All posts by aaas119x233

Ghanaian Goods: The Impact of Late 20th Century Cocoa Market Privatization on Ghana’s Cacao Farmers

Chocolate is purchased all over the world, but 75% of the cacao cultivated to make chocolate is produced in West African countries.[1] Ghana is second in the world in cacao production, only to Cote d’Ivoire, the top country producing cacao in the world.


Ghana and neighboring country Cote d’Ivoire

Cacao production in Ghana can be traced to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Gold Coast transitioned from wealth accumulation through gold and slaves to cocoa.[2] During the 20th century, the Ghanaian national government heavily regulated the cocoa sector but experienced tension with the global market as international economic organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pushed Ghana to liberalize its cocoa market. Around 1979, the Ghanaian government initiated reform of the cocoa sector, established the Ghana Cocoa Board (reconfigured Cocobod), and supported intense privatization of the cocoa market. Over the past 30 years, these changes have had a serious impact on the well-being of local cacao farmers in Ghanaian areas. Using a historical analysis of Ghana’s economic changes during the late 20th century as well as a comparative analysis of the cocoa market between Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, I argue that the privatization and liberalization of the Ghanaian cocoa market has been mostly detrimental to Ghanaian cacao workers today.

This analysis is important for multiple reasons. First, the legacy of the globalized economy’s effect on the Ghanaian cocoa market during the 20th century has had significant effects on the international chocolate market. Even though most cacao is cultivated in West African nations, most of the chocolate in the world is sold to other countries. Understanding the effect of late 20th century changes to the West African cocoa market both reveals incentives of global chocolate companies and exposes troubling inequalities between Ghanaian cacao producers and international chocolate consumers. Additionally, studying the globalized economy’s effect on the Ghanaian cocoa market illuminates layers that shape cacao production beyond local cacao farmers themselves. In the past two decades, new documentaries and investigative work have revealed the place of child labor and evidence of slavery in West African cacao farms.[3] This information has moved informed citizens and government officials to demand action in response to the exploitation observed here: one of the most prominent measures established in the United States was the Harkin-Engel Protocol, established by US Representative Eliot Engel and Senator Tom Harkin in order to push chocolate manufacturers to document any evidence of exploited child labor in the cultivation of their chocolate.[4] However, the understandably charged dialogue surrounding exploited labor has encouraged ideas of an “exploited/exploiter” binary that leaves no room to consider the effects of other layers of control in the cocoa market. Such layers include both national/governmental practices as well as local/community customs in cocoa production.[5] Analyzing the significant changes to the Ghanaian economy over the past few decades is crucial to understanding the condition of cacao laborers and moving past the exploited/exploiter binary often promoted by well-meaning and/or sensationalist accounts, in order to accurately evaluate the conditions of West African cacao labor.

Ghana’s economy has experienced trouble since last year. Due to factors such as government corruption and the 40% depreciation of Ghana’s cedi currency, Ghana’s cocoa economy has struggled as living costs have skyrocketed. This has had an adverse effect on Ghanaian farmers, who say that basic operational costs (such as the price of fertilizer) have increased significantly since 2011. In Ghana, cacao farmers are legally required to sell their beans only to purchasing clerks acting as intermediaries between farmers and Cocobod, Ghana’s state-run cocoa marketing board. However, despite Ghana’s economic troubles, Cocobod has not increased farmers’ compensation for cacao cultivation. This inaction, combined with both the economic struggles of Ghana’s low cocoa prices and the depreciation of the national currency, has led many farmers to illegally smuggle their cacao beans into Ghana’s neighbor, Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s number one cacao producer.[6] According to estimates, Ghana’s cacao output over the past 15 years peaked from October 2011 to September 2012, as cacao smuggling from Ghana surged during Cote d’Ivoire’s short-lived civil war. Unfortunately, the outlook for Ghana’s cocoa market is currently uncertain, as high inflation and the depreciation of the Ghanaian cedi continue to plague cacao farmers.[7]

The issues of Ghana’s current cocoa market and the farmer’s frustrations can be traced to changes to the cocoa sector during the late 20th century. During the 1970s, a military coup ended Ghana’s single-party system and brought Jerry Rawlings into political power. This ushered in a national reform of the cocoa sector, creating the Ghana Cocoa Board – Cocobod – and increasing privatization of cacao production.[8] Resisting pressures from the Western market to further liberalize, Ghana’s national government attempted to reject engaging with international economic agencies, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), essentially “unplugging” from the rest of the world. However, this decision caused mass chaos as urban dwellers reacted to both the scarcity of imported food as well as the skyrocketing prices of locally produced food. Food riots became exceedingly common. Eventually, the Ghanaian national government turned back on its isolationist policies. In 1984, Rawlings engaged with the World Bank and devalued the national currency, freeing Ghana’s marketplace, attracting capital investment, and curing the crisis of goods availability in Ghana. This immediately decreased both inflation and the black market in Ghana.[9]

These achievements proved short-lived in the wake of Ghana’s current economic crisis. Despite the increased privatization of Ghana’s cocoa market as well as Cocobod’s relaxed influence on the private sector, Ghana experienced rising costs and depreciating currency value just last year. This can be traced to Ghana’s continued cocoa market liberalization through the 1980s and 90s. Cocobod increased cocoa produce prices from 1988 to 1990, but from 1992 to 1993, Ghana introduced quasi-private exporting firms in order to adhere to its agreements with the World Bank and IMF. Before this deregulation, Cocobod had a monopoly over Ghanaian cocoa, but afterward, multiple buying companies would compete over Ghanaian cocoa.[10] Despite these market-based advancements and optimism about Ghana’s growing economy, the value of cocoa in Ghana continues to decline. This led to the smuggling of cocoa into Cote d’Ivoire, in order to try to procure a better price for cacao beans. Even though the promise of privatization sustained Ghana’s cocoa economy through the late 20th century, increased costs and associated economic woes have challenged local cacao farmers. In a recommendation from Ecobank, the Pan-African Bank, recommenders suggested that Cocobod now needs to increase the fixed price of cacao for local farmers.[11] Suggestions like these demonstrate that solutions to Ghanaian cacao farmer compensation are moving in a different direction, away from the privatization that defined so much of the Ghanaian cocoa market.

Furthermore, a comparative analysis between the cocoa markets of Ghana and its neighbor Cote d’Ivoire demonstrates the current limitations that privatization has put on these markets. In Ghana, the cocoa market is primarily mediated through Cocobod, the state-run agency which controls prices and transactions for Ghanaian cacao trading. However, in Cote d’Ivoire, the government takes a much more laissez-faire approach, allowing private traders to mediate between local cacao farmers and the world economy.[12] The differing approach to the Cote d’Ivoire cocoa market can be traced to different economic changes in Cote d’Ivoire’s history. Whereas Cocobod continues to control Ghana’s cocoa economy, Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa market underwent extreme liberalization in the early 2000s. The intense deregulation and privatization of Cote d’Ivoire’s market severely fragmented the cocoa sector, devastating the local cacao farmers.[13] Whereas Ghana retains the stability of Cocobod even in states of high inflation and devalued currency, Cote d’Ivoire suffers from a fragmented market that disenfranchises local cacao laborers.

Ghanaian cacao laborers face drastic challenges in the market for one of the most urgently demanded treats: chocolate. Unfortunately, pressures to privatize the industry from international economic groups and the world economy has proven ultimately detrimental to local Ghanaian cacao laborers. Despite the oversight of Cocobod, Ghana’s state-run cocoa market manager, the country was still pushed to liberalize its market during the late 20th century, creating volatile and unstable market conditions for the laborers. Likewise, a comparative analysis of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire reveals a similar situation. Unlike Ghana’s relatively more stable cocoa market and the lasting presence of Cocobod, Cote d’Ivoire underwent extreme privatization of its country’s cocoa market, as well as continued pushes to liberalize through the early 2000s. Even though Ghana still had a considerably volatile market, Cote d’Ivoire experienced extreme fragmentation of its cocoa market, seriously isolating cacao laborers cultivating the beans. Fortunately, cooperatives have proven successful in supporting financial transactions between cacao laborers and the world market.[14] In final analysis, these effects demonstrate how extreme privatization has been detrimental to Ghana’s cocoa economy and should serve as a cautionary tale to future investors and policymakers.

[1] Sarah Lockwood, “Lecture 14: Exploiters or Exploited?,” from AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.

[2] Mikell, Gwendolyn, “Introduction,” xi, from Cacao and Chaos in Ghana

[3] Carol Off, “Dirty Chocolate,” from Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, 139-142; Orla Ryan, “Child Labour,” from Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, 44.

[4] Off, 139-140.

[5] Sarah Lockwood, “Lecture 14: Exploiters or Exploited?”

[6] Anderson, Mark and McTernan, Billie Adwoa, “Ghana’s cocoa farmers turn to smuggling as profits dwindle,” The Guardian, August 13, 2014

[7] Ecobank, “Ghana: Cocoa sector is facing new challenges,” 23 July 2014

[8] Martin, “Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery”

[9] Mikel, “Cocoa and Chaos: Global, National, and Local Relations,” 252.

[10] Grossman-Greene, Sarah, and Bayer, Chris, “A Brief History of Cocoa in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire,” Payson Center for International Development, Tulane University, 10-11.

[11] Ecobank.

[12] Lockwood, “Lecture 23: Exploiters or Exploited?”

[13] Ecobank, 2.

[14] Janelle Richards, “Chocolate is a Bittersweet Way of Life in Ghana”

Works Cited

Anderson, Mark, and Billie Adwoa McTernan. “Ghana’s Cocoa Farmers Turn to Smuggling as Profits Dwindle.” The Guardian, August 13, 2014.

Ecobank. “Ghana: Cocoa Sector is Facing New Challenges.” July 23, 2014. Accessed May 5, 2015.

Grossman-Greene, Sarah, and Bayer, Chris, “A Brief History of Cocoa in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.” Payson Center for International Development, Tulane University. November 2009. Accessed May 5, 2015.

Lockwood, Sarah. “Lecture 13: Exploiter or Exploited?” In AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Accessed May 5, 2015.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 14: Modern Day Slavery.” In AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Accessed May 5, 2015.

Mikell, Gwendolyn. Cocoa and Chaos in Ghana. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

Mondo Magic. “English: Map of West Africa, where Energy for Opportunity Works.” Image. 2009.

Off, Carol. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: New Press, 2008.

Richards, Janelle. “Chocolate Is a Bittersweet Way of Life in Ghana.” NBC News. May 5, 2015. Accessed May 6, 2015.

Sexual Chocolate: The Role of Chocolate in Race and Gender Performance

Chocolate has been used in advertisements to promote problematic representations of race and gender performance, often grounded in harmful histories. Axe, a retailer in men’s hygienic products, created a commercial for their “Dark Temptation” fragrance. However, this commercial depicts these problematic racial and gendered representations as a white male uses the fragrance to perform “black male sexuality” by using chocolate as a medium, leading to overwhelming sexual responses from the nearly exclusively white women throughout the commercial. In response, our group created a still ad for a curvy white woman that highlights the “chocolate-vanilla” difference used to promote the “black-white” binary in gender performance, sexuality, and indulgence. In doing so, this analysis highlights problems with advertisers’ contemporary use of chocolate to unintentionally promote problematic and historical stereotypes in racial and gender performance.

The first ad is a commercial for Axe’s men’s fragrance, “Dark Temptation.”

[Axe commercial, 2008][1]

The 2008 commercial depicts a pale and skinny white male who, after using Dark Temptation, transforms into a life-sized “chocolate man.” This chocolate man is chased, desired, and even consumed by the women around him in this semi-urban American town. Women lavishly eat different parts of his chocolate body at multiple points during the commercial. As he waves to an adoring crowd of women at the end, the tagline appears: “As Irresistible As Chocolate.” The message to the consumer becomes clear: if you, a (white) man, use Dark Temptation products, you too can become irresistible to women.

This commercial presents numerous problems in racial and gender performance. First, by using Dark Temptation to turn a pale and skinny white male into an “irresistible” chocolate man, Axe already conflates chocolate with blackness and its stereotypical qualities as sexual and sinful. The name “Dark Temptation” itself bears no explicit connection to chocolate, but when the man transforms, Dark Temptation becomes a medium through which chocolate gets tied to blackness (through “Dark”) and sexuality/sinfulness (“Temptation”). Even on the Axe website, an ad for Dark Temptation fragrance contains the description, “Everyone knows that women can’t resist the scent of chocolate, and why should they? It’s delicious.”[2] As discussed in lecture, this association between chocolate and sexuality is highly racialized, as chocolate was a euphemism for people of African descent.[3] Emma Robertson points out that the use of black characters in French commercials throughout the 19th century was central to the exotification of chocolate: “Both the product and the race are marked by their…distance from Europe.”[4] Likewise, this commercial uses racial difference through the white male’s transformation into chocolate in order to market the desirability of Dark Temptation.

Additionally, the nature of this transformation from white male to “chocolate male” is already startling. But combined with the over-the-top nature of the chocolate male’s plastered smile and bulging eyes, this chocolate male depiction harkens back to the blackface minstrelsy of the mid-1800s to the early 1900s (example below). The white male’s transformation into the chocolate male bears a strange similarity to white performers’ extreme make-up use to perform as black characters.

Axe Commercial - Before

(Axe Commercial – Still at 0:01)

Axe Commercial - After

(Axe Commercial – Still at 0:03)


(William H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee –[5]

Axe Commerial - Chocolate Smile

(Axe commercial – still at 0:04)

This obviously problematic connection between the commercial and blackface minstrelsy is not only a problem itself but also has ramifications on the commercial’s narrative. Dark Temptation transforms this white male into a “chocolate male,” and through the medium of chocolate, he takes on qualities historically associated with black male sexuality: sexual consumption by white women.

This change is more obvious from the reactions of the women around him once he turns into chocolate. Rather than approaching or being approached by women to go out on a date or get to know him, the women flock to his body and literally consume him, whether they lick off his ears at the movie theater or literally take a bite out of his butt on the subway.

Axe Commercial - Movies

(Axe commercial – still at 0:11)

Axe Commercial - Butt Subway

(Axe commercial – still at 0:18)

The commercial therefore perpetuates the historical idea that encounters between black men and white women are sexual, not romantic, in nature. And using chocolate as a medium, the ad tells the male consumer that Dark Temptation is necessary to be desirable to women, which is key to their gender performance.

In response to the Axe commercial, our group created an ad for the fictional product “White Chocolate Truffle Perfume”:

White Chocolate Truffle Perfume Ad

White Chocolate Truffle Perfume

Our ad depicts a very light white woman with a curvaceous body seductively eating a white chocolate truffle. Created in an American context, our ad convinces the consumer to purchase “White Chocolate Truffle Perfume” to convince the consumer to be “Anything But Vanilla” – the tagline. This ad creates the narrative that if a (white) woman buys this perfume, she will be desirable and sexy.

Our group created this still ad to address chocolate’s use in the conventional dichotomy between chocolate as blackness and therefore “sexual/sinful” and vanilla as whiteness and “bland/pure.” The tagline “Anything But Vanilla” presents the idea of vanilla as “bland,” but our ad still promotes a “white” product. However, since the product is “White Chocolate,” notions of chocolate as “sexual and sinful” still undergird our ad. Furthermore, it depicts a white woman with a curvy body in order to address the different beauty standards and expectations for white women versus black women. Whereas commercials often portray white women to be skinny and black women to be curvier, our ad depicted a curvy white woman in order to address these differing beauty standards. Lastly, this particular commercial markets uses this woman and her association with white chocolate to market to women, rather than the Axe commercial’s marketing to men.

Whereas our ad grappled with chocolate’s use for white females, one can see the Axe commercial as commentary on chocolate and black male sexuality. As shown, historical ideas of the “chocolate-vanilla”/”black-white” binary are pervasive in current advertisements, despite their harms.

[1] “New Axe Dark Temptation Commercial (US),” YouTube video, 0:31, posted by “AXEvip,” September 22, 2008,

[2] “AXE – Men’s Hair, Deodorant, Body Spray and Shower Gel Products.” The Axe Effect. Accessed April 10, 2015.

[3] Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 16: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.”

[4]  Robertson, Emma. “‘A Deep Physical Reason’: Gender, Race, and the Nation for Chocolate Consumption.” In Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.

[5] Fig. 1. Wm. H. West’s Big Minstrel Jubilee, 1900. Theatrical poster, 76 X 101 cm. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, DC. Available from: Library of Congress, (accessed April 10, 2015).

chocolate, vanilla, race, gender, white, black, male, female, sexuality, beauty, body

East Meets West: Late 20th Century Competition for the Chinese Chocolate Market Among the Big Five

Globalization has created unique challenges for modern marketing, as companies must adapt to the completely different tastes and cultures of other civilizations. This is evident in the “East Meets West” culture clash, as Western companies navigate Eastern culture in order to market their Western products, especially apparent in the history of the global market for chocolate. Although the treat is extremely popular among consumers in the United States and United Kingdom, chocolate has been historically absent from the palate of Chinese peoples. However, after the overhaul of the Chinese economy from communism to market socialism in the mid-20th century, China began to open its economy to Western corporations in the 1980s.[1] This created the potential for one of the “Big Five” chocolate companies to capture the market and dominate Chinese chocolate consumption for generations to come. Despite competition from Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle, and Ferrero Rocher, Mars ultimately emerged as the champion of China’s chocolate market amidst the other companies’ failures due to its superior understanding of and total dedication to the Chinese consumer, demonstrated by Mars’s marketing of chocolate as an exotic delicacy and prized gift.

Chocolate was essentially a novel item in China, so the Big Five began competing for the palates of potential Chinese chocolate consumers in the early 1980s.[2] Because chocolate was essentially a luxury during at this time, a typical Chinese consumer justified their expense by giving chocolate as a gift.[3] Ferrero Rocher capitalized on this cultural perception. By keeping prices high and importing products to China through an independent distribution partner, Ferrero Rocher captured the gift-giving niche of the Chinese chocolate market. The golden, foil-wrapped, and elaborate containers successfully presented Ferrero Rocher’s chocolate as expensive, foreign, and luxurious.

Ferrero Rocher Chinese

Fig. 1. Ferrero Rocher Chocolate – Chinese New Year 2012 (

Despite Ferrero Rocher’s success, the other four companies attempted to create and capitalize upon a sector of the chocolate market brand-new to China: the individual consumer.[4] By establishing a relationship with a new Chinese generation, one of these four companies could create a bond between Chinese citizens and chocolate lasting for generations.

The other three companies had difficulties with the Chinese chocolate market that Mars successfully navigated to become the winner. Cadbury began with the goal of selling one milk chocolate bar to every Chinese citizen. However, Cadbury failed to consider how hard it would be to get a regular supply of milk in China, as the Chinese are not avid milk drinkers. Unfortunately, Cadbury had to partner with a substandard milk supplier, leading to cheesy chocolate that did not at all appeal to Chinese consumers.[5] Next, although Hershey was initially successful with its bite-sized Hershey’s Kisses, bad management changes led to the 2004 collapse of Hershey’s Chinese organization. Within two years, this effectively eliminated the Chinese supply of Kisses. Hershey never recovered.[6] Finally, although Nestle aimed to use its reputation for producing safe and nutritious products to market their famous Kit Kat bar, their projections for Chinese demand were terribly wrong. In order to compensate for their lost costs, Nestle began using a cheap substitute for cocoa butter, lowering the quality of the chocolate bar. Chinese consumers noticed the change and would not buy the new Kit Kat bar, driving Nestle’s sales significantly behind those of the rest of the Big Five.[7]

Unlike the other companies, Mars succeeded by intensely focusing on both the culture surrounding Chinese chocolate consumption and the appetites of Chinese consumers. Mars became the first of the Big Five to build a chocolate plant in China in 1993 to market Dove Chocolate.[8] Dove was Mars’s high-end brand chocolate that captured both chocolate’s luxury for gift-givers and its superior taste for the individual consumer. By producing high-quality Dove chocolate, marketed as a mysterious and exotic luxury, Mars demonstrated a distinguished knowledge of and dedication to Chinese consumers. Mars spent more on advertising than the rest of the Big Five, and its chocolate has genuinely been consistently higher quality than that of its competitors.[9] The following commercial demonstrates Mars’s understanding of the gift-giving culture surrounding chocolate, as Chinese chocolate consumers rally Mars to support one man’s incredible present to his girlfriend on a lovers’ day. (

By 2004, Mars had control of China’s retail chocolate market, dominating with a 39% share of the whole.[10] Current estimates put Mars’s share of China’s chocolate market at about 43.3%, as of 2013 ( Mars’s continued preeminence in China stems directly from their capture of the Chinese chocolate market at the end of the 20th century. Although the other members of the Big Five continue to compete, Dove comfortably enjoys a place as the high-end and highly desired chocolate of choice among this first generation of Chinese consumers.


Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers.

“The Bitter and the Sweet: How Five Companies Competed to Bring Chocolate to China – Knowledge@Wharton.” KnowledgeWharton The Bitter and the Sweet How Five Companies Competed to Bring Chocolate to China Comments. Accessed March 22, 2015.

“China’s Chocolate Market Dominated by Foreign Brands.” China’s Chocolate Market Dominated by Foreign Brands. Accessed March 22, 2015.

“Dove Chocolate’s Chinese Valentine’s Day campaign.” YouTube video, 2:50. Posted by “Kestrel Lee,” January 9, 2012. Accessed March 22, 2015.

Fig. 1. Ferrero Rocher – Chinese New Year Campaign Concept. Digital Image. Available from: Accessed March 22, 2015.

[1] Lawrence L. Allen, Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers, 2.

[2] Allen, 24.

[3] Allen, 24-25.

[4] Wharton, n.p.

[5] Wharton, n.p.

[6] Allen, 202; Wharton, n.p.

[7] Wharton, n.p.

[8] Allen, 202; Wharton, n.p.

[9] Wharton, n.p.

[10] Wharton, n.p.

Cacao’s Ritual Significance in Aztec Culture

The Aztec civilization throve in the central valley of Mexico in the late 13th to the 16th century (Coe and Coe, pg. 68-69; 79-81; 84-86). Although this culture is often represented as sadistic in their practices, this view ignores the complexity and intricacy of Aztec beliefs within the context of their culture. The importance of Aztec ritual is evidenced by the practice of ritual sacrifice in Aztec culture. It is worth noting that cacao was significantly intertwined with Aztec ritual sacrifice. In fact, this product was so precious that it could be offered to the gods alongside the Aztec’s own blood. Therefore, I argue that cacao’s extreme value made it a natural product to be consumed in association with Aztec ritual sacrifices.

Cacao was deeply valuable not simply as a monetary source, but also as a product of ritual significance. The Codex Féjévary-Mayer, depicting 14th and 16th centuries of ancient Aztec empire, illustrates cacao’s value in the deeply intricate context of Aztec ritual (Coe and Coe, pg. 102).


Codex Féjévary-Mayer

In the center of the right-most side of the codex, one may observe two figures standing on either side of a tree that is emerging from the jaws of a serpent. These two figures are Cinteotl, Aztec god of maize, and Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of death, and growing from the jaws of the Underworld serpent is the Tree of the South, a cacao tree ripe with pods. On top of the Tree of the South is a macaw bird, the symbol of the hot lands from which cacao came. (Coe and Coe, pg. 102).


Codex Féjévary-Mayer
(rotated close-up of the right-most center, depicting the “Tree of the South”)

This part of the Codex demonstrates the deep religious value that cacao possessed in the context of Aztec society. The Codex itself also demonstrates the deep intricacies and complexities of Aztec beliefs.

Because it was such a significant product in Aztec society on a religious level, it follows that cacao would be deeply integrated within Aztec ritual practices associated with the culture’s belief system. Many Aztec ritual practices were deeply connected to cacao; cacao was deeply connected to blood in Aztec culture, explaining the significance of cacao in human sacrifice (“Aztecs and Cacao”, np.).

Aztec priests would pierce their earlobes and cover cacao with their blood as a suitable sacrifice to the gods (Dillinger, p. 2058S) Cacao was also thought to be a “metaphor for the heart torn out in sacrifice”: the seeds spilling out of the cacao pot were like blood spilling out of the human body. (“Aztecs and Cacao”, np.)


(depiction of Aztec human heart extraction) – AAAS 119x, Lecture 4

To emphasize this point, chocolate drinks were sometimes dyed blood-red. (“Aztecs and Cacao”, np.) And in one annual ritual in Tenochtitlan, cacao was directly associated with sacrifice: a male slave with a perfect body was chosen to impersonate the great god Quetzalcoatl over 40 days, during which he was treated like the god himself, but also locked in a cage at night to make sure he would not escape. On the eve of his sacrifice, he had to perform a dance as though he was completely happy about his fate. And if he did not at as such, the priests would prepare a drink from water and blood washed off from sacrificial knives – from previous sacrifices – and use it to prepare a gourd of chocolate. This drink was called itzpacalatl (meaning “water from the washing of obsidian blades”) and was said to make the sacrificial slave almost unconscious and return him to his happy and cheerful state of dancing (Coe and Coe, pg. 104).

The ritual practices show how deeply dedicate the Aztecs were to honoring their gods. Sacrificing their blood was a way to show their devotion. Furthermore, the integration of blood sacrifice with cacao in these varied Aztec ritual practices further illustrate how valuable cacao was in Aztec society. As shown by the Codex Féjévary-Mayer, cacao occupied a unique place within the Aztec ritual belief system. As a plant representing the barrier between life and death, it is no wonder that cacao was considered so deeply valuable that it was sacrificed in conjunction with the human blood of the Aztecs themselves. Cacao’s deep importance, especially in the Aztecs’ religious context, made it a natural product used in conjunction with Aztec rituals and especially Aztec sacrifice.



“Aztecs and Cacao: The Bittersweet past of Chocolate.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. .
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
Dillinger, Teresa L., Barriga, Patricia, Escarcega, Sylvia, Jimenez, Martha, Salazar Lowe, Diana and Grivetti, Louis E. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” Journal of Nutrition, 130. 2000. Web.
Martin, Carla. “Lecture 4” from AAAS 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.