This thesis examines the Florentine Codex of Fray Bernardino Sahagún, to determine how the social, gender and, particularly, birthing roles of the original peoples of Mesoamerica were prescribed and respected. The Florentine Codex is a 12 volume work of ethnographic research undertaken in the 16th Century to describe comprehensively the lives of the Nahua (also known as Aztec and Mexica) people in Mesoamerica in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish conquest of the New World.
The literature review details the current condition of maternal welfare in Mesoamerica, outlining the physical, geographical and biosocial reasons for under-utilisation of state-run maternity services by indigenous mothers. Under the umbrella paradigm Epistemologies of the South (originated by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, the Portuguese sociologist), which critiques dominant epistemologies that decontextualise knowledge from its cultural and political contexts, I discuss the concept of Cultural Safety which exists where indigenous people feel respected and empowered, and may be promoted and understood by the examination of historical investigations into indigenous life and beliefs. Using a theoretical framework of Social Constructionism, (which depends on contingent aspects of our social selves and closes the gap between what we have evidence for and what we actually believe), I analyse health care (especially birthing) practices currently employed in Mesoamerican indigenous communities.
Thus, using Cultural Safety as my foundation, I demonstrate the relevance of the Codex to birthing and medical practices currently conducted in Mesoamerican indigenous communities. It will be seen that pre-Conquest women had honourable roles which were respected throughout their communities. Indigenous Mesoamerican women today still adhere to those roles and the importance of their community, particularly during the highly significant function of pregnancy and childbirth. Their devotion to traditional customs, roles and maternity care preferences and behaviours puts them in conflict with the imposed system of centralised health (maternity) care which has been introduced in recent decades, to the detriment of their physical and spiritual well-being.