The importance of cacao in pre-Columbian America
Cacao was used by many cultures in the pre-Columbian Americas as an important part of rituals associated with birth, marriage and death.
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Did you know that cacao was used by many cultures in the pre-Columbian Americas as an important part of rituals associated with birth, coming of age, marriage, and death, and was strongly linked with concepts of power and rulership? What about that the Spanish Inquisition persecuted women who used cacao to entice lovers and spurn enemies?
While Europeans have for claimed for centuries that they introduced 'chocolate' as a sauce for foods, evidence from ancient royal tombs indicate cacao was used in a range of foods as well as beverages in ancient times.
In Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, California State University Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno consults scholars in the fields of archaeology, history, art history, linguistics, epigraphy, botany, chemistry, and cultural anthropology to explore the domestication, preparation, representation, and the significance of cacao in ancient and modern communities of the Americas, with a concentration on its use in Mesoamerica.
In addition, the book's authors present information that support a greater importance attributed to cacao in pre-Columbian South America, where ancient vessels depicting cacao pods have recently been identified. From their botanical structure and chemical makeup of Theobroma cacao and methods of identifying it in the archaeological records, to the importance of cacao during the classic period in Mesoamerica, the impact of European arrival on the production and use of cacao, and contemporary uses in the Americas, this volume provides a richly-informed account of the history and cultural significance of chocolate.
As reported in Atlas Obscura, Indigenous people have cultivated chocolate in the Americas for at least 3,000 years, and archaeologists have identified chocolate residue on Mayan vessels from as early as 250 B.C. Chocolate was a high-status drink, shared by diplomats and served to couples in marriage ceremonies. When the Spanish colonized the Americas, chocolate’s striking taste, caffeinated buzz, and Indigenous ritual significance made it an object of European adulation and paranoia.
It makes sense, then, that the drink became a receptacle for Spanish fears of sorcery.
Chocolate was also associated with health, an association that lasted until colonial era. After the defeat of the Aztec and Maya, the Spanish prohibited the use of several ritual Aztec plants, such as psychotropic mushrooms, writes Manuel Aguilar-Moreno in the book. But the Spanish adopted the practice of chocolate drinking, and its ritual connotations lingered. In Mexico City, according to Aguilar-Moreno, newly-converted populations left offerings of cacao in front of images of Christ.
The book is available on Amazon.