Tag Archives: #mesoamericaninfluence

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/.

Ceremonial Cacao: The Permeation of Chocolate in Mesoamerican Celebration as the Setting for European Influence

For the people within the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations, chocolate served as a tool to bring humans closer to a higher power. The sacred nature of chocolate ensured its utilization during countless rituals and celebrations in Mesoamerica. The prevalent use of chocolate by the Maya and Aztec people was no mystery to the Europeans, whose exposure to the beverage at banquets and ceremonies was a driving force in the adoption of chocolate consumption overseas and eventually around the globe.

This Maya representation of the two gods Chac and IxChel exchanging Cacao provides evidence for the mesoamerican idea of divinity in Chocolate. This god-worthy substance therefore found a special place in many Maya and Aztec ceremonies, where Europeans first tried the beverage

Chocolate was commonly used in offerings to gods, such as the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, as well as in human sacrifices (Dillinger et al 2058s). Cacao was widely considered a food of the gods, depicted in many Maya creation stories as a divine gift. In one Maya creation story, cacao was given to humans by the god, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, directly after humans were created from maize (Dillinger et al 2057s). Before a human sacrifice would occur, the individuals awaiting death would consume a chocolate beverage for “comfort” (Dillinger et al 2058s). Banquets, during annual festivals and in honor of distinguished guests, featured large quantities of chocolate as well (Dillinger et al 2058s). Spanish Friars and colonists experienced these events within the Aztec Empire, and wrote first hand accounts of what they witnessed, presenting the European world with the wonder of chocolate.

Those who were awaiting sacrifice were often provided with Chocolate as a comforting elixir.

From the earliest European accounts of life in New Spain, it is apparent that chocolate was present for many of the initial meetings between the Spanish and the Aztec people. As a gift of hospitality, the Mesoamerican people offered chocolate to visitors, including Hernán Cortés and Fray Bartolome de las Casas, introducing the European explorers to a taste they had never experienced before. One of Hernán Cortés’ men noticed the powers associated with drinking chocolate stating, “this drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world…” (Coe and Coe 84). This statement was published in Venice in 1556, helping to bring the myth of chocolate to a European audience. Similarly, Fray Bartolome de las Casas sheds a light on the taste of chocolate as witnessed at “the emporer’s banquet,” stating “the drink is water mixed with a certain flour made from…cacao. It is very substantial, very cooling, tasty, and agreeable, and does not intoxicate” (Coe and Coe 96). Spanish women were also partially responsible for the adoption of chocolate in Europe, as some of these women were provided with “chocolate served in golden goblets” during a huge banquet in 1538 at the Great Plaza of Mexico and reportedly became, “addicted to the black chocolate” (Coe and Coe 114). Cortés and his men, de Las Casas, and a number of Spanish women began to experience the Spanish taste for chocolate in the new world, and seeking the taste back home as well.

Following Cortes’ arrival in the New World, he comes across ambassadors of Motecuhzoma II, who warn him to turn back, but eventually Cortes’ and his men are welcomed by Motecuhzoma II with a banquet. The banquets of Motecuhzoma II commonly featured chocolate, as he had a great store of Cacao beans. This is an example of European introduction to the taste of chocolate.

Today, the influence of cacao use during Mesoamerican rituals and celebrations can be seen throughout the world. The first documented introduction of chocolate as a beverage in Spain occurred in 1544 when Kekchi Maya nobles met with Prince Philip (Dillinger 2059s). Within a century, demand for chocolate spread to France, England and other European countries (Dillinger 2059s). Today, chocolate is a global entity consumed in mass proportions. In the United States alone, chocolate sales exceeded 20.6 billion dollars in 2014 (“Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry”). The existence of this enormous market for chocolate has its origins in Mesoamerica, and can be attributed to the sharing of chocolate between the Aztec people and the Spanish explorers before the conquest of the Aztec Empire.

Works Cited:

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

“Statistics and facts on the chocolate industry”. Statistica (2013). 1-92. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

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 130 (2000). 20572- 2072s. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

https://www.withfriendship.com/images/h/35977/the-scene-of-these-sacrificial.jpg http(Photo 1)

http://ageofex.marinersmuseum.org/mm_images/F1230CBA1_p93Cortez_large.jpg (photo 2)

http://blogs.uoregon.edu/mesoinstitute/files/2013/11/Chocolate-2-1az3lcd.jpeg (photo 3)