Saturday, December 05, 2009

Chile paper rough draft. DO NOT PLAGIARIZE!

Okay, here's the rough draft. I've sent it to a few people but here's a "cleaner" version. There's still a great deal missing and editing to be done. Whatever comments/ideas/thoughts/concerns you may have are welcome and appreciated.
From Caral to Tenochtitlan:
A selection of the ritual uses and folklore concerning Capsicum in Pre-Columbian Societies

A note on the term and various spellings of chile:
The term “chile” refers to the fruit of the Genus Capsicum plant from the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the fruits are referred to as chillies. This is the source of the Spanish chile. In the Mendoza Codex, the chile is called aji; “from the Arawak axi”[1]. The Inca “called them "uchu" in the Quechua language; and "huayca" in the Aymara language.”[2] Chili refers to the popular dish, known in some sections of the United States as a “bowl of red”[3]. To take a cue from Jean Andrews and Sophie D. Coe I will simply use the term capsicum for the purposes of this paper.
* * *
Millennia before McIlhenny’s Tabasco sauce became a global household name, or the habanero lost its Guinness Book of World Records title as “hottest chili pepper in the world” (a title now held by the Bhut Jolokia aka Ghost Chile), and before Columbus ever set foot on Hispaniola capsicum played a significant role in every major empire in the Pre-Columbian world. Indeed, the domestication and cultivation of the capsicum plant is one of the most significant agricultural developments in the history of the world. The role of capsicum in the Pre-Columbian world went far beyond most modern G4 usages. The plant was no mere condiment but an integral part of life, culinary and otherwise. Pre-Columbian societies used capsicum not only as victual or condiment but also as; a medicine with a wide range of curative properties, a monetary unit, a punishment for children, an integral part of religious ceremonies, and in some cases part of their creation myths. Regardless of the region, reigning power, or dominant mythos capsicum played a vital role in the life cycle of peasants and royalty alike.

Capsicum was one of the earliest domesticated plants in the Western Hemisphere. During the Bronze Age (4th Millennium BCE – 400 BCE) Mesopotamians were ______, ______, ______, and ______. Almost nine thousand miles away other great civilizations waxed and waned, developing similar skill sets. Scientists estimate that humans (ranging from the modern Southwestern United States to South America) consumed the self-pollinating plant during the Pre-Ceramic ages. In the February 16, 2007 article in Science magazine capsicum microfossils were discovered at Valdivian sites in Loma Alta and Real Alto (both are located in modern southwestern Ecuador). Capsicum starches recovered at those sites dates from over six thousand years ago (along with other culinary mainstays such as maize, manioc, and arrowroot).[4] Archaeological work on numerous other sites has proven the agricultural presence of capsicum. Traces of capsicum plants have been uncovered[5] in dig-sites at the Norte Chico City of Caral (thought to be one of the oldest pyramid complexes in the West[6]). These sites and others including Nasca[7], Real Alto[8], Huaca Prieta, Peru and Ceren El Salvador were both community and religious centers. Based on research concerning later civilizations, it is safe to hypothesize that capsicum played a _______________.

Another example of capsicum association with religious imagery is the Tello Obelisk - recovered from Chavín de Huantar, Peru (c 1000 BCE). The carving depicts a caiman holding chiles (illustrated in Jean Andrews’ Peppers). The caiman (a smaller member of the Alligatoridae family found throughout Central and Southern America) is a sacred animal in those regions and continues to be a recurring motif in art. Any creature that could devour a jaguar was worthy of respect and idolatry[9].

A great deal of information dealing with myths of the ancient Americas has been lost due to Diego De Landa (and the Aztecs before him[10]). It is difficult to believe that only the Inca have a dedicated capsicum god in their creation myth, Ayar Uchu. Despite the importance of chiles (as predominant as salt and maize) in Mesoamerica, cultures have (within an admittedly narrow scope of research) no mention of a specialized chile patron deity (or deities). Unclear myths or information is not readily available. Also important to note is that there are a vast number of gods and goddesses any number of which could regionally change (in the case of many Aztec deities have several roles) as well as widespread syncretism. Additionally, a vast amount of information lost due to the Roman Catholic propensity for immolating “heretical” native texts.
The Incan creation myth is the only one with widely accessible information that clearly shows the mythological importance of capsicum in Pre-Columbian civilizations. To grant such a position of power to the plant (placing capsicum on a level of importance with salt) is surprising. None of the Children of the Sun were involved with standard crops, such as manioc or potatoes, only salt and capsicum are anthropomorphized. There is debate as to whether wild quinoa (Ayar) was anthropomorphized as well, “To the Incas, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) was a food so vital that was considered sacred. In their language, Quechua, it is referred to as chisiya mama or “mother grain.”[11] Further explanation of the term “Ayar”: Gary Urton Inca Myths UT-Austin Press 1993?

There are several interpretations of the Inca creation myth. The most widely accepted tale is based on the Viracocha (explain?) legend. Inti the Sun God (Creator God) shaped the Incan ancestors, four brothers and four sisters. As Brundage succinctly wrote, “[Inti] had commissioned them to establish dominion over the world, to conquer, to despoil, and to administer in his name.”[12] These holy beings were created by the conquering Inca as proof of the divine right of Inca rule.

Among these beings was the legendary first Incan king, Manco Cápac. His brothers: Ayar Awka (troublesome brother), Ayar Kachi (brother salt), and Ayar Uchu (“brother chile pepper”[13]) and their respective sister-wives followed Manco Cápac and his bride.[14] These “Children of the Sun”[15] sallied forth from the House of Windows on Pacarientambo (a mountain roughly twenty miles southeast of modern Cuzco) in pairs seeking the land where they could prosper and bring civilization to the unruly and primitive people who populated the Earth.[16]
After many adventures and arduous travels the People of the Sun found themselves on the slopes of Huanacauri, overlooking the valley of Cuzco from the south; there Ayar Uchu was transformed into a huaca. A huaca or guaca connotes a holy place and includes idols, graves, and other places of worship[17]. These huaca would become “revered as shrines of surpassing sanctity”.[18] At the huaca, dedicated as Ayar Uchu Huanacauri[19], huarachico (rites of initiation for young men into the Inca knighthood Inca coming of age ritual Raymi Festival[20]) took place at the site. Ayar Uchu would also become one of the patron gods of Cuzco.[21] After this point in the myth (as far as current available research has led) capsicum does not play a major role in the tale. The capsicum did not fall out of favor with the Inca, indeed capsicum continued to hold a position of power in Inca life.

The Maya are an enigmatic bunch. The information I was able to find did not place capsicum in a major role other than an abstract parable about a rat who wanted chiles for his soup in Tedlock’s 1996 edition of Popol Vuh[22].

There are a handful of tales related to Quetzalcoatl. The god ate at capsicum on several occasions. In “The Deeds of Ce Acatl” written in the Codex Chimalpopoca there is a passage that reads, “They cover them [fallen foes] with hot pepper, cut up their flesh a little. And after they’ve tortured them, they cut open their breasts.”[23]

One of more amusing stories involving capsicum and the Winged Serpent is the ribald tale revolving around Titlacauan (an evil sorcerer who plagues Quetzalcoatl throughout his incarnations) manifesting himself as a Huaxtec Chili-Vendor:

And here is still another thing that Titlacauan brought about in order to bode ill. He appeared in the form of; he represented a Huaxtec, an inhabitant of the hot and fertile lands to the east. He just walked about with his virile member hanging, he sold green chilis.[24]

Whether or not capsicum was a cultural metaphor for virility is open to interpretation. However, based on global folklore regarding fertility and the purported aphrodisiacal qualities of capsicum it is safe to assume that Maya got the wink and the nudge.

Due to the rampant syncretism in Aztec myth, it is excruciatingly difficult to discern whether or not the Aztecs recognized a single capsicum deity (as with the Incan Ayar Uchu). In Kandell’s La Capital: the History of Mexico City he explains that even their primary deity, Huitzilopochtli, was “not originally an Aztec God”[25]. Huitzilopochtli was worshipped by the Teotihuacan (c.400-600 AD), nearly a thousand years before the Aztecs conquered Mesoamerica.[26] That is not to say Aztec culture did not make extensive use of capsicum and with the number of deities worshipped it would be false to assume there was not a dedicated capsicum deity.

Holmer mentions one god in his The Aztec Book of Destiny in association with capsicum, the Monster God Xolotl, twin brother of Huitzilopochtli. Holmer describes a healing ritual dedicated to Xolotl using capsicum. By consuming and burning capsicum (combined with a drop of the person’s blood, cactus needles, and incense) at midnight the practitioner petitions the god for good health and spiritual well being.[27] Additionally, on page fifty-two of The Aztec Book of Destiny there is an illustration of Xolotl and Tlachitonatìuh with a capsicum clearly depicted between the two gods.

In Fray Diego Durán’s Book of the Gods and Rites he describes the use of capsicum during the week-long festival devoted to the dual-natured goddess Chicomecoatl/Chalchiuhcihuatl. The festival of Chalchiuhcihuatl began after a good harvest and lasted from the seventh to the fifteenth of September and features capsicum. Chicomecoatl was responsible for frosts and crop failure. The first day was a grand event, with much merry-making and feasting. A slave girl was adorned and worshipped as Chicomecoatl on this first day. The week following was marked by fasting in an attempt to appease the goddess Atlatonan. Atlatonan was responsible for both causing and healing birth defects, leprosy, and lesions. From the second day of this festival to the end, a second slave girl was adorned with raiments (?) and offerings of the harvest bounty in appreciation of Chalchiuhcihuatl (I jokingly called her a personified cornucopia). Durán goes into great detail about the festival, detailing the enforced fasting, the solemnity of the week’s worship, and the girl’s demise. Capsicum (along with corn and squash) was included in her vestments, palanquin, and funeral pyre.[28]

As with the Incan deification of capsicum the ritual use or rather the prohibition of use allows for a glimpse into the significance of the fruit. Pre-Columbians loved fasting and penance as much as the Catholics did. The Maya, Inca, and Aztec cultures used capsicum and salt in nearly every meal, daily or otherwise. Throughout many of the sources (both primary and secondary) examined in this study ritualized denial of capsicum has been a constant. Gallenkamp notes in regard to the Maya, “Nearly every ritual was preceded by fasting (meat, chili peppers, and salt were particularly taboo), sexual abstinence, and purification rites.”[29]
“The Incas had strict fasts: one consisted of only maize and water, the maize being uncooked and minute in quantity. After three days they were permitted some uncooked herbs, aji, and salt but nothing else with their single daily meal of maize.”[30] Incan fasting[31] included penance for having children with birth defects[32]
More fasting[33]

Capsicum have a long history of being used in rituals and practices ranging from birth to death.[34] There are examples in the Pre-Columbian codices of the role capsicum played. The Mendoza Codex contains an illustration depicting the use of capsicum smoke as a punishment for errant children[35]. One the left a mother holds her son over a fire billowing noxious smoke. To the right is a young girl threatened with the same punishment.

Capsicum was also used in other forms of punishment and as penance (it seems that fasting was the most predominant form of penance besides execution). Proof or examples? Was capsicum used to punish adulterers, drunkards (in Aztec culture this carried the death penalty), or any variety of criminal?

Offerings made during Dia De Los Muertes often include capsicum in order to attract the dead.[36] It is for this reason that capsicums were banned at Incan funerals. The dead would be drawn to the fruit (capsicum are often associated with the element fire and life) or confused by any smoke produced by burning capsicum. RE: Conversation w/ Dr. Chandler-Ezell.
As in nearly every other aspect of Pre-Columbian life, capsicum was also used during human sacrifices and anthropophagy. Ritualized (and widespread) cannibalism show humans were not used as a bridge food (a term applied to food eaten during times of famine and other duress) and is mentioned by Bernardino de Sahagún, Durán, Bernal Diaz and several codices.[37] One particular dish mentioned in several accounts, Tlacataolli (which translates roughly to “maize and man stew”) featured capsicum, chocolate, and other ingredients in copious amounts.

Many of the ancient uses of chiles prevail today, though cannibalism is not widely practiced (or socially acceptable). Capsicum has become an international economic powerhouse. It features in medicinal products, and _____
Most of texts I have found are a decade old. While in most historical cases such a minimal expanse of time would be laughable, in the last ten years (1999-2009) a great deal has happened to capsicum.
Modern societies whose culinary cultures are associated with capsicum heavy dishes (i.e. Sichuan and Hunan cuisines, curries, masalas, vindaloos, a wide range of African dishes) in fact had no contact with the plant until after the European landing in the southern Americas in 1492 AD. Yet the plant became ingrained in society enough that it appeared in sculpture

[1] Michael Krondl, The Taste of Conquest: the Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice, New York: Ballantine Books, 2008 pg 169.
[2] Janis McPhilomy,"Looking back at the chile pepper." Borderlands 9 (Spring 1991): 8, 14. Borderlands: EPCC Libraries.
[3] Tolbert, Frank X. A Bowl of Red. Dallas: Taylor Pub. Co., 1988.
[4] Starch Fossils and the Domestication and Dispersal of Chili Peppers (Capsicum spp. L.) in the Americas;315/5814/986
[5] Isbel, William Harris & Helaine Silverman. Andean Archaeology III: North and South. New York: Springer, 2006, 49.
[7] Isbel, William Harris & Helaine Silverman. Andean Archaeology III: North and South. New York: Springer, 2006, 391.
[8] Slovak, Nicole. "Real Alto". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2003)
[9] Elizabeth P Benson, Birds and Beasts of Ancient Latin America. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997), 99-101.
[10] Brundage, Burr Cartwright. A Rain of Darts. Austin: University of Texas, 1972.
[11] National Research Council (U.S.). Panel on Lost Crops of the Incas,. Lost crops of the Incas : little-known plants of the Andes with promise for worldwide cultivation : report. National Academy Press, 1989.
[12] Burr Cartwright Brundage, Empire of the Inca, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 9-14.
[13] Janis McPhilomy, "Looking back at the chile pepper." Borderlands 9 (Spring 1991): 8, 14. Borderlands. EPCC Libraries.
[14] D’Altroy uses the spelling “Manqo Qhapaq”. Terence N. D’Altroy, The Incas, (Malden: Blackwell, 2003), 49-52.
[15] Donna Rosenberg, World Mythology: an Anthology of the Great Myths and Epics. 2nd Edition. (Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 1994), 472-475.
[16] Burr Cartwright Brundage, Empire of the Inca, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), 9-14.
[17] Cobo, Father Bernabe. Inca Religion & Customs. Trans, Roland Hamilton. Austin: University of Texas, 1990, 10.
[18] Terence N. D’Altroy, The Incas. Malden: Blackwell, 2003.
[19] Catherine J. Julien, Reading Inca History. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000, 188.
[20] Cobo, Father Bernabe. Inca Religion & Customs. Translated Roland Hamilton. Austin: University of Texas, 1990, 149.
[21] Cobo, Father Bernabe. Inca Religion & Customs. Translated Roland Hamilton. Austin: University of Texas, 1990, 149.
[22] Dennis Tedlock. Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 111-112.
[23] Bierhorst, John translator. History and Mythology of the Aztecs: The Codex Chimalpopoca. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1992.
[24] León-Portilla, Miguel. Native Mesoamerican Spirituality: Ancient Myths, Discourses, Stories, Doctrines, Hymns, Poems from the Aztec, Yucatec, Quiche-Maya and Other Sacred Traditions. (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 155-160.
[25] Jonathan Kandell, La Capital: The Biography of Mexico City. (Owl Books. New York 1990), 27.
[26] Christy G. Turner & Jacqueline A Turner, Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999), 421.
[27] Rick Holmer, The Aztec Book of Destiny, (North Charleston: BookSurge LLC, 2005) 91.
[28] Durán, Fray Diego. Book of the Gods and Rites & The Ancient Calendar. Translated and edited by Fernando Horcasitas & Doris Heyden. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1975.
[29] Charles Gallenkamp, Maya: The Riddle and Rediscovery of a Lost Civilization (Brattleboro: The Book Press, 1985), 109.
[30] Jean Andrews, Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995, 29.
[31] Cobo, Father Bernabe. Inca Religion & Customs. Translated Roland Hamilton. Austin: University of Texas, 1990, 124.
[32] Cobo, Father Bernabe. Inca Religion & Customs. Translated Roland Hamilton. Austin: University of Texas, 1990, 200.
[33] León-Portilla, Miguel. Native Mesoamerican Spirituality: Ancient Myths, Discourses, Stories, Doctrines, Hymns, Poems from the Aztec, Yucatec, Quiche-Maya and Other Sacred Traditions. New York: Paulist Press, 1980, 95.
[34] Dave DeWitt, The Whole Chile Pepper Book. New York: Little Brown, 101
[35] Ross, Kurt (commentaries). Codex Mendoza: Aztec Manuscript. Productions Liber S.A., CH-Fribourg, 1978. 80.
[36] Rebolledo, Tey Diana & María Teresa Márquez. Women’s Tales from the New Mexico WPA: La Diabla a Pie. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2000.
[37] Christy G. Turner & Jacqueline A. Turner, Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1999. pg 417

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