Let us chokola’j: Position of chocolate in Human Cultures over the Centuries

Chocolate: a little treat, a present or a Snack. It has in our society many forms and it tempts us to cheat on our diet. Chocolate holds a position in human society that hasn’t hypothetically changed over the years. This post wants to discuss the significance of the history of chocolate in Mesoamerica and it s position in different cultures.

 

When the Cacao tree first came to the attention of human kind, it was because of the sweet taste of its pulp and not the fermented dried, and roasted bean (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 25). The first cultivation of cacao trees can be traced back to 3,300 where the Mayo-Chinchipe culture of Ecuador started systematically growing cacao (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 25). In contrast to today, it was then used just as normal fruit (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 25). The origins of chocolate can be traced down to the originates in the north west part of the Amazon basin (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 25).

Illustration 1 Sweet Cacao Fruit (Dark Chocolate Life, 2016)
Illustration 1 Sweet Cacao Fruit (Dark Chocolate Life, 2016)

The very first finding of manufactured chocolate was in an archaeological ceramic, which allowed to trace the first use of chocolate back to 1900-1500 BC in a region called the old Soconusco (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 36). The fact that a trace of chocolate was found in a fine piece of art is an indicator that chocolate might have been treated as a valued drink instead of being used for normal cooking (Powis, et al., 2007).

Illustration 2 Early Mokaya use of cacao (Theobroma cacao): Bayo Brown tecomate vessel (inset) which was found to contain cacao residue
Illustration 2 Early Mokaya use of cacao (Theobroma cacao): Bayo Brown tecomate vessel (inset) which was found to contain cacao residue

Until the years 1400-1500, chocolate was thought to be discovered by the Olmecs living in the Mexican Gulf Coast. (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 35). However, there aren´t many remains of the Olmec artifacts and writings, so we cannot interpret the place that chocolate held in their culture.

 

 

The position of chocolate in the culture of the Mayas and Aztecs grew dramatically from a nutrition to the food of the gods. The Mayans (AD 250 until the 9th century) of Central America where drawn to chocolate and the cacao trees for religious reasons. It plays an essential role in the so called “Popol Vuh”, a book describing ( or depicting) historical and methodical aspects of the Maya. Chocolate to them was “Theobrima cacao” literally meaning cacao the food of gods. (Presilla, 2001, p. 5). For example, the Mayans believed that Cacao had to be offered to their rain god (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 40-42). Besides being a religious item/offering, it was also given mostly to the upper class of Mayans. Chocolate was also used in betrothal and marriage ceremonies (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 60-61). The Aztecs from Mexico, on the other hand used the dried beans of chocolate as a drink and a currency (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 33). They also used it in the military as a reward (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 75) and also because they believed that chocolate enhanced their health. They thought drinking chocolate would allow the to go a whole day without food. (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 84). Chocolate was not directly linked to their Gods as it was for the Mayans but it played an essential role in their society and for trading purposes (Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 72-74).

Illustration 3 A Mayan woman preparing a cacao drink (Watson, 2014)
Illustration 3 A Mayan woman preparing a cacao drink (Watson, 2014)

 

 

In conclusion, the position/role/vision of chocolate has altered over the years in cultures. It is obvious that if we look back through history that this development is unlikely to stop. One obvious example of the lasting trend of chocolate changing its position in cultures can be observed through artists. They are an example for the future position of chocolate in society. Artists like Patrick Roger, who treats chocolate like a raw material, which he uses and transforms into giant creations, as can be seen in the picture below.

Illustration 4: ChocolArt from Partick Roger (YourArts, 2014)
Illustration 4: ChocolArt from Partick Roger (YourArts, 2014)

Bibliography

Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate (Bd. III). London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Dark Chocolate Life. (6. February 2016). Dark Chocolate Life. Abgerufen am 6. February 2016 von Chocolate Making: http://www.dark-chocolate-life.com/chocolate-making.html

Powis, G., T., Hurst, W. J., Rodríguez, M., Ortíz, P., Blake, M., et al. (December 2007). Antiquity. Abgerufen am 8. February 2016 von Oldest chocolate in the New World: http://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/powis/

Presilla, M. E. (2001). The New Taste of CHOCOLATE: a cultural and natural History of Cacao with Recipes. New York: Ten Speed Press.

Watson, M. (21. October 2014). Dandelionchocolate. Abgerufen am 7. Fabruar 2016 von A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE: PART 1: https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/2014/10/21/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-part/

YourArts. (1. November 2014). YourArts. Abgerufen am 6. February 2016 von ChocolArt: https://youartsw.wordpress.com/category/chocolate-artist/

 

 

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