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Amount of tesserae claimed by each district.

Fan interpretation of bread made from tessera grain.

"I kept telling myself if I could only hold out until May, just May 8th, I would turn twelve and be able to sign up for the tesserae and get that precious grain and oil to feed us."
― Katniss[src]

Tessera (plural: tesserae) was a form of voluntary food rationing, offered by the government of Panem to people in the districts. If a family was struggling for food, children between the ages of 12 and 18 - those eligible to participate in the Hunger Games - could sign up for tesserae. A single tessera was worth one year's supply of grain and oil for a single person, collected on a monthly basis. The child could also claim further tesserae for as many members of their family as needed. Depending on the family and their particular circumstances, tesserae may or may not have been enough to live on, and alternate sources of food - sometimes acquired illegally - may also have needed to be pursued.

While tesserae was vital to many families in the districts, it came at a heavy price: In exchange for this extra food, the child's name would be added to the reaping balls an additional time for every tessera claimed that year. These entries were also cumulative, so if tesserae had to be claimed year after year, the chances of being reaped could increase dramatically, depending on the number of people that had to be fed. Tessera grain was apparently unrefined, as it is described as dark and dense, likely prioritizing nutrition over taste.[1]

In the districts

The practice of exchanging reaping entries for tesserae was mainly claimed in the poorer districts, such as districts 10, 11 and 12, while far less common in richer districts such as districts 1, 2 and 4. The largest gap was between districts 1 and 12, with a ratio of more than 1:500. District 12 was considered the poorest district since it had the most amount of people taking tesserae, while District 1 was considered the richest district since it had the fewest amount of people taking it.

It is a possibility that children in Career districts took tesserae in order to get their name added into the reaping ball more times; however, this is unlikely because most tributes from the Career districts were volunteers. If the tesserae taking was not public, then a Career who wished to avoid the arena could secretly take the maximum amount each year, both for extra food and to claim to be unable to volunteer after being reaped through greater chance, ineligible to join the usual glut of career-volunteers.

Characters taking tesserae

The Capitol's tessera advertisement.

Katniss Everdeen of District 12 took tesserae for each of the 3 members of her family (herself, her mother, and Primrose Everdeen, her sister) every year since she turned 12. This gave her three extra entries in the reaping per year, with a total of 20 by the time of the reaping for the 74th Hunger Games, at age 16. At the same reaping, Katniss' friend, Gale Hawthorne, age 18, had a total of 42 tesserae entries: one for each of the 5 members of his family (Rory, Posy, Vick, his siblings, and Hazelle Hawthorne, his mother).[1] During Catching Fire, things in District 12 became so dire that Rory was forced to take tesserae, to Hazelle and Gale's discomfort.[2]

Another Capitol advertisement

Although they also lived in District 12, Madge Undersee and Peeta Mellark never needed to take out any tesserae because Madge was the mayor's daughter and Peeta's father owned a bakery.[1]

During Catching Fire, because of food shortages, children in District 12 who took out tesserae never received the grain they were due, owing to the disruptions of the Second Rebellion.[2]

During Mockingjay, the system was abolished after rebel victory against the Capitol government in the Second Rebellion.

Trivia

  • Tessera takes its name from a kind of tiny, cube-shaped tile; colored gold and ebony, they were apparently used as decorative elements in the homes of wealthy Capitol families before the outbreak of the First Rebellion. On reaping day of the 10th Hunger Games, in which he served as a mentor, Coriolanus Snow wore a shirt whose buttons had been fashioned from recycled tessera tiles.[3]

References

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