All posts by 2016e483

Sugar + Transatlantic slave trade = Capitalism + Enormous Transformation

Warren Buffet, among the top five richest men in the world, once said: “I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive” (Albritton 344). Sugar, which is fairly cheap (wasn’t always the case), produces a craving, and is essentially addicting. Not only is sugar addicting, but it plays a role that “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation” (Mintz). This post argues how sugar made a rigorous transformation on many different variables as a whole. I begin by describing an ambiguous term “meaning”, and give my feedback on how one pursues it. Then, I describe how capitalism was created, and give my feedback on the results and impacts that capitalism not only allowed, but created. Capitalism therefor rigged our food choices, and shaped our social, cultural, economic and political ordering in the sugar world, particularly in so far as leading to an obesity epidemic.

imagesocietySource: http://www.bcsbd.org.bd/bcsregistration/images/imagesociety.jpg

In imagining a meaning of life, I believe we are collecting bits of our own thoughts and experience to build a realm of our own based on our own beliefs. This realm is what I would call our ego, or consciousness. While meaning is ultimately a personal, artistic creation that is changeable, it has been defined “very broadly-encompassing many other psychological constructs, such as goals, beliefs, well-being and satisfaction and life narrative-and very deeply, referring to the core of human existence. It is also defined as a process where one increases his or her understanding in a way that allows one to regain a sense of purpose” (Park 3). Therefore, meaning can be everywhere if one’s imagination created such a realm, and unfortunately possibly be discovered in a false mortality, perceived incorrectly causing one to find significance in addiction or harmful sustenance. In this realm of consciousness, one builds a model of who they are, and thus derives what their life to be. In order for the mind to build a model, knowledge and experience must be available. But where does this knowledge come from to create meaning? It comes from our ever-changing society, foods, culture, friends, studies, and our teachers. One great change that has changed very rapidly is the impact of different meaning of sugar through its transformation from a rarity to a necessity with the invention of capitalism.

triangulartrademap                                                                                Source:http://w3.salemstate.edu/~cmauriello/Course%20Development/WorldCIVII/Images/triangulartrademap.gif

Although a few Europeans knew of the existence of cane sugar around 1100 CE, it was still a “rarity until the 1650’s, only a luxury in the 1750’s, and a necessity by 1850’s” (5-6, Mintz). In turn, sugar took on its social role as a produce that marked one’s socio-economic class, becoming valuable and cherished by anyone who could get a hold of it. The role as an indicator of social status that sugar took on between the 16th and 17th century was key to the change of sugar to sweetener, as the demand for sugar among individuals across socio-economic class boundaries greatly increased, creating a new market and an opportunity for businesses to seek out an economically viable supply of sugar, especially since sugar could not be cultivated in Europe. This source came to be overseas, part of the notorious supply chain known as the Transatlantic Slave trade. Thus, the alteration in British consumption of sugar as a spice to a sweetener was deeply rooted in the creation of chattel slavery.                                                                                                                                                    Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas” (Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). The slaves had “little relaxation, hard fare, and hard usage, to wear them out before they became useless, and unable to do service; and then to buy new ones, to fill their places” (Fraser-Reid 4). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is not only where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins, but where capitalism starts as Mintz states:          “The English people came to view sugar as essential; supplying them with it became as much a political as an economic obligation. At the same time, the owners of the immense fortunes created by the labor of millions of slaves stolen from Africa, on millions of acres of the New World stolen from the Indians – wealth in the form of commodities like sugar, molasses, and rum to be sold to Africans, Indians, colonials, and the British working class alike – has become even more solidly attached to the centers of power in English society at large. Many individuals’ merchants, planters, and entrepreneurs lost out, but the long-term economic successes of the new commodity markets at home were never in doubt after the mid-seventeenth century. What sugar meant, from this vantage point, was what all such colonial production, trade, and metropolitan consumption came to mean: the growing strength and solidity of the empire and of the classes that dictated its policies.” ( Mintz, p. 157)

Here what Mintz is really arguing here is that capitalism, the strength of empire as defined by access to wealth, and the ability to dictate policies, to govern, developed as a result of this work to supply, and to create demand for sugar. Linking the development of our current economic system with this sweet taste of sugar that we biologically evolved to desire. (Martin lecture 6)

 

 

 

are-you-addicted-to-sugar

Source : https://www.wholesomeone.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Are-You-Addicted-to-Sugar-.jpg

Focusing on an excerpt from Tasting Empire, Norton states that “Spaniards learned to like chocolate because of their continued material dependence on Indians” (Norton 677). Converging on this, the capitalist modernization model expresses a lot. As Bourdieu states that “taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed” (Norton 663). While some of the most pleasurable and enjoyable memories of a person has to do with sweets, such as on one’s birthday eating a delicious cake that mother or father made decorated with frosting and glazes, or getting a lollipop after going through getting a shot at the doctor’s office, we usually seek sweets as a reward system, or celebration. Digging into this deeper, since we were just a baby, we grow up with these classifications of sweets being used all the time for rewards, and usually classify sweets with the distinctions of a substance that is beautiful on top of advertisements being at fault for these illusions. Not only do we have a dependence on sugar, but we biologically crave it.

Being no longer unified due to capitalism, most of us don’t know what’s really going on at the supply chain of our foods, and we can only build an illusory view such as the classification one may create in the advertisement above, which we create a particularly false meaning. The ad above gives the power of the perception of how sugar can demonstrate itself through various social parameters but only extensively. The gorgeous woman is portraying her love for powdered donuts, and is displaying the power of sugar in reference to a much more highly addictive, yet dangerous substance, cocaine. This ad slightly speaks volumes to the traditions of modern western culture that invoke the greatest effect, as “adverts have perpetuated western sexist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption which have divorced foods from the conditions of production” (Robertson 10). The misguided meaning many ads portray, now aids in creating mass cultural stereotypes from building false illusions and separate us from the reality of the production of our sugar, although this ad is particularly true in sugar being addictive, many other advertisements such as ads regarding McDonald’s or other fast food chains give most of us a false message, allowing one to see the desire of the substance, and not the dangerous aftereffects when consuming sugar, and carbs at large, not in moderation. Sugar should be used in moderation, but it is not due to the capitalist society we live in today.

 

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Sources: (http://uthmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/arab-youth-obesity-987×520.jpg)  (http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/users/f/felwell/www/Theorists/Essays/Marx%20files/Capitalism2.jpg)

Not only do we build these craving memories which is a factor that leads one to the over consumption of sugar, but it is also evolutionary as Daniel Lieberman, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University states, “sugar is a deep, deep ancient craving” (Spector).  Refined sugars were absent in the diet of most people until very recently in human history as sugar was “rarity until the 1650’s, only a luxury in the 1750’s, and a necessity by 1850’s” (6, Mintz). Apart from honey, most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot and that “15 million years ago in a time of global cooling, a mutation occurred that increased the apelike creatures’ sensitivity to fructose so that even small amounts were stored as fat. This adaptation was a survival mechanism: Eat fructose and decrease the likelihood you will starve to death” (Spector). Thus, looking back at our ancestors, we have biologically trained ourselves to crave sweets.

While our prehistoric ancestors trained themselves to crave sweets biologically, the problem we face today is that humans have too much of the sweet stuff available to them, which is why over consumption of diets rich in sugars contributes together with other factors to drive the current obesity epidemic due to capitalism and sugar.

Depending on the sociologist, causes and solutions can be different. To begin with, Karl Marx views social issues as a issue due to economic inequality. In a capitalist society, he believes each individual acts selfishly and does what best suits him or her. A more appropriate society I would argue would be one in which people had equal access to different aspects of modern day culture (Cliggett 102). Thus, when looking at the rise in obesity, Marx would blame the issue on three major issues: power, poverty and education. When looking at a case, where the                                                                                                                 “UN’s World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture proposed a guideline widely supported by nutritionists, which recommended that added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake, congress was threatened to cut off $400,000 annual funding if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Robert 345).                 As the UN bodies gave in, this scenario once again expresses the image above where the first two tiers “rule and fool you” as they are the ones with the power to feed poison to poor, and uneducated people. When looking at price distinctions in foods, there is a drastic difference between the cost of healthy foods and junks foods. Even if an individual can find fresh produce, cheaper usually means worse quality. Organic foods also tend to be more costly than conventional items. In the view of Marx, these price differences lead to the fact that poorer people do not have the same access to healthy food options as more affluent.                                                                                                                                                                 In reverence to modern society and obesity, different groups have access to different levels of education and different types of food options. Varying levels of education leads to different knowledge about nutrition. One status group will understand the meaning of calorie counts and fat percentages but another group will not. The less knowledgeable group will make worse decisions when determining what to eat. The lack of understanding adds to the rise rate of obesity. Status groups may also be separated by their abilities to access food choices. A less fortunate group may only have access to unhealthy foods, such as fast food, while another group has the choice of organic meals.  While the structure of the food market is rapidly changing around individuals, they will be unable to adjust their actions in order to prevent obesity.

In conclusion sugar is the driver behind two of the worst tragedies we face today, slavery and obesity, by allowing a greedy rigged system that shapes our social, cultural, economic and political ordering that some of us have little to no control over. In the video below, one can see how the government is in power with the obesity epidemic we now face, as sugar is all around us and money is a very powerful tool.

 

Work cited:

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web.

Cliggett, Lisa, and Richard R. Wilk. Economies and Cultures: Foundations of Economic Anthropology. Boulder: Westview, Array. Anthropology Online. Web. 12 May 2016.

Fraser-Reid, Bertram O. From Sugar to Splenda: A personal and Scientific Journey of a Carbohydrate Chemist and Expert Witness. Heidelberg: Springer, 2012. Print.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, S. (1985). “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History”. New York: Penguin Books. Print.

Park, Crystal L. “Religion and Meaning.” Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Eds. Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park. New York: The Guilford Press, 2005.

Robertson, Emma. “Chocolate, women and empire: A Social and Cultural History.” Manchester University Press, New York. 2010. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Spector, Dina. “An Evolutionary Explanation For Why We Crave Sugar.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 2014. Web. 11 May 2016.

 

 

Western Ideologies + Advertisements = Sexuality/Class Stereotypes

In the world of chocolate advertising, there are many problematic images that promote “prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination on the basis of sex (Martin). Some images have become the norm when it comes to marketing chocolate as an aphrodisiac towards not only women, but class. In this blog post, I will focus and examine chocolate as an aphrodisiac which falsely discriminates on gender and class which thus leads to sociological misconceptions. This blog post juxtaposes 2 advertisements in which points out chocolate’s ad gender characteristics falsely being corroborated not only by viable links between the consumption of cacao and sexual function, but by mass cultural stereotypes.

Support for chocolate being an aphrodisiac can be noted in the many elements chocolate gives once digested by a human being. Chocolate triggers the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes and dilates blood vessels to allow more blood to flow through them, much like Viagra. Methylxanthine, another substance in chocolate can also lead to arousal because it blocks receptors for substances that constrict these same blood vessels, and as well increases the production of endorphins, which act much like morphine to reduce pain and stress and promote a feeling of well-being and euphoria (Rosch 8).

S                                                                                                                                               Source: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2010/11/ferrerorocher.jpg

Critique of the Original Advertisement

An examination of the first advertisement entices exploration into the sensual side of chocolate with a dark undertone. The imagery seemingly invokes sensations of the most primal of nature that draws on powerful female sexual expression. The body language that is expressed by the woman reeks of raw passion. The simple positioning of both her hands, one of which is located near her private area, spells her mood and intent. It is not that the sultry clad woman is indulging in the sheer rapture of eating chocolate, but rather the insinuation that by consumption of the decadent delight will seek the effects of its spell in the arms of her paramour. This speaks volumes to the traditions of modern western culture that invoke the greatest effect, as “adverts have perpetuated western sexist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumptions which have divorced chocolate from the conditions of production” such as giving the gift of chocolate” (Robertson 10). The misguided meaning we now see is: sex and chocolate go together as one is symbolic of the causal agent that will lead to undoubtedly one of the most powerful human urges. The connotation of gender roles is seen through the female desire and chocolate being intertwined together.

The sheer luxury and ecstasy that chocolate can provide creates a form of classicism that was once a barrier to what is now considered a sheer commodity to the average consumer in today’s supermarket. This does not however diminish the power of the perception of how chocolate can demonstrate itself through various social parameters. In the same category of fine wine, chocolate has the ability to be perceived as both a luxury and common commodity. It is apparent though through the cultural media in which we have observed in the world of status and class. The vivacious allure of the flawless model in the throngs of passion by ingesting a simple morsel of a deeply seductive tidbit of chocolate, may not reflect the bar of chocolate that the average person will consume at a sporting event with their family. This is the power of chocolate to not only be decisive in the most subtle way but rather to provoke the deepest of feelings in the ways we view our own society. It plays a key role in not only the perceived value of what we desire as wants and needs, but rather can be viewed as something that is far more important or even relevant, namely the power of value. There is nothing new to the essence of human beings associating themselves to external elements outside of themselves. Thus in its most unaltered state it is symbolic of the cyclical process of giving and receiving  that has been a driving force of humanity since time immortal.

Critique of New Ad

FotorCreated

Source: Adam Khan

This new ad was created to represents chocolate going against gender, and social class slurs. Annotating this ad carefully, one is able to see the multiple diversity and social standing of each individual. In this ad, the ethnic background is widespread from an African American, Spanish, Caucasian, and to an Indian, all together enjoying each other’s companionship. This denotes sexuality and gender in the terms that chocolate is an aphrodisiac that realistically does not really serve sexuality human intent solely, as “although numerous beneficial constituents have been identified towards chocolate being an aphrodisiac, the amounts contained are so minute that they are unlikely to have any physiological effects” (Rosch 8). Thus, an enormous amount of chocolate would have to be consumed to really gain any euphoric, or sexual effects. The ecstasy here is therefore portrayed realistically, by love, appreciation, and the equality with one another, regardless of class and gender; there is no stereotypes present. Noting the smudge marks on the Caucasian male’s shirt in the ad, and his messy hair, he represents a hard working class that is not wealthy going against the stigma that stereotypes may contribute to him of a ‘low social class’ unable to consume chocolate, while also going against the ideology that “it is the privilege of those who can afford to consume, who are distanced geographically and economically from those at the very start of the chain” (Robertson 18).

In conclusion, chocolate’s annotation of being an aphrodisiac enhancing female sexuality and class is blunt when noting that chocolates sexually enhancing elements are very weak nutritionally for the amount most people would consume. As advertisements have propagated western sexist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption, chocolate has mass cultural stereotypes that don’t have real nor healthy connotations. Further exploration on this topic of sexism can be seen in the link below. If women’s roles were plaid by men, the meaning and perception one gives will still be stereotypical, but at the same time powerful, sexist and dangerous.

 

 

Work cited:

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Lecture, Lecture 9, Harvard University, Cambridge, March 30, 2016. Accessed April 8, 2016.

Robertson, Emma. “Chocolate, women and empire: A Social and Cultural History.” Manchester University Press, New York. 2010. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Rosch, Paul J. “STRESS FROM BEING TOLD WHAT TO EAT AND AVOID.”HEALTH AND STRESS. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.

Economics + Transatlantic Slave Trade = Racism

In today’s world, racism unfortunately still exists, but to acknowledge why racism is still existent, one needs to pinpoint the relationship between African Americans and slavery, and ask, why Africans in particular were enslaved. Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago answers this question stating, “The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor.” What he is arguing here is that Africans were not enslaved because they were naturally set to be enslaved, they weren’t enslaved because they were known to be better workers. They were first enslaved because they were the cheapest and easiest population to get at and to quickly and efficiently move to the new world to begin producing these goods (Martin).  Racism was a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade and not the reason for it because it was primarily driven by economic considerations/justifications as illustrated by the encomienda system which was very much structured like the European feudal structures.

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(Source: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/infogram-particles-700/madisonlong_1385062049.jpg)

The conquerors used Native Americans to farm the land and work the mines to produce wealth, the system of force labor is called the Encomienda System. These activities provided food for the population and products for the trade with Europe and the east. The Encomienda System was similar to The Manor System in Medieval Europe or the Feudal System. Instead of having nobles as lords who controlled the peasants, in this case the Spanish were the lords, and the Native Americans were like the peasants. The Spanish claimed that the Encomienda system would benefit both settlers and Indians. The idea is that they would come with their superior intellect and military might to protect and care for the indigenous people, and thereby save their souls by baptizing them or by making them Christian. In return, the indigenous people would work a portion of their time for Spanish settlers, and give them a tribute of their crops, such as a form of cacao, often 10’s of thousands of cacao beans per year (Martin). The reality played out differently.

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(Source: http://cdn.dipity.com/uploads/events/0d8054001025d85654853dd5f81d502e_1M.png)

The Spanish settlers forced long labor on different crops. They didn’t pay indigenous workers. They failed to protect them, and they also seized their lands as time went on. So indigenous people were unable to pay tribute the Spaniards would claim their lands as theirs. And as a result, indigenous people died from a variety of different diseases in which they didn’t have immunity and experienced harsh living, and working conditions. The Encomienda system really went on until it was clear that demographic collapse was imminent that the clergy protested. So the Spanish clergy in this area of the world protested and the indigenous people themselves revolted against it. However abuses continued (Martin). After the indigenous slave labor proved to be insufficient, Chattel slavery is what the Europeans turned to next.

slave20trade20map1(Source: http://macquirelatory.com/Slave%20Trade/slave%20trade%20map.jpg)

Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). As sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, and a necessity by 1850, the enslavement of Africans was disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted and profited from the slave trade for three centuries (Mintz 148).  “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the Transatlantic slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas”(Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins.

It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity most likely due to the pro-slavery lobby that lived on. Thus, it is the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans over such a spectrum of time where racism really initiated against African Americans. It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Imaginably, they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was as markedly different from their own and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks (Olusoga). Also, it was thought that Africans were said to “be able to need less food, and be able to withstand the elements better than whites”, this here is social and psychological violence falsely generated to dehumanize Africans (Asante). The false claims of blacks that was intentionally imagined preceded slavery and helped to justify it.

In conclusion, without European slave traders, slave buyers, slave insurers, slave sailors, slave auctioneers, and slave owners, there would have been no transport of Africans across the sea for enslavement, and therefore no racism developed. Further exploration on this topic would be to watch the multimedia source below, and see the further developed myth of racism that stemmed from economics and the byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade to this day. Although racism is a myth derived, developed, and changed from generation to generation, the impact of racism is very real to this day.

Works Cited:

Asante, Molefi Kete. The Ideology of Racial Hierarchy and the Construction of the European Slave Trade. Vol. 3. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Olusoga, David. “The Roots of European Racism Lie in the Slave Trade, Colonialism – and Edward Long | David Olusoga.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

Religion and Cacao: their interconnection in regards to meaning in Ancient Mayan Culture

In Sweetness and Power, Audrey Richards, anthropology’s best students of food and ingestion once said, “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions in the wider sphere of human society it determines, more largely than any other physiological function, the nature of social groupings, and the form their activities take” (Mintz 3-4). Richard’s statement becomes more authentic when taking note of the impact of religious beliefs in terms of the cacao tree. Religious beliefs and meaning are intertwined with each other when focusing on the sacred. Taking notice that the cacao tree was the World Tree in cacao-growing regions (Martin), the tree itself, along with its produce can reveal meaning in a religious context by its association with various indicators of the life cycle of indigenous peoples, by its use with rituals, in religion and at death.

While the term “meaning” can be a subjective term, it can be defined in many different ways, including “as a process where one increases his or her understanding in a way that allows one to regain a sense of purpose” (Park 3). Therefore, meaning can be everywhere if one’s imagination created such a realm much like the beliefs of the Maya where the cacao tree was part of the creation myth and thus the start of life, a central theme of an interconnection with the divine.

yggdrasil

As the belief of the Maya and Aztec believed that man was created from cacao, maize, and other good plant foods, their beliefs intertwine with the way they saw the world as being multi-tiered (Martin). Seeing the world as multi-tiered in this context means, “consisting of the Above Realm of the heavens; the middle Earthly Realm, the home of living humanity; and the watery Beneath Realm of the dead and thus of the ancestors”(Reilly). The image above gives this example as the tree connects the vertical realms of Sky, Earth and Underworld for travel between worlds (Martin). Here, one can then see the significance of the cacao tree, and the spectrum of how the tree takes part in religion. This also signifies the interconnection between man vs cacao, and cacao vs man. However, the Popol Vuh, lacks a sense of interconnection between man vs cacao to a certain degree.

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Maize God suspended in a cacao tree.

An interpretation of an uncompleted version of the Popol Vuh claims that cacao, along with other good plant foods, was part of the creation myth and thus the start of life. As cacao was revered in a class among other good food, being disdained as an elite food, cacao appeared to be a revered substance from what it was supposed to be (Coe and Coe 39-40). While the authors suggest that because cacao is part of this “market basket,” it was “not the revered substance it was to become”, this suggestion not only becomes ambiguous, but also lacks credibility as we do not have access to the full epic at least known to Classic Maya as in one post-Conquest source, one of the Hero Twins (Hanahpu) invented the processing of cacao (Coe and Coe 39-40). That being said, cacao appears in the image above with the Maize God suspended in a cacao tree, in vessels at burial sites (picture below), and in many other superfluous ways, deeming cacao to be a supernatural food rather than part of the typical “market basket” food.

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 Pottery jar from a tomb at Rio Azul, Guatemala

Among the many empowering artifacts that cacao took presence in, and still does, the essence of cacao in vessels such as the pottery above amplifies a sacred meaning in a religious context. While investigating a tomb of a middle-aged ruler at some time during the last half of 5th century AD located at Rio Azul, Guatemala, the tomb appeared to be full of the paraphernalia of chocolate consumption. One of the paraphernalia (presented in the image above) was a stirrup-handled pot with two hieroglyphs that read, “cacao.” Under further investigation, David Stuart and Stephen Houston came to the conclusion that the hieroglyph’s full message was that, “the dead lord began his voyage through the underworld with sustaining portions of what were probably several different chocolate drinks by his side”( Coe and Coe 46). This signifies that chocolate soothed a person of significance upon the nearby arrival of death in a sense of transition. As the Mayas saw the world as multi-tiered, one could analyze that cacao provided a smoother transition from the earthy realm, to perhaps, the “Above Realm” or the “Beneath realm”, or consumption of cacao upon death could be a sign of regrowth for their World Tree if not both.

In terms of the Maya, “meaning” is stemmed from their belief of a multi-tiered world in relevance of their world tree. While the “Popul Vuh” may not have given cacao its prestigious identity that it deserves, with lack of access to the full epic, one cannot make qualifying claims. Further exploration on this topic would be to focus on ritual burning in terms of the Mayas, as “its overall significance centered on the king and his special role as one who could renew time and its perpetuity.”(Scarborough) Through this context, “meaning” broadens to a whole new sphere.

Work Cited:

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. “The True History of Chocolate.” Third Edition. Thames & Hudson Ltd: London, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D. “Sugar and Cacao.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 03 Feb. 2016. Class Lecture.

Mintz, S. (1985). “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History”. New York: Penguin Books. Print.

Park, Crystal L. “Religion and Meaning.” Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Eds. Raymond F. Paloutzian and Crystal L. Park. New York: The Guilford Press, 2005.

Reilly, F. Kent III. “Mesoamerican Religious Beliefs: The Practices and Practitioners.” The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology. Web.

Scarborough, L. Vernon. “A Catalyst of Ideas: Anthropological Archaeology and the Legacy of Douglas W. Schwartz. pp. 257-286. The School of American Research Press, Santa Fe. 2005.