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There are plants that over time have taken on profound ritual significance for humankind. The potato is one of them. Anthropologist Luis Millones, an expert on the beliefs and customs of Andean peoples, explores the world of magic and myth associated with this crop in the Andes.
The potato plays a central role in the myths and rituals that define the Andean vision of the world. In their conception of the universe, potatoes inhabit the Uku Pacha, or inner world, a place of seeds and corpses, of future and past, as opposed to the Kay Pacha, or the world of the present. This idea dates back to before the time of the Incas, who adopted the beliefs of the people they conquered.
Centuries before the rise of the Incas, the Moche culture (AD 100-600) flourished on Peru's north coast. Moche pottery often portrayed fruits and vegetables. One outstanding example, on display in Lima’s National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History, is a ceramic vessel resembling a potato. The link that the Moche saw between the potato and the supernatural world is evident in this piece in which figures of human beings and animals appear to sprout from the potato's eyes. This Moche pot could be interpreted as a portrayal of the birth of living beings (the first humans, the first llamas, etc.) from the paqarinas (places of origin), where contact could be made with the Uku Pacha, the realm of the potato.
In all ancient civilizations, people believed that they could control supernatural beings through the proper use of rituals. Ceremony is the food of the gods, and each part of a ceremony – a dance step, a coca leaf chewed or burnt as an offering – must be carried out according to age-old traditional prescriptions. There are records of specific ritual practices for the potato. The chronicler Pérez Bocanegra (1631) records that the roots of the plant were tied together with straw, “with many knots and bundles.” This was done during fasting, and it is said that the potato effigy also fasted, thereby reinforcing the commitment to abstinence of the person complying with the magic ritual. This practice alarmed the Spanish clergy, determined to put an end to idolatry.
During the Inca empire, unusual products of the harvest (such as twin potatoes or tubers that had grown together) were seen as good omens (Arriaga, 1968) and were regarded with reverence because people believed that they guaranteed the fertility of the fields. In colonial times, the Church fought in vain to stamp out the custom of keeping these potatoes. But this and other observances branded by the Spaniards as idolatry survived, and are still part of Peruvian folk religion.
One long tale at the start of Chapter Five recounts the myth of the god Huatya Curi, whose story is intimately tied to the potato. The meaning of his name is explained in the first lines of the story: “They say that fellow named Huatya Curi subsisted at the time just by baking potatoes in earth pits, eating them the way a poor man does, and people named him the Baked Potato Gleaner,” (Salomon and Urioste, 1991).
Huatya Curi is the personification of the potato. His power is masked by his lowly appearance, as he is covered with dirt and dressed in rags. But beneath the surface, he is full of surprises. Likewise, the potato comes from the inner world, but it is not inferior. It is characterized by the duality of the gods: they are both brilliant and obscure, but above all, they are powerful. From the intimacy of the soil, the potato speaks to its children, who in turn trust in it to maintain the balance of the worlds that make up the Andean universe.
According to an Andean legend, the people who planted the quinoa grain conquered the highland communities, planning to let them die out slowly by cutting back gradually on their food supplies. On the verge of starvation, the poor prayed to the Heavens. God sent them a handful of large, fleshy seeds which, when sown, grew into beautiful plants that embellished the highland plains with their purple flowers. The invaders showed no opposition, planning instead to confiscate the harvest. When the plants had withered and their fruits appeared to have ripened, the overlords invaded the fields and took what they assumed to be a bountiful harvest. Desperate and starving, the oppressed prayed to the Heavens once more, and they heard a voice saying: “Dig into the earth and pull out what I have hidden there to fool the evil and raise up the good.” They did as they were bid, and found, beneath the soil, the magnificent potatoes. The highlanders harvested all the tubers and hid them in secret stores. Every morning, they added a few potatoes to their hunger rations, and soon they grew strong enough to overthrow their oppressors. The overlords, seeing that they had been defeated, fled. Never again did they disturb the peace of the mountains.
instrumental in the formation of life as we know it, and how the gift of the potato saved an early civilization.
Originally posted by and14263
Perhaps you would be interested to hear about the potato famine in Ireland in the late1800's (?). I thinnk the famine was all over the UK but because it was mainly a potato problem the Irish sufferred greatly.
Hang on here's a link or two...
A rotten source which should never be used
A nicer link
Not very ancient but a worthy chapter in the history books.
Sam : What we need is a few good taters.
Gollum : What's taters, precious? What's taters, eh?
Sam : Po-tay-toes. Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew. Lovely big golden chips with a nice piece of fried fish.
Sam : Even you couldn't say no to that.
Gollum : Oh yes we could. Spoilin' nice fish. Give it to us raw and wrigglin'. You keep nasty chips.
Sam : You're hopeless.
Produce farmers in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England - already struggling with one of the wettest, coolest summers in recent history - are now battling late blight, a fungus with tiny spores spread by the wind that rots tomato andpotato. It is the same disease that was responsible for the 19th-century Irish potato famine.