Pure and simple as a hammer to the forebrain




They wouldn't be heroes if they were infallible, in fact they wouldn't be heroes if they weren't miserable wretched dogs, the pariahs of the earth, besides which the only reason to build up an idol is to tear it down again.
-- Lester Bangs


Upstart American Spirits Puts Ancient Wisdom in Every Pack

Reported 1999-06-20 14:27 by Mr. Bad

It's not often that in the hardscrabble tobacco industry a new kid on the block can make a dent in the market share of the Giants of Smoking like RJR and Philip Morris. And yet, that's exactly what scrappy upstart American Spirit has done, gaining 15% share in the all-important 18-24 target demographic in the 5 years since they entered the fray.
How do they do it, you ask? The New Mexico-based corporation has a secret weapon up its sleeve: the traditional cigarette-making wisdom of an ancient and noble people.
American Spirits cigarettes are the collective pride of the citizens of the Waiala Pueblo Tribe, located 150 mi. northeast of Santa Fe. The Waiala have created tobacco products by hand since time immemorial.
"Our elders say that the first cigarette was created by our Father the Sun after begetting all the things of the earth by our Mother the Moon," Waiala leader Sam Tchakaiolo informed Pigdog Journal during a recent visit to the Great Southwest. "We celebrate the post-coital glow of the All-Father each time we make a relaxing American Spirit cigarette."
Tchakaiolo, the wiry, sun-wrinkled 54-year-old kapa or "cigarette big man" of the Waiala, led us on a tour of the scenic Waiala Pueblo where American Spirits are made. PJ was surprised to see that cigarette production on a massive scale goes on side-by-side with traditional tribal living.
"This is our way of life," the kapa explained. "Sooner ask us to stop eating coyote-gut stew, to stop selling firecrackers and anatomically-correct novelty statuettes by the roadside, than to stop producing 50,000 gross of regular, light, wide and menthol cigarettes per day."
American Spirits begin in the terraced tobacco fields of Waiala Pueblo, hand-carved into the 4000-foot high walls of the Waiala Mesa. The back-breaking labor of tending the fields is performed by the married women of their tribe, who can often be seen bent in a permanent agonizing stoop over the green, leafy tobacco rows, and occasionally falling to their deaths on the canyon floor below.
No chemical pesticides or fertilizers are used on the plants. "We fertilize them with corn husks, fish skeletons and human dung," says Tchakaiolo. "This gives American Spirit cigarettes their unique 'close-to-nature' flavor."
Once the tobacco is harvested, dried, and chopped, it's on to the rolling kiva. It's here that we find the traditional rolling paper, made from mesquite wood chewed for hours by the tribe's virgins, stamped flat by foot and dried in the life-draining desert sun. Also on hand are filters made of finest lambs' wool, sheered from the nether regions of the newborn females on the night of the first full moon in the Spring.
Rolling the cigarettes themselves, though, is the province of the tribe's warriors.
"The men of the tribe prepare for hours in the kiva, or religious trailers, of our reservation," explains Ivan Kachumoro, the garana or "rolling big man" of the Waiala. "We fry on all kinds of crazy-ass desert plants for, like, _days_. You ever try to roll 100,000 cigarettes? You'd wanna be heap big fucked up, too."
Once spiritually and physically prepared for the task of rolling, the men sit in the circular rolling kiva and begin their task. Taking a filter and a handful of tobacco between the fingers of his right hand, the warrior tears off a square of paper in his left, and with a flick of his wrist, a perfect cigarette is made. This is repeated thousands upon thousands of times per day.
Finally, the finishing touches are put on the cigarette itself. A thin gold band is painted around the filter end of the butt. "We had some problem coming up with all that gold," admits Tchakaiolo, "We made a deal with the Mexican government to use the melted-down remains of Aztec ceremonial masks. Turns out there's international indigenous peoples' agreements out there that allow us to desecrate priceless works of all humanity for our own gain. Who'd a thunk it?"
As cigarettes are made, they are gathered into packs of twenty (a holy number to the Waiala) in the hands of small, dirty children who run them over to the Packing Pueblo. Here, the eldest, wisest women in this matriarchal society put the cigarettes in their final packages and seal the closure with a brief chant and wave of a smudge stick.
The packages themselves are made by hand by in Waiala Pueblo. Tin ore for the foil is mined on ancestral lands 200 miles away and carried by llama back to the Pueblo, where it is smelted over dense, hot buffalo-dung fires.
The cellophane wrapper is harvested from the plentiful ana'i, or cellophanus cactus -- it's peeled like sunburnt skin off the plant's outer husk. Finally, the paper shell of the package is lovingly hand-painted by a skilled artisan after much prayer and fasting.
But what about the logo on the American Spirits package, a silhouette of what is obviously a Plains Indian smoking a peace-pipe, not a cigarette?
"Well," Tchaikaolo says, "our most revered elder was visited in a dream by Kahi'iki Pa'ona, the Kachina of Marketing. He was told that having a picture of one of us Southwest Indians with our traditional Moe the Stooge haircut just wasn't gonna get us anywhere. So we use the Chief, there, instead."
Yet more proof that modern wisdom, matched with ancient ways, makes for good business!


Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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