Land, Power, and Amaranth
Land is life—or, at least, land is necessary for life.
Thus contests for land can be—indeed, often are—contests for life.
The world had to be disenchanted in order to be dominated.
--Silvia Federci, Caliban and the Witch
Common myths of Empire:
The world is dead and inanimate.
Food is a mere obligation of our fleshy machine bodies.
Plants and animals are here to serve us, and lack sentience.
Oh, and you don't belong.
I was picking leaves off amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus, sp) stems this morning, thinking about colonialism. There’s a connection, between this plant and indigenous genocide, that’s quite literal. And, while as a country, this summer has been a shockwave of reckoning with the hard facts of what it means to live on stolen land, in a state founded on stolen labor, within the twisted, persisting cycles of oppression in 2020, Amaranth’s story feels timely.
When Cortez landed on Turtle Island’s shores in 1519, and entered the Mexica (Aztec) capital of Tenochtitlan (now known as Mexico City), he quickly noticed the centrality of amaranth to Nahua culture, including the Mexihcah people ( and the broad base of other peoples surrounding the city who may self-identify as the Acolhuah, Chalcah, Xochimilcah, Texcocah, Tlacopancah, Tepanecah, and Tlateloclcah, often mis-referred to as Aztecs). Cortez and his soliders exploited the Nahua’s reverence and reliance on the plant in his campaign of genocide.
A staple food source, it’s been written that over 80% of protein intake in the Nahua diet came from Amaranth seeds. Amaranth, in Nahuatl, their native language, is huaútli, “smallest giver of life,” as the seed played a role in fertility rites and religious rituals. The seeds are blended with honey and shaped into animals as a way to honor the earth and celebrate abundance, then eaten, not unlike the Christian Eucharist sacrament.
Cortez ordered the burning of amaranth fields and outlawed the cultivation of amaranth as a crop (punishable by chopping off the hands of the person who planted the seeds). Breaking connection with a staple, sacred food was the first step in a long legacy of indigenous oppression, both a material and spiritual war.
Communities in Mexico are reconnecting with their old friend Amaranth as a beacon of hope for present day struggles of poverty and malnutrition, the reality after centuries of oppressive colonial reign and abuse. PuenteMexico.com based in Oaxaca, is an organization dedicated to spreading the gospel of Amaranth as a plentiful, easy to cultivate, nutritionally powerful food crop.
Highly adaptable, Amaranth can survive in extreme drought conditions with a special branched secondary root system making her a reliable crop choice considering the uncertainty of current climate chaos. Long associated with fertility, each flower can contain upwards of 200,000 seeds (whoa baby!). The seeds are rich in protein, fiber, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, and vitamin C. Their leaves contain 4 x as much calcium as Swiss chard and 4x the vitamin C as spinach. Nutrient dense and productive, embracing this plant can help heal broken bonds with real food.
Amaranth grows voluntarily in the mound of manure by my garden. I dry amaranth greens and make a powder to use in eggs, soups, and rice dishes supplementing my winter with summer magic. I also infuse amaranth greens and stalks in vinegar for a mineral rich tonic, and blend up her leaves in verdurette. I have also added fresh lamb’s quarters and amaranth greens and stems to sauerkraut recipes and really enjoyed the results.
Celebrate the fact that you can connect with Amaranth if you have that privilege, and give this lovely plant a try. Let her strength sing from your insides and be a gateway plant to learn about decolonization---the most material kind. May Amaranth inspire land reparation thoughts, ones that drive activation.
Simple ways to shake up empire’s grip:
Connect with non-human species.
Open yourself to enchantment.
Let the vitality of all creatures enliven you;
let your devotion to them drive your life.
Use all your inherited superpower strength from these plants in service of the holy war against white supremacy and neo-colonization.
Never forget magic is a threat to power.