Valentine’s Day is not complete without a box of chocolates for that special someone. The gift of chocolate, flowers and a card saying ‘I love you’, is a textbook example of how people celebrate Valentine’s Day across the western world.
Chocolate comes from a seed of a tree that only grows in tropical areas of the world. The tree is known as Theobroma cacao, which translates to ‘food of the gods.’ Cacao, also known as cocoa, was first cultivated thousands of years ago by the Mayan and Aztec people.
The discovery of chocolate has its roots in Central and South America and contains the same chemical that gives you that wonderful feeling of falling in love.
According to Mayan legend, the Goddess of Cacao (Chocolate) played a role in the Creation Story. Blood Moon, the daughter of the Lord of the Underworld became pregnant with twins. In order to be accepted among mankind and to prove her worthiness, she was given a big net by Grandmother and told not to come back to the village until the net was full of food. So she set out and could only find a single cob of corn. Becoming worried that she would not fill her net with food she then prayed to other Goddesses for help.
She prayed to the Goddess of Seed, Goddess of Rain and Goddess of Chocolate. They all quickly came to her rescue and helped fill her net with food. Blood Moon was accepted by Grandmother, one of the last of the Knowledge Holders and was allowed to live amongst humankind.
She gave birth to two sons on Winter Solstice, who became known as the Sacred Twins. When they grew up, they defeated the forces of the Underworld and became loved by the gods. So much so that when they passed away, one twin became a Sun God while the other was changed into a woman after death and became the Moon Goddess.
The powerful Mayan civilization eventually weakened by internal warfare and they were defeated by the Aztec. Fortunately, the Aztec admired Mayan religion and incorporated the Goddess of Chocolate into their own.
The Aztecs attribute the creation of the cacao plant to their god Quetzalcoatl, who descended from heaven on the beam of a morning star carrying a cacao tree stolen from the Sky World.
Cacao beans were such a huge staple among the Maya and Aztec that they were also used as a form of currency.
Aztec merchants traded cacao beans with the Pueblo people. The ancient Pueblo lived in the North American southwest. According to research led by Dorothy Washburn, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, “Since cacao does not grow outside the tropics, the discovery of plentiful traces of it far to the north indicates there was extensive trade between these distant societies.”
Researchers think that cacao beans came from Mesoamerica, with the closest source being roughly 2,000 kilometres away from the Pueblo archaeological site at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.
Researchers also believe that Mesoamerican merchants may have bartered cacao beans for gems unique to the Southwest, such as turquoise, which was mined by the Pueblo.
Once the Spanish ‘discovered’ chocolate in Mesoamerica, they took it back to their king. Eventually, the cacao tree was taken to other colonized areas in the tropics where it was grown and cultivated. Today, two-thirds of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa.