Zea luxurians

The website Native Seeds Search provides the following information about Teosinte, whose name derives from the Nahuatl word for sacred corn (teotl + cintli): “Teosinte is an extremely important crop, as it believed that the subspecies parviglumis is the wild progenitor of corn. 

About 9,000 years ago, teosinte grew wild, as a grass-like plant, with a grain in a tough shell that was dispersed only when ripe. About 9,000-6,000 years ago, ancient people began to develop parviglumis teosinte into a crop that more closely resembles what we know as corn. 

Its kernels started to grow without the tough shell, and humans domesticated this plant for its grain, changing the size and textures of the kernels. This mutation causing the loss of the shell meant that the plant could no longer grow wild in its current form, since the kernels were unprotected from predators such as birds. Through these interactions with humans, it is thought that corn developed into the plant it is now.” 

Schaefer and Furst, in their important study of Huichol (Wixárica) culture, have written eloquently about the sacred qualities of corn and its incarnations as revered entities, pointing out spiritual links between Amerindian peoples throughout Mesoamerica and North America: “Maize is not only the most sacred and important of the food plants, but has multiple divine personalities, appearing as the Mother of Maize, whose animal form is the dove, and as her five daughters, each a different color. In some stories, Yoáwima, Blue Maize, is the most sacred of all, just as she is among the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest. The young Maize Goddess is also known as Niwétsika. If the maize plant is female, the individual ear is male, and both are personified as divine beings, just as they were by the Mexica, or Aztecs, of Central Mexico.”

Corn itself, as a plant, is so intimately related to Huichol (Wixárica) traditions and social structures, that it becomes a fundamental analogy for human existence in relation to the natural world. As Anthony A. Shelton puts it, “The life history of the Huichol is directly comparable to that of the maize. The ceremonies of birth, baptism, maturation, and death parallel one another. Even life itself is similar, establishing the maize family as a metaphor for the Huichol family.”

Especially interesting are the transformative connections between ostensibly disparate elements of the Huichol (Wixárica) world and the Indigenous perceptions of it. Denis Lemaistre’s description of these links is profoundly poetic: “Peyote, deer and maize are united by a network of close correspondences. Myth and ritual present to us a circle of metamorphoses in which each figure is the creator of others at the same time as it is created by them, like vessels open to infinity.”

There is so much to say about corn. Wade Davis writes about how healers in Mesoamerica pick up kernels of maize and scatter them over the surface of a table: “In their pattern lay the future, and with each successive throw came further insights that together formed the prognosis.”

Teosinte as well as the corn that evolved from it (both of which are considered sacred throughout the Americas) are very important for what they are, but also for what they aren’t, namely, GMO corn. Biotechnology companies such as Bayer, BASF, Dow AgroScience, DuPont Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta market GMO seed and related products, including herbicides.

The merger of Bayer and Monsanto worth $66 billion enabled Bayer to drop the Monsanto name due to the negative publicity surrounding this company that is one of the most hated businesses in the United States.

The genetically-engineered seed that is praised by some as hardier, more nutritious and more drought- and pest-resistant than non-GMO corn, nevertheless raises many serious questions. 

Are there potential health concerns when scientists change the structure of corn in ways that would not occur through natural development, infusing it with animal DNA, herbicides, and pesticides? Does GMO corn, for example, cause cancerous tumors? 

Will the global predominance of GMO corn make farmers from the developing world dependent on international seed companies with exclusive patents on these genetically-modified organisms? Will genetically-engineered genes introduced in wild plants ultimately cause a reduction in biodiversity?

Could GMO corn influence public health in terms of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Could changes in the pollen of GMO corn affect the development of non-GMO corn through unintended cross-pollination?  These and other potentially consequential issues certainly merit further research.  

Finally, it is worth mentioning the pioneering work of Monica Gagliano. As a result of her revolutionary experiments on plant-language, she offers the following somber conclusion: “By revealing the vegetal voice, corn had come to ask that we recognize our attempts at silencing plants, because humans have something of a track record for silencing those whose voice they do not want to hear.”


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