Tag Archives: Aztec Empire

“The Drink of the Elite”

Today, due to the commonality of chocolate as an everyday treat, except for the most expensive, finest-quality chocolates consumed by the those with “well-lined pockets,” (Coe 95), it might be difficult to imagine chocolate as “the emperor’s banquet” (Coe 96). However, pre-Columbian customs reflect a history of chocolate as “the drink of the elite” (Coe 95). The history of this truth lies in glyphs and memoirs recounted by sources who bore witness to this luxury. Chocolate held a place in society by which commoners rarely partook. The historical significance of this custom allows one to trace the history of chocolate as it has evolved for today’s culture to appreciate. History often does not offer palatable derivation.

To extrapolate upon this history, one has imagined that the cacao bean is “the bean of the gods.”

1192575_900

The Aztec elite – the royal house, lords and nobility, long-distance merchants, and warriors (Coe 95) imbibed chocolate, adding to the glory of their imperial existence. With exception, soldiers were welcomed to join, but chocolate was mostly confined to the noble class. This distinction also excluded priests. Coe contends that this chocolate ritual might resemble champagne toasts among today’s elite. This insertion might help present-day society understand the importance of the historical feast that these rulers enjoyed: for champagne is not the usual drink of twenty-first century patrons.

One should note that chocolate was served at the end of the meal. Much like tobacco, brandy, and cigars, chocolate was a delicacy to be appreciated at banquet’s end (Coe 95). Every cultural norm deserves study as one envisions the life of those who celebrated these rites. It is purported that Aztec Emperor Montezuma drank more than his fair share of chocolate!

17267468_799376693547619_8598700822114598912_n

 

The sources upon which this tradition rests include eye-witness accounts of grandiosity and extravagance. Keep in mind that these centuries-old tales were often passed down by the emperors themselves. One story from Bernal Diaz del Castillo involves a “colossal event” in which “300 dishes were prepared especially for him” (Coe 95). Coe adds that Bernal Diaz was in his eighties when he recollected this celebration. Coe also suggests that the hyperbolic manner in which this tale is presented includes other dubious statements in his testimony. However, other accounts, including one from Fray Bartolome de la Casa, might seem more reliable as he, a Dominican friar, was less removed from this glory (Coe 96). According to Las Casas, chocolate was drank from calabash, painted vessels, from the gourds of the calabash tree (Presilla 12) and not from chalices of gold and silver. Regardless of the storyteller, Aztec artifacts confirm that chocolate was not for mere mortals but rather that of the upper class. These artifacts include glyphs and painted pictures that told a story of chocolate’s history. Vessels have been discovered with these artifacts, proving this legacy.

Many desired this social standing: for the pochteca, long-distance traders, regularly enjoyed chocolate drink (Coe 96). Those merchants who aspired to be among those ranks were obliged to host expensive banquets to prove their ability to maintain this economic status (Coe 97). This obligation deserves attention because it is a reflection of “climbing up the ranks” by which today’s society is held. Chocolate was synonymous with “luxury and status” (Presilla 14), but the costliness of this endeavor is a price that many sacrificed. This membership with its costly expenditures was tied to chocolate etiquette (Coe 98). Without this history, one might not appreciate the value of Aztec goods.

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D. & Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2013.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2001.

Advertisements

Cooking Chocolate: Cacao and Colonial Values

From Hershey’s kisses to Snickers bars, the chocolate circulating contemporary culture tends to be sweet. Contrary to modern times, the Aztecs prepared savory chocolate drinks used for sustenance, religious ceremonies, and special occasions. Aztec people came to the Valley of Mexico by the early 1300s and, after being cast out into small islands, utilized warfare to eventually rule many parts of Mesoamerica. Cacao became integrated into the Aztec way of life following the conquest of the Xoconusco province during the late fifteenth century.

judge-ch18-lecture-11-638

Heavy cacao production occurred in this part of southeast Mesoamerica. By the time Spaniards came to Mexico’s interior, the Aztecs had solidified a sprawling, socially stratified society thriving from the tribute required of provinces. The Aztecs had a rich, amalgamated culture drawing from the land’s natives and the extinct Mayans. In addition to the importance of chocolate in Aztec culture, a close analysis of a recipe narrated by an anonymous conquistador reveals colonialist thinking and ultimately foreshadows the exploitation of Mesoamerican lands and peoples to sustain Europeans’ hunger for chocolate during the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

Drinking cacao-derived beverages was reserved for elites in Aztec culture, as most likely noticed by an anonymous conquistador when he published his description of Tenochtitlan in 1556. The recipe he provided in his composition mentioned

“seeds which are called almonds or cacao are ground and made into powder, and other small seeds are ground, and this powder is put into certain basins with a point [whatever that may mean], and then they put water on it and mix it with a spoon. And after having mixed it very well, they change it from one basin to another, so that a foam is raised which they put in a vessel made for the purpose” (Coe and Coe 84).

The way chocolate permeated economic and social customs explains why the Aztecs had vessels specially made for chocolate and made sure to foam the liquid for a luxurious feel. Cacao functioned as money, a noble beverage, a sustaining drink for warriors, and a metaphor for the heart or blood, giving it use in sacrificial rituals. The recipe hints at cacao’s high status by mentioning the specialized, precious silverware involved in the formalized process. However, this recipe from the “gentleman of Hérnan Cortés” leaves out some information (84). After carefully extracting the almond-like cacao seeds from the mucilaginous pulp in cacao tree pods, they had to be fermented and winnowed from their shells. The vague “other small seeds” mentioned are most likely maize, as the plant was common in food preparation due to its versatile and filling nature.

300px-Blowing_on_maize

Above is an image of an Aztec “woman gently dropping shucked corn into boiling water” (Maite Gomez-Rejon 1). Maize was a crucial food item, as the woman is blowing on maize to calm it before cooking it in a fire. Unlike the hot chocolate drinks of the Mayans, the Aztecs served their cacao mixtures cold and incorporated a variety of flavors and spices.

2014_02_12_peppers-460x459_c.jpg.html

The most common addition was chili, a sharp peppery taste well-known to the Aztecs. Though other portions of the conquistador’s publication are not mentioned, the recipe cited by Coe is interesting for what it does and does not contain. Cacao’s significance is implied, but the lack of detail regarding cacao’s preparation and the type of grains or seasonings added suggest and defend a colonialist mentality.

In order to justify plundering lands, killing natives, disrupting cultures, and stealing natural resources from distant lands, European conquistadors had to label locals as inferior savages in need of civilization and Christianity. This entailed disparaging the Aztecs and trivializing their ways of life. The anonymous conquistador implies that chocolate is significant to the Aztecs, yet cannot be bothered to supply thorough information despite having ties to Mesoamerica through Cortés. He ambiguously refers to additives as “other small seeds,” leaving out the important, widespread uses of other flavorings (84). The conquistador snidely comments “whatever that may mean,” dismissing the Aztec people’s socially constructed realities and thereby encouraging his readers to do the same (84). The recipe’s cavalier tone and shortcomings in capturing Aztec chocolate traditions reflect views shared by other conquistadors. Hernán Cortés officially claimed Tenochtitlan for Spain in 1521 using violence and deception, aided by beliefs in European superiority over the Aztecs.

Cortés acted on behalf of Spain, a country that sanctioned these measures because of colonialist ideas. The anonymous conquistador, and later the Western world, praised the chocolate drink rather than the culture that created it, removing the Aztecs’ agency and shifting the focus to the product rather than the producer. A close reading of this recipe is limited by the scarce context about the conquistador and his writings, though the telling language he used has historical significance.

The rest of the recipe contains passionate praise of the chocolate drink with exaggerated language that fed into the European chocolate frenzy and justified cacao’s expansive cultivation after conquistadors destroyed the Aztecs. The gentleman of Cortés found that

“This drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world, because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else. … It is better in hot weather than in cool, being cold in its nature” (84).

Hyperbole litters his description, for while the alkaloids and caffeine provide ample energy, the maize-chocolate beverage was not the “greatest sustenance” one could drink “in the world” to sustain him “no matter how far he walks” (84). By embellishing the effects of the Aztec cacao recipe, the conquistador encourages Europeans to greedily consume chocolate. As cacao became firmly ensconced in European appetites, forced labor disrupted indigenous populations and tied them to perpetual debt as they tried to keep pace with demand. The conquistador comments that the drink is “cold by nature” to classify the drink according to the humoral theory of disease and nutrition that was popular in Europe until the 1800s (84).

133q-5

According to the system, health “depended on a proper balance among four bodily humors” – blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm  (Presilla 27). An example of achieving this stability is to “correct excessively ‘warm’ and ‘dry’ tendencies” through “doses of ‘cold’ and ‘moist’ foods” (27). The Aztec chocolate drink had to fit into this humoral theory in order to be adopted by Europeans, so its designation as cold asserts its place in the Western world and gives Europeans more reason to eagerly consume it at the expense of Mesoamerican peoples and lands. Alternatively, this classification empties the drink of the intrinsic meanings it had within the community that created it in order to fill the beverage with palatable European ideals.

The limited analysis of the Aztec cacao drink recipe provided by an anonymous conquistador exposes a harmful colonialist worldview. Through dismissive comments, a contemptuous disregard for the full picture of Aztec life, and exaggerations of the drink, the conquistador sheds light on beliefs that justified colonial ventures. Chocolate’s relationship with European violence is a horrifying reality evident in the sixteenth century retelling of an Aztec recipe.

 

Works Cited:

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Gomez-Rejon, Maite. “Cooking Art History: The Aztecs.” The Huffington Post. 3 May 2010. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

“Hernan Cortes: Conquered the Aztec Empire.” The History Channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P_euomdHOU

“Indulge in Our Mayan Chocolate Stout and Spicy Aztec Chocolate Cake.” Airways Brewing Company. Kent Brewing Company LLC, n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“The Humoral Theory.” Medical website. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

 

Changing Symbols of Chocolate

Chocolate as a Symbol

Over the years, chocolate has drastically changed, in terms of preparation style, taste, who it is consumed by, etc… Chocolate is no longer seen only as a food of the elite, but the variability of chocolate  has allowed for it to become a ubiquitous and accessible treat to many. The evolution of chocolate has gone through many stages, however, it has always served as a political, social and economic symbol in society . This is evident through the uses of chocolate in the Aztec Empire, the Industrial Revolution and post world war II uses.

 

Chocolate in the Aztec Empire

Going back to the times of the Aztec Empire we already see politically charged moves motivated by cacao. Focusing on the “Aztec conquest taking place during the reign of Ahuitzotl,” we can see their motives were to economically driven.(coe aspaceout-1.gifnd coe71) This conquest was to obtain the land of “Xoconochoco… already famed for the high production and top quality of its cacao.”(71)  Cacao held great economic power in the Aztec empire which motivated the conquest of land. Already, we can see that the Aztecs revered cacao economically. Cacao also served as political and social symbol for this empire as well. This is evident by those who consumed chocolate or cacao. “The Aztecs considered chocolate a far more desirable beverage, especially or warriors and the nobility.” (78) Drinking chocolate in this time period was  a symbol of nobility, signifying ones wealth and status.

Codex_Mendoza_folio_67r_bottom.jpg

photo courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_warfare

 

Chocolate in Europe

With the introduction of chocolate into Europe, again we see chocolate become a symbol of aristocracy. “It had been an elite drink among the copper-skinned, be feathered Mesoamericans, and it stayed that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe.” ( coe and coe, 125) As we move into the the Industrial Revolution chocolate comes to take on a different meaning and symbol. The industrial revolution is characterized by improvements in transportation, materials, machinery, etc. For chocolate, industrialization stood as a large social change, allowing chocolate for the masses. With the popularization of chocolate amongst the masses, chocolate served as a symbol of economic efficiency. Moving along in history, the establishment of the companies like Cadbury, Fry’s and Rowntree, “had a social conscience in the midst of all this money making, unlike many Victorian captains of industry.” This had important social implications, as these companies because branded and known for “ factories with adequate housing for their workers, even  a dining room and reading room.” (245) Not only was this effective on a local scale but on a global scale. “The Fry family was deeply distressed by the wretched working conditions, approaching slaver, which then prevailed on the plantations of Portuguese West Africa and they boycotted cacao from those parts until the situation improved.” (245) In these times we can see that chocolate has held a special place in society. It was once for the elite and then it was accessible to everyone. It had been a symbol of wealth and eventually through the social conscientiousness of certain brands became a moral symbol.

2343618575_409420b31c.jpg
This is one of Fry’s chocolate bar covers. The Fry company was known for their quaker and moralistic ways. 

photo courtesy of: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/topcat_angel/2343618575/

 

Chocolate Post World War II

In 1948-1949, Post World War II diplomatic relations among countries were tarnished. Germany was split up into Eastern and Western zones. The West was divided by France, Britain and the U.S while the East was controlled by the Soviet.  Tensions soon began to grow between the Soviet, it the East, and the Allies, who were in the West. The Soviet formed a blockade allowing no supplies to the west, even thought the roads were blocked, the Allies thought of “supplying the cities with supplies by air.” (The Candy Bomber) Though the soviet was blockading the West, these airlifts helped prove the blockade useless. One of the Airlift pilots, Halvorsen,  wanted to do more, as he saw children on the East, excited by the idea of candy. Though these relations between the East and West were rocky, one pilot wanted to do more, to make a diplomatic gesture. In the case of Operation Little Viddles, chocolate and candy was the mending power that brought these zones to better terms. “Nearly overnight, Halvorsen became the face of the Berlin Airlift and a symbol of American goodwill.” (Volk). In this instance, it is clear that the gesture of providing these kids with chocolate was a political and diplomatic move, trying to better the relationships between the East and West of Germany, while also easing the relationship with Germany and the U.S.

LittleVittles.jpg
This photo shows the excitement children had over candy and chocolate. For them to receive candy from the Operation Little Viddle was a huge deal for them. 

photo courtesy: http://jackiewhiting.net/AP/ColdWar/BerAirlift.htm

Chocolate over the years has gone through many alterations.  In different cultures, chocolate has served as different types of political, economic and social symbols. In the Aztec empire chocolate was used to signify wealth and nobility. This symbol stayed the same as chocolate traveled to Europe. Through the industrial revolution and the Victorian age, chocolate and certain brands came to symbolize morality. In post War War II chocolate and candy were important for symbolizing a diplomatic gesture. Chocolate is always changing and varying, however, it always finds its place in society

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The true history of chocolate. Vol. 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

Volk, Greg. “How One Pilot’s Sweet Tooth Helped Defeat Communism.” Mental Floss. N.p., 13 June 2014. Web. 10 Mar. 2016

“The Berlin Candy Bomber.” The Berlin Candy Bomber. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.