Tobacco Asia

Volume 20, Number 4

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28 tobaccoasia / Issue 4, 2016 September / October By Eric Piras Cigars as we know them now are a fairly recent product but they have actually been around for a very long time and have a fascinating his- tory. As with everything related to periods where documentation was little or not available, myths abound about the early days of tobacco. Whereas it is not known exactly when the to- bacco plant was discovered, it was grown widely in the area that became North and South America, and the Mayas seem to be unanimously credited for the invention of cigars. The cigars they smoked could be considered as the ancestors of the ones we know today, as the Mayas wrapped the tobacco in plantain or palm leaves in order to smoke it. A 10th century Mayan pot found in Guatemala depicts a Mayan smoking one of these primitive ci- gars and the Mayan god of pleasure is often repre- sented smoking. The Mayan word for smoking is "sikar" and is believed to be the origin of "cigar". Initially tobacco was used to seal diplomatic agreements and as a rite of passage into adulthood; it was also used in medicine as a painkiller and in smoking mixtures for treating colds. But mostly it was part of the Mayans' religious ceremonies and a way to converse with the gods, the smoke communicating one's thoughts and prayers to the spirits. Humo Jaguar, the legendary Mayan Hon- duran ruler even has a cigar line and a cigar festival named after himself; he led the once great Mayans in the city of Copan, in Honduras. There seems to be a consensus that Christo- pher Columbus and his men were the first West- erners to see tobacco in recorded history. In their 1492 journey, on the island of Hispaniola (in what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), three of Columbus's crewmen (Rodrigo de Jerez, Hector Fuentes, and Luis de Torres) are said to have en- countered tobacco for the first time when natives presented them with dry leaves that spread a pecu- liar fragrance. Tobacco was widely present in the is- lands of the Caribbean and Columbus and his men encountered it again in Cuba where they had settled and where TaĆ­nos were smoking tobacco leaves twisted up in palm leaves and corn husks. Legend has it that de Jerez was the first of them to actually try smoking a cigar, which has been described as being as big around as a man's arm. He must have enjoyed it, as he was quickly smoking a cigar a day on the long trip back home. However, he made the mistake of lighting up in public in Spain, and the Inquisition threw him in prison for three years. Columbus is also regularly credited for bring- ing tobacco back to Europe. European sailors started smoking primitive cigars, as did the Con- quistadores. However, Spanish writer and courtier Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes is thought to have first brought the plant back to Spain in any notable quantities. Smoking spread and became quite popular in Spain and Portugal, and ships started to carry Cu- ban tobacco back to Europe from around 1528. Spanish cultivation of tobacco began in 1521 on the island of Santo Domingo while Portuguese be- gan cultivating it around the same time in Brazil, which was then their colony. French Ambassador to Portugal Jean Nicot (who gave his name to nicotine), sent tobacco samples to Paris in 1528, and smoking spread to France. From there, it extended to Italy and to A Glimpse into Cigar History Eric Piras holding cigar made in the tobacco plantation in Cuba A tobacco plantation in the 18th century

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