Rituals From Ancient Societies: the Cigar

Rituals From Ancient Societies: the Cigar

Accordingly to Time Magazine, some 10th-century pottery discovered in a Guatemala archeological site represents Mayans puffing on tobacco leaves bound up with strings (sikar). The discovery seems new, instead, it is really old.

Indeed, more ancient evidence of Mayan use of tobacco had been found in Campeche (Mexico) where pottery dated 1,300 years reports the glyph “y-otoot ‘u-may,” that translates as “the house of tobacco”. By studying the Mayan Codices, archeologists established that Mayan elites elite used ceramic containers to store Nicotiana Rustica; indeed, pre-conquest Maya used, among other substances, Nicotiana Rustica (kutz) to achieve different levels of consciousness during their rituals. Specifically, the Maya smoked sikar (reeds stuffed with Nicotiana) to experience the hallucinogenic properties of this type of tobacco. Indeed, the evidence is found in the Maya codices, folding books written by professional scribes working under the patronage of deities. Below, table 25, 26, and 34 of the Madrid Codex clearly show the use of the sikar:

Instead, lower classes daily employed triturated wild tobacco mixed with lime (Mai) to alleviate hunger and thirst; the mixture was conserved in a long-necked gourd (bux) and consumed using a long-handled scoop made of bone or wood.

Additionally, a Tampa University’s team of scientists examining mineral samples at a Ch’orti’ Maya caves site discovered a large stock of cigars buried in several sealed clay pots labeled with the sikar glyph. According to Dr. Vandenhousen, the clay pots were carefully sealed and buried in a cave with stable temperature and high relative humidity; moreover, massive encrustations of potassium nitrate combined with abundant bat guano to yield a common food preservative that concurred to the preservation of the cigars. Interestingly, ancient Maya connected bats to caves, underworld, and sacrifice by decorating the underworld messengers with symbols of sacrifice like death eyes around their neck or wings and blood coming out of their mouth.

Modern Rituals?

In general, I enjoy cigars as a form of entertainment; specifically, I smoke cigars to experience new flavors originating from a new mix of leaves, but I also like to consume some other food with (chocolate, coffee, etc.). However, the best use of cigar is to discuss democracy, economy, or justice; unresolved subjects since Mayan times. Therefore, for me, the cigar completes an experience and is the justification for the meeting and the discussion.



Altman, A. (2009). The Cigar. Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1869320,00.html

FAMSI. Maya Codices. Retrieved from http://www.famsi.org/mayawriting/codices/introduction.html

The World’s Most Expensive Cigars. Retrieved from http://www.goldnews.com.cy/en/the-world-s-most-expensive-cigars/600-year-old-mayan-cigars

Scientists Discover the First Physical Evidence of Tobacco in a Mayan Container. Retrieved from https://www.newswise.com/articles/scientists-discover-the-first-physical-evidence-of-tobacco-in-a-mayan-container

One Reply to “Rituals From Ancient Societies: the Cigar”

  1. As a cigar smoker I already know something about the history of cigars… indeed I’ve read the article on Time magazine you mentioned. However, your post is highly specialized 🙂

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