The history of tobacco
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- Editorial Articles
- Culture and Traditions
- 06 / 02 / 2007
Who has never heard or say that phrase to refer that the narrator began a story going back to its origins (the interlocutor most of the time know about it) therefore, it seemed to be an endless story.
We still unknown about its origins and how it came to the present day. The true is that this identifies Cuban people, like the same cigar discovered by the conquerors in Cuban lands. The history is long but it is worthy to learn.
The first encounter, known so far, between the Old World and tobacco was on the year 1942 in a friendly gift ceremony offered to Christopher Columbus by Guanahaní Indians from one of the islands of the Bahamas archipelago.
Three days after the ceremony where the New World welcomed his Discover, the Admiral recognized among the belongings that an Indian transported in his canoe the same dried tobacco leaves he saw while he was sailing among the Santa Maria de la Concepción and Fernandina islands in Bahamas, according to the name he gave them.
However, not until November of that same year Spaniards noticed the importance and the value that those "dried leaves" had for the "new inhabitants". Soon after the Bariay landing in the northeast littoral region of Cuba, 30 km to the southwest of Gibara in the todays Holguin city, the Spaniards Rodrigo de Xerez and Luis de Torres sent together with two natives to explore the newly discovered lands, they were the first Europeans who found tobacco and the its use by Taino natives. Regarding this, in the Christopher Columbus diary there are some notes of Brother Bartolome de las Casas where he described how women and men crossed the towns with grasses in their hands to take aromatic smoke. Those grasses were inside another dried leaf by way of a musket which was light for one of its sides and for the other one was puffed on, absorbing the smoke that numbed the flesh and made people to get drunk. Bartolomé also pointed out that "those muskets" or whatever we call them, were named "tobacco". This way, it has been established that tobacco originally comes from America and its first use was known in Cuba.
Archaeological findings made in Holguin city support some of the writings that the Admiral made about this ritual of the Cuban natives. There were found wooden carving pieces known as the idols of tobacco, as well as, tools in a Y shape that helped to inhale powder of the other side. Those pieces belonged to the cohoba rite described by Columbus in his notes. Due to the lack of security in the use of this term, there is confusion among the words cohoba, cohiba or cojiba, because in the writings of that epoch those words are indistinctly referred to the plant or to the ritual.
Tobacco was known in different West Indian islands at the time of discovering. The plant was distributed throughout American continent: Brazil, Florida, Mexico, New Granada, Venezuela, Peru, etc. The natives used it in the liturgy and in the pharmacopoeia. In the nuptial rites, they perfumed the bride and impregnate sick people and children with the smoke.