The Vanilla Legend from Papantla, Mexico

The Vanilla Legend from Papantla, Mexico
by the illustrious Papanteco diplomat José J. Núñez y Domínguez

When the Totonacs, the most artistic race of pre-Columbian America after having sculpted the marvelous stone ornamentations of Teotihuacan, decided to settle on the coasts of today's State of Veracruz, in the Gulf of Mexico, they still did not practice human sacrifices.

Pantheists by temperament, lovers of beautiful and delicate things, they worshipped the sun, the wind, the water and the earth and their offerings to the Gods consisted of bouquets of flowers and incinerations of "Copal". In holocaust they killed some wild animals, but they adored the birds, especially those of brilliant plumage that served them for the plumes of their golden "copilli".

Established in the coastal region, they constituted the Totonacapan kingdom, one of whose capitals, besides Cempoala and Mixquihuacan, was Papantla, which in their language means "Land of the Shining Moon".

The first chiefs of that lordship erected shrines to their main deities, among which the Goddess "Tonacayohua" stood out, who was the one who took care of the "sowing, bread and food", and who the first chroniclers compare with the Ceres of the ancient Romans.

In the summit of one of the highest mountain ranges near Papantla, Tonacayohua had her temple, whose adornment and rites were in charge of twelve young girls who were especially dedicated to her since they were children and who took a vow of chastity for life.

In times of King Teniztli, third of the Totonaca dynasty, and whom had had a girl with one of one of his wives of such unique beauty that she was given the name of "Tzacopontziza" which means "morning star"; and not wanting anyone to enjoy her beauty was consecrated to the cult of Tonacayohua.

But a young prince named "Zkatan-Oxga" (the young deer), fell in love with her. Although he knew that such sacrilege was punishable by death, one day when Morning Star, "Lucero del Alba", left the temple to pick up some turtles she had caught to offer them to the Goddess, her lover kidnapped her and fled with her to the steepest part of the mountain.

But she had not walked a long way when a frightening monster appeared to her and wrapped them both in waves of fire, forcing them to retreat quickly. When they reached the road, the priests were already waiting for them in anger, and before Zkatan could say a word, his throat was slit with a single slash, and the same fate befell the princess. Their bodies were taken, still warm, to the shrine, where, after extracting the hearts that were placed in the votive stones of the altar of the Goddess, they were thrown into a ravine.

But in the place where they were sacrificed, the small grass began to dry up as if the blood of the two victims scattered there had an evil influence. And a few months later a bush began to sprout but so prodigiously that in a few days it rose several feet from the ground and was covered with thick foliage.

When it had reached its full growth a climbing orchid began to sprout next to its stem, which, also with astonishing rapidity and exuberance, threw its emerald guides over the trunk of the bush, with such strength and delicacy at the same time, that they resembled the arms of a woman, they were fragile guides, with elegant and chiseled leaves.

The burning sun of the tropic barely pierced the fronds of the bush, under the shelter of which the orchid developed like a bride resting in the bosom of her beloved. And one morning it was covered with tiny flowers and the whole place was flooded with ineffable aromas.

Attracted by so much phenomenon, the priests and the people no longer doubted that the blood of the two princes had been transformed into a bush and an orchid. And their astonishment increased when the little fragrant flowers became long and slender pods that, when ripe, gave off an even more penetrating perfume, as if the innocent soul of "Lucero del Alba" quintessence in it more exquisite fragrances.

The orchid was the object of reverent worship, it was declared a sacred plant and was elevated as a divine offering to the Totonac adoratories.

Thus from the blood of a princess was born the Vanilla that in Totonaco is called "XANATH" (vanilla flower) and in Nahuatl "Tlilxochilt" (black flower)".


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