The relationship between farmers and animals has always been complex. In most places, people see the creatures that want to feed off their crops as a major nuisance. But there is a legend among the Maya who “make Milpa” about the origin of seeds and how animals gained the right to eat from the fields. Today, I’m going to tell you all about it.
It is said that back when God still walked on earth, he met with the animals and told them that if they wanted to have access to food, they had to earn it. Different animals answered his call: the x’pich, the boar, the raccoon, the agouti, and many others came to find out how they were expected to earn their future meals.
God gathered all types of leaves and branches and lit a giant fire. Into this fire, he threw the seeds of different crops and told the animals that, if they wanted to eat them, they had to retrieve the seeds from the flames.
The first to go in was the boar, who threw itself quickly into the fire and came out with a seed tightly grasped in its snout. It flung the seed aside and shook itself off while its fur sizzled. This is why boars have black markings to this day. Next came the agouti, who also wanted to earn its right at the table. As it made its way out of the fire, its toes burned, which is why agoutis only have three toes on each foot.
Among the other animals to venture into the fire was the raccoon, who received the distinctive markings that it bears to this day as it passed through the flames. The bird che’el used to be completely blue. When it went to retrieve a seed, its wings were charred until they became black; however, its back and chest remained a bright blue. The x’pich also underwent many changes, as once upon a time, it was pure white, but when it went into the blaze it was surrounded by flames that left him fully black.
Because God considered all his creations the same, man was equal to the x’pich, the boar, and the raccoon, yet he had not gone into the fire to earn his right to eat. It is said that before this time mankind lived off the scent of flowers, but man needed to earn the right to have access to food. Because of this, it was determined that men would receive their meals by working the fields, helping the seeds grow and spread, and by founding the milpa.
This is how the seeds of corn, beans, pumpkins, watermelons, tomatoes, chillies, and many other crops that have grow in the milpa came into existence.
Editorial by Maggie Rosado
Photography by Valentina Álvarez and Andrea Mier y Terán for its use in Yucatán Today
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