Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. 1

Chapter 1

Author: Gabrielle Vail

Title: Cacao Use in Yucatan among the Prehispanic Maya

Cacao has played an important role in the economic, ritual, and political life of the prehispanic Maya, and remains significant to many contemporary Maya communities. Beverages and foods containing cacao are described in hieroglyphic texts, especially marriage ceremonies and scenes of daily life in the royal court. During prehispanic times, cacao beans served as units of currency and were important items of tribute. Cacao use in the Mayan region of Central America dates more than 2,500 years ago based upon chemical analysis of remains recovered from various vessels in Belize and elsewhere. The focus of the present chapter considers cacao use among societies occupying the northern Maya lowlands, especially the Yucatan peninsula. Depictions of cacao use in Mayan religion figure prominently in the Dresden and Madrid Codices. The sustained production and use of cacao by Mayan societies of different eras and regions point to the enduring quality of this food as a gift from the gods.

Chapter 2

Author: Martha Macri

Title: Tempest in a Chocolate Pot. Origin of the Word Cacao.

The origin of the word cacao is highly debated. One group of linguists argues that the word originated in the Mixe-Zoquean language family, believed to be related to the language spoken by the ancient Olmec. A second group suggests that the etymology is Uto-Aztecan and related to contemporary Nahuatl. Chocolate was unknown to Europeans before contact with the Americas, therefore, chocolate and chocolate-related words originated in the languages of the Americas, and entered European languages by way of Nahuatl. But which language invented the word cacao? This is complicated given that cacao initially was grown and first consumed in South America and was foreign as a cultigen to all Mesoamerican peoples, given that the earliest date for the transmission of cacao plants from South America to Guatemala and Mexico is uncertain. Could a word for cacao in South American languages have accompanied the introduction of its use in the north? This essay examines cacao-and chocolate-related words and examines the debate whether or not Nahuatl-speakers invented the words, or borrowed them from another language or languages. The evidence presented, while theoretical, challenges the assumption by some paleo-linguists that Uto-Aztecan cold not have been the origin of the word, cacao. Understanding the words related to cacao and chocolate preparation has the potential for providing unique insights into the history of trade and cultural relationships among the diverse peoples of Mesoamerica.

Chapter 3

Authors: Louis Grivetti and Beatriz Cabezon

Title: Ancient Gods and Christian Celebrations. Chocolate and Religion.

The religious importance of chocolate easily is documented by Pre-Columbian artifacts, religious objects, and texts. Further, religious traditions associated with chocolate practiced in contemporary Central America in the 20th and 21st centuries have their origins in antiquity and represent a blend of ancient religious beliefs and Christian rituals, especially the well-known Mexican rituals associated with Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The primary chocolate-related themes that formed part of ancient Maya, Mixtec, and Nahuatl, and other indigenous peoples of the Americas are presented and reviewed, specifically, texts from the Popul Yuh, the Sacred Book of the Quiche Maya, where it is reported how cacao came to humans. The Mayan god of cacao, Ek Chuah, was honored in April with animal sacrifices and offerings of feathers, incense, and cacao. Contemporary Quiche/K’iche Mayans relate that their ancestors received cacao from Jesus Christ and to this day call the cacao tree, the "tree of sin and knowledge." Toltec cosmology contained in the Tonalamatl, the Book of Prophecies from the priests of the Goddess Xochiquetzatl, relates that the god Quetzalcoatl first brought the first cacao tree to earth and delivered it to the good citizens of Tollan. Another variant exists in Nahuatl texts that relate Quetzalcoatl brought cacao beans to earth to honor a faithful Mexica princess who had been slain. Cacao remains a prominent component of Bribri cosmology in the geographical region of what is now Costa Rica, where the god Sibo was responsible for bringing cacao to humans. Cacao continues to play important roles in contemporary Mayan religious rituals associated with baptisms, marriages, and funerals. Convent and Monastery documents examined during the course of this research revealed consistent uses of chocolate in Catholic celebrations, especially during Lent, Passion Week, and Palm Sunday.


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