Chocolate is on the top of mostly everyone’s list of favorite pleasures in life. The infatuation with chocolate has been recognized worldwide for centuries, especially in Santiago de Guatemala, the capital city of colonial Central America. The roots of the modern world’s infatuation with chocolate run much deeper than most people think. Today, people casually indulge in chocolate primarily because of its divine taste and to fulfill their cravings for sweets. Many people love chocolate, but how many know about its role in Central American history?
Martha Few, Associate Professor of Latin American History at the University of Arizona, will be setting out to answer the question of, not why we we currently love chocolate, but interestingly enough, why Guatemala grew to become so infatuated with the dessert. In the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century, chocolate was viewed as mystical, powerful, and supernatural. Women particularly used chocolate as a main component for homemade potions to cause bizarre illnesses, and they also used it in sexual witchcraft ceremonies.
At the time, chocolate was widely available to both men and women of all ethnicities and social groups in Central America. The use of the New World’s food products in Europe’s expansion of the Americas led to many interesting stories that one would never expect. It is pretty amazing how cultural expectations and norms can embed powerful associations in your head about something we view today as relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
The research done by professor Few aims to eliminate the gap between conflicts of associations. While it was time-sensitive knowledge that alcohol had been linked with public disorder in Colonial life, other associations were not peered at on a synonymous level. Martha brings a new light to unacknowledged item chocolate, showing attention to how its association brought along gendered conflicts in daily life that were relatively neglected. Her analysis is done based on inquisition records, or historical records that provide a spectrum of said conflicts in multicultural and racialized Colonial settings. Tacked on to these records, she has also authenticated her data with a number of historical documentations that contribute to her case.
As new fads spread throughout culture, they undergo a metamorphosis based on the consumers that are tied to it. Over time, chocolate underwent this very same process. In fact, the representations and interpretations of chocolate reveals how it came to be seen as a flexible and potentially dangerous food in gender and racial politics, unlike the sweet treat is often known as today. Sit in and learn more about how chocolate was utilized in colonial Central Guatemala when Martha Few joins us on Thursday, March 3rd. Her presentation “Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Colonial Guatemala” will be held in the Dollar Tree Community Room in the Brock Commons. She will begin her discussion promptly at 7 p.m. and the event will end at approximately 9 p.m.
-Ian Ragland ’17, Junior News Editor