Corn and the Native Americans: A brief journey through the maize

Topics: Native Americans in the United States, Maize, Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pages: 9 (2907 words) Published: April 8, 2014


Corn and the Native Americans:
A brief journey through the maize

Christi A. Davis

Humanities 215-V1
Native American Cultures
Larry Jent
April 12, 2012

Throughout the history of Native American culture corn has played a vital role in many facets of life for a multitude of people in various ways. It is not merely a simple grain or vegetable, it is a sacred gift to all people. Not only does it nourish one physically and provide for material use, but it is also an important spiritual tool. Corn plays a vital role in Native American culture. It is an agricultural mainstay, is integral to many ceremonies, honored in many celebrations throughout many tribes, and is credited with nourishing the nation physically as well as spiritually through various myths and legend. Food for Thought

Corn was one of the first domesticated crops by the native people. “Over a seven-thousand-year period, Indian people domesticated hundreds of kinds of maize, beginning in the semiarid highlands of Mexico with a common wild grass called teosinte” (Ballantine 60). “The teosinte pollen, carried by the wind to other corn like grasses, produced a hybrid whose cultivation helped ensure a stable food supply” (Maxwell 44). With the ability to reproduce food in a single location it was easier for people to settle in certain areas. This provided for a more domesticated way of living and a steady source of nourishment. Corn could be used immediately, dried for later use, the seeds saved to perpetuate the crop, and the inedible parts provided many uses for raw material.

Natives went to great lengths to protect their precious crop. They used themselves as living scarecrows to scare off potential predators, banging metal pans and waving cloths, building bonfires, and harboring natural predators. “[Hidatsa] Women and children hoed the fields, constructed sunshades for young corn, and kept watch over the crops to prevent damage from birds, stray horses, deer, rabbits and other animals” (Carlson 55). Omaha tribes commonly chewed corn seeds and scattered them about the field to ward off damaging black birds. After all, if the crop could not be protected, their pantry would be bare. Throughout time and still today corn is used for a variety of purposes in the native kitchen. The ear can be eaten fresh, the kernels saved and dried, or the dried corn pounded into meal. It has a myriad of uses as a vegetable on its own or as Moerman documents, in soups, breads, cakes, porridges, pies, puddings, sauces, relishes, sweeteners, substitutes, and snack foods. In the Isleta culture ground corn [is] used to make a slightly intoxicating beverage.” (611) The versatility of corn has provided an amazing staple for the native people of all nations. Banaha Choctaw Corn Shuck Bread

6 c Corn meal 2 ts Baking soda Boiling water Corn shucks
Pour enough boiling water over the meal and soda mixture to make asoft dough which can be handled with the hands. Prepare 4 to 6 handfuls of corn shucks by pouring boiling water over them to cover, then strip a few shucks to make strings. Tie 2 strips together at ends. Lay an oval shaped ball of dough on shucks. Fold carefully and tie in the middle with strings. Place in large stew pot and boil 30 to 45 minutes. (ocbtracker.com)

When not used for food the corn plant is implemented for it’s healing properties by many tribes. Each nation’s medicine man has a different use for the plant and it can heal multiple ailments. A poultice could be made for a cough or a headache. The ear or cob itself could be rubbed on swellings and bruises. Cornmeal could be mixed with water to treat a variety of internal ailments. The oil is used as a dermatological ointment for dandruff, chapped skin or bee stings. The silt could be brewed in a tea to treat dreadfully...

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