Amaranthus spp.

Ricardo Ortiz describes the enormous importance of Amaranth as a basic food source in the pre-Columbian era and also how it was used as a sacred plant in rituals dedicated to the Aztec (Mexica) war god Huitzilopochtli. 

The seed was an integral part of the festivals in which human sacrifices were made. 

Consequently, the Spanish missionaries took it upon themselves to abolish these religious ceremonies. 

Cortés ordered his soldiers to eradicate the Amaranth plants that produce the seed, and they searched the countryside to destroy the distinctive red plumes of the sacred plant.

According to Ortiz, the Indians considered the seeds to have a mystical, transcendent power, since they were used to make a sacrament for honoring Huitzilopochtli that was taken in communion by adults and children, men and women alike, and was received with reverence, fear and joy, because they believed they were partaking of the flesh and bones of god.

Ortiz also rightly points out that “the Spaniards must have known that by eliminating the cultivation of huautli, the Indigenous people were being deprived of physical and spiritual nourishment, which made it easier to subjugate them” to Spanish rule.  

In the more recent past, certain Amaranth species cultivated in rural areas of Guatemala by Indigenous groups nearly were brought to extinction by the scorched-earth policies favored by U.S. military advisors working with rightwing military governments in Central America in the 1980s in their wars against insurgent guerrilla movements. 

According to Beilin and Suryanarayanan, South American eco-activists currently have adopted the radical strategy of using mud “bombs” containing glyphosate-resistant Amaranthus palmeri seeds to sabotage the fields of monoculture crops such as soybeans. 

The amaranth “weeds,” whose cereal is, in fact, edible, choke the ecologically-destructive plants grown primarily for export, and the amaranth plants themselves prove virtually impossible to eradicate.


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