Grias neoberthii Familia: Lecythidaceae Kichwa: Piton
"A Girl’s Mouth acquires the Bitter-Sweet Taste of the Piton Flower." Tod D. Swanson interview of Bélgica Dagua. YouTube video 0:47. Uploaded June 2, 2020. https://youtu.be/2Vrzexr4Q-8
Tod Swanson, 2011
The fruit of the piton has a firm orange meet around a large seed. Eaten either cooked or raw, its nutty taste is reminiscent of squash or chonta duro. It is also a favorite of the Amazonian red squirrel and other animals.
Piton also played an important part in shaping the taste of a woman’s mouth so that she would make good tasting chicha. One of the key expressions of female sensuality was the taste of the chicha a woman made by chewing manioc. When the pale yellow Piton flowers appeared in October and November they were given to little girls to hold in their mouths. The idea was, that over the years of holding the flower in her mouth the girl’s saliva would acquire the habitual taste of the flower. When she was older she would then impart this taste to her chicha by chewing the manioc. The interesting assumption here is that the girl’s mouth would not just borrow the perfume of the flower momentarily but could actually learn to produce this scent through a sharing of bodily knowledge with the tree. The Kichwa term used is yacharishca to become accustomed to. The mouth becomes accustomed or habituated to the taste of the flower. Out of curiosity I have chewed the flower myself. It is slightly bitter and not particularly good tasting on its own. But when combined with saliva and manioc it is said to produce a very attractive chicha.
Another “habit” that enhanced beauty could be acquired from the long leaves of the same tree. To Pastaza Kichwa (Runa) women these leaves looked like hair. Furthermore, they observed that very few fallen leaves accumulated below Grias neoberthii (pitón) trees. The long leaves thus seemed like strong hair that did not easily fall off the head of the tree. For this reason Runa women bathed their own hair in pounded Grias leaves. Over time this imparted the leaves’ habit of staying on the tree to the women’s hair causing it to be more likely to stay on their heads.
A tea made from the bark is used as a medicine for intestinal problems.
Janis Nuckolls interview with Luisa Cadena on Piton (Grias neoberthii) from 2013. YouTube Video 3:54. September 15, 2018