While scrolling through Instagram I came across a beautiful scene, Indian flower market, rivers of gold flowers; the user describing the scene as a surreal ancient tradition. The colors were quite vivid, I am sure you have seen a different version of the same scene.
The main flower in the picture is, Tagetes erecta. Tagetes is named for Tages, an Etruscan deity who sprang from the cultivated earth and erecta; meaning upright. Here at GYV, we prefer its Nahuatl name, cempoalxóchitl, cempoal (twenty) and xochitl (flower) or flower of twenty petals.
It is a tongue-twisting name; perhaps that is why when the Spaniards encountered it, they named it carnation of the indies. The French now call it, French marigold, where here in the US you can find it with the name African marigold; or Aztec marigold and American marigold among others.
Just like vainilla, the marigold is now mainly cultivated far away from it's ancestral home, with China cultivating 75% of the world production, followed by India with 20% and Peru with 5% where it is cultivated mainly for its high content of carotenoids and used mainly as a great natural food colorant.
The original name is a celebration of the love story of Xochitl and Huitzilin, who were in love. Huitzilin was killed in battle and a desperate Xotchil went to see the sun god, Tonatiuh. Xotchil and Huitzilin visited the top of the mountain countless times to offer wildflowers to the sun god before. This time alone she implored Tonatiuh, to somehow join her with her love Huitzilin. The sun moved by her prayers threw a ray that gently touched the young girl’s cheek. Instantly she turned into a beautiful flower of fiery colors as intense as the sun rays. Suddenly a hummingbird lovingly touched the center of the flower with its beak; it was Huitzilin that was reborn as a handsome hummingbird. The flower gently opened its 20 petals, filling the air with a mysterious and lovely scent.
The lovers would be always together as long as cempoalxóchitl flowers and hummingbirds existed on earth.
This is how the cempoalxóchitl flower came to be the Day of the Dead flower. Whatever the name there is no doubt this Mesoamerican beauty has transcended frontiers and it is another great contribution to the world.
This leads me to the beginning of this post, the cultivation of this flower is ancient but in Mesoamerica, it is important that we recognize the contributions of this unequal region of the world. Now you know where those rivers of gold come from!