: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Tobacco suggests Cuba, or Cuba more than suggests tobacco. Havana

cigars are the synonym for excellence, and it was on this island that

the native American was first seen with a cigar in his mouth. It

was not much like the cigars of our day, for it consisted of loose

leaves folded in a corn-husk, as a cigarette is wrapped in paper. It

amazed the Spaniards as much to see these dusky citizens eating fire

and breathing sm
ke as it astonished the Filipinos when the Spaniards,

having learned the trick, and having landed on their islands, proceeded

to swallow flame and utter smoke in the same fashion,--a proceeding

which convinced the people of the Philippines that the strangers were

gods. The white adventurers never found the palace of Cubanacan, whose

gates were gold and whose robes were stiff with gems, but they found

the soothing and mischievous plant that was eventually to create more

wealth for them than the spoil of half a dozen such palaces. The Cuban

word for this plant was cohiba. The word tobago, which we have turned

into tobacco, was applied to a curious pipe used by the Antilleans,

which had a double or Y-shaped stem for inserting into the nostrils,

the single stem being held over a heap of burning leaf. The island

of Tobago was so named because its explorers thought its outline to

resemble that of the pipe.

In one form or another the use of the weed was prevalent throughout

the Americas. Montezuma had his pipe after dinner, and rinsed his

mouth with perfume. For medicinal purposes snuff was taken through

a tube of bamboo, and tobacco leaves were chewed. The practice of

chewing also obtained to a slight extent among the natives as a

stay against hunger, and they are said to have indulged it in long

and exhaustive marches against an enemy. They would chew in battle,

because in a fight at close range they tried to squirt the juice

into the eyes of their foemen and blind them. The herb was taken

internally as a tea for medicinal reasons, was used as a plaster,

and was valued as a charm. Francisco Fernandez took it to Europe;

Drake and Raleigh introduced it in England, and though its use was

regarded as a sin, to be checked not merely by royal "counterblasts"

and by edicts like that of William the Testy, but by laws prescribing

torture, exile, whipping, and even death, it was not long in reaching

the uttermost parts of the earth.

Men of all races and conditions incline to the tradition of the

Susquehannas, that the plant was the gift of a benevolent spirit. In

their account this manitou had descended to eat meat, which they had

offered to her in a time of famine. As she was about to go back to

the skies she thanked them for their kindness, and bade them return

to the spot in thirteen months. They did so, and found maize growing

where her right hand had rested, beans at her left, and tobacco where

she had been seated.

The Indians of Guiana say that tobacco was given by a sea-goddess to a

man who was begging the gods to do something for him,--he didn't know

exactly what; he would merely like to have somebody do something for

him on general principles. As a divine gift, therefore, it was used

in certain of the rites of the Indians, and the man who wished to go

into a trance and see visions would starve for a couple of days, then

drink tobacco water. He generally saw the visions,--if he lived. In

some islands the priests inhaled the smoke of a burning powder and

thereupon fell into a stupor or a frenzy in which they talked with

the dead. Was this the smoke of tobacco, plus a little abandon, a

little falsehood, a little enthusiasm? Its enemies in King James's

time would have said that the smokers deserved not merely to talk

with the dead, but to join them.