Discover legends, myth, history and folklore of the potato plant in Bolivia and its use in traditional Andean culture.
Family: Solanaceae, nightshade, or potato
Taíno: Batata, used for sweet potato and potato
The potato & the Inca people
Growing wild as early as 13,000 years ago on the Chilean coast of South America, potatoes were first cultivated by farmers in the Andes Mountains nearly seven thousand years ago.
The potato was domesticated high in the Andes Mountains in South America by 3000 B.C., but it was not until the Incan civilization (ca. 100–1530 c.e.) that the tuber’s true agricultural potential was realized.
The Inca wisely prized agricultural diversity, growing over 3,000 varieties of potatoes in various sizes, textures, and colors. Their goal was to develop a different kind of potato for every type of soil, sun, and moisture condition.
In the ancient ruins of Peru and Chile, archaeologists have found potato remains that date back to 500 B.C. The Incas grew and ate them and also worshiped them. They even buried potatoes with their dead, they stashed potatoes in concealed bins for use in case of war or famine, they dried them as chunio, and carried them on long journeys to eat on the way.
Ancient Incans worshiped potatoes.
“O Creator! Thou who givest life to all things and hast made men that they may live, and multiply. Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the potatoes and other food that thou hast made, that men may not suffer from hunger and misery.”
The Inca people believed that each crop had a protective spirit named Conopas. Conopas were the best proceeds of the crop which was set aside in order to offer it to the gods during a special ceremony. They believed that by offering it to the gods future crops would maximize their yields. For instance, the conopa of maize would be called saramama (mother of the maize), of potato, Papamama, of coca, cocamama and so on.
There is another Papamama, Axomamma (also Acsumama and Ajomama) is the goddess of potatoes in Inca mythology. She is one of the daughters of Pachamama, the earth mother. Potatoes form a vital part of the food supply of the Incan people, and most villages would have a particularly shaped potato to worship and ask for a good harvest.
The Inca also discovered how to freeze-dry potatoes. At night, the cold of the Andes froze the tubers. (Raw potatoes are 80 percent water.) During the day, however, they thawed in the warmth of the sun. As they defrosted, laborers stamped on them to press out all the moisture. After several days of alternating freezing and defrosting, the potatoes were dehydrated and transformed into a lightweight, transportable substance known as chuno.
Stored in sealed, permanently frozen underground storehouses, the freeze-dried potatoes kept for five or six years. When needed for sustenance during the lean months, the chuno could be reconstituted by soaking in water, then being cooked or ground into meal, with no loss of nutritional value. Chuno was so precious to the Inca that it was used as currency and collected as tribute.
CHUÑO or CHUÑO NEGRO
The Black Chuño, or simply Chuño, is obtained directly from freezing, treading and re-freezing. The process works without water, it is dehydrated by pressing it against the floor with the feet (squeezing), then the frozen tuber dries in the sun. Certain substances will oxidize, in contact with air, giving it a characteristic color that goes from dark brown to black.
TUNTA, MORAYA O CHUÑO BLANCO
Tunta is obtained by freezing the potato for a night outdoors in winter frost (June-July), the next day it is dehydrated by pressing it with the feet against the floor (squeezing) and put into river water or in a lagoon in permeable plastic bags. This procedure is done after sun set to keep the white color. The potatoes are usually light color, but on contact with the sun rays they get black.
The history of potatoes, Solanum tuberosum, is rooted in South America, there are about 5,000 potato varieties worldwide. Three thousand of them are found in the Andes alone, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Colombia. The discovery of potato, was ever a story of many dimensions, and the telling of the tale depended on the use as medicine, food, or drink. Due to the effects it was intimately related to deities, demi gods, and mortals.
Actually, it makes sense from a scientific point of view. People living in the Andes searched for food to survive and for medicine when they were sick. In fact, the potato is best known for its carbohydrate content in form of starch. A small but significant portion of this starch is resistant to digestion and is considered to have similar physiological effects and health benefits as fiber: It provides bulk, offers protection against colon cancer, improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lowers plasma cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, increases satiety, and possibly even reduces fat storage.
Concentrated in its leaves, stems, sprouts, and fruits there are toxic compounds (Glycoalkaloids), which protect the plant from its predators, and the mythical Sapallas people from slavery…
LEGEND: ON HOW THE POTATO CAME TO BOLIVIA
Como la papa llegó a Bolivia
Hace mucho tiempo, el pueblo de los Sapallas tenia una existencia pacífica y armoniosa. La naturaleza generosa proporcionaba enteramente a las necesidades de cada uno, y la Entente Cordial con los países vecinos les había hecho olvidar lo que era la violencia y la guerra. Un día, la erupción súbita de un volcán vino a perturbar la armonía de este pequeño mundo al parecer perfecto. Los Karis vecinos de los Sapallas, que vivían al norte no lejos de los lados del volcán, tuvieron que huir de su país devastado y abandonar la mayoría de sus bienes. Atraídos naturalmente por las riquezas del territorio Sapallas, los Karis tomaron las armas e invadieron por la fuerza el rico país. Los Sapallas impotentes se redujeron inmediatamente a la esclavitud sin oponer la menor resistencia al invasor. Durante numerosos años, los Sapallas, resignados a aceptar su triste destino, trabajaron sin descanso para sus dueños Karis. Un único hombre, el joven Choque, último descendente de los jefes Sapallas, rechazaba esta soberanía y prefería recibir los terribles castigos de los Karis que de rebajarse a trabajar para ellos. Los Sapallas intentaron muchas veces convencer al joven hombre abandonar la lucha y aceptar su condición de esclavo, pero en vano. Choque estaba convencido de que los dioses no dejarían impune tal injusticia. Los dioses observaban efectivamente la escena y fueron impresionados por la valentía y la fe de Choque. El gran Pachacamaj tomó la forma de un cóndor blanco y vino al encuentro del joven hombre. El dios recompensó Choque indicándole el sitio de semillas de una planta aún desconocida para los hombres llamada papa (patata). Estas semillas fueron sembradas secretamente por los Sapallas en sustitución de los tradicionales cultivos de quinoa y habas destinadas a los Karis. Algunos meses pasaron, y las semillas empezaron a germinar. Fieles a su práctica, los Karis se precipitaron los primeros para recoger todas las hojas verdes y las bahías de la nueva planta. En cuanto a los Sapallas, debían satisfacerse con los restos dejados en el campo, y en este momento no supieron darse cuenta de que las semillas ofrecidas por los dioses habían podido ayudarlos. Pero su sorpresa fue grande cuando descubrieron los fabulosos tubérculos ocultados bajo tierra que los Karis no habían visto. La preciosa comida les volvió a dar esperanza y la fuerza de combatir al opresor. Numerosos Karis que habían consumido las hojas y frutas venenosas de las patatas habían caído enfermos o muertos. Los Sapallas aprovecharon para rebelarse definitivamente y expulsar el último Karis de su territorio. Choque fue elegido jefe de los Sapallas. Estableció una nueva sociedad fuerte y feliz que siguió cultivando la patata con el respeto que se debe a una fruta sagrada de los dioses.
How the potato came to Bolivia
Once upon a time, the Sapallas lived a peaceful and harmonious existence, nature was generous and entirely provided everything each one could possibly need, and the Entente Cordiale with the close countries had made them forget what violence and war meant. One day, the sudden eruption of a volcano disturbed the harmony of this small apparently perfect world. The Karis neighbors of Sapallas, who lived in the North near the volcano, were forced to flee their devastated country and to leave the majority of their goods and belongings. Attracted naturally by the richness of the Sapallas territory, Karis used the force to invade the rich country. The impotent Sapallas were immediately reduced to slavery without opposing any resistance to the invader. During many years, all Sapallas accepted their sad fate and worked without slackening for their Karis Masters. All except one man, a young man named Choque, the last descendant from the Sapallas country leaders, refused this domination and preferred to receive the terrible punishments from the Karis rather than to work for them. Many times, the Sapallas tried to convince the young man to give up the fight and to accept to be enslaved, but in vain. Choque was convinced that the Gods would not leave unpunished such an injustice. The Gods observed indeed the scene and were impressed by Choque’s bravery and faith. One of them Pachacamaj took the appearance of a white condor and came down earth to meet the young man. He rewarded Choque by showing him a place where seeds of a plant called papa (potato) were stored. This plant was still unknown to mankind. The Sapallas started in secret to sow the potato seeds, replacing the traditional cultures of quinoa and broad beans which were only reserved for the Karis. A few months passed, and the seeds started to germinate.
As usual, the Karis immediately rushed to collect all the green leaves and bays of the new plant. The Sapallas had no other choice than picking the remainders left on the fields, and it was still not clear in their mind what was the benefit of having utilized the holy seeds. However, it was a great surprise for when they later discovered fabulous tubers hidden under the ground which had been missed by the Karis. This invaluable food gave them hope and new strength to fight against the oppressor. Many Karis who had consumed the potato leaves and their poisonous fruits suddenly fell sick or died. The Sapallas organized their rebellion and definitively kicked the Karis out of the country. Choque was elected as the new Sapallas chief. He set up a new happy and strong society, and potatoes continued to be cultivated with respect as a sacred gift from the Gods.
ETHNOBOTANY: Potato – Use
*Raw potato– were placed on broken bones,
–aching heads, and
–rubbed on bodies to cure skin diseases (warts)..
*leaves and flowers– used as infusion is helpful to fight epilepsy.
*shells– diuretic and a great help to eliminate uric acid, rheumatism, arthritis and gout.
–For sore throat, swollen gums and pyorrhea, gargling is done.
*fresh potato leaves– The decoction is acting against vaginal discharge or vaginal fluids, –it causes sleep.
*tender stems juice– is an excellent salve, it is used to remove cloudy and wattles eyes.
*potato juice– applied on sun burns.
–used for gastritis,
–to cure stomach ulcers.
–it quickly relieves heartburn.
–mixed with lemon juiceit is to cure scratches.
*black potato juice with honey– for tired eyes.
*cooked or roasted tuber– is applied as a poultice emollient, this means that it ripens abscesses.
*ground or grated– and applied as a poultice, is used to treat urticaria and burns,
–stops bleedings and
–helps heal wounds.
– grated potato mixed with salt and vinegar applied as a poultice on the belly for intermittent fevers (malaria).
*potato peel– is used against bumps, bruises and back pain.
–is applied to the affected areas to cure inflammation of the breasts of lactating women
*dry ground and burned macerated overnight– in one liter of water is very good to cure flu and colds.
*potato slices– is applied to the forehead to appease the discomforts caused by sunstroke.
–fresh potato slices marinated in vinegar are applied to the temples for headache or migraine.
*potato boiled in milk– and pureed applied on recent burns.
*juice of the roots of newly germinated tubers– applies to drip eyes against cataracts.
*chuño (dehydrated potato) powder– is applied to varicose ulcers.
–Foot baths with the decoction of chuño are effective against excessive sweating and smelly feet.
Note: This post does not contain medical advice, it is about “legends, myth and folklore of the potato plant in Bolivia and its use in traditional Bolivian culture”.
Please ask a health practitioner before trying therapeutic products new to you.
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The extents of Myths, History and Folklore of papas in the Americas are hardly to be seized here, there is still much more to discover.
Works Cited & Multimedia Sources
- rewritten by N. Brachet, based on the book: Leyendas de mi tierra. Antonio Diaz Villamil. 1926.
- Wikimedia Commons: starch formula by Sunridin (own work).
- Wikipedia: Potato.
- Usos de la Papa en Medicina Tradicional