Saturday, May 26, 2012

Aztec and Inca Food Described

Aztec  and Inca Food Described

With respect to the Village Indians of Mexico, Central and South America, our information is, in the main, limited to the hospitality extended to the Spaniards; but it is sufficient to show that it was a part of their plan of life, and, as it must be supposed, a repetition of their usages in respect to each other. In every part of America that they visited, the Spaniards, although often in numbers as a military force, were assigned quarters in Indian houses, emptied of their inhabitants for that purpose, and freely supplied with provisions. Thus at Zempoala "the lord came out, attended by ancient men, two persons of note supporting him by the arms, because it was the custom among them to come out in that manner when one great man received another. This meeting was with much courtesy and abundance of compliments, and people were already appointed to find the Spaniards quarters and furnish provisions" [Footnote: Herrera's History of America, ii, 212.]
When near Tlascala the Tlascallans "sent three hundred turkeys, two hundred baskets of cakes of teutli, which they call tamales, being about two hundred arrobas; that is, fifty hundred weight of bread, which was an extraordinary supply for the Spaniards, considering the distress they were in;" and when at Tlascala, Cortes and his men "were generously treated, and supplied with all necessaries." [Footnote: ib., ii. 261, 279.]
"They entered Cholula and went to a house where they lodged altogether, and their Indians with them, although upon their guard, being for the present plentifully supplied with provisions." [Footnote: ib., ii, 311]
Although the Spaniards numbered about four hundred, and their allied Indians about a thousand, they found accommodations in a single joint tenement house of the Aboriginal American model. Attention is called to this fact, because we shall find the Village Indians, as a rule, living in large houses, each containing many apartments, and accommodating five hundred or more persons. The household of several families of the northern Indians reappears in the southern tribes in a much greater household of a hundred or more families in a single joint tenement house, but not unlikely broken up into several household groups. The pueblo consisted sometimes of one, sometimes of two or three, and sometimes of a greater number of such houses. The plan of life within these houses is not well understood, but it can still be seen in New Mexico, and it is to be hoped it will attract investigation.
Speaking of the Maya Indians of Yucatan, Herrera remarks that "they are still generous and free-hearted, so that they will make everybody eat that comes into their houses, which is everywhere practiced in traveling." [Footnote: Herrera's History of America, iv, 117.]
This is a fair statement of the Iroquois law of hospitality found among the Mayas, practiced among themselves and towards strangers from other tribes. When Grijalva, about 1517, discovered the Tabasco River, he held friendly intercourse with some of the tribes of Yucatan. "They immediately sent thirty Indians loaded with roasted fish, hens, several sorts of fruit, and bread made of Indian wheat." [Footnote: ib., ii, 126]
When Cortes, in 1525, made his celebrated expedition to Honduras, he passed near the pueblo of Palenque and near that of Copan without being aware of either, and visited the shore of Lake Peten. "Being well received in the city of Apoxpalan, Cortes and all the Spaniards, with their horses, were quartered in one house, the Mexicans being dispersed into others, and all of them plentifully supplied with provisions during their stay." [Footnote: ib., iii, 359.]
They numbered one hundred and fifty Spanish horse and several hundred Aztecs. It was at this place, according to Herrera, that Quatemozin, who accompanied Cortes as a prisoner, was barbarously executed by his command. [Footnote: ib., iii, 361.] Cortes next visited an island in Lake Peten, where he was sumptuously entertained by Canec, the chief of the tribe, where they "sat down to dinner in stately manner, and Canec ordered fowls, fish cakes, honey, and fruit." [Footnote: ib., iii, 362.]
In South America the same account of the hospitality of the Indian tribes is given by the early explorers. About the year 1500 Christopher Guerra made a voyage to the coast of Venezuela: "They came to an anchor before a town called Curiana, where the Indians entreated them to go ashore, but the Spaniards being no more than thirty-three in all durst not venture…. At length, being convinced of their sincerity, the Spaniards went ashore, and being courteously entertained, staid there twenty days. They plentifully supplied them for food with venison, rabbits, geese, ducks, parrots, fish, bread made of maize or Indian wheat, and other things, and brought them all the game they would ask for…. They perceived that they kept markets or fairs, and that they made use of jars, pitchers, pots, dishes, and porringers, besides other vessels of several shapes." [Footnote: Herrera's Hist. America, iv, 248.]
Pizarro found the same custom among the Peruvians and other tribes of the coast. At the time of his first visit to the coast of Peru he found a female chief by whom he was entertained. "The lady came out to meet them with a great retinue, in good order, holding green boughs and ears of Indian wheat, having made an arbor where were seats for the Spaniards, and for the Indians at some distance. They gave them to eat fish and flesh dressed in several ways, much fruit, and such bread and liquor as the country afforded." [Footnote: ib., i, 229.]
When on the coast of Tumbez, and before landing, "ten or twelve floats were immediately sent out with a plenty of provisions, fruits, pots of water, and of chica, which is their liquor, as also a lamb." [Footnote: ib., iv, 3.]
After entering Peru, on his second visit to the coast, "Atahuallpa's messengers came and presented the governor with ten of their sheep from the Inca, and some other things of small value, telling him very courteously that Atahuallpa had commanded them to inquire what day he intended to be at Caxamalca, that he might have provisions on the way." [Footnote: ib., iii, 399.]
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"The next day more messengers came from Atahuallpa with provisions, which he received with thanks.". [Footnote: ib., iv, 244.]
The native historian, Garcilasso de la Viga, remarks: "Nor were the Incas, among their other charities, forgetful of the conveniences for travelers, but in all the great roads built houses or inns for them, which they called corpahuaci, where they were provided with victuals and other necessaries for their journeys out of the royal stores; and in case any traveler fell sick on the way, he was there attended and care taken of him in a better manner perhaps than at his own home." [Footnote: Royal Commentaries of Peru, Lond. ed., 1688; Recent Trans., p 145.]
These illustrations, which might be multiplied, are sufficient to show the universality of the practice of hospitality among the Indian tribes of America at the epoch of European discovery. Among all these forms, as stated by different observers, the substance of the Iroquois law of hospitality is plainly found, namely: If a man entered an Indian house, whether a villager, a tribesman, or a stranger, and at whatever hour of the day, it was the duty of the women of the house to set food before him. An omission to do this would have been a discourtesy amounting to an affront. If hungry, he ate, if not hungry, courtesy required that he should taste the food and thank the giver. It is seen to have been a usage running through three ethnic conditions of the Indian race, becoming stronger as the means of subsistence increased in variety and amount, and attaining its highest development among the Village Indians in the Middle Status of barbarism. It was an active, well-established custom of Indian society, practiced among themselves and among strangers from other tribes, and very naturally extended to Europeans when they made their first appearance among them. Considering the number of the Spaniards often in military companies, and another fact which the aborigines were quick to notice, namely, that a white man consumed and wasted five times as much as an Indian required, their hospitality in many cases must have been grievously overtaxed. [Footnote: "The appetite of the Spaniards appeared to the American inhabitants voracious; and they affirmed that one Spaniard devoured more food in a day than was sufficient for ten Americans."— (Robertson's History of America, Lond. ed., 1856, i, p. 72.)]
Attention has been called to this law of hospitality, and to its universality, for two reasons: firstly, because it implies the existence of common stores, which supplied the means for its practice; and secondly, because, wherever found, it implies communistic living in large households. It must be evident that this hospitality could not have been habitually practiced by the Iroquois and other northern tribes, and much less by the Village Indians of Mexico, Central and South America, with such uniformity, if the custom in each case had depended upon the voluntary contributions of single families. In that event it would have failed oftener than it would have succeeded. The law of hospitality, as administered by the American aborigines, indicates a plan of life among them which has not been carefully studied, nor have its effects been fully appreciated. Its explanation must be sought in the ownership of lands in common, the distribution of their products to households consisting of a number of families, and the practice of communism in living in the household. Common stores for large households, and possibly for the village, with which to maintain village hospitality, are necessary to explain the custom. It could have been maintained on such a basis, and it is difficult to see how it could have been maintained on any other. The common and substantially universal practice of this custom, among the American Indian Tribes, at the period of their discovery, among whom the procurement of subsistence was their vital need, must be regarded as evidence of a generous disposition, and as exhibiting a trait of character highly creditable to the race.