THE LORE & HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE
Cacao Pod Drawing
( From the Cadbury Chocolate site -- sitemap link updated 4/4/07)
[4/19/01 Note: site has gone too hi-tech -- impossible to find anything now <sigh> -- I'm e-mailing them for updates;
4/4/07: I've now found the lost pages - see below -- but this artwork is no longer available]
Author's Note (30 June 1999):
The cacao bean is native to South America's Amazon rainforests, where it grew for millions of years before Meso-America's Mayans, and later, the Aztecs, popularized cocoa as the "food of the gods." (Chocolate bars, as we know them, didn't arrive until centuries later in Europe.)
When I learned that some conservationists are advocating a more widespread use of chocolate as a means of protecting the rainforests (see the South America page), I was pleased. I was also reminded of a myth from the northern Andes that speaks of the crucial role played by cacao (from which cocoa and chocolate are made) in restoring the balance of nature after a greedy being snatched all wealth for himself. The myth begins with an omnipotent deity named Sibu who could grow animals and humans from seeds.......Sibu transferred his powers to another deity, Sura, giving him all the precious seeds. Sura buried the seeds and left the site for a brief period. Unfortunately, while he was away, a third deity, a trickster named Jabaru dug up all the seeds and ate them, leaving nothing for the creation-work of Sibu and Sura. When poor Sura returned, the trickster Jabaru slit Sura's throat and buried him where the seeds had been. Very pleased with himself, Jabaru left the scene and went home to his wives.Our urban cultures, like the trickster Jabaru, are greedily swallowing the "seeds" of life for future generations of plants, animals, and humans. The myth reminds us that we will have to pay a heavy price if we ruthlessly continue to violate nature in this way.
After a time, the trickster Jabaru passed by the place again and saw that two strange trees had sprung up from poor Sura's grave: a cacao tree and a calabash. The omnipotent deity Sibu stood quietly beside the trees. When Sibu saw the trickster approaching, Sibu asked him to brew him a cup of cocoa from the tree. Jabaru picked a bean-filled pod and a calabash fruit and took them to his wives, who brewed the cocoa and filled the hollowed out calabash shell with the rich drink. Then the trickster Jabaru carried this vessel back to Sibu, holding it out to him. "No, you drink first," all-powerful Sibu insisted politely. Jabaru complied eagerly, gulping down the delicious drink as fast as he could. But his delight changed to agony as the cocoa born from poor Sura's body caused Jabaru's belly to swell and swell until it burst wide open, spilling out the stolen seeds all over the ground.
Sibu then restored his friend Sura to life again and returned the seeds to him so that all humans and animals might one day grow from those precious seeds and enjoy Earth's bounty.[I've retold this story from TIME-LIFE Books' MYTH AND MANKIND Series / Lost Realms of Gold: South American Myth; 1998, page 31.]
The following links will give you further details about this most fascinating "bean."
Cylinder Vessel[vanished link] with Underworld Scene:
this container originally held cocoa
[Mayan, 670 - 750 AD]
From the permanent collection at
Emory University's Carlos Museum
[URL updated 4/19/01-- no trace of the art however]
[Added 4 April 2007]:This is "Chocolate Lovers Could Save Rainforest," a 4 June 1998 environmental study reported by CNN. Here is an excerpt:http://www.athenapub.com/chocolat.htmIf chocolate lovers and conservationists banded together, they could save the Brazilian rain forest and boost cacao tree productivity at the same time, according to a New York Botanical Garden researcher.
"A return to the 'cabruca' system would be great news for southern Bahia biodiversity," says Dr. Wm. Wayt Thomas, associate curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden, who is studying the plant diversity of the Bahia region in Brazil. A "cabruca" forest is one in which cacao trees are planted in the understory of the native forest, rather than clearcutting the forest and then planting the trees.
Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree and large cacao tree plantations have replaced the diverse rain forest in southern Bahia, Brazil. However, the transformed habitat has led to lower productivity of the trees. By leaving the original forest canopy intact to shade the cacao trees, the "cabruca" forest preserves much of the plant diversity of the region, which enjoys one of the most diverse forests in the world and an abundance of unique species of plants found nowhere else on the planet....
[Added 4/19/01]: From the Athena Review comes "A Brief History of Chocolate, Food of the Gods." It's a lengthy, well-written and very interesting essay:http://www.exploratorium.edu/exploring/exploring_chocolate/index.htmlOf the many agricultural wonders produced in the New World, few ultimately proved as popular or as sweet as chocolatl. In the Aztec’s Nahuatl language xocoatl or cacahuatl means “bitter water” (with atle or atl for water). A related Nahuatl word, cacao (source of the English word cocoa) refers to the bean itself, and is also used today to designate the ever-popular hot drink made from chocolate powder. The plant’s botanical name, Theobroma cacao, literally means “food of the gods.” To its many devotees, chocolate is exactly that....
[Added 4/19/01]: From Exploratorium comes a series of 8 linked pages on the history, lore, and pharmacological aspects of chocolate. The well done pages are illustrated and include audio and video clips.http://www.cadbury.co.uk/EN/CTB2003/about_chocolate/history_chocolate/: [Dead link 4/19/01; updated 4/4/07]
This is England's Cadbury Chocolate's page on the history of cacao and chocolate. It's brief but nice....http://www.cadbury.co.uk/EN/CTB2003/about_chocolate/history_chocolate/cocoa_maya.htm: [Dead link 4/19/01; updated 4/4/07]The origins of chocolate can be traced back to the ancient Maya and Aztec civilisations in Central America, who first enjoyed 'chocolatl'; a much-prized spicy drink made from roasted cocoa beans. Chocolate was exclusively for drinking until the early Victorian era, when a technique for making solid 'eating' chocolate was devised....
....This fascinating little page from Cadbury looks at Mayan lore concerning cocoa. Mayan interest dates to c-600 AD. The site includes artwork and an interesting chart showing the use of cacao beans as currency in the ancient Meso American world:http://www.cadbury.co.uk/EN/CTB2003/about_chocolate/history_chocolate/aztecs.htm: [Dead link 4/19/01; updated 4/4/07]* 4 cocoa beans could buy a pumpkin
* 10 could buy a rabbit, 100 a slave.
....Again brief, but intriguing, this Cadbury page looks at the Aztecs' relationship to cocoa, a sacred drink they believed was closely related to their god, Quetzalcoatl. The site includes artwork. Here is an excerpt:http://www.cadbury.co.uk/EN/CTB2003/about_chocolate/history_chocolate/chocolate_europe.htm: [Dead link 4/19/01; updated 4/4/07]...'Chocolate' (in the form of a luxury drink) was consumed in large quantities by the Aztecs: the drink was described as 'finely ground, soft, foamy, reddish, bitter with chilli water, aromatic flowers, vanilla and wild bee honey'....
....This looks at Europe's cocoa-trade as the popularity of the beans slowly spread. They first reached Spain where --...Monks in monasteries, known for their pharmaceutical skills, were chosen to process the beans and perfect the drink to Spanish tastes. Cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar were added, the chilli pepper was omitted and it was discovered that chocolate tasted even better served hot....
http://www.icco.org/about/Growing.aspx: [Updated 4 April 2007]
The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) provides a huge number of brief Q&A pages answering questions on various aspects of cocoa: e.g., lore, how to grow it, economic aspects, nutritional elements, politics, etc. Most of their pages also provide good references. I went through their lengthy offerings and culled pages of greatest relevance to my own site....http://www.icco.org/faq3.aspx?id=0l1738: [Link and annotation updated 4 April 2007]
These begin with this fascinating page on the origins of cacao: "The genus Theobroma, from which the cocoa tree species comes, originated millions of years ago in South America, to the east of the Andes....." The page then considers evidence for the actual origination point of cacao within that region.
This is "Chocolate Use in Early Aztec Cultures" -- here is an excerpt on cocoa was made:http://www.icco.org/faq3.aspx?id=0l1838: [Updated 4 April 2007]During the time of the Aztecs, cocoa was mainly used as a beverage. Wines and drinks were made from white pulp around the seeds of the cocoa pod. The beans themselves were used to make hot or cold chocolate drinks. Both the Maya and the Aztec secular drinks used roasted cocoa beans, a foaming agent (sugir), toasted corn and water. Vanilla and/or chilli were also used as an ingredient in the drinks....Here are several religious aspects:...For the Aztecs cocoa had a religious significance. Cocoa was believed to be of divine origin: the cocoa tree was a bridge between earth and heaven. Human sacrifices to propitiate God or sun were first sanctified by giving him chocolate....
This is a great collection of quotes from the 16th to the 18th centuries regarding chocolate, pro and con.http://www.icco.org/faq3.aspx?id=bxk1108: [Updated 4 April 2007]
This is a balanced ICCO report on "the effects of intensive commercial production of cocoa on the environment." Since most of the trees are grown by farmers on small plots, many of whom are too poor to afford expensive chemical fertilizers, cacao usually benefits the environment.http://www.icco.org/faq3.aspx?id=0l1938: [Link and annotation updated 4 April 2007]
This is ICCO's fine list of over a dozen books on the history of cocoa and chocolate; it covers from 1582 to 2000.http://www.icco.org/faq3.aspx?id=h003137:
[Added 4 April 2007]: These two links look at different aspects of nutrition, health, and chemistry connected with chocolate.http://www.icco.org/faq.aspx:
[Added 4 April 2007]:Finally, this is a Q&A page on cocoa with a pull-down menu covering many categories. If you cannot find an answer to your questions, there is a form you can submit and specialists will get back to you with answers.
http://www.godiva.com/about/history.aspx: [Updated 4/4/07 -- this new link provides historical data but no mention of the two cocoa goddesses from the earlier link at: http://www.godiva.com/godiva/recipes/history.asp, which was found dead 4/19/01.]
(Photo by Dan Skean July 1983: [Dead link 4/19/01])
This excellent site from Godiva Chocolates provides historical data but also more lore than any of the other sites. Included is mention of two Mexican cocoa goddesses whose human sacrifices were given cocoa to drink before their deaths.http://sres-associated.anu.edu.au/fpt/nwfp/chocolatetree/chocolatetree.html: [Updated 4/19/07]
This is an engagingly written site on the history, lore and tending of the "odd, football-shaped fruit"of the cacao tree. Good references and links are also provided along with several photos.http://www.chocolatedeities.com/index.php
[Added 4 April 2007]: This is "Chocolate Gods and Goddesses and Chocolate Buddha." One of this small firm's co-founders, Jeanne Fleming (who organizes the elaborate Halloween parade every year in New York's Greenwich Village and often seeks my mythic help on themes for this celebration), sent me a chocolate Venus of Willendorf several years ago. It felt strange to "eat" the chocolate goddess' body -- almost like blasphemy (a Eucharistic wafer is one thing but an actual representation of face, breasts, belly, hips, legs is quite different). Then I read Jeanne's words from this website:http://wwwiz.com/issue05/wiz_d04.html...We honor those deities who long for sweet offerings and embrace the notion that chocolate has powers to transport and inspire beyond other mere consumables. We chose chocolate for it is the food of the gods in that it induces and celebrates love, which brings you into relationship with all living things; helps to heal a broken heart; brings joy, which helps your spiritual journey; calls forth peace and compassion; lowers stress, which helps you on your inner journey; carries anti-oxidants, which help you on your healing journey; has aphrodisiac qualities which enlarge and foment fecundity; stimulates the imagination, and according to the ancient Aztecs who first discovered it, provides strength and wisdom. Chocolate Deities are: offerings; prayers and wishes....After that, I gladly surrendered and ate the chocolate goddess as both prayer and joy <smile>.
Another delightfully written and detailed page on the history of chocolate (including a mention of Charles Dickens). This site is the only one I've found that mentions the actual size of the huge cacao bean-pod:http://vision.ucsd.edu/~kbranson/stopchocolateslavery/index.htmlPods grow on the trunks and larger branches of the trees, and take five to six months to ripen. They are generally harvested twice a year, at the beginning and at the end of the rainy season. The ripe pod, about eight inches long and three or four inches around, is cut down carefully by hand so as not to injure younger pods still ripening on the tree.The site includes links and, as a minor bonus, a recipe for chocolate raspberry truffles. It was compiled by Tarla Fallgatter, who "was the first foreign woman to cook in the kitchens of Maxim's." I don't cook but really enjoy her enthusiasm.
West African boy-slaves in the chocolate trade
From South America to Africa -- An Update
(28 May 2007)I began this page with a re-telling of a South American myth about a greedy trickster who violated nature in order to get what he wanted. That same theme of greed also applies to violating humans, for I recently learned that today's chocolate-making unfortunately involves West African slavery, as the following links reveal:
[Added 28 May 2007]:This is "Stop Chocolate Slavery" from Kristin Branson, a 2004 graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. The eloquent site includes a scroll-down menu that will allow you to locate slave-free chocolate products. Here is an excerpt from the site:http://www.american.edu/TED/index.htm...The first section is News and Information, where you can learn about the connection between candy and cruelty. If you’re like we were only weeks ago, you might be scratching your head at the notion of any link between slavery and chocolate. Strange as it may sound, though, that link is as real as any Hershey’s bar or bag of M&M’s. Even as you read this, child slaves in West Africa are toiling beneath a merciless sun, or are locked up for the night, dreading another day of hard labor. But you needn’t take our word for it. Learn the sad truth like we did, from respected news organizations like the BBC and Knight-Ridder and NGO’s like Save the Children and Global Exchange....
[Added 28 May 2007]:This is the Mandala Projects home page. Created by Professor Jim Lee of the American University in Washington D.C., the site is an ambitious educational site with a number of foci. For example, there is the Global Classroom:http://www.american.edu/ted/chocolate-slave.htm...[This] is the technology interface home of the Mandala Projects. On this site are ways to link to course syllabi, lists of participants, virtual conferences, the Digital Professor (DP) project, and more....This leads directly to the connection between the chocolate trade and contemporary slavery.......
The Global Classroom is a distance learning effort [that] reaches across countries and technologies to look at the role of trade and its impact on non-economic issues such as environment, culture, labor and human rights, and other concerns. It combines the use of new technologies with some new approaches to these issues....
[Added 28 May 2007]:This is the Mandala Projects' chocolate and slavery page. Aside from the horror of what these young boys suffer, what struck me is that the slave-grown product is so intertwined with beans from other sources that even the major commercial users have no way to distinguish which is which -- unless they buy specifically from farms that guarantee no slavery is involved. Here is how this page opens:There is a surprising association between chocolate and child labor in the Cote d'Ivoire. Young boys whose ages range from 12 to 16 have been sold into slave labor and are forced to work in cocoa farms in order to harvest the beans, from which chocolate is made, under inhumane conditions and extreme abuse. This West African country is the leading exporter of cocoa beans to the world market. Thus, the existence of slave labor is relevant to the entire international economic community. Through trade relations, many actors are inevitably implicated in this problem, whether it is the Ivorian government, the farmers, the American or European chocolate manufacturers, or consumers who unknowingly buy chocolate....The site provides a graphic, sobering case history of one young boy, Aly. There are links at the end of the webpage to an extensive collection of bibliographic resources.
To the Latin American Lore & History of Maize
(a companion piece to Cacao on sacred foods)
To Latin America page
The complete Site Map for MythingLinks will be found on my Home page --
also my e-mail address (near the bottom of the page).
This page created with Netscape Gold 3.01
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Layout:
Copyright 1999-2007 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
Page created 30 June 1999; finished and put online
1 July 1999.
Latest update: 12 July 1999; 19 April 2001 (checked all links; added 2 more; Nedstated).
3-4 April 2007: added small ad for chocolate.
There were quite a few dead links from 4/19/01so I found updates for as many as I could: a total of 13;
also added Jeanne's "chocolate deity" site and CNN site on chocolate lovers saving rain forests.
19 April 2007: updated last remaining broken link.
28 May 2007: annotated 3 disturbing links on chocolate and slavery sent by a reader.
28 April 2009: deleted chocolate ad (see 3-4 April 2007 entry). The company, FYD ("Follow Your Dreams") that booked the ad didn't respond to my renewal request this year, which seemed odd, since they renewed right away last year. I googled FYD today, found only one link, which did not go to them, and discovered that they're running a scam to get pages rated higher in google searches, or something. Makes no sense to me but I want no part in a scam. I am now removing all 7 ads on 7 different pages of mine.