I am doing research on how the Spaniards and Nahua felt about gold and wealth (their differences) during the conquest. The Spanish were very open about their thoughts on gold & wealth. But what about the indigenous people? What did they consider as treasures? Certainly they were interested in more things than cultivation. I have not had much success looking elsewhere online, so I thought I would look here.

  • Help educate me - why "Spaniards" and "Nahua people"? Is there a reason why the phrase isn't "Spaniards and Nahua" or "Spanish and Nahua peoples"? What is the correct adjectival form of Nahua? (cursory review suggests that Nahua is the nominative.)
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 16:49
  • 1
    @MarkC.Wallace: "Nahuatl" is the language; the Nahua are the people. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 21:29

1 Answer 1


Since we are comparing two civilizations, note that the Spaniards came from a world where money was long used in order to buy all manner of goods. When you had more money, you could buy whatever you wanted -- including lands, titles, and power. Even if you already had all of these, more money is always needed.

None of the civilizations of the New World had developed any form of currency; in order to acquire goods one had to hold a position which deserved them. That is, the status of you and your family determined your obligations and rewards.

Thus the Nahua would not have seen gold as a form of money, but rather as something that was due to the uppermost members of the status hierarchy. It was not a commodity to be bought and sold, but rather one to be used for display, as with jewelry, etc.

So when the Spaniards demanded gold, they at first appeared to be just another form of highly entitled group, albeit from some distant realm. It only became apparent over time that they were merely greedy interlopers. But by then it was too late.

The Nahua, and other New World civilizations, valued status; material goods followed status. There is no hierarchy of material goods when all good things come to you based upon your social status.

For example, consider Aztec Religion:

The sixteenth-century accounts written in Spanish and Nahuatl provide detailed descriptions of Aztec concepts of death and the afterlife. One of the most important accounts of Aztec mortuary rites and beliefs concerning the hereafter occurs in Book 3 of the Florentine Codex, an encyclopedic treatise of Aztec culture compiled by the Franciscan Fray Bernardino de Sahagún. According to this and other early accounts, the treatment of the body and the destiny of the soul in the afterlife depended in large part on one's social role and mode of death, in contrast to Western beliefs that personal behavior in life determines one's afterlife.

This article goes on to discuss the funerals and afterlife of those who died "of disease or old age" as compared to those who died in battle.

Read more: http://www.deathreference.com/A-Bi/Aztec-Religion.html#ixzz4HhDejN00

Note: Aztec tribute:

Religion and Empire: The Dynamics of Aztec and Inca Expansionism, By Geoffrey W. Conrad, Arthur A. Demarest (1984), on p. 55, lists some of the tribute demanded by the victorious Aztecs (the Nahua):

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Tribute from the subjugated peoples, besides food stuffs and other material needs of the people, included various items required as status symbols by the elite. Sacrificial victims were also provided in great numbers.

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Tribute items: quetzalcoatl feathers and sacrificial victims

For good reads try:

The True History of the Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo (1492–1581), one of the lieutenants of Cortez.

The First New Chronicle and Good Government by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, (1535-1615), a Quechua nobleman known for chronicling and denouncing the ill treatment of the natives of the Andes by the Spanish after their conquest.

  • This addresses whether they had currency and how they perceived gold, but it does not address what resources they did value most. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 13:20
  • Your point about a different cultural mindset is valid, but there were resources that were valued in one way or another. For example, chocolate was valued for medicinal and ritual purposes: jn.nutrition.org/content/130/8/2057S.short Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 15:09
  • How do you compare the value of resources in a pre-monetary society? What records do you use? How do you calculate value when things are incomensurate?
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 16:50
  • @MarkC.Wallace It is not "what is the value" but "what did they value". In other words, what resources did their society strive to get. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 17:08
  • How do you measure that?
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 17:30

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