God of Chocolate

One of my favorite things about traveling to new places is trying all the food, and Mexico is no exception. Food is such a large part of every culture; it creates community, strengthens relationships, and, more often than not, shows recipes and techniques that have been passed down for generations. What we eat shows what is in season, the things that can and cannot be grown in an area, as well as changes in traditions that have happened slowly over time.

In San Cristóbal de las Casas, chocolate is life. It is one such tradition that has been passed down for generations, changed, edited, warped, and recreated by each and every person who takes an interest in it.

Going out for hot chocolate after work is just as normal as going out for a coffee; and fresh, locally sourced chocolate is found in each of the city’s produce markets and in almost every local shop. In short, San Cristóbal is any chocolate lover’s dream.

The history of chocolate here in the state of Chiapas is rich and creamy. In Mayan times, chocolate was used as a form of currency and hot chocolate was used in sacred rituals. It was--and still is--grown in the jungles of Chiapas; the beans were harvested and then traded for other goods, used as part of dowries, and paid as tribute to local rulers and their gods.  The Mayans found that chocolate, in addition to being deliciously flavorful and good for the soul, was also good for the body—specifically for the heart and for disease prevention.

Delicious and healthy?? Now that sounds like a currency I wouldn’t mind exchanging.

Recently, I went to a Zapatista bookstore/café to hear a friend present her newest album of a traditional style of music that comes from the state of Veracruz, Son Jarocho. She sang and played through her songs, taking time to stop and drink a hot chocolate and nurse her young son, while explaining the meaning behind many of her songs, which she sang in two languages—Spanish and Tsotsil, one of the traditional Mayan languages that is still spoken here in Chiapas.

One of her most powerful songs is called “Ek Chaun, Dios del Cacao” or “Ek Chaun, God of Chocolate.” With the lyrics “mi sangre es chocolate” or, “my blood is made of chocolate,” the artist harkens back to the Mayan people, their choco-money with its rich qualities and healthy value, and their wisdom in knowing how to grow, prepare, and enjoy chocolate. For this musician as an indigenous woman, chocolate is as much a part of her roots and family history as the voices of her grandparents. Chocolate doesn’t just run in her blood, it IS her blood, her history, her roots. It is as much a part of her identity as the child she is raising, the place where she grew up, and the music she makes.

Her song, put words to a feeling that I never knew quite how to explain—food is a delicious part of our immediate, constructed culture, but it is always more. Our foods tell the story of our ancestors: how they lived, how they flourished, how they shared. The recipes that have been passed down from hand to hand help us to recognize where we come from, which in turn helps us to know where we are and, more importantly, where we are going.

Here in Chiapas, like coffee in the Arab world, tea in England, or wine in France, hot chocolate is a drink that brings people together and encourages them to slow down and have real conversation. With a cup of hot chocolate in hand, I have built relationships with my coworkers, people in the communities where we work, my neighbors, my mentors, as well as my fellow volunteers. It is a part of Chiapaneca culture that has lasted centuries and will continue to bring people together for centuries to come; it is a tradition that I will take with me as I grow and change and move through life. 

"Ek Chuan, Dios de Cacao" (with translation):

Ek Chuan, Ek Chuan, dame de beber / Ek Chuan, give me a drink

Bebo cacao me deleito, mi corazón siente placer / 
I drink cocoa and I am delighted, my heart feels joy

Mi sangre es chocolate / My blood is made of chocolate

Veo tu espumoso manjar y quiero beber, quiero beber /
I see the delicious foam I want to take a drink, I want to take a drink

Mi sangre es chocolate / My blood is made of chocolate 

Este es su son que se baile aquí en mi tierra, aquí en mi tierra /
This is your song that they dance here on my land, on my land 

Y que se baila comiendo cacao con dulce y con canela /
They dance eating cocoa with sugar and with cinnamon 

Mi sangre es chocolate / My blood is made of chocolate

Ek Chuan, Ek Chuan, dame de beber / Ek Chuan, give me a drink


To listen to "Ek Chuan," and the entire album Flor de Autonomia, visit Marisol Yañez on Soundcloud.

Cara McKinney serves as a Global Mission Intern with Melel Xojobal, in Chiapas, Mexico. Her appointment is supported by Week of Compassion, Our Church’s Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund, and your special gifts.