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Native American Achiote Mythology

The achiote tree is one of several plants with a name that comes from a Native American language-- "achiote" comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec Indian) name for the plant, achiotl. It is sometimes also known by other indigenous names, such as "annatto" (which comes from the Carib Indian language) and "urucu" or "urucum" (which come from the Tupi languages.)

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Achiote fruit is a major source of pigment, which has long been used to make dyes and paints by many tribes of Central and South America. Achiote seeds are also used as a traditional spice by the Mayan people, and achiote paste has become a part of contemporary Mexican cuisine. Achiote is still used as a medicine herb in some indigenous communities of Colombia and Ecuador, believed to help ward off a variety of infections and sometimes to protect against snakebite or evil spirits. Culturally, Brazilian Indians most often associate the achiote with the sun and with masculinity, and the red annatto pigment is often used as war paint. In the Tupi flood myth, the warlike culture hero survives the deluge by climbing an achiote tree, while the civilized one climbs a genipa palm (which is associated with celebration and peace.)

Achiote is also used as a clan symbol in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Achiote Clans include the Bribri tribe (whose Achiote clan is named Kacha-ut-uak.)

Recommended Books of Related Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
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In the Society of Nature: A Native Ecology in Amazonia:
    Book about the cultural and spiritual meaning of plants in South American rainforest tribes.

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