Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Nellie Bly and Marijuana in Mexico

Stories have been circulating of late on social media about Nellie Bly, the intrepid reporter who went around the world in only 72 days, and also posed as a mental patient to report on conditions in women's asylums at a time when most female journalists were writing society columns or arts reviews.

Around 1885, at the age of 21, Bly traveled from her hometown of Pittsburgh to Mexico as a foreign correspondent. Her dispatches were gathered in a book, Six Months in Mexico, in which she describes courtship, wedding ceremonies, the popularity of tobacco smoking, the legend of the maguey plant (from which pulque and mezcal were made), and the habits of the soldiers, including an early description of their marijuana use:

"The soldiers have an herb named marijuana, which they roll into small cigaros and smoke. It produces intoxication which lasts for five days, and for that period they are in paradise. It has no ill after-effects, yet the use is forbidden by law. It is commonly used among prisoners. One cigaro is made, and the prisoners all sitting in a ring partake of it. The smoker takes a draw and blows the smoke into the mouth of the nearest man, he likewise gives it to another, and so on around the circle. One cigaro will intoxicate the whole lot for the length of five days.”

The only earlier mention of marijuana in English that my research fellows and I can come up with—courtesy of Isaac Campos, author of Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origin of Mexico's War on Drugs—is this description of the Chichimec people's customs, from the 1874 volume by Hubert Howe Bancroft, "The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America":

"When a young man desires to marry, his parents make a visit to those of the intended bride, and leave with them a bouquet of flowers bound with red wool; the bride's parents then send round to the houses of their friends a bunch of mariguana, a narcotic herb, which signifies that all are to meet together at the bride's father's on the next night. The meeting is inaugurated by smoking; then they chew mariguana, during which time all preliminaries of the marriage are settled. The following day the resolutions of the conclave are made known to the young man and woman, and if the decision is favorable, the latter sends her husband a few presents, and from that time the parties consider themselves married, and the friends give themselves up to feasting and dancing."

For five days, it would seem.

No comments: