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Statue of a dignitary, Vera Cruz culture, 200-500 AD
Cocoa is one of the building blocks of the Mayan agriculture and religion. Cocoa was offered as a valuable gift to deceased dignitaries at their funeral ceremonies. Scientists have discovered in their tombs terracotta recipients with a lid and a handle that were filled with a dark brown powder: the relics of the chocolate drink that was offered to the deceased.
 

Statue of a dignitary, Vera Cruz culture, 200-500 AD.

Mayan culture

Other vases found show sculpted objects referring to cocoa beans, while other recipients look similar to the cocoa pod itself.

Mayan culture

The planting of the cocoa seeds and harvesting of the cocoa pods were related to very important and religious rituals in the Mayan society. They offered fruits, feathers and animals to the god of fertility (Hobnil), the god of rain (Chac) and the god of cocoa (Ek Chuah) to please them and get a good harvest in turn.

Large pot with a picture of the God of cocoa “Ek Chuah”, Mayan culture,Guatemala/Mexico, 300-600 AD Cup with picture of Chac, God of rain, 500 AD
Large pot with a picture of the god of cocoa “Ek Chuah”, Mayan culture, Guatemala / Mexico, 300-600 AD

Cup with picture of Chac, the god of rain, 500 AD
Utensils used for crushing corn or cocoa, Vera Cruz culture, 200 AD
Utensils used for crushing corn or cocoa, Vera Cruz culture, 200 AD

One of the ancient Mayan mythical “bibles” Popl Vuh tells the creation stories, the sagas and victories of the Mayans and often refers to cocoa. It tells the story of the divine twins that have freed the world from the terror of the demons. Illustrations of these legends and the tales about the twin brothers have been found: they show the twins offering vases with cocoa to the god D.

Mayan book of Chilam Balam referring to the cocoa tree

Also the holy Mayan book of Chilam Balam refers to the cocoa tree: it symbolizes the sacred tree that was planted in the days of the “Dark Age” to indicate the four directions of the wind before the coming of Light.

Cocoa played an essential role in Mayan society as currency. The name cocoa also refers to its monetary value. The verb cacau originally meant “carrying over from those who walk, work or cultivate”. Carrying over can be interpreted as: exchanging, paying, or even making it. This refers to the role of cocoa as a means of exchange, as money.

It also was used in the Mayan, and later the Aztec culture in several composite words like nocacau (my money) or mocacau (your money). The Spanish retained the word cacau since it was clear that it was linked to the subject being exchanged: the cocoa bean. Therefore the Spanish were convinced that the name cacau was related to the plant species cocoa.
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