Thursday, April 25, 2019

V is for Vanilla Love (A to Z Challenge 2019: Fruit Folktales)

Vanilla is indigenous to Central America, more specifically, to the areas of Mexico originally inhabited by the Totonac people. Until modern times, they were the main producers of vanilla (more information in Spanish here).

I found two distinct Totonac legends about the origins of vanilla.

Xanath and Tzarahuin

Legend says there was once a princess named Xanath (Hidden Flower), who fell in love with a musician named Tzarahuin. However, the Fat God of Happiness also loved her, and demanded her hand in marriage from her father. The father, of course, favored the deity over a mere artist, but Xanath refused to consent. As punishment, she was transformed into a sweet-smelling white flower.
When Tzarahuin found out what happened to his beloved, he took his own life under the flowering plant. He turned into a gentle, stingless melipona bee (xunan kab). The bee still appears every year to pollinate the flowers, and help them produce the sweet-tasting fruit known as xanath - vanilla. Flower and bee go together so perfectly that for the longest time vanilla didn't even grow anywhere where the bees could not be found.

Take this one with a grain of salt - it has been making the rounds on the Internet, but I could not locate a primary source.

(Read about the story here, here, or here.)

Tzacopontziza and Zkatán-Oxga

In another legend, Tzakopontziza (Morning Star), the daughter of King Teniztli III, was consecrated to serve the goddess of the fertility of crops, Tonacayohua. As time passed, the young woman fell in love with a prince named Zkatán-Oxga (Young Deer). However, it was forbidden for her to take a lover, a sacrilege punishable by death; only virgins could serve the goddess. The young lovers ran away together into the forest, but didn't get far before they were confronted by a monster that surrounded them with flames, and ordered them to return home. Upon their return, the princess and the prince were executed by angry priests, their hearts cut out in the temple, and their bodies thrown into a canyon.

Some time later, out of the resting place of the two lovers grew a tree, and from the tree grew an orchid. The orchid had beautiful lowers and sweet-smelling fruit - the fruit we know as vanilla today. In Totonac tradition, it was sacred to the gods.

(Read about the story here and here.)

Both love stories end in tragedy and transformation. Which one speaks to you more? I personally really like the image of the flower and the stingless bee...


  1. I like that one better too. No monsters.

  2. Yes, the flower and the stingless be is my choice too. The other sounds too true! I used to have a book given to me by my grandmother with illustrations of sacrifices like that! Thanks grandma!

  3. I have a penchant for vanilla and bees so my vote goes to the first tale.

  4. The second is a brutal. I prefer to go with the first one. Bees and flowers are inseparable.

  5. I like the first one, flower and bee, nice but sad story! Anyway, I loooove vanilla (but who doesn't??)

  6. I prefer the first story, since it's gentler and sweeter. Even my taste for the dark and macabre has limits!

  7. Yeah, I like the stingless bee version more too.
    But both seem to have the same "Romeo-Juliet" kind of theme.
    I love the smell of vanilla though.
    I haven't yet written my W yet. Will come back when I do. Cheers!

  8. good grief about #2. to be threatened to go home only for that tragic and brutal ending :O

    Joy at The Joyous Living

  9. I’m with everyone on this thread - and the first one sounds rather like something Ovid might slip into the Metamorphoses!

  10. Egad - now I'm not sure if I want to like vanilla. :)

    DB McNicol, author
    A to Z Microfiction: Vase

  11. I vote for the bee too...just to make it unanimous :) the second is too harsh an ending..

  12. I like both stories! But then I am a sucker for stories with monsters in it :-)

    Ronel visiting with the A-Z Challenge music and writing: Various Artists