Monday, May 24, 2010

With Seeds of Neas and With Sheum

Around 200 B.C., when Zeniff and his people returned to reclaim the City of Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 9:3), they planted corn, wheat, barley, neas and sheum (Mosiah 9:9). Since neas and sheum are included with the grains of corn, wheat and barley, and separated from “all manner of fruits,” we might conclude that neas and sheum were grains. For years scholars have tried to determine what these two crops were, obviously unknown to Joseph Smith in 1830. While there are no such unknown grain crops in Mesoameria, there are two found in the Andes that might be Zeniff’s neas and sheum.

They are “quinoa” and “kiwicha,” relatively obscure grains to most of the world, but cultivated since 3000 B.C., if not before, in the Andes of South America. Quinoa, pronounced Kee-Waa, the seed of the plant Chenopodium quinua, and kiwicha, Amaranthus caudatus, has been a vital part of the Andean diet, used as a grain in baking, as well as being served in numerous dishes prepared by Aymara, Quechua and other indigenous peoples found throughout the Andean region. Yet, in spite of its nutritious value—it is considered a supergrain—and hearty growth, in modern society quinoa has never enjoyed the mass appeal of grains such as rice or wheat because of its relative obscurity.

While no other food can, by itself, furnish all the essential nutrients for living, quinoa and kiwicha, which are 100% whole grains, and are as close to being a perfect food source in the balance of nutrition they provide, as any other foods from the vegetable and animal kingdoms. In the last ten years there has been an increasing interest in these grains as a healthy alternative to protein-rich foods such as beef or cheese. A growing export industry has developed as industrial countries begin to recognize the importance quinoa and kiwicha could play in providing a healthy and sustainable food source for centuries to come.

As word spreads of this "supergrain," an industry has begun to bloom, offering the promise of sustainable economic development for those regions in the Andean highlands in which quinoa and kiwicha may be found. The current value of this export market from Bolivia alone is approximately $1 million per year, and exports may expand even further with increased demand on the world market, particularly due to unsuccessful attempts to grow a desirable crop outside of the Andean highlands.

Perhaps more important than its economic potential is the incorporation or reincorporation of quinoa and kiwicha into the native diet of Andean peoples in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These once-revered highland plants—which, along with potatoes and corn formed a triumvirate of crops vital long before the Inca empire—is slowly working its way back onto the dinner tables of native Andean populations after a long period of waning popularity.

Following a visit to Colombia, the great geographer Alexander von Humboldt wrote that quinoa was to ancient Andean societies what "wine was to the Greeks, wheat to the Romans, and cotton to the Arabs." Although more prevalent in the neighboring countries of Peru and Bolivia, quinoa has played an important role in indigenous societies throughout the Andean region, including as far south as Salta, Argentina.

The origin of quinoa and kiwicha domestication appears to be located in the area around Lake Titicaca, where a high variation in cultivation is found between Cuzco, Perú, and Lake Poopó in Bolivia, thus this is where scientists believe the crop was first domesticated, long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

This area is where the city of Lehi-Nephi existed, where Nephi settled after leaving the land of first inheritance, and where Zeniff returned in 200 B.C. For a full explanation of this, see my book “Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica.”

1 comment: