Origin and history of Nicotiana

It is estimated that this plant is native to the Andean area, near Lake Titicaca and its cultivation dates back to between 5,000 and 3,000 years BC. between Peru and Ecuador. In Cuba, the acclimatization of the Nicotiana tabacum plant took place by the Aravaca Indians 2,000 years before Christ.

Among the peoples who used tobacco are the Jíbaros of the Amazon, the Aruacos of the Orinoco basin and further north, the Aztecs. It was with the Arhuacos that he arrived on the island of Cuba, where he acclimatized about 2000 years BC.

Ancestral history of mapacho rapé
However, the origin of this plant is much more remote, and is estimated to be eighteen thousand years old; Long before it was cultivated, since time immemorial, Nicotiana was already smoked, sniffed through the nose in the form of snuff, chewed, eaten, drunk, and even used as drops in the eyes.

It was essential in religious ceremonies, and in all types of rituals: it was blown on the faces of warriors before fighting, it was spread in fields before sowing, it was offered to the gods, it was poured on women before sexual intercourse, and both men and women used it as a narcotic; throughout South America it was considered a miraculous medicine.

“When Native Americans introduced tobacco to European immigrants, they deliberately left out sage and other crucial consciousness-altering ingredients. On the one hand, they did so because of the spiritual principle of not releasing consciousness-altering substances to the spiritually unawakened. The Native Americans quickly saw that, although the Europeans had overcome poverty and were technically adults, they suffered from a curious and rather tragic spiritual retardation.

Europeans had no visions, could not communicate with the spirits of their ancestors, and did not feel the divinity of the four elements. Not only did they lack these perceptual abilities, which some Native Americans occasionally lacked, but they also arrogantly ridiculed those who could perceive such things. Clearly the Europeans were not ready for the rituals in which these plants were smoked […]

An additional reason why the Native Americans gave the Europeans tobacco without the other plants and the knowledge of how to use it, was a kind of biochemical warfare strategy, hoping to weaken these powerful enemies, and keep them away or not favor their access to other dimensions in which a state of clarity is achieved with which to solve problems.

Many have pointed out how Europeans induced Native Americans to become addicted to alcohol, but few have highlighted the more subtle but more powerful way in which Native Americans addicted their captors. Addiction and slavery are twin events in history, and one is hardly found without the other. The exchange of vices between oppressors and oppressed is a constant.”

Sacred History of Mapacho Rapé

Nicotiana and the Mayans

Historians identify the use of the Nicotiana plant in the Mayan culture in Chiapas, Campeche and Yucatán, where they found archaeological remains that document the ritual use of tobacco.

Quáuhyetl, that’s what the Mayans called nicotiana. The ritual of sik’ar—which means smoking—gave its name to the “cigar.”

By analyzing the chemical residues present in a Mayan container more than 1,300 years old, scientists from the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CCIE) at Rensselaer Polytechnic (USA) have shown that members of this pre-Columbian civilization already consumed nicotiana. (Published in the journal Rapid Communications in MassSpectrometry).

The vessel is about 6.5 centimeters in diameter and shows Mayan hieroglyphs on its exterior with the meaning “the house of your tobacco.” The vessel, part of the Kislakalebrgada Collection at the United States Library of Congress, was made around 700 AD in the Mirador Basin region of southern Campeche, Mexico, during the Classic Maya period. .

Describing its ceremonies, several contemporary observers attribute narcotic and hallucinogenic effects to nicotiana. This plant is widely consumed around the world without these effects being described, but entheogenic effects are described in some regions. This difference can be attributed to several combined factors: (1) the ancient Mayans could have used a variety of nicotiana with a higher concentration of active ingredients. (2) they smoked nicotine at specific times but at high doses. (3) Other tools that induce altered states of consciousness were combined in the ceremonies, such as reverberation, songs, dances and different forms of music. On some occasions, they consumed herbs with hallucinogenic properties simultaneously with nicotiana or instead of it.

In the book PopolWuj, which recounts the origins of humanity, the actions of the gods and the history of human beings until 1550, there is evidence of the importance of Nicotiana in Mayan culture. In one episode, the twin gods are subjected to a test in which they must spend the night in a cave, in total darkness, and keep their cigarettes lit. Instead, the gods put out their cigars, but put fireflies on the tips of the cigars with the intention of deceiving the Lords of Xibalba, making them believe that the cigars remained lit. The next morning, the gods lit their cigars again and left the cave victorious.

The objects that the Mayans apparently used for smoking can be divided by size between cigars and cigarettes. In some cases the cigarettes are painted white, giving the impression that the Mayans either wrapped their nicotiana in another substance, such as tusa, very similar to the way cigarettes are wrapped today, or applied some coating, such as cal, Nicotiana style.

Nicotiana and the Aztecs

Several specialists point out that, during their journey to the north of the region, the Mayans transmitted the use of nicotiana to the Toltecs, who inherited the culture from the Aztecs.

Dominated by rigid laws and limited by numerous taboos, the civilization of the Aztecs or Mexicas nevertheless knew how to develop effective medicine and pharmacopoeia. Despite this, Aztec therapeutic practice was a mixture of magic, knowledge verified by experience and religion.

The Aztec sculpture of Xochipilli, where the Nicotiana flower stands out (Canudas, 2005).

The Aztecs showed reverence for Nicotiana, as they did for cacao and pulque; Even for Nicotiana products there was a traditional norm on the specific and exclusive conditions of their use among the ruling class, priests and warriors; as well as, to severely punish any other member of the population who failed to comply with that rule (Pascual and Vicéns, 2004). For his part, Canudas (2005) also mentions the appreciation of the Aztec gods towards the multifaceted properties of Nicotiana.

History of Nicotiana in Europe

In Europe, the Nicotiana was first described by the first chroniclers of the Indies. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdez, in his work General History of the Indies (Seville, 1535), writes: «Among other reprehensible customs the Indians have one that is especially harmful and that consists of absorbing a certain kind of smoke through which they call “t*baco” to produce a state of stupor.

For Europeans, the Nicotiaana Tabacum was discovered by two Spanish sailors who, carrying out orders from Columbus, were exploring the interior of the island of Cuba, a month after the Pinta, the Niña and the Santa María made landfall. The beaches of San Salvador were the scene of the discovery; When the two sailors reached the shore, the natives welcomed them with fruits, wooden javelins, and certain “dry leaves that gave off a peculiar fragrance.”

Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de la Torre, companions of Christopher Columbus, were the first Westerners to know of its existence. Rodrigo, upon his return to Spain, was imprisoned by the Inquisition accused of witchcraft, since only the devil could give a man the power to blow smoke through the mouth.

Columbus was surprised by its use in religious and social ceremonies, since for the Indians this plant had magical powers and pleased the gods. It was considered a panacea: it was used to combat asthma, fevers and convulsions, intestinal and nervous disorders and even animal bites.

By order of Philip II, Hernández de Boncalo, chronicler and historian of the Indies, was the one who brought the first seeds that arrived in Europe in 1559. These seeds were planted in lands located around Toledo, in an area called los cigarrales, because they used to be invaded by cicada pests. There, the cultivation of Nicotiana Tabacum began in Europe and, for this reason, some historians maintain that the name cigar comes from this circumstance.

After a few years, around 1560 the plant was already known in Spain and Portugal. The French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot de Villemain (1530 – 1600AD), aware of its multiple medicinal properties, sent it to his queen, Catherine de Medici, as snuff powder, to relieve her migraines (Charlton, 2004; Pascual and Vicéns, 2004), and hence tobacco was called “queen’s herb”, “nicotiana” or “ambassador’s herb”.

Catherine de’ Medici suffered from severe headaches and listened to the ambassador when he recommended that she take the plant in the form of snuff. The pain disappeared and Nicotiana began to be used as a medicine in France and the rest of Europe. When Linnaeus published his Species Plantorum, he chose the scientific name Nicotiana tabacum in homage to Nicot.

The etymology of the word tobacco is controversial. One version proposes that “t*baco” comes from the place where the plant was discovered, either Tobago, an Antillean island, or the Mexican town of Tabasco. The most coherent version is that it comes from the Arabic “tabbaq”, a name that has been applied in Europe since at least the 15th century to various medicinal plants.

In 1584, Walter Raleigh founded the colony of Virginia in North America, copied the custom of pipe smoking from the indigenous people, and began cultivating the famous pipe smoking in that territory, which was introduced to England in the time of Elizabeth I. A few years later, it had become the main economic resource of the English colonies. The great maritime voyages of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries around the world helped bring the plant to the coasts of Asia, Africa and Oceania.

In Japan, Russia, China and Turkey, its use was initially combated with drastic measures, to the point that Sultan Murad IV had numerous smokers executed and, in 1638, the Chinese authorities threatened to behead traffickers. Over time, the Turks joined the global tobacco market and became smokers, just like the Chinese.


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