Legend of Vanilla
In early times, the Land of the Resplendent Moon, was the kingdom of Totonocopan, ruled by the Totonacas. The palm-studded sands, verdant valleys, and shimmering hills and sierra in what is now known as Vera Cruz, were overseen from several locations. One was Papantla, place of the papan birds. Another was El Tajin, the thunder bolt, an ancient Huaxtecan city built in honor of the deity, Hurakan, god of the storms. It was here in this dense, tropical rainforest that vanilla was first cultivated and cured. It was here that the fragrance from the vanilla was so exquisite, that Papantla later became known as, The City That Perfumed the World.
There was a time, however, before the reign of Tenitzli III, when there was no vanilla. In this city famous for its artists and sculptors, Tenitzli and his wife were blessed with a daughter so incredibly beautiful that they couldn’t bear the thought of giving her away in marriage to a mere mortal. They dedicated her life as a pious offering to the cult of Tonoacayohua, the goddess of crops and subsistence, a powerful goddess who affected their very life and survival. Their daughter, Princess Tzacopontziza (Morning Star), devoted her time at the temple, bringing offerings of foods and flowers to the goddess.
It was during her trips from the forest, carrying flowers for the temple that the young prince Zkatan-Oxga (Young Deer), first caught sight of Morning Star and immediately fell under her spell. He knew that even allowing his eyes to remain upon her for a moment, gazing at her innocent beauty, could bring him death by beheading, but he was obsessed to have her as his wife and companion. The love in his heart for Morning Star outweighed the dangers of being captured and killed. Each morning, before Morning Star went into the forest in search of flowers for the goddess, Young Deer would hide in the undergrowth and await the arrival of the beautiful princess.
One morning, when the low, dense clouds clung to the hills following the rain, Young Deer was so overcome with desire that he decided to capture Morning Star and flee with her to the sierra. As she passed close by, he leapt from the bushes, made his intentions known, then taking her by the arm, ran with her, deep into the rainforest. Although Morning Star was startled by Young Deer’s abrupt arrival and ardent passion, she too came under the spell of their star-crossed destiny and willingly followed.
Just as they reached the first mountains, a terrifying monster emerged from a cave, spewing fire, and forced the young lovers to retreat to the road. As they did, the priests of Tonacayohua appeared and blocked their path. Before Young Deer could utter a word, the priests struck him down and beheaded him. Swiftly, Morning Star met with the same terrible fate. Their hearts were cut from their bodies, still beating, taken to the temple and were placed on the stone altar as an offering to the goddess. Their bodies were then thrown into a deep ravine.
Not long after, on the exact site of their murders, the grasses where their blood had spilled began to dry and shrivel away as if their death was an omen of change. A few months later a bush sprang forth so quickly and prodigiously, that within a few days it had grown several feet and was covered with thick foliage. Shortly after, an emerald-green vine sprouted from the earth, its tendrils intertwining with the trunk and branches of the bush in a manner at once delicate and strong, much like the embrace. The tendrils were fragile and elegant, the leaves full and sensual. Everyone watched in amazement as, one morning, delicate yellow-green orchids appeared all over the vine like a young woman in love in repose, dreaming of her lover. As the orchids died, slender green beans developed, and over time they released a perfume more splendid than the finest incense offered to the goddess.
It was then that priests and devotees of Tonacayohua realized that the blood of Young Deer and Morning Star was transformed into the strong bush and delicate orchid. The orchid and vine were designated as a sacred gift to the goddess and from this time on has been a divine offering from the Totonacas to their deity and to the world.
And so, this is how it came to pass that the blood of a young princess created the birth of xanat, or vanilla, the “nectar of the gods.”
Translated & Copyrighted, 1995, Patricia Rain. This material cannot be reproduced without permission from Patricia Rain.
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