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  • Immortal Meals #31: Avendaño’s Anxious Banquet November 29, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Imagine going to a banquet and not being sure if you are to eat or be eaten. Welcome to the world of Andrés de Avendaño y Loyola, a seventeenth-century Franciscan who walked into the territory of the Itza (a forgotten kingdom previously celebrated on this blog) in 1696. Avendaño was brave. Many other missionaries had been taken, sacrificed and, by some accounts, eaten by the Itza. Avendaño fully expected, as he quite frankly tells us, for the encounter to end badly and the fact that he had learnt some rudimentary Itza was hardly likely to help his chances.

    Avendaño  arrived, 14 January, at the lake capital of the Itza, Péten Itzá. About five hundred Indians came with the king to greet the outsider. Things started  badly. The Franciscan’s musical introduction with pipes was ignored and then, a royal nephew was so insulted by the insignificance of the trinket he had been given that he ripped a crucifix from the Franciscan’s neck. The king stood by and laughed at his guest’s miscomfort.

    As the canoes set off from the shore Avendaño wondered whether he was not on his last journey. His blood pressure must have gone still higher when the king Ajaw Kan Ek’ lent across and put his hand on Avendaño’s heart and asked him if he was frightened. Everyone there knew that Europeans who fell into the clutches of the Itza were feasted and then sacrificed. The king’s question was  a reasonable one: particularly if the sacrifice ritual were to involve removing the man of God’s heart.

    As he was brought into the royal palace Avendaño was shown a table that Avendaño  believed to be ‘the table of sacrifice’: he was probably wrong, but we can hardly blame him for his terror. The feast proper then began: including ‘a type of wide bean… black beans, squash, peccary, fresh-water shrimp and other fish, and tortillas’. Then there were the interminable speeches…

    Avendaño bored his hosts with a long letter of instruction telling them that they were now subjects of the Spanish crown. The fact he survived this long suggests that not all of the letter was understood. The clumsiness of well-meaning Avendaño in his public pronouncements would have provoked the best tempered of us into cannibalism. He would, for example, subsequently lecture the locals on ‘your great Montezuma’, an Aztec who had nothing to do with the Itzan Mayans.

    The locals were, happily for the Franciscan, fascinated by he and his party: for many the first Europeans that they had ever seen. Avendaño describes how he could not even relieve himself in peace because of the crowd of people pressing constantly in. There is a great novel to be written one day about a priggish missionary spending the last days of his life among a confident pagan people. As it was Avendaño got home to write about his experiences… The Itza were, though they could not have known this, living their last months of freedom. Missionaries are usually – and this was depressingly close to the mean – followed by armies. The Itzas’ capital fell in 1697.

    Other memorable banquets: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com