Forbidden mezcal

During the mushroom craze of the 70’s, when the mixtec shaman María Sabina (mother Mary) was sought after by hundreds of people, tale has it a foreigner entered the town of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec de Mixe: home of the Mixe (mee.heh) people, in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca…

The Mixes are –and were especially then- a hermetic and incredibly brave warrior tribe that aptly named themselves “The never conquered”. Tales of four distinct expeditions led by different conquistadors bare witness to their brutal resilience during the Spanish conquest, when groups of Spaniards tried to cross the Sierra in search of Aztec gold and found brave warriors with long spears that halted their path, terrorizing their allies and firmly standing their ground. None of those expeditions made it through, including the one led by Cortés himself.

…Unaware of any of this, our traveler arrived at the town and entered a pulquería, where he met a drunken maestro mezcalero that briefly after greeting him (as is the custom) offered him a drink of mezcal. He could not believe the exquisiteness of the spirit he had just come across. In that town -due to its height-, the wild agave receives most of its moisture from the air and the perpetually damp soil, giving it an exceptional smokiness, fresh pine scents and rich wet-earth flavors. As they drank on through the night, the foreigner offered money in exchange for some mezcal to the maestro mezcalero, who refused the offer, explaining that the mezcal produced there could never leave the region, as was established by local communal law.

After a few more drinks, he insisted, completely possessed now by the spirit of mezcal… making it clear he would not leave without taking with him some of that mesmerizing beverage. The maestro, realizing what he had done, agreed to sell him a few bottles he had left, in the interest of him abandoning the town and leaving them in peace. He sold him five bottles, stacked discreetly in a henequen sack and then sent him on his way.

As he stumbled out of town, the foreigner stopped in one of the misceláneas (shops) to purchase some food for the road and accidentally dropped the henequen sack, breaking one of the bottles and spilling its contents on the floor. The shopkeeper recognized the aroma immediately and asked the foreigner why he had mezcal with him and how he had gotten it. With some hesitation, the foreigner answered that he had met the maestro in the pulquería and that it was him that had sold him the bottles. He was promptly kicked out of town and the shopkeeper rallied his neighbors and went out to search for the maestro.

When they found him, drunk inside the pulquería, they interrogated him as to why a foreigner had the town’s mezcal with him and had taken it like it were his own. The drunken maestro mezcalero was unable to explain his reasons and was sentenced for selling a local treasure to a foreigner, the penalty: one finger for every liter that had left the town.

In present day, the Mixes continue to joyfully share their culture with the world and -as in that time-, they continue to encounter other greedy foreigners that want their unique cultural heritage for themselves.

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