8 Deer, Jaguar Claw

by Denise Lechner

Tututepec City Hall
Tututepec City Hall

Everything we know about 8 Deer, Jaguar Claw (8 Venado Garra de Jaguar) comes from four codices — pre-Hispanic texts made of deer-skin parchment. He was born in 1063 in Tilantongo, the center of the Mixtec empire in the Alta Mixteca. 8 Deer refers to the date of his birth, Jaguar Claw is the name he was later given.

This was a time of political fragmentation of the Tilantongo empire. The king had no children by his first wife and only one child, who died mysteriously at an early age, by his second wife. Meanwhile, the three sons of the heir to Jaltepec, another important Mixtec kingdom, also died. So two royal lineages came to an end, and 8 Deer’s father, 5 Lizard (5 Lagarto) who was the high priest of Tilantongo was proclaimed king when 8 Deer was 10.

5 Lizard died in 1082, when 8 Deer was 19. According to Mixtec tradition, his oldest son — 12 Movimiento — should have succeeded him. The codices are not clear on this, but for whatever reason, he is denied his kingdom. From this time onward the two half-brothers fight side by side to conquer new lands.

8 Deer (center) traveling to where the land meets the sky. (Codex Nuttall)
8 Deer (center) traveling to where the land meets the sky. (Codex Nuttall)

The codices tell us that a year after his father’s death, before conquering Tututepec, 8 Deer makes a ritual visit to 9 Hierba the goddess of Death at her temple in Chalcatongo to get her support. In 1084, 8 Deer and 12 Movimiento lead a procession with high priests and officials and move the sacred symbols of the goddess to the temple in Yuca Dzaa (Cerro de Pájaro or Bird Hill) in present day Tututepec. Thus the new kingdom of Tututepec is established.

The archeological record indicates that when 8 Deer arrived on the coast, the region was very sparsely inhabited, but it was rich in resources not available in the mountains of the Alta Mixteca and the land was good for farming. The area’s most valuable products were cacao, salt, quetzal feathers, cotton, and fish.

8 Deer and the Sun God. (Codex Nuttall)
8 Deer and the Sun God. (Codex Nuttall)

In 1095, the brothers continue their conquests after first sacrificing a dog and a deer to the goddess 13 Caña. The deity seems to have been happy with the sacrifices since 8 Deer and 12 Movimiento went on to conquer 25 sites — many inhabited by Chatinos — in two years.

8 Deer has now proved himself a person to be reckoned with; in 1097 four emissaries — either Toltec or Nahua — from the center of the country arrive in Tututepec. They represent a king known as 4 Jaguar with the goal of forging a political and military alliance with the new kingdom. A ritual ball game is held between 8 Deer and 7 Serpent. 8 Deer wins and is awarded a glove made from a jaguar’s claw.

Casa del Sol (Codex Nuttall)
Casa del Sol (Codex Nuttall)

In the same year 8 Deer receives the title of yaha yahui from the goddess 9 Caña. This is the highest level of the Mixtec priesthood and gives the holder the power to change his shape and transform himself into an animal or any natural phenomenon.

8 Deer is now the perfect candidate for the highest honor in Mesoamerican culture, the Nose Ring (nariguera). For this ceremony, 8 Deer travels to Cholula in present-day Puebla where he is received by his ally, 4 Jaguar. A bone punches a hole into his nose and a turquoise ring is inserted. This makes 8 Deer a Tecuhtli, a title of royalty that will permit him to found the second dynasty of the kingdom of Tilantongo.

The year before 8 Deer received the nose ring, the last surviving member of the ruling family of Tilantongo died. Now that he was a Tecuhtli, 8 Deer had the possibility of not only conquering that state but also be named a legitimate king. Six days after the ceremony in Cholula, 8 Deer sets out on a series of conquests with his brother 12 Movimiento.

They arrive in Tilantongo in 1098 and conduct the ceremony of the New Fire, the symbol of a new government. Right after this, an assembly is called and 112 rulers of different Mixtec villages come to Tilantongo to recognize the new dynasty.

Without wasting any time, after performing the necessary rituals, 8 Deer, accompanied by 12 Movimiento and 4 Jaguar, goes on to conquer another 40 sites.

Facsimile edition of the Nuttall Codex
Facsimile edition of the Nuttall Codex

According to Manuel A. Hermann Lejanazu’s interpretation of the Nuttall Codex, 8 Deer also conquered the mythical place where the land joins the sea and went on from there to where the sun was born. Everywhere prisoners are taken, including Mixtec gods and beings from the underworld. Finally they reach the god of the Sun. In the presence of the Sun God they perform the sacred fire ceremony that is traditionally carried out at the beginning of each 52-year cycle or the inauguration of new kingdoms. Finally, with the help of the Sun god, 8 Deer and 4 Jaguar ascend to the heavens, probably to talk to their ancestors and to seal the legitimacy of their earthly and divine conquests.

What was truly amazing was that 8 Deer and 4 Jaguar not only visited these mythical places but that they returned back to earth, safe and sound a year later in 1100. At this point the two kings part, but not without first competing in a ball game. This will be the last time they meet. 8 Deer and 12 Movimiento return to Tilantongo where tragedy strikes: 12 Movimiento is assassinated.

12 Movimiento was stabbed to death in the temazcal. The motive for the murder is unknown. Some believe that 8 Deer ordered the killing, because as his older brother, 12 Movimiento had more claim to the throne of Tilantongo than he did.

The funeral rites of 12 Movimiento<br />(Tututepec, Municipal auditorium)
The funeral rites of 12 Movimiento
(Tututepec, Municipal auditorium)

The funeral rites were conducted by 8 Deer with all the pomp and ceremony due a high-ranking official. A year later, in 1101, 8 Deer attacks Bulto de Xipe, in what we suppose was revenge for his brother’s death. There he captures the ruling family which includes his own nephews. They will be tortured and killed as prisoners of war. Now there are no more rivals to the kingdoms of Tututepec and Tilantongo.

Finally, 8 Deer has time to relax, get married, and raise a family. In 1103, at the age of 40, he weds 13 Serpent, the daughter of the first marriage of the ruler of Bulto de Xipe. This union will produce five children. 8 Deer will marry four times and have a total of 11 children, guaranteeing the continuation of his dynasty.

Tututepec Municipal auditorium
Tututepec Municipal auditorium

8 Deer dies at the age of 52, the same number of years as a calendar cycle. His end was worthy of a great warrior. After marrying his last wife, he had decided to attack his bride’s land. This time the battle was lost and he was taken prisoner and put to death on a sacrificial stone.

The kingdom 8 Deer founded went on for another four centuries, until it was conquered by the Spanish in 1522.

Principal sources:

— Hermann Lejarazu, M Códice Nuttall. Lado I: La vida de 8 Venado. In “Edición Especial Códices. Arqueología Mexicana #23”
— Libura, K. Ocho Venado, Garra de Jaguar, héroe de varios códices. Ediciones Tecolote, 2014, México
— Joyce, A. Workinger, A. Hamann, B & Levine, M. The Archaeology and Codical History of Tututepec. In “Mixtec Writing and Society. Escritura Ñuu Dzaui”. Edited by Jansen, M & Broekhoven, L. Knaw Press, 2008, Amsterdam.

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