The following is a contribution to an ongoing conversation about best practices for working with cacao in the modern age. It’s informed by an interview sent to us by Mayan spiritual guide Nana Marina, from whom we’ve been honored to source Tz’utujil cacao since 2018.
Wrongful cultural appropriation is when someone:
-Takes objects or ideas from another culture without payment and/or credit
-Uses cultural artifacts or practices in an overtly disrespectful or harmful way
Colonialism is when one nation or group uses extreme force to take advantage of another nation or group through military violence and/or covert political manipulation, taking resources without giving back to the native people, and often leaving a trail of blood.
Neither of these terms apply to most work with ceremonial cacao (production, sales, and facilitation).
So what’s the truth?
Mayan elder Nana Marina Cruz is one of the figures holding the torch for the role of cacao in the Mayan Cosmovision. She has consulted with many Mayan elders and requests on their behalf that ceremonial cacao not be used with drugs or alcohol, and that it not be used to take advantage of people as has happened in some tantra circles.
Nana Marina and the honorable Cruz family are very clear, though, in their desire for ceremonial cacao to spread to other parts of the world where it is having a huge positive impact that swings back around to the Mayan cacao workers through fair compensation. And that anyone of any race or ethnicity who feels called to work with cacao is approved to do so, if they do it with humility and respect.
What qualifies as respectful is an ongoing collective conversation. It doesn’t mean replicating Mayan ceremonies or rituals. In fact that would actually be disrespectful if done by someone who isn’t of the Mayan ceremonial lineage.
It’s possible to combine different practices, modalities, and traditions in a respectful way, if acknowledgement and credit are given where they’re due, and a strong, safe container is held.
If we are careful not to take advantage of people, think about health and safety, and give acknowledgement to the Mayan people who have kept cacao traditions alive – then there’s actually a lot of space for creativity in working with cacao.
Sometimes it can even feel like cacao is telling us how it wants to be used! This is probably how it has always been with plant medicines. But we must also acknowledge the human cultures built around sacred plants.
Then there’s the matter of fitting a healing or transformational experience to the group and culture in which we’re working. In the 21st century, we’re called upon to develop new ways of working with people’s experience, beliefs, and identity.
If you hear someone say that only certain people are allowed to work with cacao or only in a single way, they’re not representing the perspective of Nana Marina and the Cruz family.
In fact all of the Mayan collectives who grow, prepare, and send us cacao give full approval for the way we are using and sharing it.
The words “cultural appropriation” and “colonialism” don’t apply to anyone anywhere in the world working with ceremonial cacao in a respectful way.
As long as people follow the requests of Mayan elders who have shared their beliefs and concerns.
Plus, using artisanal Mayan cacao creates positive change at every step of its lifespan, from the earth to family farms to indigenous collectives to the holistic health of those who eat or drink it. It can seriously counter the ecological and sociopolitical damage caused by the Big Chocolate industry.
We’re honored to be part of this collective conversation, helping to bring the crafts and voices of Mayan artisans and guides to the forefront. Everything we do with our partners is a collaboration in service of creating a healthier world. Thank you for joining us.
You can also learn more about our trainings that focus on how to create a safe container for modern transformational experiences with cacao.