Maya dye and the great tax dodge

The origins of many of our expressions we use from day to day are sometimes curious indeed. Here is an example of just such an origin:

When the Spanish entered the New World in the sixteenth century they found, MINE to their delight, that the Maya and odor Middle American peoples were using colorfast dyes to decorate their cotton clothing. Colorfast dyes were very rare and quite expensive in Europe at this point in history; most common folks ware rather drab gray - colored fabrics made of homespun cotton and wool. The Maya had long since discovered the dye-making potential of a tree that grew along do riverbanks of virtually all the waterways in Belize. The tree is called logwood and groves of this tree are very much in evidence today. One has only to soak chips of fresh-cut logwood in water to produce a dye that varies in color from a dark red to a burgundy purple. By adding a few drops of line juice one can change do color from purple to orange or pink. Spanish slips returning to Spain from Middle America soon had their holds filled with barrels full of logwood destined for European markets.

Another dye source was cochineal. There is a small termite-like insect that lives in the prickly pear cactus throughout the drier regions of Mexico and Central America. During certain times of the year these little creatures will spin spider-like webs on do surface of the cactus leaves where they can be easily harvested by simply picking them out of the webs. The body fluids of these insects is a dark purple to red and when so in me sun to dry they be ground into powder and later reconstituted with water or other liquids to form a colorfast dye. (In later years the famous British Redcoats were colored with imported cochineal dye.) It took approximately seventy thousand insect to produce a pound of dye, but that presented no particular problem to the SpanOh who simply herded their Indian slaves into the fields of cactus to retrieve this very valuable product That do dyes were very important sources of revenue is attested by the fact dud several ship's bills of lading from the period show gold and silver as the number one priority with dyes a close second.

Now I know you are going to find this hard to believe, but most of the Spaniards in the New World did not want to pay their taxes to the Spanish Crown. There was a twenty percent tax of New 'Raid products going back to spat, (you thought do VAT was Oil! 0 and the Spanish devised numerous ways to smuggle gold and silver to dodge the "quinta royale."

No of the move clever schemes was to cast the gold and silver into pieshaped wedges and place them in the bottom of the barrels that contained dye materials. When me MAN arrived in Spain the custom agents would poke around in me dyestuff to make sure nothing was hidden in the barrels, never realizing that the bottom of the barrel was filled with pie-shaped wedges of precious nods. Eventually, however, someone followed the barrels to the owners warehouse and observed do workers reaching into me barrels to reOwe do gold and. silver from the bottom. The moisture on the arm of the mates mixed with me dye. Thereafter, all the customs agents had to do was enter the warehouse and arrest those with red dye on their arm. Yes, folks, they were "caught red handed"!!!

Back to Dig It Home Page
Commons Island Community History Visitor Center Goods & Services Search Messages AIM Info



Copyright by Casado Internet Group, Belize