Tobacco by 8200 BCE in Honduras
Both logic and the symbolic language of the Popol Voh indicate that the Maya had begun to cultivate tobacco by no later than 8200 BCE on Isla Tigre, Honduras. Isla Tigre is a volcanic island in the Gulf of Fonseca between El Salvador, and Nicaragua. (Click to enlarge.)
Earlier I posted about the Mayan ancestors arriving by sail raft to Toluca, El Salvador in about 8700 BCE, being captured by a hunter tribe and taken to the Corinto cave, escaping and then for safety living next to water since the hunters were afraid of water. One of those bodies of water was the Laguna de Alegría inside the crater of the Tecapa volcano in Usulután department (see map). Tecapa means "suck plant clench in teeth" in proto Ch'orti'. Suck could also mean gasp or breath in. Tecapa is where tobacco was found. This place and especially the shape of the Tecapa volcano became a spirit-god for the Maya called Hacawitz. Hacawitz has a double meaning: "beginning happy mountain" and "gasping happy mountain". Again there is the component gasping or sucking which links it to Tecapa and tobacco. The component "happy" links it to Alegría which means happiness or joy. Why did tobacco give joy to the Maya? It helped to relieve hunger, it relaxed people, and it enhanced their spiritual experiences.
The Popol Vuh tells us that the Mayan ancestors made two commemorative stones at Tecapa, one for the flat-topped volcano shape (Hacawitz) and one for tobacco (Tohil). Tobacco was used for spiritual purposes to commune with the spirits and the planets. And soon for personal use which was soon regulated by the Mayan 20-day calendar. But they weren't the only ones using tobacco for personal use. The Popol Vuh is clear that the hunter tribe, the Xibalbhans, also took up tobacco. And it mentions Hacawitz (Tecapa) being the scene of a battle. I believe that the hunter tribe took over Tecapa volcano in order to access the tobacco and the Mayan ancestors were forced to retreat, eventually to Isla Tigre, called Tulan in the Popol Vuh.
"They walked in crowds when they arrived at Tulan, and there was no fire. Only those with Tohil had it: this was the tribe whose god was first to generate fire. How it was generated is not clear. Their fire was already burning when Jaguar Quitze and Jaguar Night first saw it." -- Popol Vuh (Pg 152, Tedlock)
When people arrived on Isla Tigre there was no tobacco. But soon one tribe generated fire, that is they produced tobacco by gaining plants or seeds from Tecapa. Fire is symbolic language for tobacco throughout this section of the Popol Vuh. So soon after the Maya arrived on Isla Tigre the first group began to cultivate tobacco. But it appears that their cultivation was not sustained.
"And this was the warming of the tribes. They were pleased by their fire. After that a great downpour began, which cut short the fire of the tribes." (Popol Vuh, Pg 153, Tedlock)
A drenching rainstorm washed out the tobacco plants. They most likely sent messengers to their enemies at Tecapa to negotiate or trade for tobacco plants or seeds. They replanted (or transplanted) tobacco.
And hail fell thickly on all the tribes, and their fires were put out by the hail. Their fires didn't start up again. So then Jaguar Quitze and Jaguar Night asked for their fire again. 'Tohil, we'll be finished off by the cold,' they told Tohil. 'Well, do not grieve,' said Tohil. Then he started a fire. He pivoted inside his sandal." (Popol Vuh, Pg 153-54, Tedlock)
This passage seems to have a double meaning. One literal - it was cold. Several scientists believe there was a mini Ice Age for several hundred years between 9000-8000 BCE or that the major Ice Age didn't end until 8000 BCE. (E F Legner, J Oosthoek, T Blaylock) It seems that either some cold spells or a full-fledged mini-Ice Age affected the Maya and their tobacco on Isla Tigre between 8600 BCE and 8200 BCE. Once again after their tobacco plants died they negotiated with Tohil, perhaps now representing the controllers of tobacco, their enemies at Tecapa, the Xibalbhans.
I wonder about the translation of the phrase "He pivoted inside his sandal," which is, in part, xubak ulok. Like Tedlock I think that xu (xuy in Ch'orti') refers to drill or perforation. Bak means bone and bak uyok is leg bone. So xubak ulok appears to refer to a process of drilling or perforating with a long (leg) bone. Alternately it could be drilling by stepping on a (spade-like) tool with one's leg. In either case it refers to a process of planting tobacco. This is supported by the double meaning of the phrase: pak' means planting or cultivation. The b and p sounds do not seem to be differentiated in proto Ch'orti'. This makes it clear that xubak is referring to drill planting with a bone or other tool. This must have been a major advance in these earliest attempts to figure out cultivation. There might also be a double meaning with ulok. Uh means "good" or "sacred" and lok' means "leaving, departure, escape" and could refer to the new plant leaving the seed and then escaping the soil into the air.
But they failed again. Their fire went out. Their tobacco plants died. A messenger arrived from the Xibalbhans at Tecapa to negotiate allowing the Maya to gather seeds from the tobacco plants around Tecapa.
"'Truly, since you have your god, your nurturer, and he is the representation, the commemoration of your Maker and your Modeler, don't give the tribes their fire until they give something to Tohil. You don't want them to give anything to you. You must ask for what belongs to Tohil; to him must come what they give in order to get fire,' said the Xibalban. He had wings like the wings of a bat." (Popol Vuh, Tedlock, Pg 154)
Some have considered the sudden appearance of the messenger with wings to be a reference to the devil. But there is an easy explanation. The Xibalbhans watched the Maya use ah wilix, the child-raft to allow the Mayan children to escape with their mothers when the water-weary Xibalbhans approached. With the wilix in mind, they constructed an adult-sized raft (not much wider than the body). A volunteer not so afraid of the water paddled the two or three kilometers from Isla Zacate Grande (present day Coyolito, left, background) to (present day) Amapala, Isla Tigre (foreground in the photo). Once on Isla Tigre, he tied the raft to his body so that each end of the raft was sticking out from his body, like the wings of a bat.
This appearance of the messenger of the Xibalbhans is confirmed by the name of the present-day municipal seat of Amapala. Ah ma means "the bad one" and par or pal is lattice and parar is latticed. (In proto Ch'orti' the l and r and indistinguishable.) So Amapala means "the lattice of the bad one" or the Xibalbha messenger with a raft. This meaning of Amapala is ironic given the more recent history of the terrorizing of the place by "Sir" Francis Drake and other pirates.
In the Popol Vuh paragraph above I see a transformation of Tohil from a stone representing tobacco to the actual people who oversee the production of tobacco, whether the fledging cultivation efforts on Isla Tigre or the maintaining of the wild tobacco plants at Tecapa. Since the Maya are not producing tobacco at this time, the Xibalbhans control Tohil from Tecapa. So when the messenger tells the Mayan leaders to not take the payment made (Tojmar) by the Mayan-related tribes and instead give the payment to Tohil, he is suggesting that the Xibalbhans at Tecapa should receive that payment since that is where Tohil resides.
"Because of the cold all the tribes were going along doubled over, groping along when they arrived. ...There was great pain in their hearts; they had covetous mouths and covetous faces. ...'And what would you give us for taking pity on you?' the tribes were asked. 'Well, we'd give you metal,' said the tribes. 'We don't want metal,' said Jaguar Quitze and Jaguar Night. ...'Don't they want to be suckled on their sides and under their arms?' said Tohil." -- Popol Vuh (Tedlock, Pg 154-55)
The Popol Vuh again mentions the cold. This could be literal but is also a reference to being without tobacco. One can imagine a person with a tobacco addiction doubled over looking for a butt on the ground. The phrase "they had covetous mouths and covetous faces" (chikimaj kichi' chikimaj kiwach). I think is better translated "they pretended to make fire and to blow air on the fire," with fire or heat (k'ix) having a double meaning for tobacco. [Note: chikir is "clownish, funny"; mah is "false"; k'ix is "heat, warmth"; chi is "person, who"; and wahri is "blow air on".]
Then we see the tribes who did not speak Mayan anymore suggest that they would give metal for tobacco. It is the Chibchan speakers in Colombia who first produced metal in the Americas. The Chibchans originated on Isla Tigre with the Maya. They are who the Popol Vuh calls the Tams and Ilocs - the Chibchan and Misumalpan peoples, respectively. For the Miskitos and others their origin story seems to include a place like Isla Tigre.
Tedlock's translation of tu'nik as "suckled" does not seem right. He interprets suckled then to refer to cutting out the heart - human sacrifice. But in Ch'orti' t'unih is "be lustful" or "craving". So Tohil is asking why they don't want to crave the tobacco in their sides and in their lungs. People became addicted to it.
"After that they got warm, but there was one group that simply stole the fire, there in the smoke. This was the Bat House. Chamalkan is the name of the god of the Cakchiquels. ... They went right past in the smoke then, they sneaked past when they came to get fire. Those fiery Cakchiquels didn't ask for their fire. They didn't give themselves up in defeat." (Popol Vuh, Tedlock, Pg 156)
The Cakchiquels, one of the Quiche-related Mayan groups, have a special place in the history of tobacco. This is indicated by their god, Chamalkan, which means "smoking tobacco learning" with a double meaning of "desire smoking tobacco". What I think this refers to is that the Cakchiquels learned how to smoke tobacco so that it didn't damage them and cause them to crave the tobacco. Alternately it could refer to the Cakchiquels being the first to cultivate tobacco. Tohil does appear to be the god especially close to the Quiche peoples.
It is not coincidence that the word chamal or chamar - "smoking tobacco", is so close to the word for death - chamer. The Maya realized very quickly that tobacco was a plant that caused death and, as Tohil, demanded sacrifice.
All of this narrative clearly relates to tobacco and clearly took place on Isla Tigre. The only way that tobacco could have been on Isla Tigre was to go to Tecapa each year to have a load hauled by people back to the island or to begin to cultivate it themselves. Given the language of "their fire went out" or in this last passage, "after that they got warm," it seems clear that they experimented with cultivating tobacco and finally got it to grow successfully. This means that tobacco was the first plant successfully cultivated by the Maya. It happened before 8208 BCE, since that is when the seven rising and triple star event occurred.
The lagoon on the island (right) may have been man-made and might date back to the period of the Maya. It would have been very useful both for drinking water as well as irrigation for the tobacco. There are likely a few watering holes or springs on the volcano but this would not have been sufficient for the larger population by 8200 BCE.
Another name for the head village on Isla Tigre also supports the idea that cultivation started on Isla Tigre. This village corresponds to the place chik'ix in the Popol Vuh, translated as "Thorny Place" by Tedlock, using Quiche. Using Ch'orti', it translates as "beginning of growing":
Chi' - growth, growing
Kiix - beginning of, already started
"But they were people of genius in their very being when they came away from Tulan Zuyua, 'Seven Greetings, Seven Rising Objects', so says the ancient text." -- Popol Vuh
A speech by Zipacna in the Popol Vuh summarizes well the accomplishments of the Maya on Isla Tigre. Zipacna, who is symbolized by a cigar, brags about all the things he was responsible for at the Isla Tigre mountain:
- Chiq'aq' - Chi'i' "growth" + kak "a getting". "Getting growth". Tobacco was the first thing cultivated by the Maya and through its cultivation the Maya learned how to grow corn and many other things.
- Hunahpu. The leadership, wisdom, and identity of the Maya were born on Isla Tigre.
- Pekul Ya - Pehk "greeting" + ur "explanation" + ha' "water". "Explaining the greetings over the water" - bowing to the planets that were aligned out over the water in late October 8208 BCE.
- Xk'anul - X (movement) + k'an "yellow" + ur "an explaining". "Explaining the movement of the yellow one," the movement of the triple star event of 8208 BCE.
- Macamob - The first half of this doesn't need translation - the macaw, but it helps: mak "enclosure" + kah "beginning" + mo' "parrot". The first animal to be domesticated by the Maya was the parrot on Isla Tigre.
- Huliznab - hur "a closing in" + ix "a going" + nahp "a forgetting". I'm quite sure that closing in refers to the rapidly rising ocean as the ice melted globally after the Ice Age. The Maya left Tiger Island and as it was covered in water some forgot about it.