MAIZE

A grain plant cultivated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. 2500 BC.
 

The term “maize” is originally from the ancient word mahiz (6). Mahiz comes from the Taino language of the indigenous people of pre-Columbian America. Nowadays, the terms maize and corn are often used interchangeably, with one being used more frequently than the other in certain regions and contexts (6). In the Americas, maize is called corn. In English-speaking countries like England, this is somewhat confusingly because “corn” refers to the seeds of any grain: including oats, rye, barley or wheat.

Maize would not exist if it weren’t for the indigenous population that cultivated and developed it (3). According to the article “The origin and diversity of maize in the american continent”, maize was domesticated (process by which plants are genetically modified over time by humans for traits that are more beneficial) in Mesoamerica. Scientists have put forward many theories about the rise of maize. The most popular theory describes how the ancestors of maize originally grew in Southern Mexico. Maize once started from a wild grass called teosinte (2). Teosinte’s kernels were radically different from the maize that is now consumed. They were smaller and not as close together.

The origin of maize and its influence is told in tales of many Indian groups. Most tales have spiritual and religious significance. According to Mayan legends, humans were created from maize (after two unsuccessful attempts to create humans out of mud or wood) (6). Mayan tales also mentions two prominent maize gods: the Tonsured Maize God and the Foliated Maize God.  The Tonsured God’s head is shaven to represent a maize cob, with a small crest of hair to represent the tassel (6). The Foliated Maize God, on the other hand, symbolizes a still young, tender and green maize ear (6).

Maize was considered nutritive, easy to store and transport, and adapted to diverse growing conditions. The native population depended upon maize for much of their food and fuel According to the article “The evolution of maize”, over the centuries, maize nourished the civilizations that became the mighty empires of the early Americas, including the Mayans, Incas, Aztecs and Anasazi. Treasured and venerated, maize became a staple food of the native population.  Maize was the center of their world.  Every time they migrated, they brought maize with them.

In the past, all parts of the maize plant were used. Absolutely nothing was thrown away. The husks could be weaved to make moccasins, masks, baskets or sleeping mats. Corncobs could be used for fuel, for game darts or for ceremonial use (7).  Nowadays, there are many other different uses for maize. For instance, maize is the key ingredient of many traditional dishes. Animals that we consume are fed with maize. The ink used to print contains maize oil.

Maize is one of the most important crops in the world.  It is the most widely grown crop, and is possibly Latin America’s biggest food contribution to the rest of the world. Just as Indians depended on maize as a major part of their diet and rituals, it would be difficult for us today to live without maize. For the Americas, maize is not simply a crop but a deep cultural and historical symbol intrinsic to daily life.

References: 

1. “Corn Facts.” Did You Know That?. Madison St. Produce, 13 Nov 2012. Web. <http://madisonstproduce.com/Corn_Facts.html&gt;.

2. “Garden Mastery Tips.” WSU Clark County Extension. Washington State University, n.d. Web. <http://clark.wsu.edu/volunteer/mg/gm_tips/Popcorn.html&gt;.

3. Gary Truitt. “Why Corn is King.” AGsense. N.p., 05 Jul 2010. Web. AGsense. <http://agsense.org/why-corn-is-king/&gt;.

4. Jose Antonio Serratos Hernandez. “The origin and diversity of maize in the American continent.” Green Peace Mexico. Universidad Autonoma de la Cuidad de Mexico. Web. <http://www.cropwildrelatives.org/fileadmin/www.cropwildrelatives.org/documents/Origin and diversity of maize.pdf>.

5. Joseph Burtt-Davy, . “Corn (Maize) Zea Mays.” . Maize: Its History, Cultivation, Handling, and Uses. Web. <http://www.victoryseeds.com/corn.html >.

6. Museum of the Earth.” Terminology: Is “Maize” the same as “Corn”?.” The evolution of Maize. The Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth. Web. <http://maize.teacherfriendlyguide.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=65&Itemid=58&gt;.

7. Ross Fernandes. “Indian Corn.” Native American Technology and Art. Woodland Culture Area, n.d. Web. <http://www.nativetech.org/cornhusk/cornfwdp.html&gt;.

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