Universiteit Leiden

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ANP/Cristian Leyva

The wisdom of the Nahua

Indigenous philosophies have been ignored for too long. This prompted Osiris González Romero to study the wisdom of the Nahua in Mexico. Their philosophy has an important message for the consumption society: see the earth and nature as living beings and not just as resources. PhD defence 22 June.

What is your dissertation about? 

‘My research is a systematic study of the wisdom of the Nahua, an indigenous people in Mexico descended from the Aztecs. There are some 2.5 million Nahua in Mexico, which makes them the country's largest indigenous group. As a result of cultural colonisation after the arrival of the Spanish, the wisdom, heritage and rights of these native people have received far too little recognition.' 

What did you discover?

‘The contribution of indigenous philosophies is implicit in their languages, and in the way they classify and name the world and their immediate environment. Much of this knowledge is derived from centuries-long observation of the environment. Nahuatl philosophy is based on a deep interaction between man and nature, and connects this interaction to the preservation of the environment. This collective spiritual relationship with the land calls for a different legal framework that goes beyond the current legislation.'  

Osiris González Romero (centre) spoke with many people from the Nahua community

Much of this knowledge is derived from centuries-long observation of the environment. 

What do you want to achieve with your dissertation?

‘Studying the Nahuatl language helps us develop an intercultural philosophy that is different from the dominant neocolonial approach typical of today's consumption society. The Nahua see the earth and nature as living beings and not just as resources. That makes it easier to understand the struggle for territory, the right to water and the preservation of the environment.' 

How did you carry out your research?

‘I did my research in specialist archives and libraries in Mexico City and in Texas, using a broad range of sources: archaeological reports, legal texts, artworks and natural history sources. An important manuscript for my study was the Anales de Tlaxcala dating from 1790. The work is about the existence of the role of Nahua sages, 250 years after the conquest of Mexico in 1521.'

Interviews with Nahua people

‘I also interviewed various indigenous researchers, such as historians and linguists. One of my aims with this research is to initiate an intercultural dialogue with scholars and organisations from the Nahua community. Many of the interviews were recorded and after my doctoral defence the videos will be available on the website of the COLING project.

The front cover of the dissertation.
The front cover of the dissertation.

What is your own background and do you have a particular affinity with this subject?

‘I am descended on the one hand from the Purépecha, an indigenous people from Michoacán in the west of Mexico. But I also have Mestizo ancestors, descendants of an Indian and a European parent. My parents moved to Mexico City for economic reasons. After my bachelor's in Philosophy there, I learned the Nahuatl language and obtained my master's in Meso-American Studies. Unfortunately, I found a lack of recognition of indigenous philosophies in academic institutions in Mexico. There wasn't a single course - or even a single lecture - that focused attention on these philosophies. Consequently, there is a significant gap in the research, which is something of a paradox in a multicultural country like Mexico that has 68 different indigenous peoples.'

How can research be 'decolonised'? 

‘It's important to include the theoretical contributions of indigenous scholars, and to use inclusive research methodologies. We also need to emphasise the value of indigenous knowledge, even though some of the individuals concerned may not have an academic qualification. Finally, broad recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples is essential. My dissertation is an attempt to decolonise this type of research.' 

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