History of Cacao 4, Azteca 1
Hello my fellow chocolate lovers,
I am Takanori Chiwata, the chocolate engineer of COCONAMA CHOCOLATE.
In our last post, we discussed about how cacao was used in Mayan civilization. However, the great Mayan culture eventually declined. It is believed that their fall is due to things like food shortage caused by overpopulation and sanitary detoritation.
Along with the decline of the Mayans, the Toltecs begins to take place in history.
The later Aztec culture described the Toltecs as an intellectual cultural predecessors.
The Toltecs destroyed the few remaining Mayans all over the place, and flourished their empire in Yucatan peninsula until the Spanish conquest.
By the latter time of their rule, the Toltecs slowly wore away, and the Mayans began to gain back its power. There was a warfare among these tribes, and it is believed that they were battling over a mass cacao producing land.
They had a fierce battle over areas including Soconusco of South-Pacific region, Chontalpa of Tabasco, and Boca Costa (region running through Chiapas to Guatemala along Pacific coast ).
The battle over the Soconusco was especially fierce. The cacao produced in this region were such fine quality that latter Aztecs immediately laid their eyes on this land.
Additionally, Chontalpa was ruled by a group of Mayans. These Mayans engaged in long range trading, and brought the cacao from this region all the way up to the highlands of Mexico.
As mentioned above, after the decline of the Mayans and Toltecs, many minor tribes continuously battled over these cacao producing regions…And this is when the Mesoamerica’s greatest empire takes place…
Yes, the Aztec Empire.
Actually, there is something different about the Aztecs from the Olmec, Mayan, and the Toltec civilizations. That difference is the regions they’ve ruled. Mayans and the other empires flourished throughout the southern Mexico to Guatemala. The Aztecs, on the other hand, flourished a little further apart from the others at the highlands of central Mexico, the current Mexico city. This indicates that the Mayans and other civilizations grew cacao in their very own land.Although the Aztecs went on an expedition and took over Soconusco, most of their cacao were tributes.
According to the Aztec legend, humanity will eventually extinct due to a massive earthquake (talk about pessimism). Aztecs were originally a slave of tribes like Toltecs, but due to their combative nature, they ended up ruling most of the Mesoamerican regions.
Before I get into cacaos, let me explain a little more about the Aztec Empire.
Although we call it the “Aztec Empire”, this empire was actually a triple alliance of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. The population was about 10 million to 11 million,with about 20 of them residing in more urban areas, and it was thought to be the largest state in the world back then. They were a class society with their emperor at the top of the pyramid, followed by nobles, commoners, then the slaves. Those who had a special social status were the clergies, long-distance traders, and the soldiers.
Well what did the clergies do? Let’s talk about the Aztecan religion.
The Aztecs were polytheistic, but among all the gods, their national god Huitzilopochtli was the deity of war, and required sacrifices from the captives to protect the Aztecs from infinite night. This is how the Aztecs began rituals to do with human sacrifices, and how the clergy played their roles. This was when cacao played an important role as well.
It is a horrific story considering how they had to make captive soldiers as a sacrifice every single day with the help of clergy. They carried out this ritual as they feared the legend that if they were to neglect this task, the world would come to an end by a catastrophe.
I mentioned that the Aztec Empire was triple alliance, but this alliance was probably formed so that they can occasionally start war to stock up the captivated soldiers.
Additionally, from its shape, cacao was a symbol of gouged out heart, and the drink was a symbol of blood. It is recorded that cacao was used in a massive ritual held at their capital,Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
First, they would pick out a healthy slave to play a role of their great god, Quetzalcoatl.This slave would get treated with fancy clothes and gems like a real god for 40 days.
When it’s the actual night of the ritual, the slave would get informed about its death by the elders of the temple, and would have to dance in front of them as if he is enjoying it from the bottom of his heart.
I mean, who in the right mind would be able to dance cheerfully in front of the people who just told you about your death?
That is when the cacao kicks in! Trust me, it’s the most unbelievable way for cacao to get used. If the dance doesn’t seem cheerful enough, they would bring a knife that was used to kill another slave in the past, wash this with water, make a cacao drink with this filthy water, and make the slave drink it. Once he drank it, the slave will get light-headed and forget about the fact that his death is just around the corner. Then, he would gain back his spirit, start dancing again, and march to his death with joy.
Actually, cacao has stimulants like theobromine and caffeine, but it doesn’t have anything that will affect one’s mind. It’s probably just how they portrayed the ritual to be.
That is how cacao played a role in a religious ritual of the Aztec Empire.
In our next post, I would like to talk about how the Aztecs used cacao in their everyday life.
With hopes that you will be able to encounter the perfect chocolate just for you,