Tag Archives: Dresden codex

Modern View on Chocolate

Chocolate has had a major significance in society over the years. Many events and holidays use chocolate as a major part of their rituals. Chocolate can be traced all the way back to Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. These civilizations viewed chocolate as a great luxury item that had many powerful qualities. Chocolate was used in many rituals, spanning from marriage rituals, religious rituals, and even a belief that it could cure illnesses. The view on chocolate has changed over the years, however. Today, people have started to simply associate chocolate as a commodity involving sweetness and romance. Also, people are often unaware how their chocolate is being produced and if the cacao farms that produce it are being run ethically. I took the time to conduct an interview with a friend of mine to understand his view on chocolate and the significance it has to him. Clearly, there are quite a few myths that people have about chocolate and hopefully I am able to shed some light on why people view chocolate in such a different way than it had been looked at before.


imagesWhile chocolate has spread to many parts of the world today, it was not always so accessible to people. Cacao can be traced all the way back to beginning with the Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mesoamerican people viewed chocolate as a luxury item given to them by the gods. Many documents such as the Dresden Codex and Paris Codex, as seen to the right, allow us to see how big of a role chocolate played in the lives of these people. Cacao was often used in many different rituals and also was used to cure some illnesses. In the Mayan civilization, cacao was used for digestion and as an anti- inflammatory. Eventually, chocolate spread to the Europeans and underwent some hybridization. The Europeans would add ingredients to the chocolate such as cinnamon to enhance the flavor of it. Chocolate influenced many social aspects in Europe such as class, religion, and politics. Eventually, chocolate would spread more globally and although not having great success in parts of Asia, it would be consumed across the world including North America. People in today’s society are often unaware of the roots of chocolate and cacao. In conducting the interview, when I asked my friend where they would consider the roots of chocolate, they responded, “I think of European countries like Switzerland when I think of where chocolate started.” This shows how people are unknowing to the roots that chocolate has and where cacao has been traced back to. Also, while we have many views on chocolate today, with romance being the most common association, people are unaware how significant of a role chocolate played in early civilizations. When asked about the views early civilizations on chocolate, they responded, “I would imagine it was the same as today. Mostly a sweet candy with romantic significance.” I believe this undermines how much of an impact cacao and chocolate had on early civilizations and the important role it played in their everyday lives.

The process of producing chocolate is not the simplest process. There are many labor intensive tasks that must be performed on the cacao farms. Some of the tasks that are required include clearing trees, planting, grafting, applying fertilizers, and transporting items. While these may not seem like hazardous tasks, there many potential risks in completing them. In order to complete the work, workers must walk long distances on uneven and often slippery surfaces, use sharp and heavy objects, and also experience a great deal of sun and heat exposure. Many safety precautions are not put in place in order to ensure safety of the workers. Farm workers also very often lack access to bathrooms, filtered water, and clean spaces to prepare food. In finding out if people are aware of the labor involved in producing cacao and if they are run ethically, I asked my friend about their perception of cacao farms. He said, “Honestly, I don’t know too much about how the farms that produce chocolate are run. I would assume that most of the producers follow standards and the working conditions are secure.” It is quite evident that people are not informed on the standards that cacao farms have and how ethically they are producing their chocolate. Farmers are usually getting volatile income and therefore don’t get paid wages or a salary. As Amanda Berlan states, “Forced labour in cocoa is documented in many regions, ranging from Mesoamerica, South America, to Africa and the Caribbean from as early as the 1650s to the twenty-first century.” (Berlan, 2013) This evidence allows us to see that forced labor on these cacao farms is not a new phenomenon. Child labor is also a big exploitation on West African farms. Children provide cheap labor for cacao farms and are often put into often dangerous conditions for little pay. As you can see by the image on the right, children are put into hazardous imgres-2situations such as transporting heavy bags of cacao. This is extremely dangerous for the overall well being of the children. However, not all chocolate producers run cacao farms that are unethical. Some companies such as Theo’s pride themselves on making sure everybody in the bean to bar process can thrive. They want to ensure that their cacao farmers are in good working conditions and making a stable amount of income. As their website states, “Every Theo purchase directly supports the livelihoods of over 5,500 cocoa farmers in our supply chain and their 30,000 family members, enabling farmers to send their children to school, feed their families, and reinvest in their communities.” It is important, based on the lack of knowledge of cacao farms from the interview, that we must inform people of how cacao farms run and which take advantage and exploit their farmers.

 

While we are able to conclude that the history of chocolate and how it is produced is quite unknown to people, I want to investigate the modern view on chocolate and how advertisers and producers capitalize on this view. Over the years chocolate has developed the stigma for being used in romance and aroma. As noted by my friend in the interview, “For me, chocolate is one of those items I get when I want to reward myself or a friend. I feel it has that romantic vibe to it” Chocolate has been advertised to people as having the ability, especially on women, to entice an excessively aroused feeling. As you can see by the image to the right, women are constantly being depicted as being seducedSeduction by chocolate. Men, on the other hand, are often seen as of higher status in these commercials. Men get depicted as the ones who are constantly attempting to seduce the female and seen for their appearance, not brains. Advertisers are constantly picking up on the stigmas and perceptions that people associate with chocolate and then implement them into their commercials or advertisements. While it may not seem important that we are aware of how advertisers are showing chocolate, there are many implications that result from these marketing strategies. One of the main factors in the childhood obesity epidemic is the marketing directly to children. In today’s society of technology and social media, it is nearly impossible to monitor everything children see. Therefore, it is important that we don’t allow big chocolate producers to have marketing ploys that result in false stereotypes and ideas. In the chocolate industry, there has already been a shift in how we view race in chocolate. As professor Martin has stated in her lectures, chocolate and vanilla have become cultural metaphors for race. These metaphors insinuate that chocolate is to blackness and vanilla is to whiteness. These metaphors expand far beyond simply color. They have even developed their own associations as whiteness is purity and cleanliness, while blackness is sin and dirtiness. Another important note that Dr. Martin has made is how chocolate can reveal mainstream cultural blind spots in relation to racism and inequality. Due to this, it is important to educate people as opposed to exploiting stereotypes.

 

While we know that chocolate has been considered extremely beneficial in early civilizations, as it was often used therapeutically, people now may have a false sense of health in regards to chocolate. Many chocolate recipes were developed for what their creators believed to be maximal health benefit. However, people began to associate chocolate with health problems. In my interview, I asked my friend how they viewed chocolate and the benefits of eating chocolate and they replied, “I don’t know how beneficial it is to eating chocolate all the time, but I don’t think it hurts to have it sometimes as a snack.” While there are some risks in eating chocolate that range from toxins in the cacao shells to high amounts of sugar and saturated fat, chocolate has many beneficial qualities in being consumed. One benefit is the high amount of antioxidants received from eating chocolate. Also, chocolate has many cardioprotective qualities. This has been seen in cases such as the Kuna Case Study. In this study, they found that the Kuna people had better cardiovascular health than others due to the consumption of chocolate. Although some findings pose that this a potential complication due to the Kuna people also having a fish diet, chocolate clearly can have a positive impact on overall health. (Howe, 2012). According to Francene Steinberg, the effects of cacao flavonoids on cardiovascular health have been seen to reduce platelet reactivity, which then reduces the risk for clot formation. (Steinberg, 219) Chocolate also has the ability to work as an anti inflammatory and have anti tumoral properties. As seen by the image onfive foods the right, dark chocolate has been noted as a food that can help prevent cancer. As Watson states, Although in vitro studies have shown that cocoa flavonoids exert anti-tumoral effects, further studies are needed.” (Watson et al., 2013) However, the stigma that people have towards the benefits of eating chocolate often promote that there are very few and eating chocolate only causes health problems. People have found that the ideal chocolate to eat is 70% cacao and also limits cocoa butter content. It is also important to consider that the chocolate came from a cacao farm that avoided chemicals while being in a safe environment. Although chocolate has become seen as an unhealthy snack to some people, there are still many beneficial qualities to consuming chocolate.

 

Clearly, it is important to understand that there are many people who are unaware about the many facets of chocolate and the production of it. When looking at the origins of chocolate, many people do not know where it truly originated and how important it was to those people. The Mesoamerican civilizations regarded chocolate as one of the highest luxuries and used it in many different rituals. Also, it is evident that people are not very educated on the process in which their chocolate is produced. Many cacao farms, especially in West Africa, exploit adults and children in order to make more of a profit. With education and awareness of these poor conditions, people can understand how their chocolate is being made and if that company is upholding ethical standards. Not only may people not understand where their chocolate is being produced, they are often unaware of the potential benefits to consuming chocolate. Studies have found that chocolate provides key antioxidants and also improves cardiovascular health. Also, it is important to understand the myths and stereotypes associated with chocolate. Chocolate is constantly being shown as this sexual arousing item for females with men using it to seduce these women. Advertisements and companies capitalize on these stereotypes and use them in order to sell their product. After conducting this interview with my friend, I have began to get a better understand of how chocolate is viewed in most people’s eyes. Chocolate has played a major role in society for many years and it is important to inform people of the truths to consuming chocolate rather than keeping different myths and stereotypes about it alive.

 

Works Cited

 

Steinberg, Francene M, et al. “Cocoa and Chocolate Flavonoids: Implications for Cardiovascular Health.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 103, no. 2, 2003, pp. 215–223., doi:10.1053/jada.2003.50028

 

Howe, James. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.”Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, University of California Press Journals, 1 Feb. 2012, gcfs.ucpress.edu/content/12/1/43.

 

Watson, Ronald R., et al. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. Humana, 2013.
Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” Journal of Development Studies, vol. 49, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1088–1100., doi:10.1080/00220388.2013.780041.

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Chocolate as a Symbol of Love through Luxury: From Ancient Mayan Civilization to Today

Introduction

Chocolate, more so than most foods, carries a sentiment of love and affection when shared with and given to other people, driven by the notion that it can be a luxury. Today, about 83% of people are likely to share candy or chocolate on Valentine’s day, and chocolate sales compile 75% of Valentine’s Day candy purchases (NCA). While it is believed that known chocolate brands (Hershey’s, Dove, etc.) influence our association of chocolate with love and affection (they certainly do to a significant extent), closer analysis suggests that usage of chocolate as a vessel for love and affection may stem from the luxurious nature of cacao in ancient Mesoamerica and chocolate in 17th-18th century Europe and the methods by which these commodities were consumed.

Chocolate as an Affectionate Gift Today

A significant amount of advertisement by chocolate companies frame chocolate as a luxury good that can be given as a gift to show affection towards another person. This advertisement by Perugina (owned by Nestle) highlights the symbol of chocolate as an expression of love for a family member, friend, and partner. The chocolate product advertised in this instance, as in many other, does not even appear until the final few seconds. And, when it does appear, it is given from a man to a woman and eaten in a substantially delicate fashion- the way one would treat anything opulent. This sumptuous branding of chocolate as a delicacy inherently labels it as a worthy gift that shos fondness towards someone. If that aspect is not enough to influence people to think of chocolate as a luxury gift that shows affection to someone, the quote from the advertisement, “The Italian way to say, ‘I love you’” lays out the message pretty clearly, and can be found in many similar messages throughout world chocolate marketing- one needs to only look as far as the product of a Hershey’s ‘Kiss’ or a heart-shaped dove.

Chocolate as a Social Enabler in Ancient Mesoamerica

Opossum God carries Rain God on his back, caption is “cacao is his food [kakaw u hanal].”
Maya marriage rituals included tac haa – roughly translated as “to serve chocolate” or “to invite the father of a girl whom one’s son wants to marry to discuss the marriage and serve him drink”

(Martin, 2018).

 

Today’s notion of chocolate as a luxury to be shared with others is not new by any means. Ancient Mayans can be seen using cacao in the context of love through marriage rituals. The Mayans associated cacao with their gods and religion- shown in colonial documents such as the Popul Vuh and the Dresden Codex, in which the Opposum God carries the Rain God on its back with the hieroglyphic caption “cacao is his food” (pictured above)(Martin, 2018). The glorification of cacao in these sacred contexts can be seen as the first notion of chocolate, or its origin cacao in this instance, as a luxurious commodity consumed by the powerful. Moreover, it appears as though the depiction of the God’s usage of cacao trickles down to carry social significance for the actual Mayan people. The image above shows their marriage ritual of the father of the groom offering cacao to the father of the bride to invite him to discuss the marriage, providing one of (if not the earliest) known examples connecting chocolate to fostering relationships.

Chocolate as a Luxury in 17th-18th Century Europe

The tradition of chocolate as a meaningful ritual via its opulence continued quickly into the assimilation of chocolate consumption in European culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. Specifically, the development of chocolate pots in Europe and their migration to Boston added to chocolate’s luxurious allure in both places: “fashioned for an elite clientele to serve imported luxury foodstuffs…chocolate pots were among the rarest silver forms in the early eighteenth century) (Falino, 2008). The creation of these pots initially may have been motivated by desire for functionality: “what distinguishes the chocolate pot from the coffee pot is the hole in the top under the swiveling (or hinged) finial that allows for a stirring rod to be inserted and do its work without cooling the drink” (Deitz, 1989). However, the functional appeal does nothing to hide its luxurious nature. In this surviving chocolate pot by Edward Webb, the base and top are decorated with intricate fluted design. These vessels made for the consumption of chocolate were desired only by wealthy merchants and a “succession of royal appointees who had sufficient funds and an appetite for the latest styles” (Deitz, 1989). In a similar fashion to the Mayans, the consumption of Chocolate was ritualized beginning in this rich form with silver pots.

 

1706-18 Chocolate Pot made by Edward Webb stored in Museum of Fine Arts

 

The Consumption in Chocolate Houses by Elite Add to the Allure

The development of chocolate houses in 17th-century Europe add to the history of chocolate as a luxury. These houses fostered political discussion and developed what Loveman calls “a separate identity” from coffee-houses. They soon evolved into the venue for parties with other types of drinks and games mostly for gentlemen, while “respectable ladies could call at a chocolate house” (Loveman, 2013). Furthermore, by 1680, a dialogue began during the making of a new chocolate house in Westminister developing the notion that women loved chocolate in a similar fashion that is advertised today (Loveman, 2013). These chocolate houses allowed for the practice of the consumption of chocolate by elites not only confirmed to the nature of chocolate as a luxury but also brought people together because of its appeal.

When people think about Valentine’s Day, they think about chocolate, specifically heart-shaped chocolate, and love. The association with love and affection is influenced by advertisements by chocolate companies today that convince us that chocolate is a delicacy to be shared with others, and they are able to convince us of this belief because of a deeply rooted history of chocolate as a luxury item. From the ancient Mayans believed that cacao was a food of the Gods, to 17th-century European elites using lavish silver pots to drink it, to the silky smooth texture with which they are created today, chocolate has always carried immensely more meaning than the simple ingredients that have combined to create it, allowing us to use it as a symbol for much more than a bit of food.

 

Works Cited:

“A Baci Chocolate TV Ad Italy “Say It with a Kiss” Valentine’s Day 2010.” YouTube. January 10, 2010. Accessed March 20, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBkBqMZnTVU.

Carla Martin. “Chocolate Expansion.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University, Cambridge. 31 Jan. 2018. Lecture.

“Chocolate Pot.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. April 06, 2017. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/chocolate-pot-42519.

Falino, Jeannine, and Gerald W. R. Ward. Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000: American Silver in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston: MFA Publ., 2008.

Kate Loveman; The Introduction of Chocolate into England: Retailers, Researchers, and Consumers, 1640–1730, Journal of Social History, Volume 47, Issue 1, 1 September 2013, Pages 27–46, https://doi-org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/10.1093/jsh/sht050

Marcy Norton; Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics, The American Historical Review, Volume 111, Issue 3, 1 June 2006, Pages 660–691, https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr.111.3.660

Paula Deitz. (1989, February 19). Chocolate Pots Brewed Ingenuity. New York Times (1923-Current File), p. H38.

“Valentine’s Day Central.” NCA. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.candyusa.com/life-candy/valentines-day-central/.

Pre Columbian customs and beliefs involving cacao and chocolate

In today’s society, chocolate is a well known commodity that many people associate with sweetness and romance. A key ingredient in the making of chocolate is cacao. When people think about chocolate, they think of a sweet treat with European origins from places such as Switzerland. However, many people are often unaware that cacao was believed to be discovered in early Mesoamerican civilizations. These civilizations also had quite a different view of cacao and chocolate than the modern view. They viewed these items as luxury goods given to them by the gods and used them for more than simply eating. Cacao and chocolate were used in religious rituals, marriage rituals, and even used to cure illness. The Mayans viewed chocolate so fondly that they would have a yearly festival to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah.

Cacao can be traced all the way back to the Mesoamerican civilizations. According to Magnus Pharao Hansen, cacao was seen as luxury crop during this time period and it provided theobromine for the nervous system after a labor process of cultivation and processing. This evidence allows us to understand that Mesoamerica was becoming a civilization, moving past the stages of just necessities and creating class division and hierarchy. The image to the right shows vessels with residue of pasted image 0theobromine, which is an ingredient in cacao. This shows us that chocolate was becoming a big attraction in civilizations such as the Olmecs. Other civilizations such as Mayans and Aztecs have records that show a strong presence of cacao and chocolate.Documents such as the Dresden Codex, Madrid Codex, and ParisCodex (shown on the right) were in hieroglyphics and have cacao featured throughout, often being consumed by gods in ritual activities. Evidently, cacao was viewed by the MesoamDresden_codex_page_2erican people as more than just a food item, but rather a sacred item given to them by the gods. According to historian Marcy Norton, cacao was viewed in a religious setting as essential to one’s physical, social, and spiritual well- being. During this time as well, many marriage customs involved the presence of cacao. The Mayan marriage rituals had the husband serve chocolate to the father of the girl he wanted to marry and discuss the marriage. Cacao was also used in customs involved death. The rites of death referred to cacao that was dyed red and helped ease the soul’s journey to the underworld. Cacao was used in beverages, as well, during the time of the Mayans. Chocolate beverages were viewed as sacred drinks with the foam being the most important part of the beverage. The beverages were able to boost energy for people due to the caffeine in the chocolate. Usually, it was men of royalty and elite status who consumed chocolate through beverages, while women and children were not allowed to drink the cacao. This is because they viewed it as an intoxicating food. Eventually, cacao and chocolate were being used for medicinal purposes. In the Mayan civilization, cacao was used for digestion and as an anti- inflammatory. In the Aztec civilization, cacao was used to cure infections and illnesses. As Teresa L. Dillinger states, “Childhood diarrhea was treated with a prescription that used five cacao beans. These were ground and blended with the root of tlayapoloni xiuitl (unknown plant) and then drunk. To relieve fever and faintness the prescription called for 8–10 cacao beans to be ground with dried maize kernels and blended with tlacoxochitl.” (Dillinger et al, 2060S) While the uses for chocolate expanded far beyond social use and pleasure, cacao still had an effect on the social landscape of the Mesoamerican civilizations. The Mayans had words such as “chokola’j”, which is translated to “to drink chocolate together”. Cacao had quite a special effect on people and played an important role in society and still does to this day.

Clearly, there were many customs and beliefs that the Pre Columbian civilizations had involving chocolate and cacao. The influence chocolate was able to have on these civilizations was immense and impacted their everyday lives. Many aspects of life were changed socially, religiously, and physically. Cacao and chocolate were able to change social interactions and physical treatments of people. People in the Mesoamerican civilizations used chocolate during many marriage, death, and religious rituals. As shown in lecture, foods and beverages such as the one shown on the right, still use the influence of earlresizey civilizations in order to sell products. The description of this beverage states, “Recommended served warm (106°), this delicious and relaxing beverage was blended to revive the delicacies and keen insights of the ancient Aztec tribes of Central America. Passed from generation to generation, our take on this blessed drink brings you the sensational benefits of anti-oxidant rich cacao and the powerful digestion aid blend of spices to create a tasty healthful experience.” With this description, we can clearly see how the Mayans and Aztecs views on chocolate still influence the modern global chocolate market. Due to the significance of cacao in the Mesoamerican society, chocolate has played a major role in the lives of many people and continues to have a major influence all over the world.

Hansen, Magnus Pharao. “Cacao: How a Single Word Holds the Key to Understanding the Mesoamerican Past.” Nawatl Scholar, 1 Jan. 1970, nahuatlstudies.blogspot.com/2015/01/cacao-how-contested-history-of-single.html?spref=tw.

Dillinger, Teresa L., et al. “Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 130, no. 8, 2000, doi:10.1093/jn/130.8.2057s.

St Jean, Julie. “Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses for Chocolate in Mesoamerica.” Medicinal and Ritualistic Uses For Chocolate in Mesoamercia, 9 Feb. 2018, http://www.heritagedaily.com/2018/02/medicinal-and-ritualistic-uses-for-chocolate-in-mesoamerica-2/98809.

Martin, Carla D. “Mesoamerica and the ‘Food of the Gods,’”

Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion.”

Cacao and its Ancient Literary Significance

Cacao seeds, the source of chocolate, don’t often figure as a divine substance in the modern word. However, cacao holds ancient significance as food of the Gods for the Mayan. The world of the Ancient Maya was in many ways built on chocolate. Today, many understand that chocolate was a drink for kings and nobles. There are dozens of Classic Maya pots and jars that depict chocolate as part of a ritual or feast (Presilla 12). Indeed, the Maya incorporated chocolate into their lives daily. Furthermore, they were among the first people to uncover the intricate process of creating and refining cacao seeds into chocolate drink. However, cacao operated as much more than just a food source; the Mayans used it as currency and wrote it into their creation myth. The Popol Vuh and the Dresden Codex offer a window into the ancient significance of cacao, connecting it to cultural identity. The act of processing  cacao beans, roasting and grinding them, is not only a cooking process but also deeply connected to a symbol of re-birth and power, due to its framing within a creation epic. Cacao is thus a spiritual food deeply connected to the identity of the Maya.

 

Picture1.png
Image: ancientamerica.org

Cacao’s origins begin with the Mayan civilization and the creation of chocolate beverages. According to Maricel E. Presilla, the Maya “consumed the pulp itself and juice made from the cacao fruit pulp (Presilla 12). Additionally, inscriptions from drinking vessels outline a clear culture of drinking cacao, as the Mayans used terminology such as ‘tree-fresh cacao’ and ‘green cacao’ in order to describe certain tastes or preferences (Presilla 12). Historians have uncovered many vases and vessels, such as a painted pottery jar from a tomb at Río Azul, Guatemala. The vessel depicts a chocolate drinking being made and further shows the process of pouring the substance from one vessel into another “to raise the foam” (Coe 48). Thus, artifacts reveal the intricate care and use of chocolate; the Mayans were so particular about their chocolate routine that even specific moments in the process feature in art.

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Image: mexicolore.co.uk

In addition to the clear culture of cacao consummation, cacao plays an instrumental within the Maya creation story. The story centers on the journey of the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque in a world that precedes the present. Their father, Hun Hunahpu was killed in Xibalba (the underworld) after he and his brother lost to the Lords of the Death in a ball game (Grofe “Xibalba: About”). Hun Hunahpu’s head is placed in a barren tree which magically begins to bear new fruit. According to Michael Grofe, this tree is depicted as a cacao tree, the beans of which make the chocolate drink that the Mayans enjoyed. Ultimately, the Hero Twins fall into a trap from the Lords of the Death who trick them into jumping into fire; they are burned and the Lords dump their bodies into the river. However, the Twins come back within five days as fish. They defeat death and bring about creation (Grofe). Thus, within the story is also the story of cacao. Like the twins returning to Xibalba, chocolate comes from beans which is roasted, refined, and poured into water, only to create something completely new.

Picture2.png
Image: mexicolore.co.uk

The Maya word “kakaw” is spelled with two fish glyphs, further emphasizing the connection between the cacao process and the magical story of the Hero Twins (Grofe “Xibalba: About”). According to the scholar Michael J. Grofe, in the “the famous Rio Azul cacao pot, we find both the two ‘ka’ glyphs together with the reduplication symbol, as well as the final syllable ‘wa’, spelling ‘kakaw’. It therefore seems likely that the story of the Hero Twins transforming into ‘two fish’ derives from a pun on the word ‘kakaw’” (Grofe “Xibalba: About”). Grofe explains the sacrifice of the Twins as parallel to “cacao processing: entrance into the underworld (burial, fermentation), burning (roasting), grinding of their bones on a metate, and pouring them into water” (Grofe “Recipe” 1). Ultimately, Cacao, through symbolic and mythological writing thus serves as a powerful representation of re-birth, underscoring the cultural significance of cacao to the Maya who used it regularly.

The Dresden Codex further illuminates the significance of cacao in literary Mayan culture. The Codex is a “folding-screen book” and in several sections “gods can be seen holding cacao pods, or dishes heaped with cacao beans” (Coe 41). In addition, the Dresden Codex specifically connects gods to cacao; according to Sophie and Michael Coe, “the Opossum God travels a sacred road to the edge of the town carrying the Rain God on his back, while the associated text tells us that ‘cacao is his food [kakaw u hanahl]’” (Coe 42). The Mayan Gods, as depicted in the Dresden Codex, have a clear reverential relationship to cacao. Ultimately, cacao seeds are not merely food, but a divine life source, and connected to the what it means to be Mayan.

Image Sources:

  1. Vessel and Popol Vuh page: http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cacao-use-among-the-prehispanic-maya
  2. Map: http://www.ancientamerica.org/?p=40

Works cited:

  1. Coe, Michael D. True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2013.
  2. Grofe, Michael J. “The Recipe for Rebirth: Cacao as Fish in the Mythology and Symbolism of the Ancient Maya.” Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, 15 Apr. 2009, http://www.famsi.org/research/grofe/GrofeRecipeForRebirth.pdf.
  3. Grofe, Michael J. “Xibalba: About.” Xibalba Cacao, Michael Grofe, http://www.xibalbacacao.com/index.htm.
  4.  Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: a Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Mayans and the Food of the Gods

For most of us consumers, it is easy to have a sense of detachment from the origins of the product which we consume, this statement is most applicable in the case of chocolate. It is arguable that the vast majority of chocolate consumers do not know the etymology of chocolate nor do they know it as a Cacao fruit first before its many transformation into chocolate. The word chocolate is said to have come from the Mayan word xocolatl. We have come to be introduced into the world of chocolate thanks to the many works of the meticulous archaeologists who have gone back in time to examine artifacts from regions in Mesoamerica that has helped to pinpoint the introduction of Chocolate into history, the culture, uses and beliefs of this wonderful beverage that came to be known as “food of the gods” (Presilla 5). The more delicate discoveries of chocolate including pre-Columbian recipes, uses and beliefs stems out of the Mayan civilization. In Mayan culture chocolate was a highly revered beverage both to the living and the dead and in particular to the Mayan elite. It was of utmost importance in Mayan ritual sacrifices and the use of cacao was also prevalent in Mayan dishes. Today, is a treat that can be afforded by both the rich and the poor, this being the case it is so easy to forget that at one point and especially in Mayan culture chocolate was a treat reserved only for the wealthy and the gods. The Mayan use of chocolate in various ceremonies including in sacred ritual sacrifices, marriage ceremonies, funerals and such makes an astounding case that the association of chocolate as “ the food of the gods” had its influences from the Mayan civilization.
It may be argued that cacao made its first appearance in the Olmec civilization but the Mayans came to domesticate this fruit and provide the vast artifacts that gave room to the study and understanding of chocolate. The area known today as Mesoamerica which spans “between central Mexico and Western Honduras, including all of Guatemala, Belize and El Salvador” (Presilla 8); Is said to be the birth place of the cacao and for the most part, this region has been placed as the sites of Mayan settlement.

Image 1:

mesomap
MAP of MESOAMERICA

The first discovery of Cacao in Mayan culture came from the Dresden codex. This historical artifact is “a type of folding screen book that was discovered as part of Mayan writing collections that preceded the Spanish conquest” (Coe 41). From the scenes in which cacao is depicted in this sacred text, it can be deduced that the Mayans saw cacao as a sacred. Cacao also made another appearance in a “far less artistic Madrid codex and in this text, a young god squats while grasping limbs from a cacao tree. We also see a depiction of gods scattering blood over cacao bloods” (Coe 42). This last scene was the first time the association between human blood and chocolate was made one that would come to mean so much later as we discover about the use of chocolate and blood in sacred sacrifices.

Image 2:

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A god holding a vessel with cacao beans.

As it has become apparent, the Mayans highly prized cacao, so much so that it was depicted quite often in the presence of gods. For people who held such reverence for this fruit, how so did they consume it?

We know from “inscriptions deciphered from classic period drinking vessels and funerary offerings” (Presilla 12), that cacao was first consumed as a fruit beverage made from the fruit pulp. Mayan glyphs for “tree fresh cacao, was discovered from the Primary Standard Sequence of the Buena vista vase, from Buena vista del Cayo in Belize” (Presilla 12).
Image 3:

mayan drinking vessel
Classic Mayan drinking Vessel

 

The most instrumental discovery for archaeologists in understanding the Mayan use of cacao and chocolate came from the discovery of the tombs at Rio Azul. It proved to be a site of countless evidence of the chocolate drinking culture of the Mayans. On one particular person, that of a “middle aged ruler, archaeologists discovered in his tomb an astounding 14 pottery vessels including six cylindrical vases and on some of the vases evidence that they had contained dark liquid was very apparent” (Coe 46). In this particular tomb, evidence of different recipes of chocolate was also found; a drinking vessel containing for “witik cacao and kox cacao” (Coe 46). In these wonderful discoveries, it is well seen that the Mayans even sent of their dead equipped with chocolate beverages to ensure a feast in the afterlife. The Mayans were also credited for popularizing the frothed chocolate beverage which we still enjoy today. In a vase that was discovered and attributed to be made in the “Nakbe area in the 8th century, of the images illustrated, a lady is seen pouring a chocolate drink from one vessel to another. A discovery that proved to be the first time a picture of a chocolate drink was being made and the introduction of the foaming method” (Coe 48).

Image 4:

mayan glyph for cacao
A replica of the vessel found in a tomb at Rio Azul; highlighted next to it is a Mayan glyph for cacao.

To the Mayans, chocolate was a highly prized beverage, one that found its way into various aspects of Mayan culture including, marriage ceremonies, parties, rite to passage ceremonies, burial ceremonies and sacred ritual sacrifices. Although cacao may have first made its appearance in the Olmec civilization, it was not raised to its level of importance until the Mayans came into the picture. That is, the Mayans are responsible for introducing a level of finesse into the making of the beverage we come to know as chocolate today; The Mayans raised chocolate to its status as the “food of the gods”.

Bibliography
Scholarly Sources:
Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013(1996). The True History of Chocolate. 3rd edition. London: Thames&Hudson.
Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural &Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

Multimedia Sources:
Herrera, Ashleigh. beloit college. 2012. image. 28 february 2016. <https://www.beloit.edu/wright/honors_term_pilot/mayan_vase/&gt;.
http://www.famsi.org/maps/. n.d. 26 February 2016.
Vail, Dr. Gabrielle. Chocolate in Prehispanic Maya Culture. 8 August 2015. 28 february 2016. <http://www.southfloridamuseum.org/TheMuseum/EastGallery/MayaStories/tabid/218/post/chocolate-in-prehispanic-maya-culture/Default.aspx&gt;.
—. The Food of the Gods: Cacao use among the Prehispanic Maya. 1 August 2014. Image. 27 February 2016. <http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/maya/chocolate/cacao-use-among-the-prehispanic-maya&gt;.