Why Didn't North American Indians Develop Alcoholic Beverages

This is from 1907, so it may even be relevent:

I would say that most humans today, could not produce alcohol they were sure was safe to drink without assistance.

I’d agree with you. But the discovery of new things proceeds by luck and circumstance. It’s not that any one person sets out to find alcohol – it’s that with lots of people doing the same actions over and over, some of them occasionally stumble onto alcohol. And of those that do, some continue to use it.

That’s very interesting, and extremely suggestive. But are they old, pre-Columbian words, or were they applied to new substances brought over by Europeans. If the former, I’ll bet they had alcohol and knew how to produce it, which makes the mystery of Native handling of alcohol even more mysterious.

Please note that a stretch does happen, and we’re talking a long time. I offer arguments as possibilities that should be considered as a possible influence. Most things are not due to one or two occurances, but the whole dynamic influences of the world which is beyond one persons ability to trace. I try to bring possibilities into view, to be considered. Experts can argue the points of likelihood.

Also don’t take continued posts to mean you are wrong, it’s just additional stuff I add.

Yes, but… I left out a ‘not’ in my intro sentence; probably got flustered while trying to spell ‘relevant’. :smack:

Let’s talk New England tribes for now: Here are some peer reviewed exerpts from Native American Post Colonial Discourses.

Colonials [in my opinion] had a higher propensity to give the natives alcohol in the begining than various explorers did. To your OP, Why did the native not have it prior to this? They had no reference in their history to seek to ferment anything. Fermentation as we know it would have been on the list of “Bad” things to a native american. Unconsumable, not fit for survival, that type of thing. I’ll write more when I have a minute.

Ph;osopht, I don’t at all see how those two cites are relevant to the discussion. I don’t doubt that colonists gave Indians alcohol. The may have been more likely to – I don’t know. We do know that explorers gave it to them as well. But colonists are around a lot longer than explorers, pretty much bu definition. They have more opportunities to give it to them. But that has nothing to do with whether the Indians already had alcohol.

You’re asserting this, but it’s not at all clear to me that this is true. People all over the world have adopted fermented products – cheeses, alcohol, bread with yeast, natto – because they see the advantages of it, even if at first it might imply corruption. There’s no reason American Indians could not, as well. (And certainly did, in the case of Aztecs and pulque. And possibly those Southwest brewers. And those vinegar-makers if they did, in fact, make vinegar before Columbus).

There does seem to be some evidence of early vinegar production.
For instance, this pdf from the epa Explore Our Natural World shows an old painting with this caption:

Google turns up many other hints of vinegar over the “woodland period”, but nothing definitive. A proper research database is likely needed to track this down.

Your right this is only my opinion…but it seems to be the reason for your op to figure out why the NA didn’t have alcohol or any fermented consumables. North America is a big place, and to be devoid of alcohol or fermented material doesn’t seem right I agree. But I would also think the colonists or explorers would have noted a native american brew had their been one. They certainly liked the tobacco.

The linked article only said that the writer didn’t observe alcohol in the earliest natives they encountered. I wans’t putting the link in to verify or discount your OP…Just to say they didn’t have it then…

Well, also remember, dudes- the Natives might have had some occassional small beer (2%) or weak wine, but they were being fed Rum (40%). That is a huge difference alcohol content-wise.

Probably, though I have had the mares milk stuff and it about made me hurk :frowning:

But I used it as an example of fermenting on the move [as it were]. Not sure I would actually like kvass either, I like more sweet stuff like wines and cyders. i do know that I hate almost all beers because of teh bitter from the hops.

Look, Indians weren’t all nomads. I fact, most were not nomadic, or if they were had a pretty regular and short-term pattern, with set summer and winter camps, both of which were pretty well built-up. Indians had numerous towns and even small cities.

This is an important point, and bears further clarification. There is increasing evidence that Native American tribes in North America were devastated by disease long before Colonists arrived in significant numbers. Many tribes that may have lived a settled or largely settled existence up until the 1500s may very well have reverted to nomadic life once their numbers had been reduced by diseases traveling up from Mexico and Central American soon after the Spanish *Conquistadores *arrived there.

Brazilian indians were more primitive than their north-american cousins, but they had a fermented beverage called cauim. It was made from starch rich manioc or maize, that was cooked and chewed by the women in a bowl. The enzimes in the saliva caused the fermentation.

I am posting again to correct the previous post, since I am not allowed to edit it:

Brazilian indians were more primitive than their north-american cousins, but they had a fermented beverage called cauim. It was made from starch rich manioc or maize, that was cooked and chewed by the women and spat in a bowl. The enzimes in the saliva caused the fermentation.

In response to the statement about Indians and fermentation, this site claims that several groups did indeed eat fermented foods. No mention of alcohol, though, or vinegar:


dnooman may have meant this as a joke . . .

. . . but I’m beginning to wonder if there is validity in it. American Indians grew and consumed more psychoactive varieties of tobacco (and other weeds) than people typically smoke today, and tobacco seems to have served many of the social, religious, and medicinal functions for which alcohol served in Eurasia. Is it possible that alcohol never caught on because tobacco was already there?

I came in here to post this very point. Some have even gone so far to claim that the vast woodlands that the Dutch/English found in the Northeast were something like game parks maintained by the Indians by regular burning for their hunting pleasure; and that agriculture and fishing were actually the main sources of subsistence. These ideas are supported by early accounts of the English at Plymouth and Mass. Bay, among others. IIRC, for example, the Pilgrims found a huge cache of corn and other farmed products buried on Cape Cod somewhere that helped them avoid starvation in their early days. Considering that even by this point in the early 1600’s the Woodland Indian’s society had been ravaged by disease, (reduced to something like 30% of its population of 100 years earlier by some estimates) its likely agriculture was once very wide spread.

All of this is a round about way of saying that the idea that Indians didn’t have alcohol because of the lack of widespread agriculture or leisure time from nomadic wanderings is highly unlikely.