Further Research Into Tiswin, A Native American Beer

Despite dwelling in the desert for decades, I did not know the following about Saguaro cactus:

  • When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.
  • An adult saguaro is generally considered to be about 125 years of age. It may weigh 6 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet. The average life span of a saguaro is probably 150 – 175 years of age. However, biologists believe that some plants may live over 200 years.
  • It is estimated that a saguaro can produce some 40 million seeds during its lifetime. However, few will survive to become a seedling. Fewer still will become an adult. The low survival rate of seedlings is due to drought, prolonged freezing and animals eating them.

These silent sentinels beneath Sol’s bright eye are impressive plants and can be adjuncts, or maybe the base, of tiswin, a Native American beer which I began writing about here.  Now, I know quite well that I am an amateur and novice in this field of tiswin and Native American life and culture. I have not made nor even sampled the libation as yet.  I’m collecting information. So, I apologize for any errors I may write. Please comment on this post (or any future ones) and let me know where I was wrong and give me some advice and guidance.

Tiswin seems to also go by the moniker “tesguino” (apparently pronounced tes-ween-o).  At first I thought the two names represented two distinct alcoholic drinks: 1) tiswin, a beer produced with corn; 2) tesguino, an alcoholic drink produced with fruit from the saguaro.  But I think that in actuality the twain are the same libation¹.  I also found the spellings “tezvino” and “tizwin” and references to “tulpi” and “tulapa.”  All seem to refer to a maize based drink to which other ingredients, such as the aforementioned saguaro, may be added².  Yet, adding to my confusion is this publication from the National Park Service.  In that brief brochure it mentions a “Saguaro fruit wine imbibing ceremony to bring the summer monsoon” performed by the Tohono O’odham people, a native nation you can read about here.  There is no mention of the name of this fruit wine, so it may just be me conflating two separate drinks.  The Saguaro fruit wine would be great to sample.

Another helpful article that has a brief discussion about tiswin is  Tepache & Tesguino, at Edible Baja Arizona. I believe it was that article that lead me to information on the Tarahumara Indians, also known as Raramuri, whom may best be known as the pinnacle of long distance runners. They, too, make tesguino and brewing it and drinking it is a spiritual act for them. They sound like good people.  “Their ancient theology was not based on dogma or abstract concepts; nor is their new Christianity. Rather it is a day by day practice of living in harmony with nature and their fellow man.”³  Of course, there are many that claim to do the same and the world is still the world we see today.  But I suppose that’s another story.

 The Raramuri say to one another bosasa which means “fill up, be satisfied, be contented.”†  Kinda like saying “cheers.”  Therefore, bosasa, beer friends!


¹ That confusion came from this source:  http://www.oocities.org/xxi1933/recipes-exotic.html.  It notes solely saguaro fruit juice as the ingredient in the drink.

² This is helpful index of native, undistilled liquours by American anthropologist Weston La Barre.

³ http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1924-the-tarahumaras-an-endangered-species

http://www.npr.org/templates/text/s.php?sId=4532569&m=1

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