Tuesday, October 3, 2017

MEXICO: America's Scapegoat

Why would anyone think negatively about "Mexicans"?

Modern Mexico is 257 years older than the United States of America. Yet this country with five or more ancient civilizations under its belt is being treated with disrespect by the descendants of more recent immigrants to the Western Hemisphere. Parts of today's United States of America had been formally Mexico.

Current and past attitudes of the People of the Wall towards our neighbors south of the border reached a fever pitch by Trump followers during the 2016 election campaign. This group of fearful people consisted mostly of Anglos and their fellow supporters whose knowledge of history is derived from the indoctrination of a Greco-Roman model of "civilization." This model is the basis of both the Anglo and our "Western" educational systems.

Not bad in itself, the ethnocentrism that follows the Greco-Roman model overlooks the societal achievements of other world civilizations. For example, the Precolumbian Americas were cut off from the Egyptian and *Mesopotamian foundations upon which the Greek and Roman models were built. Most Amerindian wonders that the Anglos encountered seem to have mostly developed independent of "Old World" influences. This is true, of course, if one believes in a no-contact-theory between both hemispheres prior to the arrival of Columbus.
*Ancient Mesopotamia included today's Iraq, Kuwait, eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish-Syrian and Iran-Iraq borders. While Egypt is an African country.

What of Ancient Mexico?

"Ancient Mexico can be said to have produced five major civilizations: the Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, and Aztec [or Mexica]." --Wikipedia

Also: The language spoken by the Aztec is *Uto-Aztecan (*related to Ute and the American state, Utah), while the legendary location of the origin of the their people was Aztlán. "Either in northwestern Mexico or the southwest US." Many other indigenous people and their languages survive in Mexico and are protected by the Mexican government.

*[Note: The Aztec originated from "along the border between the United States and Mexico, perhaps in the area of Arizona and New Mexico."]

Map of the Political Divisions of the Mexican Republic of 1824. This is 22 years before the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The war can be summed up in a three minute YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNgotEobNOw
In the 1800s, as a result of war and purchase, while Mexico was shrinking, while the United States of America was expanding west from its Eastern states. The mostly Anglo country gobbled up six large Mexican states of La California, Colorado, Utah, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. Old Mexico consisted of massive populations of Indigenous Americans called "Indios" some of whom came from the Anglo-occupied US. Along with large Amerindian populations, Mexico is composed of mestizos who may or may not have Indio ancestry, Spanish, some Africans and a variety of Middleastern and Asian immigrants. The most dominant genetic markers are probably Amerindian. Mexico, although predominantly mestizo, by blood or affiliation, no longer classifies its complex, mostly mixed  populations by race. A term in current use is "La Raza". In Latin America, La Raza may mean "race" or "people" especially with Amerindian or mestizo ancestry. "The term originated in the 1925 book, La Raza Cósmica (English: The Cosmic Race) by the Mexican writer José Vasconcelos."--Wikipedia

Mexico had a checkered history of racial and class peculiarities that were more pronounced but changed over the centuries. A look at one census illustrates what was true for the times.

1793 census
Indigenous Population (%) = 66.1%
Mestizo Population (%) = 16.9%
European Population (%) = 16.9%

Emigration and migration reflected each state's varying percentages of the three racial groups. For example, Puebla's Indigenous population was 74.3% while Oaxaca's Indigenous population was 88.2%.

Above: A casta (Spanish: [ˈkasta], Portuguese: [ˈkastɐ, ˈkaʃtɐ]) was a hierarchical system of race classification created by Spanish elites (españoles) in Hispanic America during the eighteenth century.--Wikipedia

Today, the greatly reduced sized country called Mexico was born out of conquest of the last of its ancient empires, the Aztec. This Mexica (may-she-kah) civilization (1300-1521) was built on the early cultural accomplishments that, in many instances, surpassed those of the invading Conquistadors who themselves were later arrivals to the earmarks of "civilization". These Spanish invaders were heir to Arab and Greco-Roman civilizations and could not appreciate the Amerindian form of cultural achievements recorded by some Catholic priests. "Mexico" had existed as complex societies for three thousand years before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. They were later ruled by Spain for only three hundred years.

Mexico City has remained the largest city in the Americas with the greatest number of surviving Native languages. However, as it has been seen around the world, the indigenous people were quickly similarly demoted to the bottom rung of Mexican society. The fact that the Aztec speak a Uto-Aztecan language and said that they came to the area they now occupy in Mexico City, means that their mythology of origin is correct. That extensive area of origin in the modern US before partition caused by the Mexican-American War, was called Nothern Mexico.

In Mexico, many wars of resistance were waged in most of the territories from the Maya in the Yucatan to the Comanches, Apaches and Navajos in the swath of territory called "Los Californios". Unfortunately, a large portion of the American public does not know much about Mexico's cultural history or its tortuous past with the US Government. (See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican–American_War#Roots_of_the_conflict_in_Northern_Mexico)

Many people who crossed or are crossing the southern US border, although not all, but were considered to be Mexicans in the past. They have been portrayed as menial workers. Recent wars and social unrest in Guatemala and El Salvador have forced refugees to also seek safety across the southern US border. The people who make the trek bring profound heritages and bloodlines of the indigenous Amerindians, *Californios and Africans, among others.

*Californios included the descendants of agricultural settlers and retired escort soldiers deployed from what is modern-day Mexico. Most were of mixed ethnicities, usually Mestizo (Spanish and Native American) or mixed African-American and Indian backgrounds. Despite the depictions of the popular shows like Zorro, few Californios were of "pure" Spanish (Peninsular or Criollo) ancestry. Most with unmixed Spanish ancestry were Franciscan priests, along with career government officials and military officers who did not remain in California.

What do Americans know about Mexico? Some obviously have visited south of the border for many reasons. In my case, my visit to Mexico was mostly educational. I had been previously aware of its ancient historical achievenents. Getting a first hand view of outstanding accomplishments was even more impressive. My wife and I visited three diverse regions of the Yucatan, Mexico City and Cuernavaca, (the Land of Eternal Spring) in the mountains. Three of our grandchildren have a Mexican mother whose birthplace is Cuernavaca, a resort town at 5,060 feet above sea level, and is the capital of the state of Morelos. Morelos is the birthplace of the Mexican Revolutionary hero, Emiliano Zapata.
Emiliano Zapata with his ceremonial sword and sash, dressed in the charro (horseman) fashion of his village. According to Frenchcreole.com, Zapata, an accomplished horseman and military strategist, came from a family that was an Afro-Mexican mix.


The Yucatan with its Chichen Itza and other temple pyramids, sprawling cities, as well as gigantic governmental buildings, magnificent sculptures, and  walled, ancient rubber-ball courts, is in Maya territory. Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere and is considered the oldest city in the Americas. It was originally built as an Amerindian city by the Aztec (Mexica) and called Tenochtitlan. Tenochtitlan was constructed on a built-up island in Lake Texcoco. My favorite structure in Mexico City is the beautiful National Museum of Anthropology and History, a large building containing magnificent Mezoamerican artifacts.

Calakmul is a one of the many Mayan sites hidden inside the jungles of the Mexican state of Campeche. It is one of the largest Mayan cities ever uncovered with over 6,500 ancient structures identified. Calakmul’s 55 meter (180 foot) high pyramid is by far the largest structure at the site. --touropia.com

My Visit

A few years ago, my wife and I visited Mexico's Yucatan region. The pyramid of Chichen Itza was advertised as a highlight of Mexico, since it is one of the world's outstanding marvels. The Precolumbian city that extended into the surrounding forested lowland, far exceeded my imagination. The Maya Civilization is only one of the many high levels of achievements found in our Mexican neighbors to the south. The descendants of the Maya, Olmec, Mexica, Zapotec, and Toltec (just to name a few of their outstanding Mexican ancestors) have often been despised by past, and current leaders of America. The irony of today's attitudes of the present administration is not new. It is a reflection of times from the Mexican-American War of the 19th century through the Great Depression of the 20th century to the 21st century when Donald Trump decided that his supporters needed a revival of Mexican scapegoats.

Trump is not indigenous to the Americas. He is descended from German and Scottish foreigners who sought a better life than that offered by their ancestor's European homelands. Most of the people whom he is scapegoating are indigenous to this hemisphere. What comparative civilized achievements did the ancestors of Trump's chosen scapegoats achieve? One example of Mexican exceptionalism speaks for itself:

Chichen Itza
CHEE-chen EET-sə; from Yucatec Maya: Chi'ch'èen Ìitsha' [tɕʰiʔtɕʼèːn ìːtsʰaʔ] ("at the mouth of the well of the Itza people") was a large pre-Columbian city built by the Maya people of the Terminal Classic period.
Chichen Itza was a major focal point in the Northern Maya Lowlands from the Late Classic (c. AD 600–900) through the Terminal Classic (c. AD 800–900) and into the early portion of the Postclassic period (c. AD 900–1200).--Wikipedia

Chichen Itza is a step pyramid. During the Spring equinox, a shadow is cast down the sides of the pyramid showing the cascading body of snakes whose heads were carved at the structure's base. During the Summer solstice the shadow on the pyramid repeats its Spring equinox appearance.

Aerial view of Chichen Itza. (For a slide show of more buildings in the largest Mayan   city (1.9 sq mi), go to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichen_Itza#/media/File%3AChichen_Itza-16.jpg)

Another view of the Spring solstice, when the sun's shadow is cast to reveal the body of a snake cascading down the side of the pyramid.

Ancient Mexican Writing
Eight Deer Jaguar Claw (right) [8-Deer was the year of his birth in 1063 to his death in 1115, by sacrifice] Meeting with Four Jaguar, in a depiction from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall. His name glyph (a deer head and eight red dots) is above his head.--Wikipedia

Always portrayed with a jaguar headdress, the codex relates the history of his family, his exploits and conquests of 94 cities during his lifetime. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eight_Deer_Jaguar_Claw#Biography

Mesoamerican Alphabet

Writing is often used as a method of classifying a society's achievements. It is usually learned from previous or neighboring civilization. For example, our alphabet resulted from a series of borrowed pictures that changed from one culture to the next. Our letter "A", when turned upside down meant food and was originally a drawing of the head of a bull. It was called "alef" and was then turned on its side to its current position, meaning "alpha". "B" was on it's flat side and represented a house, or "beth". It became the Greek beta. Both letters combined to be the source of our word "alphabet".

Mesoamerican writing, independently of Eastern Hemisphere influences, developed very early and was practiced by many Mexican civilizations. Writing was often incorporated in art. In contrast, Western writing systems were created from Africa's Egyptian civilization. Dr. Ivan Van Sertima's book, "They Came Before Columbus", espoused the theory of Precolumbian African interaction with the Amerindians as evidenced in the facial features of the Olmec rulers. The theory was that some faces revealed an Afro-Amerindian ethnic mix.

Olmec head 1, La Venta [Mexico]. Notice the pattern on his "helmet". The pattern differs in each ruler's portrait and may relate his name or status.--Ancient Scripts.com

Given these insights into the history of Mexico which comparatively recently became part of the United States of America, can we consider Mexicans who "cross the border" illegal? Or are they simply journeying north on their ancestral lands? Today's United States of America includes historic Mexican territory.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Taino-Carib: A to Z

Taíno-Carib A to Z
Copyright 2017


Have you ever had delicious Jamaican jerk chicken, fish or pork? "Jerk", is related to jerky, from a Maya word for drying meat. Jamaican jerk is the local name for the indigenous Yamaye Taíno form of cooking on a grill, called barbecoa, the origin of the word barbecue. Two of the main spices in jerk are habañero peppers and pimento, or allspice.

Before jerk chicken, there was jerk pork, mainly from wild pigs hunted by Jamaican Maroons. Maroon, is from the word Cimarron (meaning "untamed"), who were originally Taínos who had moved themselves away into the wilds from subjugation on Spanish ranches. In English, "Maroon" later described those enslaved Africans and mestizos who had escaped into the wilds to join and learn from the Cimarrones. 

For millennia, in the Western Hemisphere the Taíno and Kalinago (or Island Carib) people of the Caribbean had been using spices, foodstuffs and technologies that eventually entered the Eastern Hemisphere, beginning in 1492.  For both the Western and Eastern Hemispheres the most important event of the second millennium AD was the Columbian Encounter. The Encounter began when the voyages of Christopher Columbus brought the Eastern and Western Hemispheres together upon his entry into the tropical region of a territory which came to be known as the Caribbean. Although there is evidence of Chinese and other Precolumbian contact, the 1492 event was sustained when competitive European rivalries saught to exploit the Americas for trade goods, exotic woods and precious minerals. The ancient islands and continents of this western hemisphere came to be called the New World and ultimately the Americas. Obviously, “New” only applied to the Europeans whose recorded knowledge of the Americas began in the 15th century AD. There is no doubt that these Amerindian encounters resulted in the greatest impact on the forming of our modern civilizations. 

This article is the first that begins alphabetically with an ancient Tropical American spice that, in one "All-spice" berry, contained multiple flavors of those spices originally obtained mainly by overland caravans from Mollucca Island group in Indonesia.

During the Middle Ages, Chinese, Arab and Malay traders purchased nutmeg in what is now Indonesia and Southeast Asia and carried it in boats to the Persian Gulf or by camel and pack animal on the Silk Road. From the Gulf the spices made their way to Constantinople and Damascus and eventually Europe.---http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub345/item1610.html
(Constantinople fell last to the Turks by 1453). ... a Turkish Blockade to stop trade with Europe and fostered pirate sea raids. With the Turkish blockade, Spain was about to be introduced to the Caribbean’s Allspice.


Allspice (all-spice) 1. The English word for the Taíno berry which is grown commercially in Jamaica.
2. Locally called pimento (from the Spanish "pimenta", who thought that it was a pepper) and exported internationally as allspice.
3. A most unusual spice which is reputed to have the combined flavors of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and a mild pepper. 4. Once called “Jamaica pepper” by the 17th century British. In 1662 (three years before seizing the island from the Spanish) a British comment in London described Jamaica Pepper as “that most delicate of Spices”. Imported in Europe in 1601. https://www.britannica.com/plant/allspice

In search of lucrative spices from the East the explorer Christopher Columbus brought back what some Europeans called “false” spices from the Caribbean. To them “true” spices were black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon imported since ancient times from the East Indies through the Arab markets of North Africa. The expansion of the Turkish empire effectively cut off Europe from its overland source of almost indispensable Asian spices. Cinnamon came from Siri Lanka, nutmeg and cloves from the Muluccan Islands of Indonesia and black pepper from India. Columbus’ first voyage took him to the Caribbean in 1492. This voyage was intended to find a sea route to the East to obtain the spices of the (East) Indies. The rival Portuguese chose to reach the East by a route around the southern tip of Africa. Columbus believed that a better route was to sail west across the Atlantic to arrive in Asia. In the Caribbean, on his 1492 voyage, Columbus did encounter the genetic relatives of Asiatic peoples who called themselves Tainos. One of the results of his expeditions to the Caribbean was an introduction of ancient spices and foodstuffs of the Americas to Europe. Both the Spanish and Portuguese were later responsible for the spreading of many of the important products of the Americas to the rest of the world. One of the Caribbean products introduced to other cultures was allspice.

To the European taste buds the allspice berry was like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a mild pepper. Biting into a dry allspice berry produces a peppery sensation that first assails the tip of the tongue. This taste experience is followed by a pleasant warmth which bathes the lips and mouth. The allspice is native to Jamaica (which is the major exporter of the spice) and other parts of Tropical America. The tree is a member of the myrtle family. The glossy dark and light green aromatic leaves are openly spaced on branches which terminate in small bunches of white flowers. After blooming and pollination the flowers are formed into small green clusters of berries which later ripen to a purple color.  

The 30 foot tall trees once grew wild in the cool Jamaican mountains. Commercially grown allspice trees were later evenly laid out in orderly pimento “walks” (groves). For sun drying, mature green berries were harvested then spread out on large, flat concrete platforms called “barbecues”. The dry coca-brown colored berries were bagged in burlap sacks  and exported to processing plants where the allspice was then packaged whole or ground into a powder. [1] Essential oil  is also extracted from the allspice berry. The oil is commercially used in catsup, meat sauces, baked goods, in the reproduction of certain fruit flavors and as spice blends for pickles and sausages. In Jamaica a liqueur called pimento dram is made by steeping the ripe berries in overproof Jamaican rum with added cinnamon.

Allspice spice is used in the seasoning and making of Jamaican jerk pork, chicken or fish. To “jerk” meats is a Taino method of barbecuing (and preserving meat) over a slow fire. This Taino cooking technique was passed down to the present time through the Maroons of Jamaica. Eastern and western Maroons were skilled at hunting the Spanish-introduced wild pig and making jerk pork. The barbacu (a Taino word from which we get “barbecue”) built by Maroons is called a caban and is best constructed from green allspice branches (see barbecue). For years, before the commercialization of jerk chicken, the best jerk pork came from Portland, Jamaica.

The [2] validity of allspice as a healing herb has been confirmed by modern science. Allspice powder is used to make a tea which soothes indigestion. In Jamaica hot allspice tea is taken for colds, menstrual cramps and upset stomachs. For muscle aches and pains an allspice polstice made from the powder mixed with water into a paste and spread out on a clean cloth can be applied to the sore area. Persons with sensitive skin should avoid topical use of allspice since it may cause inflammation or a rash. In Guatemala crushed berries are applied to bruises, sore joints and achy muscles. Allspice, if used as a healing herb, has two sides to its effectiveness since it has both carcinogenic and cancer-fighting properties. On one hand, allspice contains a mild antioxidant which prevents cell damage that may eventually cause cancer. On the other hand, another active ingredient, eugenol, promotes cancer growth. The scientific jury has still not passed a verdict on which way the balance tips. [3] It is recommended that persons with a high risk for cancer should avoid the herb. A high concentration of the essential oil should never be swallowed since one teaspoon can cause nausea, vomiting and convulsions. As long as it is not swallowed a drop of the essential oil is used for its healing properties and when carefully applied lessens the pain of toothaches.  

*Recipe for Pimento Dram; 1 cup light rum; 1/4 cup whole allspice berries;1 cinnamon stick; 1 1/2 cup water; 2/3 cup brown sugar. Steeping ground berries in rum takes a few months.Go to http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/02/diy-vs-buy-should-i-make-my-own-allspice-dram.html

[1] "Allspice", Grolier Electronic Publishing
[2] Viable Herbal Solutions, http://www.viable-herbal.com
[3] ibid.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ticky-Ticky' QUEST: A truly Caribbean story

As the son of one of Jamaica's folkloric heroes, (the other is the risqué Big Boy) Ticky-Ticky is the pet name for Intikuma, Anansi's youngest son. (anansistories.com) His story is published in a book titled "Ticky-Ticky's Quest" and introduced  as the following:

 "Ticky-Ticky is a twelve-year-old with a secret: He is the youngest son of the infamous trickster Anansi the Spider-man. Hiding in the human world, Ticky-Ticky fears his father’s enemies will recognize and punish him for being the butt of Anansi’s embarrassing pranks. Now, the joke’s on Ticky-Ticky.  A school incident forces him to follow his missing father’s footsteps on a dangerous quest across time and reality. Riding a magical ghost-bat canoe with a dog of the dead as his guide, Ticky-Ticky encounters Anansi’s folkloric foes out for revenge. After a lifetime of avoiding his father’s legacy, can Ticky-Ticky find his father before he loses his life or even worse: becomes just like him?"

How important is Ticky-Ticky's Quest: Part 1 ...in Caribbean folklore?

Although the Anansi family is from the Asanti (Ashanti) of Ghana, most of the stories told in the Caribbean island are typically Jamaican in flavor. Because of their location in an Amerindian island with strong indigenous Yamaye Taino influences, some stories specifically employ local fauna and flora ("Anansi and the Yam Hills", "Why Johncrow Have a Ballhead"--i.e. Turkey Vulture of the Americas). Jamaican Anansi stories reflect this history of European, African and Taino realities that are the result of the creation of a slave society, literally built on the backs of the island's earliest inhabitants, who were Yamaye.

We must first examine the Akan (Ghanaian) influences of the Maroons, some of their outstanding Asanti leaders (Cujo, Nanny, et al) after the 1665 British takeover of Jamaica, and accept the reality of the first Cimarrones who taught the later arriving sugar plantation escapees how to survive in an alien geography. An unquestionable example of Yamaye influence is exemplified by borrowed knowledge and usage of endemic bush medicine pharmacology. Added to this evidence of local indigenous influence (the Yamaye) is the Amerindian phenotype and possible DNA, as can be seen in 19th century Morant Bay Rebellion photographs (earlier blog on Honoring the Taino).

The AnansiStories And The Taino Tales As Mythology
AnansiStories and those of the Taino are part of an ancient mythology that is rooted in West African and Caribbean folklore and concerns the interaction between divine and semi-divine beings, royalty, humans, animals, plants and seemingly inanimate objects. These stories continue to provide a moral foundation for the community. Anansi the Spiderman and Guahayona the Shaman existed from the time when deities, humans and animals were able to converse with each other. 

The book, MYTHOLOGY, The Illustrated Anthology Of World Myth & Storytelling, states that "Myths are the timeless expression of the imagination -- a continuous creative process of making sense of the universe."
Also, "Myths can be understood as magic mirrors in which the reflection not just of our hopes and fears, but also those of people from the earliest times can be viewed. Some of these stories are unimaginably old and almost certainly recounted long before the birth of writing and the dawn of recorded history."

Traditional storytellers did not use the term "trickster" to describe their folkloric heroes. They used local names for their characters. More recently, tales like the AnansisStories have been placed in the Trickster Hero genre of mythology. As a trickster, the main character often deceives and exploits his fellow creatures
for his own benefit. "Tricksters will themselves be duped and humbled. And however selfish and course they are, their antics provoke affectionate laughter, while their quick wits and mystic power inspire awe."