of Discovery in the Bulls are outlined in: the Treaty of Tordesillas (7 June, 1494); the Patent Granted by King Henry VII to John Cabot and his Sons (5 March 1496); The Requerimiento (1512). Cf. Davenport (1917) and http://www.doctrineofdiscovery.org.

Cf. Miller (2008); Newcomb (2008). Cf. http://www.doctrineofdiscovery.org.

Cf. Newcomb (2008).

Cf. Miller (2008).

Cf. Miller (2008).

Miller (2008); Newcomb (2008). Cf. http://www.doctrineofdiscovery.org.

Cf. Miller, Lesage, and López Escarcena (2010); Miller and D’Angelis (2011).

The importance of these Papal Bulls, which started to become influential in Early Modern Europe (the beginning of European global colonization), is manifested by: “Discussion on the special theme for the year (May 7–18, 2012) at The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII): “The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).”

Pagden (1982, 76–77); cf. Harrison (2014, 151–185).

Newcomb (2008). Cf.: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalms 2: 8).

A linguistic comparative analysis of Indigenous non-Linnaean and non-Darwinian taxonomies of the natural world could be productive. The natural properties of categories of animals, birds, fish, trees, herbs, flowers, metals, and stones, and about colors” are for instance outlined in Nahuatl in “Earthly Things” (Book 11) of the Florentine Codex.

Durston (2007, 215, 238); Urton (2009, 816, 821–823); cf. Harrison (2014).

Cf. Urton (2009).

Tlaueliloc. maluado, o vellaco, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 144r); tlahuelli, rage, fury, indignation, Karttunen (1992, 269).

Cf. Nahuatl Dictionary. Wired Humanities Project. http://whp.uoregon.edu/dictionaries/nahuatl/index.lasso.

Tenonotzaliztli in tetta yc quinonotza, yc quizcalia in ipiltzin inic qualli, yectli yc monemitiz. “Exhortación con que el padre así habla, así instruye a su hijo para que bine, rectamente viva,” León-Portilla and Silva Galeana (1988, 275–309).

Cf. the “dialogue” that purportedly took place between twelve Fransciscans and Mexica aristocrats and philosophers (tlamatinime) in 1524. It was found and edited by Sahagun in 1564 as Coloquios y doctrina Christina con que los doce frailes de San Franscisco enviados por el papa Adriano Sexto y por el Emperador Carlos Quinto conviritieron a los Indios de la Nueva España. En lengua Mexicana y Española, Duverger (1987); Klor de Alva (1980); Sahagún (1986 [1564]).

Yēc-tli, something good, pure, cleans according to Molina, Karttunen (1992, 338). Yectli y yullo, virtuous and with good morals, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 35r) and qualli yyullo, hombre de buen corazon sincero y sin doblez, o hombre sancto, Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 84v).

Cf. Karttunen (1992, 281). Mati, “to know something,” Karttunen (1992, 138) and tlamatiliztli, “knowledge,” Molina (1977 [1555 and 1571], 126r).

Burkhart (1989, 38–39). Qualli and yectli cf. Carochi (2001 [1645], 222–223, 57v, 230–231, 59v–60).

For words for “sin” and “virtue” in colonial Yucatec cf. Schrader-Kniffki and Yannakakis (2014) and Yannakakis (2014).

“Someone is considering taking a youth as a son-in-law and says of him, Ca icnotlacatl, atle iaxca itlatqui, tel qualli tlacatl, or yece qualli tlacatl. He is poor, but a good person,” Carochi (2001 [1645], 430–431, 117v–118); In qualtin in yectin pactinemí, yocoxca nemi, àcampa nacazmahuì, tlacacco nemî, “The good live happily, they have no fears or shocks, they live in great peace and quietude,” Carochi (2001 [1645], 440–441, 120–120v). Fray Andres de Olmos records cualtin as “they who are good,” Olmos (1875 [1547], 18).

Cf. Wendt, chapter 11 in this volume.