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Pulque Rituals, Production and the Conquistadors

Pulque Rituals, Production and the Conquistadors

This is part 2.  To read part 1, click here.

For the Indians of the central highlands of Mexico, the imbibing of pulque was done only by certain people, under certain conditions. It was a ritual drink, consumed during certain festivals, such as that of the goddess Mayahuel, and the god Mixcoatl. It was drunk by priests and sacrificial victims, to increase the priests’ enthusiasm and to ease the suffering of the victim. There are many references in Aztec codices, such as the Borbonicus Codex) of pulque’s use by nobility and priesthood to celebrate victories. Among commoners, it was permitted only to the elderly and pregnant women.

 

After the Conquest, pulque lost its sacred character, and both indigenous and Spanish people began to drink it.  Spanish initially made no laws regarding its use. It became a lucrative source of tax revenue, but by 1672, public drunkenness had become enough of a problem that the viceregal government created regulations to curtail its consumption. A maximum of 36 “pulquerias” were permitted for Mexico City, which had to be located in open areas, without doors and had to close at sundown. Food, music, dancing and the co-mingling of the sexes was prohibited. However, pulque continued to play a major role in the socioeconomic history of Mexico during colonial times and in the early years of Independence. Through this period, it was the fourth largest source of tax revenue.  At the end of the 17th century, the Jesuits began large-scale production of the drink to finance its educational institutions. In this way, the making of pulque passed from being a home-made brew to one commercially produced.

Production of pulque exploded after Independence, when the regulation of pulque producers ended, and Mexican nationalism increased.  From then until the 1860s, pulque haciendas multiplied, especially in Hidalgo and Tlaxcala states. In 1866, the first railway between Veracruz and Mexico City began operations, crossing through Hidalgo. This line was soon known as the “Pulque Train” because it brought supplies of the drink daily to the capital. This production and easy shipment of the drink made Hidalgo rich, and gave rise to a “pulque aristocracy” made up of some of the most powerful families of this time: Torres Adalid, Pimenta y Fagoaga, Macedo and others. At its peak, there were about 300 pulque haciendas. Some still remain in the plains of Apan and Zempoala, in Hidalgo.  Pulque hit its peak of popularity during the late 19th century, when it was enjoyed by rich and poor alike.  As late as 1953, Hidalgo and Tlaxcala still obtained 30 and 50% respectively of their total revenues from pulque. This has diminished since then since irrigation, roads and other infrastructure has made possible other, more lucrative enterprises.

In spite of its former popularity, pulque represents only ten percent of the alcoholic beverages consumed in Mexico today.  Pulque is still consumed in Mexico, mostly in the central highlands and predominantly in rural and poor areas. It has acquired a general connotation of being something for the lower class, while consumption of European-style beer flourished throughout the 20th century.

How did the ancients manufacture Pulque?  To find out, click here.

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