The Origins of Snuff
I was pondering from my easy chair the cumulative endeavors that were required for me to leisurely grasp a pinch of nasal snuff and enjoy its intoxicating effects. The tin I am enjoying is a dark, moist concoction whose exquisite recipe is a tradition and guarded secret. Its name's sake is responsible, in no small way, to the journey my mind's eye takes when evoking the name Ramón Pané.
Ramón is a young man from 15th century Catalonia whose only wish is to propagate his faith. He is an arduous convert to the holy order of St-Jerome and is given a chance to accompany Cristóbal Colón to the new world on his second voyage to Hispaniola. The voyage taking months and departing in September 1493 in a flotilla of 17 ships with crew and passengers counting 1500 men.
Upon arrival, friar Ramón was summoned by Colón and asked to "learn about the beliefs and idolatries of the Indians..." and transcribe all he could learn during his two year stay. Friar Ramón seemed genuinely more concerned with recording the actual culture of this people rather than evangelizing his faith. That forcibly comes a little later with the conquistadors. Fra Pané begins to transcribe his interaction with the native peoples and eventually learns their language, customs, gods and morality.
One such custom was the ingestion of tobacco through the nose. Some rituals required the taking of snuff as part of certain ceremonies. The tobacco leaves served as a base for the ground cojóbana seeds mixed with a pestle in a rosewood mortar whose content was transferred to a special container made of hollowed bone to preserve the manna. The said "cohoba" was used as a gateway for the native shaman to communicate with the other world. Ramon was witness to, and perhaps also participant of, these special rituals. The result of his trepidation among the Taínos resulted in a wonderful manuscript detailing his sojourn and the importation, back to his native Spain, of the tobacco plant.
Once inside Spain, this plant was brought to the royal court. It was quickly popularized among the nobility as a new world panacea. Quickly disseminated to France via the ambassador, Jean Nicot, to Catherine de Medici, the French king's mother. Where François II used the new herb to cure his migraines (sinus headaches). The effective potion was then known as the Queen's Herb (Herbe de la Reine). So let your next pinch be a royal one. S'Nuff said, to be continued. See you all in the funny papers.