The Legend of Açaí
At the mouth of the Amazon River, near the modern-day city of Belém in Northeast Brazil, an Amazonian tribe was facing famine due to a severe drought. As the tribe suffered, its chief, Itaqui became more concerned about how to feed its people. A consensus was formed amongst the village elders that all children born thereafter were to be sacrificed for the greater good of the tribe. Perhaps due to that decree, many moons passed without the conception of a native child. Of course, an eventual birth was bound to happen and when it did, Iaçá, the chief’s own daughter, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.
The chief, Itaqui, a man of his word, did not hesitate to uphold his decree. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Iaçá implored her father to spare her son’s life arguing that the fields were already green and there was an abundance of wild game throughout the region. Nevertheless, the chief maintained his word and the child was sacrificed.
Iaçá, being overwhelmed with grief, locked herself in her quarters, and on her knees, pleaded with the gods for a way to show her father that such atrocities were not the proper solution for the tribe’s difficulties. She cried herself to sleep and in the wee hours of the morning awoke to the cry of a child. She opened the door and to her surprise saw her son smiling at the foot of an elegant palm tree. At first, she was in shock and then broke into a run throwing herself in the direction of her son. As she reached out her hands to embrace him, he disappeared and instead she found herself wrapping her arms around the tree. In her grief, Iaçá cried and cried until she lost the will to live.
The following day, her body was found, still hugging the tree. She was dead, but her smiling face radiated satisfaction and her large dark eyes were fixed on the top of the palm tree. Itaqui noted that the palm had a bunch of dark purple berries where Iaçá gaze was fixed. He ordered that the berries be gathered at once to be inspected. A deep, dark purple juice was extracted. It was found to be a very nourishing food. Itaqui thanked the gods because it allowed him to terminate the ban on childbirth, ensuring the future of his people. Reversing the name of his daughter, Iaçá, he baptized this mysterious fruit Açaí.
Throughout subsequent generations, this dark, purple berry has given sustenance to the native people of this region. Today, almost all the inhabitants of Belém drink the juice of açaí thanks to the tears of Iaçá.
Note from Nativo Açaí: We came across this wonderful story about açai many years ago when we were visiting the Amazon region in Brazil. Our açai comes from the richest region of the rainforest. As the story mentions, açai grows in a cluster at the top of a tall palm tree. The fruit is wild-harvested by natives. They actually climb each tree and bring down the cluster without harming the tree. The berries are dark purple and are comprised of 90% seed. The fruit is very dense and water is added to create a puree. The fruit is high in antioxidants and omega fatty acids. In the last decade, açai has become very popular worldwide due to its exotic flavor and nutritional properties. It is usually consumed frozen and used as a base to a bowl mixed with other fruits and topping such as granola. The typical Brazilian açai bowl consumed in Rio de Janeiro is a mix of açai and guarana syrup which adds a unique flavor and energy boost.