The maguey or agave ( Agave spp.), The “tree of wonders”, was of great importance among the societies that developed over millennia in Mesoamerica and Oasisamerica. The maguey, metl in Nahuatl, is usually large in size, with broad green leaves that have spines on its edges and tips. Some species, such as Agave salmiana and Agave atrovirens, are suitable for taking advantage of their fresh sap, which is already fermented and is known as pulque.
You can exploit wild maguey, or the cultivated one. In both cases, the plant requires special care, and to this day there are religious conceptions and propitiatory rituals, which indicate that the treatment of the plant is associated with its sacredness since ancient times.
The process for the preparation of this intoxicating drink begins by extracting the sap from the plant, which was previously castrated to interrupt the growth of its central bud or quiote, cutting it when the agave has matured after a period ranging from 7 to 15 years. Liquid flow is produced either by cutting a space in the heart of the plant or by scraping it with pineapple until it is punctured. For about six months before the agave dries, the sap flows and is collected twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, a process carried out by the person in charge of this activity otherwise known as a tlachiquero, who uses an elongated gouge and hollow, with small perforations in its two ends.
The tlachiquero, male or female, places one end of the acocote in his mouth to suck the sap, and then carefully pours it into a ceramic jug, a wooden barrel or a sheepskin or goat leather to transport it in his back tied with a mecapal on the forehead, or tied with the ropes to transport several containers on the back of a donkey.
In the tank, that is to say the place where the sap will be fermented, this liquid is placed in clean containers, traditionally ceramic pots and from the colonial period in vats that contain a little bit of pulque or seed, to begin the biochemical process that lasts one to two days.
Among the Aztecs, the divine incarnation of the agave was Mayahuel. According to myths, Ehécatl, god of the wind and avatar of Quetzalcóatl, met Mayahuel in the sky and took her with him to earth, where both were transformed into intertwined branches. The maiden’s grandmother, enraged to notice that he had disappeared, descended to earth and arranged for her to be killed; the sad Quetzalcóatl decides to sow the remains of Mayahuel and thus, by divine intervention, the maguey plant is born, giving a liquid with sacred connotations.
In the Codex Laud the deity was painted in a position of childbirth, on a turtle and a snake, and as a bud on her head appears the floral scape of the agave. In her left hand the goddess holds a bone punch and a maguey terminal spine, which were used in self-sacrifices, while in the palm of the right hand she has a bowl with pulque. Between the leaves of the plant on the left is an arrow-shaped tube, which was the instrument used to pierce the heart of the agave, and below on the right is a sleeved scraper that was used to cause the sap to flow. In the column to the right of the deity different containers are illustrated, in fact in the pot at the top the fermentation of the octli is represented with dotsor pulque, ritual drink. In a pulqueria in Ecatepec, State of Mexico, the young artist Ahuízotl Gutiérrez captured the representation of Mayahuel based on the Codex Laud on a mural .
According to the chronicles and codices of the 16th century, before the Spanish conquest in the Basin of Mexico the consumption of pulque was restricted and it was offered to the gods in small jugs. The elderly could consume it as well as the sick, women who had just given birth and men who carried out heavy tasks. In addition, those who were born on the day dedicated to one of the gods of that drink, Ometochtli or 2 Conejos, were predestined to get drunk throughout their lives. Only in October did all adults have a license to drink pulque, as a way to celebrate the month dedicated to the dead.
There are different versions around the origin of pulque, one of the most recurring in ethnohistorical sources narrates that the fermented drink was discovered in the mythical Tollan, where its leader and priest, Quetzalcóatl or Ce Ácatl Topiltzin, is convinced by Tezcatlipoca and other gods contrary to the ruler and who fought for human sacrifices, to drink pulque; once drunk, Ce Ácatl leaves Tula because of his embarrassment.
In archaeological studies, the preparation of the drink has been identified in central Mexico since the end of the Preclassic era, based on the discovery of jugs and pots in which it is believed that the sap was transported and pulque was fermented, as well as the presence of stone instruments that were possibly used to scrape the maguey so that the sap flowed. There is more evidence in murals, such as that of Los Bebedores de Cholula, in addition to those in El Tajín, Veracruz, where there are representations on walls that researchers believe are associated with the consumption of pulque.
Taken from Patricia Fournier García, Lourdes Mondragón Barrios, “Mexican drinks. Pulque, mezcal and tesgüino ”, Mexican Archeology no. 114, pp. 52 – 59.
originally published by www.arqueologiamexicana.mx