Friday, 13 November 2009

Nisagie...and water flowed from the rock

Introduction.I have been silent for a while, mostly because I needed to work more on my storytelling (see more on this on the DigiStory blog) but now, after some workings and reworkings on several stories, I am able to start writing again.

The story I will now post is not related to food in particular, but it does talk about some wonderful food...It was written originally in Spanish, by Andres Henestrosa. I found a website with some anecdotes about Maestro Henestrosa's life, which illustrate the kind of man he was. My dad was lucky enough to have Maestro Henestrosa, as his history teacher and he spoke to me about him and his lectures with affection.

The story takes place in the state of Oaxaca where very famous meso-american cultures flourished, like the Mixtec and the Zapotecs . Maestro Henestrosa who was born in the region, was inspired by their mythology and wrote this wonderful and tragic love story. You can find the story in Spanish here. I have translated, expanded and adapted the story for the blog.

The two Kingdoms.
In the time before time there were only two kingdoms, the kingom of the Earth and the Kingdom of the Heavens; and there were only two kings, the King of the Earth and the King of the Heavens.

The King of the Heavens was very poweful. He could command with a movement of his hands the rise of the sun who would every morning dance its way through the heavens spreading light and warmth and happiness to the Kingdom of the Earth. The King could summon the night and the stars and the moon with a smile. The moon would then travel through the skies spreading her blueish, light over the Kingdom of the Earth. One of the King's favourite pastimes was to arrange the stars in beautiful shapes and formations and gaze down to the people of the Earth as they stared up in admiration at the glowing, shiny sketches of light on the darkest of skies. The King could also summon the clouds by sending a soft whistle and the clouds would come billowing to his summons and upon feeling the warmth of his breath, some clouds would then dissolve into the gentlest of rains, which would bathe the people of the Earth with freshness.

The King of the Heavens knew that he was really a very powerful King, but it never crossed his mind to use that power to conquer or abuse, therefore there was friendship and peace between the kingdom of the Earth and the Kingdom of Heavens.

The Births
One day there was rejoicing in both kingdoms for a little baby boy had been born to the Kingdom of the Heavens, and a baby girl had been born to the Kingdom of the Earth. There were parties in both kingdoms simutaneously and the King of the Heavens illuminated both kingdoms with a wonderful array of shooting stars that decorated the cupola of the Heavens and illuminated the Kingdom of the Earth with their tails of light.

Time passed. The boy grew up into a fine young man, able to fearlessly ride the clouds but also gentle and kind. He was strong, tall and handsome. Soon, the King of the Heaven's thought, there will be the time to look for a wife for him. So, the King of Heavens sent for searching parties all throughout both Kingdoms, to look for a bride for his son. One night, as he was peering down unto the Kingodm of the Earth, as he often did when bored, he saw a young maiden walking by the river. Her hair was lustrous and black as a raven, her mouvements were graceful. She walked lightly on the Earth as though guided by an inner sense of cadence and rhythm. She often paused to gaze at the water, or to take in the travelling of the moon through the sky. And so it came to pass that by the light of the moon, the King of the Heavens saw the face of Nayeli, the most beautiful maiden of the Zapotecs.

The King of the Heaven's mind was made up on the spot. That maiden was to be her son's bride. He followed the ancient custom of asking for the bride's hand immediately by asking for his messengers, the biniguendas to go to the King of the Earth and formally ask for Nayeli's hand in marriage.

The King of the Earth.
The biniguendas were the constant messangers between the Kingdom of the Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven. Nobody really remembers now-a-days what they looked like, but a green iguana who knows about these things, told me not long ago, that her ancestors used to see the biniguendas sliding their multiple arms up and down over the most silk-like of threads. Sliding up and down, they could run the messages between heaven and earth much faster than light. The silver silken threads were invisible to almost anyone, except, of course to the green iguanas. The biniguendas slid down their silken threads faster than light and soon arrived to the Kingdom of the Earth. They knew exactly where to find the King of the Earth, because biniguendas were very wise. They slid accross their threads through the streets of the city of Earth until they reached the palace of the King. They found him in the kitchen talking with the chef about a banquet that was being prepared for the following night. The King was keen for mole, a cacao sauce to be prepared for that evening since it used the most delicious mixture of cacao beans and chillies from the region. He knew about the trees and plants of his kingdom and he liked to encourage the people of his kingdom to exchange knowledge about plants and spices for food and medicines. This might be one of the reasons why the food of Oaxaca is one of the most delicious and varied in Mexico.

The eldest of the biniguendas asked for permission to speak after the King had made the last adjustments to the seasoning of the mole. The King of the Earth listened with respect to the request of the King of the Heavens. He smiled and told the biniguendas that he must consult with his daughter before sending back an answer. The King went in search of his daughter and found her in the gardens of the palace.

A Child of the Earth.
As soon as Nayeli heard the request of the Kingdom of the Heavens she became silent and her head hung low. She listened to her father extoll the advantages of going to heaven to live with the young prince; she listened about the beauties of the sky; she listened about the wonders of riding on the clouds and to the power that she would have to comand the stars in bountiful formations; she listened, but remained silent with her head low. Her father noticed the silence and eventually, asked her to speak.

Nayeli explained that she was a child of the Earth. She loved walking by the river, she loved to feel the earth under her toes and to respond to the rhythm of the seasons. She liked the sky, but as a backdrop to the Earth. She could not go to the Sky, moreover, she was in love, with a man from the Earth, an artist from the temple whom she had met during one of the dancing festivals last spring. She could not marry anyone else because her heart belonged already to a man from the Earth.

The King of the Earth listened. He went back to the binguendas that he was unable to give away the hand of his daughter because she was a child of the Earth and she wished to remain on the Earth.

Anger boils over.

The biniguendas sped up to convey the message to the King of the Heavens who was not at all pleased with the news. He was angry at the King of the Earth. Moreover, he was really angry at Nayeli for defying his wishes. He spied on Nayeli and soon found that she was in love with an artist from the temple. He saw them walking by the river at night. He felt himself boiling with rage and did what he had never done before, he plotted to use his power against the people of the Kingdom of the Earth.

The biniguendas came down to Earth in the night and wove a mask around the face of the artist from the temple as he lay asleep. In the morning, when he woke up, he could not see past the mask. He tried to take the mask away but his hands got stuck in the mask which was made of a sticky substance, that would get stuck forever upon the hands that touched it. No one could help him regain his eyesight and in desperation, the artist stumbled away from the city and left towards the mountains. He stumbled everywhere he went, until without being able to find his way, or eat or drinkg he fell on one of the many crevasses that open-up whenever the Earth yawns.

Nayeli waited for him every night by the river but he never showed up and eventually she went to his house and found he had become blind. She left the city and searched for him everywhere she could think of. Eventually, she also found her way on the roads to the mountain. The King of the Heavens saw her leave the palace and venture out into the roads towards the mountains. He was still very angry at her and at the Kingdom of the Earth. He then commanded the clouds not to spray their water over the Earth, for as long as Nayeli looked for her lover. Days grew into weeks and weeks into months. The earth was parched. Animals started dying and there was a huge famine as the crops did not grow. Still, Nayeli searched, until, tired, thirsty, hungry and unable to carry on she fell to the ground almost at the top of the mountain. Unable to walk any longer, she cried out and as the tears streamed from her eyes and fell to the ground, the earth took pity on her and opened its bowels to let the tears filter inside.

Slowly, a stream of water began to flow from the inside of the earth and became a small river that cascaded down the mountain into the valley below. The water flowed, and soon, the people of the Earth were able to plant their crops and live normally again. No one remembered Nayeli nor the artist, until, one day, many many moons over, two hunters following a white tailed deer spotted a rock in the shape of a woman with a trickle of water flowing from the rock itself, unto a small stream that cascaded down unto the valley. They called the stone Nisagie, which means, tears that spring from the earth.

The picture of the iguana was taken by Threefingerredlord. The picture of the market full of spices was taken by Jarek69. The magma was taken by Jenrock and the stream flowing from the rock by Ferran.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The legend of the Agave or Maguey

I live in Edinburgh and it is one of my favourite cities. Scotland has been my home for the past 15 years but sometimes, I get homesick for the warmth of my native Mexico and particularly for the site of agave plants. I used to work in a place close to the National University of Mexico UNAM campus in the south of Mexico City and from my office window I could see several majestic agaves. In my mind I always associate warmth and sun with the agaves. So, whenever I really get homesick and the cold and dampness get to my heart, I escape to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh, where they have a wonderful collection of agaves in the glasshouses. If you come to Edinburgh, please visit the Botanical Gardens and the glasshouses. IOnce you are there and the warmth gets to your bones, and you contemplate the majesty of the agaves, please remember the story of Mayahuel and the way the agave became a part of Mexico. I found the bones of this story in the website of the Red Escolar ILCE. I think there are a lot of similarities between this story and the story of the coca plant....

The Legend of the Agave

Mayahuel, the beautiful maiden

Mayahuel was a very beautiful young girl. She had been kept hidden since she was a little girl in the furthermost corners of the universe by the goddess Tzitzímitl. Tzitzímitl was a fearful goddess who lived in the second heaven. She loved human hearts so very very much that she wore them as a headpiece and also as a necklace. She was truly feared by the Aztecs because a prophecy said that during a solar eclipse, when the moon would swallow the sun, Tzitzímitl would come from the second heaven unto the earth and devour all of humanity. Mayahuel was very unhappy living in the corners of the universe with only the fearful goddess, her grandmother as a companion. She longed to escape, and be free.

One day, Ehecatl, the serpent god of the wind, went to explore the furthermost corners of the universe and spotted Mayahuel. He fell in love with Mayahuel and curled his breezy soft body around her. Mayahuel, felt the soft ruffling caress of Ehecatl and was enchanted. She loved being lifted up in the air and softly balanced amongst the clouds. She fell in love with the serpent god of the wind.
 Every night, Ehecatl would visit Mayahuel and transport her in a soft flow of air to wonderful corners of the universe that neither had never visited before. In the air, their bodies became one and they were lovers for life.

However, Tzitzímitl had many demons who were helping her guard Mayahuel and she soon found out that the young maiden was being secretly visited by the god of the wind. She was furious. She decided to take Mayahuel to a secret hiding place. Ehecatl, who had been floating around Tzitzímitl as she was giving instructions to her demons, heard what she was plotting and silently rushed towards Mayahuel. He envelopped her in a gust of powerful wind and floated down to the earth with
Tzitzímitl and the cohort of demons in hot pursuit.

The Desguise

Ehecatl felt trapped. He felt he could not protect Mayahuel against the goddess and the demons.
The lovers embraced and as their bodies melted, they fused into a plant that looked a lot like a tree. One side of the plant was the feminine side, Mayahuel, the other side was masculine and corresponded to Ehecatl. The maguey was born. The lovers hoped that in becoming the new plant, they would be able to escape from Tzitzímitl and the demons. However, there was no forest to hide in, and the plant stood proud and majestic on the desertic landscape. They were soon spotted by the demons. Tzitzímitl cursed the plant and wielding a large machete broke it in half, forever separating the lovers. The demons then chopped the plant into pieces and cooked it making a broth of the leaves and the pulp. The demons ate the broth made from the plant which had been the fusion of Ehecatl and Mayahuel.

Ehecatl the Serpent God
After the meal was was finished, and the demons had left, little bits of Ehecatl lay scattered on the ground. However, as Ehecatl was a serpent god, the bits slithered towards each other and became the serpent nature of the god. Ehecatl thus lived again as a serpent, to search the ground in search for the bits of the plant that were Mayahuel. The serpent found little bits of Mayahuel here and there and planted them. He then flew to the sky and convinced Tlaloc, the god of the rain, to send some clouds from time to time, to look over Mayahuel. Soon, the Mayahuel came back to life, transformed as a maguey which became the symbol of the love between Ehecatl and Mayaguel. The juice of the maguey is called octli or pulque, and it is still drunk all over Mexico.

The picture of the row of agaves was done by youarea0. The picture of Ehectal was taken by Derek Vineyard. The photo of the solitary maguey was taken by Vladimix.. The photo of the serpent was taken by Sean Dreilinger. The photo of the embracing couple was taken by Hard Rock.


Saturday, 14 February 2009

Mate: The legend of the Mate Tree

Mate is drunk as a refreshing invigorating tea in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. It is now sold in different forms in Europe, however, nothing is as nice as sharing it directly from the gourd. This legend of the Mate tree comes from the Guarani Indians.

The legend of the tree of the moon
One evening, two Guarani people were coming back from hunting when they heard some cries coming from the inside of the rainforest. _ It must be Ñacurutú the crying owl- said one of them. The other man said nothing, but signaled to his friend that he was going into the forest to find out. The rain forest was dense with vegetation covering most of the paths, walking was therefore very difficult. The man was walking very slowly, carefully... listening attentively to the crying sounds that we coming closer and closer. Suddenly, Yasi, the LadyMoon, showed her light from between the branches of the trees, and with a magic white finger, pointed to a place in the bushes. There, barely illuminated by the rays of the moon was a little child.

The man picked up the child and took him back to his village. There, the women welcomed the baby and fed him, and took care of him as though he were one of their own. Eventually, the child grew up, learned to walk, talk and had friends. He was called "Moroti" which means "white" in guarani. Everyone loved Moroti. He was a restless child; he would run here and there always investigating things, and helping out. you could see him scampering towards the fishermen and helping them unload the barges with fish; he would also bring wood from the forest to help feed the fires; he was often at the potters' shed where he loved to sink in his little fingers in the clay.

The Search for the LadyMoon.
However, when the Moon would shine, Moroti would sink into the ground, and spend a lot of time silently gazing at the moon. The village would be all asleep, resting comfortably in their hammocs, even the dogs would stop barking as they fell asleep, but Morotí would not sleep. He wouls spend the whole night looking at the moon.

One night, Morotí disappeared. The children, the women, the hunters, everyone looked and looked for him everywhere in the rainforest and they could not find him. However, at the break of daylight, Morotí came back, tired, and with water dribbling from his head.

-Morotí, where were you? -asked everyone.
-I was swimming in the river -he answered. -The Moon was floating in the water, and I wanted to catch her. She was always running away from me no matter how fast I swam and swam. The people from the village just shook their heads and smiled.

Time passed. Morotí became a young hunter who could navigate his canoe even through storms and rapids, and was the best of the hunters with his bow and arrow. When his time came, he built his own hut. When the hut was finished, he stood by the entrance to the hut to wait. Night arrived.

Yasí, the LadyMoon, showed her beautiful face on the sky and slowly, very very slowly, let her light beam down unto the village and found the new hut, Moroti's hut. The light trembled and entered only through the openings of the roof made of twigs. Slowly, slowly, more of the moonlight entered the hut. Morotí could not believe his eyes, he quietly laughed all by himself. He had succeeded. He had finally captured Yasi and would keep her forever in his hut! he ran to close the door of his hut and as he did so....the hut was plunged into darkness.. the moonlight had escaped....

Morotí ran out of the hut and desperately went up the river in search of a path to take him to Yasí, the LadyMoon. Moroti walked an walked. Many days passed, and he continued walking, however, despite his best efforts, no river, nor mountain, nor path was long enough and steep enough to reach the sky. Sometimes, his hopes were high, when he was following a path up a mountain that seemed to get lost into the sky, but as he reached the mountain top, he would see that Yasi, was still very far away. He soon grew exhausted and cold and lonely. He had left the rain forest and was in a foreign land. He wanted to be amongst his friends in the village, and slowly, with a lot of effort, he retraced his steps and returned home.

When he came back to the village people were happy to welcome him back but he was no longer the Moroti of olden times. He had lost his lust for life and just sat inside his hut... everyone in the village, noticed the changed, but said nothing, in respect for his sadness.

Yasi and Arai

One night, Morotí saw the reflection of the moon, hitting some blades of grass. It was the footprint of Yasí. Morotí followed the footprints in the darkness. The footprints glowed in the dark like dewdrops of light. Suddenly, Morotí saw her again, standing at the top of a mountain. There she was, the Moon, transformed into a beautiful girl; holding hands with another girl, Araí, the cloud.

Morotí followed them crouching and hiding behind the widest trees and the tallest of bushes. But Yaguaret, the tiger, soon found him out. In the darkness, Moroti and the tiger, fought. Yaguareté was hungry but the boy still had some strength and cunning left from his days as a warrior, and was able with difficulty to kill the tiger.

The light from the moon brightened the forest, just as Moroti stepped out from the river cleaning himself after the battle. -Take me he said. The Moon, took his hand, and soon Morotí was floating in the sky. He was careful not to step on the tiny stars, and not to kick at the clouds with his feet. Everything was so beautiful that in the height of the night, time stood still, and Morotí forgot his village and his people. However, as a waft of wind brought the smell of the forest and the river, Morotí remembered and he was lonely again and was longer happy.

Yasí, the Moon, told him: -Go back to your people, Morotí I will never forget you and I promise you that I will always be with you. The Moon turned Morotí into a tree, the Ca-á tree, the tree of the mate leaves. The leaves of the Ca-á are almost magical: they give strength and happiness. Moroti's village, and all the other tribes of the regions began to use the leaves as a wonderous drink to strengthen and restore them.

Hidden inside the tree, the spirit of Moroti is still alive, and every night, the white fingers of Yasi, fondle the Moroti's head, as the light of the moon bathes the Ca-a tree-tops.

The picture of the Guarani Child was taken by CARFE The picture of the man drinking mate was taken by Maplemusketeer.The moonscape photo was taken by Graham Hodgson. The picture of the moonlinght in the forest was taken by Kiri-D.The picture of the moon and the clouds was taken by Iratxo. The picture of the moon over the tree tops was taken by jzakariya


Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Legend of the Vanilla

Vainilla in Spanish, Vanilla in English. The name is evocative of smells, flavours, and humid heat. Nothing makes me more nostalgic than remembering myself as a 12 year old girl coming home from school and being greeted by my mom with a glass of cool yoghourt and water flavoured with a dark syrupy substance called "vainilla". The substance did not come from the supermarket, but was bought regularly by my father when he traveled to Veracruz, particularly to the city of Papantla. Later on, as a young woman, I traveled myself to Papantla with my 1 year old son. It was a wonderful experience to wander through the markets and see the ways in which Mexican artists would weave the vanilla leaves in insect shapes. Magic fingers would give life to scorpions, spiders, butterflies or tiny baskets, or little crosses to scent your linen cabinets. It was a truly wonderful and intoxicating, my fascination with vanilla, grew and grew... Enjoy the story.

The legend tells us that Xanath, the eldest daughter of a family of Totonac noblemen, was a girl of incredible beauty who lived in a palace close to the ceremonial centre of Tajin. One day, Xanath was going to deposit an offering on the statue of Chac-Mool (the divine messenger), when she noticed a lovely tune coming from behind an inner courtyard in the ceremonial centre. She peered through the door and saw a young man, whistling to himself. It was a handsome and strong young fellow called Tzarahuin. Xanath loved music, and soon they were exchanging tunes, and songs and laughter. Love at first flourished between them. The young lovers tried to meet as often as possible.

... And their love matured and grew.
Their love grew and matured although Xanath was a noblewoman, and Tzarahuin was not. He was not a warrior, not a prince, not a priest nor a wealthy merchant; he was an only an artist. But, what an artist! He played music, particularly wind conches, the magical instruments with which to summon people to the ceremonies. He was also a painter. He did decorations for the temple. He had been sent as a young lad to the school in the temple, where the teachers soon discovered his ability for the arts and soon he was allowed to be part of a troupe of artist craftsmen who painted an decorated the hundreds of niches in the ceremonial centre. His family were farmers and when he was free from his duties in he temple, he helped them tend their orchard. He was often very busy working in the upkeep of the temple, but always liked to help his family specially during the harvest season. When he met Xanath, he was coming back from helping his family sell their produce at the market.

The fat god of Happiness.

One day, as Xanath was rushing to meet Tzarahuin, the fat god of Happiness cast his eye on the young girl. His eyes followed her as she ran through the ceremonial centre. He admired the fragility of her frame, and the agility of her movements. She combined both frailty and innocence, with strength and determination. The more he saw of her, the more he wanted her. His eyes followed her everywhere, all the time. Twice, he approached her and tried to speak to her, but she ran away, frightened that the god of Happiness would wish to speak to a humble Totonac girl. The god however, was not to be dissuaded easily and tried one third time to approach Xanath. This time, the girl stayed and listened to what the god had to tell her.

Xanath listened carefully and after the god of Happiness confessed his love for her, she sadly told him that she could not marry him, because her heart already belonged to another one. The god of Happiness was angry that a simple Totonac girl would refuse him and he decided to take matters into his own hands. He went to visit the girl's father. He shared with the him secrets that were only known to the gods, and the wealth and prestige of Xanath's father increased greatly. Soon, after this, Xanath was ordered by her father to marry the god of Happiness. However, Xanath, full of inner strength defied both her father and the god of Happiness. She refused to leave Tzarahuin. In total rage, the god of Happiness transformed Xanath into a feeble, delicate plant, with lovely white flowers and an intoxicating smell. When Tzarahuin found out what had happened to Xanath, he took his own life, at the foot of the plant.

The legend tells us however, that he comes back every spring in the form of a humble melipona bee and spends hours tenderly circling around the petals of the vanilla flower, making love to his Xanath.

The image of the market was taken by Quitepeculiar from a mural by Diego Rivera.
The wonderful image of the vanilla flower was taken by EternalImages. The image of the couple kissing was taken by Zen. The image of the bee busy pollinating was taken by JeanM1. The image of the vanilla pod was taken by Simon Goldenberg.

I also found another story of the creation of the vanilla. This one is rather more on if you like and compare...


Friday, 23 January 2009

The legend of Chocolate

I have been researching the story of chocolatl, (chocolate in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs) because this is one of Mexico's contributions to the world. I think the story of the cacao bean and its transformation into a frothy, rich drink and wonderful dessert that delights millions of people would make a lovely to tell children in Europe. Children would be able to use the story as a launching-pad to research the history of chocolate and of the ancient people that drank it in Mexico; recipes both old, and new, as well as botanical and environmental issues surrounding the use of chocolate in the world. This image was taken by Nicole Henning .

I have personally made myself cups of steaming frothy chocolate using tablets like the ones in the photograph. The image of a Mexican chocolate tablet was taken by Rachel A.K..

Chocolatl was a drink which was consumed by royalty and the elite in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs, before the Spanish conquered Mexico. It was served with water (i.e.without milk), flavoured with vanilla, spices, chili and sometimes honey; it was a bitter drink. Have a look at this wonderful recipe from the Vanilla Company. Cacao beans were currency throughout the Mesoamerican world (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize). There is an ancient Mayan myth that says that cacao beans were given to men by the Gods. The Mayas celebrated the new year with the Possum God carrying on its back the Rain God with an offering of cacao beans. A representation of the Possum God and of the cacao beans as taken from the Dresden Codex can be seen here. The Dresden Codex is one of the very few examples of Mayan books that escaped the burning of Mayan libraries performed by Spanish conquistadores....

But, back to chocolatl.... Sophie and Michael Coe have written a fantastically interesting book on the history of chocolate. Sandra Andrews-Strasko blog Chocolate Speak, presents an extensive review of the book and provides all sorts of interesting bits of information on the uses of chocolate in Mexico. But now, to the story....

Quetzalcóatl visits the earth.

Once upon a time Quetzalcóatl descended to earth by the rays of a morning star leaving all the Toltecs surprised by his coming down to earth. Everyone understood that this new comer was not a simple mortal and they broke their ugly dark clay gods, to worship him. They built for him a very large 5 storied temple with staircases. The roof was held up by four monumental stone columns carved in the shape of men. The outside of the house was decorated with large butterflies and a long line of tigers who seemed to be searching for the god. The Toltecs called Quetzalcóatl Tlahuizcalpantecutli, which means, the star that comes in the afternoon. This name was quite appropriate because the star sometimes rises in the morning and others in the afternoon. Today we call this star by the name of Venus.

The temple was located in a central square around which the city of Tollan (now Tula) was built. Tollan was a very important city in the 11th and 12th century. The main gods of the city were Quetzalcóatl-Tlahuizcalpantecutli, and the god Tláloc ("the lord that comes from the earth"), the giver of rain and life and the owner of souls estranged from their bodies. The city also had a goddess, Xochiquetzal ("plumed flower"), goddess of happiness and love. She was the wife of Tlaloc and the giver of pulque (an alcoholic drink). All the gods were good and following the leadership of Quetzalcóatl, they taught the Toltec people all their knowledge, until they were wise in the arts and sciences, and could recognise the march of the stars. The Toltecs were then able to measure time and determine the change of the seasons to plant, and harvest. The Toltecs planted corn, beans, yucca, all sorts of cereals and fruits and spend their free time studying. In time they were wonderful architects, artists, masons and delicate moulders of clay.

The gift of a plant.
Quetzalcóatl, who loved them deeply gave them the gift of a very special plant. This plant had been jealously guarded by the other gods because they extracted a drink which was reserved only for the gods themselves. Quetzalcóatl stole the small bush with dark red flowers which later became dark fruits. He planted the bush and asked Tláloc to feed it with water and , asked Xochiquetzal to tend to it and make it beautiful with flowers. The little tree flowered incessantly and Quetzalcóatl picked up the pods, roasted the kernels and taught the Toltec women to grind them into a fine powder. The women then mixed the powder with water from their jars and whipped it into a frothy drink which they called chocolatl. In the beginning it was only drunk by priests and royalty. It was drunk bitter and the mayas called it kahau, (bitter).

The Toltecs became so wise, so learned in the arts and sciences and so prosperous that the gods became jealous at first, and then, angry when they discovered that their chocolatl had been stolen from them. They vowed to make war on Quetzalcóatl and the Toltecs.

Anger and Jealousy amongst the gods
The gods called on Tezcatlipoca -"the fuming mirror"-, the god of darkness and the night. This god was the sworn enemy of Quetzalcóatl, who was the god of the morning star. Tezcatlipoca came down to earth on the thread of a spider and taking on the guise of a merchant, approached Quetzalcóatl determined to cause his downfall. The god of the morning star was in his palace that day. He was very very sad. He had dreamt that the gods were plotting against him and he was worried for his people the Toltecs.

The false merchant, got close to Quetzalcóatl and asked - Why are you so sad my Lord? - Because the gods have ordered my downfall and the death of my people, answered Quetzalcóatl-.
- I offer you this drink. It is the drink of happiness. Take it, give it to the people, and they will be happy too!

Quetzalcóatl, who loved the Toltecs, believed the false merchant and drank the juice offered to him. The juice was pulque a drink made from fermented agave. He drank and drank and drank until he was completely drunk. He danced, and jumped about, and made all sorts of hand gestures to the people outside the palace who did not know what to make of the strange behaviour 0f their beloved god. Quetzalcoatl was so drunk that he did not notice he was losing the respect of his people. Finally, exhausted, he fell asleep.

Quetzalcóatl last gift.

The following morning, Quetzalcóatl woke up with a bad headache and a foul, foul breath. He knew that the gods had made fun of him and ridiculed him. He had lost face. He then knew that the end of Tollan, the glorious city of the Toltecs was near. He could not face the destruction of his city, nor the death of his people. He was deeply, he left Tollan, walking in the direction of the evening star. As he started his walk, he noticed that the little bushes he had planted that gave the chocolatl, had transformed themselves into dry plants with thorns. They had transformed themselves into agaves. He saw that the agave was the plant that made the juice that got him drunk in the first place. He cried and cried and walked for days on end.

He walked all the way to the land of Tabasco, close to the sea. When he reached the shore, and before he left the land never to return, he placed unto the ground the last seeds of cacao he had left in this hand. The seeds, with time, flourished and became the last gift of the god of the morning star to the people of Mexico.

The image of Quetzalcoatl was taken by Kappazeta. The image of the cacao plant in the story was taken by Artonice. The image of the agave for pulque was taken by Nathangibbs.


Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The Gift from the Gods: the Potato

This is my translation and adaptation of an ancient Andean Myth of the way the Sapallas, the earlier Aymara people, got the potato as a gift from the Gods. I first heard this story in Spanish, recounted as part of the Todas las Voces project.

Here is the story. Enjoy.

The Legend of the Potatoe.

A very very long time back, so far back that it is hard to remember, there were the Sapalla people. They lived in a beautiful and plentiful land, full of mountains, vast plains and a beautiful, large lake, full of fish and birds. The god Viracocha, the creator of the world had indeed been very generous to the Sapallas. He looked over them, and the people, flourished. there was plenty in the land, and people could devote themselves to the arts, poetry, painting and building wonderful buildings. The Sapalla were so happy that they so no need for conflict. They felt so assured in their land and their luck that they abolished their army and ruled out conflict from their lands.

However, in the north of their lands, lived another people, the Cari. Viracocha had not been so generous to the Cari. Their land was dominated by a big wondrous mountain. The Caris knew that their mountain, the Mistiariquipai was full of magic. Indeed, the mountain was the holder of all the evil and mischiveous genii in the world. Viracocha had put them inside the mountain together with their leader, the Lord Kuno. Kuno, and the genii were not happy inside the mountain. They were constantly trying to get out, and the mountain, trembled, and soared, and sometimes, long spouts of smoke would come out of its entrails, scaring the Caris. The land around the mountain was not very good for plowing because there was little rain, and the Caris had to wander far and wide for hunting. Often, when they came back, they sent scouts to search the best route back home, away from the smoke and fumes of the Misti.

One day however, Kuno and the genii managed to escape through a crack in the mountain. The Misti, roared and bellowed and yellow fire spouted from its mouth. Smoke and ashes enveloped the sky and circled the land. The Caris, although strong and valiant warriors could not fight the river of fire that soon engulfed their houses and their land. They had to leave. So, they gathered the few belongings they had left and went south.

The Invasion.

The Caris knew of the land of the Sapallas, through their hunting expeditions. Some of them had ventured that far south, and had come back with good game, and stories of a land that was rich and plentiful. The Caris walked and walked. They took many moons to reach the outskirts of the Sapalla land. They sent scouts and were amazed to see that the city was without walls, the people did not carry bows and arrows and the fields were unprotected. The Caris attacked at night, using all the cunning an stealth from years of being excellent hunters. The Zapallas had no chance... many died and eventually surrendered. The Caris were the lords of the land. They were not gentle with the Sapallas. They made the Sapallas work very hard; gave them little food, and did not let them do anything that would nourish their soul. Soon the spirit of the Sapallas was broken. They felt that the gods had abandoned them and their children were born without hope.

The Lord Choque has a dream.

Hopelessness happened to all the Sapallas, except for one; the lord Choque. He was the son of the last Sapalla king. Choque was defiant. He had fire inside him and the fire gave him strength. He refused to work for the Caris and would not obey their orders. He was intent on offering gifts to the old Sapalla gods, although the Caris had destroyed the places of worship. The Caris imprisoned Choque and would often tortured him in front of the Sapallas. However, Choque remained unbroken.

One day, after a very gruesome public punishment, the elders of the Sapallas went to Choque to try to convince him, to abandon his defiance and submit to the rule of the Caris. They argued with Choque, but he was not willing to give in. He told them that although imprisoned, he was free in spirit. At night his spirit would wander the altiplanos, walk the mountains, and drink from the clean lake. He would always be a free man because his spirit was free. The elders listened and pondered.

Viracocha, the creator god, was looking with favour on Choque, and one day, decided to help him. As Choque was wandering through the snowy mountains in his sleep, Viracocha sent him an envoy in the form of a condor. The majestic bird flew to the encounter of Choque's spirit and spoke to him. "Choque" - he said- "Viracocha is with you, he has seen your valour and the strength of your spirit. You will be a light to your people. Come with me to the next valley; there, I will show you a mound of seeds. Get some of the Sapallas to collect the seeds and plant them. Tell your people to take good care of them, water them, nourish them." Choque woke up. He was startled by the force of the dream but he felt renewed.

The next time the elders came to see him, he told them of his dream. The elders sent a group of men to find the seeds, and indeed, in the next valley, there was a mound of seeds. The women planted them, and all the Sapallas took turns looking after the plants. The plants grew strong from the water of the lake, but also from the dreams of the people.

The Flourishing Plants.

The Caris, saw the growth of the plants, and noted their beauty. Soon, they saw that the plants was giving flowers; little white, beautiful flowers. The flowers turned into red fruits, and the Caris, greedy souls that they were, gathered all the fruits and the leaves, and grilled them, seasoned them with spices and ate them with corn. They all ate the fruit of the Sapallas work. None of the Sapallas ate. They merely witnessed and remained silent. There was sadness in their heart, because they had liked the flowers and had thought that the fruits might be an addition to their meager foods.

As night came in, and everyone was asleep, the condor came to Choque. He said - "Choque wake up, the hour has come, gather your warriors. Be silent, listen carefully, but make haste. Soon your people will be free...." Choque listened carefully and heard groaning outside his cell. The Caris, who had all eaten the fruit of the plants given by Condor were groaning in agony. Some were vomiting... others were rolling on the ground clutching their stomachs.

The Sapallas, woke to the cries just like Choque, and saw that their enemies were weak and sick. Women, children, young and old, everyone gathered sticks and stones, and arrows and anything they could, and they chased the Karis out of the village and out of the land. After the battle, they came back to the city, buried the dead and did their first offering to the gods as free men.

Many moons later, the Condor appeared again to Choque in his dreams. He told Choque to go back to the field where the beautiful flowers had been. "Why should I go there?" -said Choque. "There is nothing there now... the Caris took everything... we need to plant again, and rebuild.... There is no time to waste looking at barren land!". "Go back", -said the condor. "Look under the ground and remember that Viracocha, the creator God is with your people."

When Choque woke up, he went to the barren field and with the help of some women, dug underneath the ground. They found a yellow, rather ugly looking tuber, but once cleaned from the dust, it was red on the outside and yellow, creamy on the inside. The women decided to roast and then they discovered a wonderful food. They named it "papa".... potato.

And, this is how the potato is a the gift of the gods to the Sapallas, and to mankind.

The image of the potatoe flower was done by Weissersteir. The photograph of the Misti is by Ramonfrombcn. The image of the condor was done by Matito.