The Colonization, and Decolonization, of Cacao
What Is Colonization?
To be colonized means to be disconnected and disintegrated from ancestry and land based knowledge.
Colonization is supported by supremacy and capitalism. Three layers of supremacy are commonly found today:
- White supremacy. This legitimizes slavery and provide cheap labor for capitalism. It also legitimizes genocide and support resource grabbing for capitalism.
- Human supremacy. This legitimizes ecocide (ecological destruction) and the exploitation of resources.
- Male supremacy and patriarchy. This legitimizes femicide, domestic violence, and child abuse. This creates "invisible labor" that is not compensated for in capitalism.
The results of colonization include trauma, chronic stress, environmental degradation, fractured food systems, countless diseases, and many other symptoms.
How Was Cacao Colonized?
Cacao was colonized with the "colonial conquest" of the Americas in the 1500s, when the three above mentioned systems of supremacy were imposed upon the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas and over 99% of the population was eradicated by disease and violence in a massive cultural genocide. So much wisdom, culture, and spiritual practice was lost.
Rainforest ecosystems became managed as a "resource" rather than a "living system", and cacao became one of many rainforest products extracted for the benefit of the colonizers. Widespread deforestation, species extinction, and loss of native strains continues to this day.
All consideration of cacao as a sacred plant was lost on the colonizers. Instead, white supremacy justified slave labor, poverty level wages paid to farmers, all to get more cacao, cheaper. Political interference by Western & European interests has caused major suffering and corruption in Central & South American political systems. Major social movements have been undermined by foreign interests, inhibiting the thriving of the indigenous populations. To this day cacao is still grown in the context of an extractive capitalist system in countries where political and economic realities are determined by the descendants of the original colonizers, and the ancestry and land based knowledge of cacao is largely disregarded.
For full details on the colonization of central and south America, we recommend reading: The Open Veins of Latin America.
How Do We De-Colonize Cacao?
The first step to de-colonizing cacao is acknowledging and grieving the colonization of cacao and the systematic oppression and exploitation of cacao communities and indigenous culture. Not to do so, especially when in a position of privilege, is acting in complicity with the systems of domination.
The second step to de-colonizing cacao is going through an extensive healing and reconciliation process to restore the respect that was lost when the colonizing mechanisms of supremacy and capitalism were imposed. An initial step in this direction could be to pay cacao prices far higher than the industry average, as the capitalist way of indicating respect. An even further step is to purchase only from small cacao farmers to de-aggregate wealth, and to support regional economies were farmers sell wet cacao to high quality fermenteries that add additional value before export.
However, to truly decolonize cacao requires also showing respect in non-capitalist ways, including:
- Honoring and treating cacao as a sacred plant, as it was done in pre-colonial times. This is a practice that can be done on the individual level (by practicing relationship through ceremonial cacao rather than consumerism through chocolate bars) as well as at the level of corporations, non profits, and governments.
- Ending all unsustainable deforestation and mineral exploitation. These extractive practices degrade the tropical ecosystem that serves as the genetic reservoir for cacao and home for indigenous communities that have tremendous knowledge of the rainforest which cacao calls home.
- Respecting indigenous self determination and ancestral indigenous claims to territory. The true wisdom for rainforest stewardship and historical knowledge about cacao lies with the very people who ancestrally lived where cacao grows, and their way of life and cosmo-visions are critically threatened.
In a broader context, de-colonizing cacao can not be done in isolation of de-colonizing many of the other systems we live within. In essence, we will be working in solidarity with many movements that are restoring sacred relationship with the earth as a living being, and stepping into the regeneration and thriving of all life on Planet Earth with human stewardship.
The Positive Impacts of Ceremonial Cacao
The chocolate industry today is rife with exploitation, unfair labor practices, and low commodity pricing for cacao beans as large chocolate companies prioritize profit over cacao quality. This has a negative impact on the earth and the farmers, as the majority of industrial cacao (70%) is grown on mono-cropped plantations using pesticides, and low flavor varieties such as CCN-51.
The ceremonial grade cacao that we produce creates a complete sustainable cycle that benefits the farmers and their communities, the cacao trees, and the natural ecosystems of our planet. We build personal relationships with our farming partners, knowing exactly how they grow and harvest their cacao, which creates a personal pride in the quality of product along the entire supply chain from farm to cup. By paying higher prices to support organic farming practices, the farmers can avoid chemical-laden pesticides and farm using agroforestry principles that support healthy soil cultivation and thriving ecosystems. This creates a healthier, lush environment for the farming communities to grow food, and live in. In a nutshell, we care about our cacao, and all of the people involved in the cultivation. This is a heart-led endeavor, which is the only way to go when working with the healing properties of ceremonial cacao. You can read more about our energetic standard for ceremonial cacao here.
For an in depth discussion and exploration of the history and culture of cacao, please join us for our online course, The History and Culture of Cacao, here.