XtabayIn México the tradition continues, of telling stories, tales and legends, as witness to events from the past; many of these are still recounted today. One example in Yucatán is the folk legend about “Xtabay” (pronounced esh-ta-bye), which tells the story of two sisters of great beauty but with very different characters and destinies. This legend also explains the origin of the famous Xtabentún liqueur, characteristic of our region.

It is said that there were two very beautiful women in the same village, the first was named Xtabay, also known as “the sinner” because of her ease in falling in love; she was  also known for caring for the sick and vulnerable. The second woman, Utz-Colel “the good” was very appreciated and respected by the villagers, but she had a very rigid interior and was incapable of loving others. When Xtabay died, her tomb was surrounded by fragrant scents and flowers, one of which stood out the most: the Xtabentún flower that gave off a sweet smell, as sweet as this woman was in life. This upset Utz-Colel and filled her with envy, and she died soon afterwards; but a terrible smell emanated from her body and her tomb only sprouted the Tzacam flower, a spiny cactus which hurt those who touched it.

As revenge, Utz-Colel returned from eternity imitating the sweetness of her sister, seducing the men and travelers who ventured along the roads of the Mayab at night. She waited for them, entwining her long black hair with a piece of Tzacam, seated at the foot of a ceiba tree, sacred to the Maya; attracting those who crossed her path with sweet songs and phrases, only to later finish them off. This gave origin to the legend of Xtabay, “ix” meaning “woman” and “tabay” meaning “spirit”.

Although it is said that she only appears to men who are under the influence of alcohol, there are accounts from men who swear they have seen her on their way home from working in the fields, becoming disoriented and lost and then remembering nothing for several hours.

Today, the nectar is extracted from the Xtabentún flower, and used in the preparation of the honey-anise liqueur of the same name. In Yucatán we serve it straight, with ice and honey, or simply chilled. You can also put it into your coffee. When you take a sip of this drink, the intoxicating feeling it provokes is similar to what was felt by those who fell in love with the charismatic Xtabay. Don’t hesitate to try it.

If you want to see the monument inspired by this legend, in the northeast part of Mérida, where the streets coming from Polígono 108, Macroplaza, and the road to Chichí Suarez join, there is a glorieta with two 10-meter high female figures, one looking in one direction and the other in the opposite direction, with a ceiba tree between them. According to legend, there were many sightings of Xtabay in this area.

This is just one of the many legends that recalls the Yucatecan Maya history and culture, blending mythology, anecdote, and of course, gastronomic tradition.

By Violeta H. Cantarell


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