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 experience....so, 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 gruesome....read on if you like and compare...


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