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The Legend of Cacao in Mexico

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Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico
Credit: BILLPERRY | Bigstock

You may know that Mexico is famous for its chocolate, made from the cacao bean, which was domesticated centuries ago by the Olmecs. What you may not know, though, is the legend of cacao in Mexico.

Once upon a time in Mexico when the gods pitied the Toltecas because of all the work they had to do, they decided that one of them should go down to Earth to help them learn the sciences and the arts.

All the gods made the decision that Quetzalcóatl was the one to join the Toltecas and illuminate them. Quetzalcóatl took human form and descended to Tollán, the city of good and hardworking people.

He descended through a ray of the morning star, leaving the Toltecas astonished with his appearance, particularly with his shiny clothing and his white beard, which was curly and shiny as well. The people understood that the one who appeared was not a mere mortal and began to worship him.

Quetzalcóatl, who loved his people very much, gave them a plant that he had stolen from the gods, his brothers. They had guarded it jealously because from this amazing plant they obtained a drink that was only intended for them. Quetzalcóatl planted this little tree in the fields of Tula, which today is the state of Hidalgo. After the little tree was planted in the ground, he asked Tláloc, the god of rain, to water the plant and Xochiquetzal, the goddess of joy and love, to decorate it with flowers.

The tree bloomed and Quetzalcóatl showed the people how to pick up the pods and roast the beans. Then he showed them how to grind the beans and mix them with water in jícaras, which are handmade bowls. The result was the precious chocolate, which at the beginning was only reserved for the upper-class.

The Toltecas enjoyed drinking the delicious chocolate and were very happy, which awoke the envy of the gods, especially when they discovered that humans were drinking the beverage destined only for them. They swore revenge and called for the god of night and darkness, Tezcatlipoca, who was an enemy of the luminous god Quetzalcóatl.

Quetzalcóatl sat very sad in his palace because of a dream he had about the gods planning their revenge because of his misbehavior. The benevolent god was worried about the people who had became joyful, wise and rich.

Tezcatlipoca, who had descended to earth disguised as a merchant, deceived Quetzalcóatl by giving him liquor and telling him that if he drank the liquor he would forget his worries and would be happy again. Tezcatlipoca also told Quetzalcóatl that he should give this liquor to his people so they would be happier. Quetzalcóatl believed him and drank a lot of what is now called pulque, a Mexican alcoholic drink made by fermenting sap from the maguey agave plant. He got so drunk that he started to dance, sing and shout to the astonishment of everyone.

Quetzalcóatl woke up with a terrible hangover and soon recognized that the gods had dishonored him and the overthrow of the Tolteca people was coming. He felt ashamed and, because he no longer could stay there, decided to leave and follow the morning star, but promised to return some day. When he did come back, he found that all the cacao plants that once were green and leafy had became dry and thorny, reason enough to feel terribly sad, so he cried.

He continued his way through the country until he reached the southeast coast, which is now the state of Tabasco. Before entering the endless, divine waters, he threw the cacao seeds in his hand to the ground as his last gift to humankind. After doing this he went into the sea, and using the silver lining of the morning star, he returned home.

The legend ends with a bittersweet feeling for the luminous god Quetzalcóatl. Even though he brought happiness to his people, he also became the bad god. The price of his betrayal of the gods was the highest of all.

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