In Georgetown there is a certain drink made of green granadine, rum and ice. It is called the ‘Mazaruni Scorpion’ and is sometimes given to unsuspecting visitors who praise its pleasant taste and are beguiled by its receptive mildness. They ask for more. After the third or fourth drink the ‘Mazaruni Scorpion’ may turn on you and, like its namesake, it is found to have a sting in its tail.
This 1957 paper by Dr. Audrey Butt published in the Guianese journal, Timehri, is really “a study of the symbolic significance of tattoo patterns among the Akawaio”. The drink, described above, is named after a classic tattoo pattern worn by the old breed of Akawaio women that appears to be a scorpion’s tail protruding from their mouth. The green granadine in question is likely a lime cordial so the drink is most probably a daiquiri sold with a local name. It would be no surprise if the globe trotting mining engineers of David Wondrich’s recent daiquiri narrative brought the drink to Georgetown. The Akawaio may seem remote and exotic, but it is a small world.
This short excerpt and Wondrich’s article are important because they drinks as being connected to a deep and powerful mythology. Too many drinks today are written and exchanged deprived of any connection to life. They symbolize near nothing and they aren’t even part of a conscientious aestheticism movement (that I used to rock!). We have countless new drinks with no tales.
Mythology often proves authenticity and that a drink was formed and perpetuated by the noble pressures of the zeitgeist. Thirst and necessity of stimulation were the mothers of its invention. Anxiety, complacency, cementing memories, and retrieving memories were all to be solved for the imbiber and not brand kick backs, narcissism, and ego stroking for the bar star living in a bubble.
There is this strange thing going around in the new circles discussing drinks where everyone talks in the dialect of a conformist business school grad and not the rebellious dialect of art nor the dialect of the mythology creating bon vivant.
It is noticeable in written accounts of the Guiana tribes and also in my own investigations that there is a particular connection between the patterns and the making of sweet drinks and sweet cassava. The women bear the symbols of bees on their arms and faces and the ingredients of the tattoo dyes always include, something sweet —wild honey or sugar cane. Even the ‘aluai skin’ pattern is related to this stress on sweetness since the skin of the aluai fish is said to taste sweet. Farabee noted that “… the tattooing serves as a distinguishing mark, but it all appears to be most important in rendering the drink sweeter to the taste.” Roth maintained “that among the Makusi, Patamona and Arekuna “The honey, with which the pigment is mixed, is believed to act as a charm or bina to make the drink taste ‘sweet’ “.
What did we do with all of our charms and symbols? In the early days of the cocktail renaissance you used to look for that jigger, or that stir, or fuck even that tattoo to know your drink would be the right kind of sweeter, the kind steeped in mythology, connected to a lineage of people that were fun and helped you to simultaneously remember and forget the correct parts of your life. Now all the old symbols and signifiers have been stripped from us and commodified. Now half the time you look for the place to be scuffed up enough and not over renovated. You look for stuff to not be on the shelves, meaning no one panders to the reps and you look for the glassware to be clean, but modest. You still want to see the sacred silver repoussé relics used to convey sweetness, but not piles of their stamped reproductions.
When we drank Wray & Nephews years ago, we had to find it. It wasn’t brought to us with five other options and sometimes it wasn’t even written about yet (When I first drank Fire I found it myself and loved it). Our choice wasn’t only relative to a scene. Sometimes we were being lumberjack sexuals. Sometimes we were trying to retrieve the memories of spending three weeks in Jamaica drinking with a construction crew (they drank J.B. Trelawny with Campari). Ed Hamilton’s stories of the oil industry are actually the best out there and you’ll want to drink along. Other times it was gravitation to an authentic drink, drunk by real people and helped ground us after we worked away in cubicles and only broke a sweat artificially in a gym. Sometimes it was a fetish for something in a tiki book, but I never got into that.
The young generation wonders how politicians can get so corrupt, but a bunch of people that consider themselves artists go on paid trips and get politely in the pocket of their hosts so quickly they ask no questions and contest nothing. They feel they do no harm if they don’t open their mouths and that is why so many come back in silence. I’m not allowed to go because I’ve read too much. I ask too many questions (with no great writings, no great tales [except Matt Pietrek]). I demand to see things. I want to know what they’ve read and where they’ve been. I write letters to their old timers. I’m like a fucking U.N. weapons inspector, but you’ve got to be if you don’t want to be a pawn in a globalist marketing scheme. The pharmaceutical industry is going to start poaching these malleable people and then maybe we can get back to drinks that are a reflection of lives lived.
If you are lost in a post-modern drink scene with so much churning long after all the precedents were set, look to the Akawaio as a guide back to authenticity. Strip everything back down to its stinging and biting essence then start again.
On the practical side, they are believed to assist the bearers of the pattern in these specific tasks. They are formalised, symbolic representations taken from nature. In every case, the creatures which have inspired the patterns are those which are regarded as producing the essence of sweetness or of stinging and biting. The combined essence of this sweetness and powerful stinging is brought into the closest contact with those who require to stimulate it in their activities —the women who, years ago, made the cassava bread and chewed the ingredients of the spree drinks. Their aim was a sweet, powerful drink to make the men merry and drunk during celebrations and to achieve this they enlisted the aid of the creatures which possess the necessary characteristics and by symbolic association they thought to reproduce these same qualities. It is the Mazaruni scorpion which puts the kick, or sting, in the Akawaio drink!
The drinks world has gotten so lame I turned all of my creative energy over to the Houghton Street Foundry.