Legend: The Origin of the Corn

This story is told in the region of Tonacatepeque, El Salvador.  It comes from the time before the land which is now El Salvador was colonized by Europeans and is drawn from a combination of cultures and sources.

The first American people had been created and formed some time ago.  They wandered in the forests of their chieftains, gathering their foods from the plains among the hills. They fed themselves with roots, fruits, stalks and tender buds, which were pleasing to the palate.  However, this alone was not enough to feed everyone, so Ometecuhtli (God of Life) thought he should create something that could sustain the people.  He ordered Tonacatecuhtli (God of Sustenance, at the center of all things) to give the people the means to find a new food.

So, Tonacatecuhtli materialized and took the form of a priest.  He began to preach to the people the about the creation of a new type of food that would sustain them.  The people gathered very close to the priest, so that they could hear the good news.  They felt the magnetic vibrations of the priest as he spoke, and the vibrations passed from South to North and from East to West so that all the people heard the good news.

Then the priest disappeared.  Only the sorcerer with powers, brave gestures and other magic was able to hold back the multitude of people who had come, and he formed them into a circle, leaving a big space in the center for the ceremony of creation.  The sorcerer found the materials needed to create something that would satisfy the people into future generations. 

Then, one of the tribal chiefs stood in the center of the circle, where the priest had been.  He called out to the people, "We will now have a new food, and it will be called maish!"  And the people called out, "It will be called maish."  The chief made gestures and contortions and like fleeing shrews the vibrations passed from South to North and from East to West. 

Suddenly the people let out a a great exclamation because a coyote appeared!  The chief killed it with a dagger made of obsidian.  He opened the entrails and there he found grains of maish.  He showed the grains to the people. The chief was then sweating profusely, panting and tired, with his eyes shining.  He exhaled with a big breath accompanied by enchanted words, and the contributions of a snake and a tapir arrived.  The crowd was amazed! 

The scales on the snake appeared like silver.  The chief grabbed the snake by the head, and the serpent screwed and unscrewed itself as the chief choked it with his bare hands.  Zigzags of electric current went out from the snake as from the clouds in a storm.  The chief then split the snake down its length, and collected the blood in a clay pot.  Next, the chief took the tapir and stabbed it in the neck with the obsidian dagger, collecting its blood in a clay pot.  The chief mixed the blood of the snake and the blood of the tapir.  He poured the mixture of blood over the ground, watering the grains of maish which had come from the entrails of the coyote.  The chief stepped back, and the crowd of people widened the circle to make room as the grains of maish multiplied and grew into an enormous mountain. 

The chief called the people to come forward and to gather the grains and to carry them home to their little chosas (simple homes).  He told them to plant them and to eat them.  The people took away great quantities of grain and prepared it as food.  In the season when the rains came heavily from the sky, the land was filled with the cultivation of maish in many colors:  dark blue like the deep waters of the ocean, brilliant green, pale green and dark brown.  The people harvested great quantities of elotes (ears of corn) and made tamales and atol (corn milk) with cooked corn and raw corn together.  In their fields, the people bent the stalks of the corn toward the ground, so the sun could dry the cobs.

And the people were happy because they did not have to spend all of their time hunting for roots and fruit, but instead could stay close to their homes where they grew their corn.  Over many years, the people told of the origin of the maish and how it became the daily bread of the people.

Then came the conquistadores, who also began to eat corn.  Their blood mixed with the blood of the original peoples, and all of them ate corn.  The people of mixed blood no longer called it maish, but placed the accent over the i and called it maíz.  (In English, maize or corn.)  It is said that when the people have no corn to eat, it is the time of revolution.

Acknowledgements to friends who live in Tonacatepeque, the Casa Cultural of Tonaca, and Dr. José María Melgar Callejas who wrote Leyendas de Tonaca.


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