Learning from Tradition

Making More of the Land in Sustainable Ways

By Philipp Kauffmann

April  2020

With little land and few possessions, today’s Zoque and Tzotzil communities struggle to make the best of their land in sustainable ways. As Jose himself says:

“We work hard in our cacaotales every day and so we learn patience. We do not have much land, but with patience, we can make the best of our land in sustainable ways. Patience is what makes us grow and prosper as a family. It’s important to teach our children how to be patient and to protect our land, so every generation can prosper”.

Few peoples have been persecuted more throughout history than the indigenous tribes of Mesoamerica, but they have held onto their spirited traditions with resilience and rebellions. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the indigenous peoples lost their land and they were used as forced labour for centuries at large Haciendas. Little could they grow in their small kitchen gardens back then. Only with the Mexican Revolution, were they given back their ancestral land on which they could prosper and celebrate their traditional way of life. The Zoque have always lived in the Selva Zoque, just like their ancestors, the Olmecs, whereas the Tzotzil moved back to the Selva Zoque after the Mexican Revolution.

Jose’s father was given land in the Selva Zoque as a consequence of the Mexican Revolution and Jose explains how his father arrived at this area barefoot and in traditional Tzotzil woolen clothing from the mountains. His son still recalls how he bought his father’s first rubber boots. Upon their arrival in the area where they established their village, Cerro Blanco, they found old cacao trees growing in the shadow of the forest. These old cacao trees are still standing today and they are the mother trees of the cacao growing in the village.

Cacao, grown in a diverse agroforestry system, can be a sustainable and forest-friendly means to help the Zoque and Tzotzil prosper in dignity as indigenous peoples while keeping their ancient traditions and relationship to their land intact. And to me, our Zoque 88% chocolate marks the solidarity of these indigenous communities and their ongoing struggle to protect their ancestral land and traditions. Our ambition is to empower the local families to make more of their land in sustainable ways. By raising the local cacao price with 50% and by actively converting pasture land on the forest frontier to diverse cacaotales, where Tabasqueño cacao is planted together with 40 different crop and tree species, we are helping the local families make a better living, while carrying on and reviving a 4000 years’ tradition of growing and consuming cacao. 40.000 heirloom cacao trees have been planted in the last year and 62 hectares of land have been converted from cattle pasture to diverse cacaotales so far. And we have just started on this amazing journey. By protecting and reforesting the land of the Zoque and Tzotzil communities in the Selva Zoque, we are also expanding the habitat of endangered animals like the Spider Monkey and Jaguar.  

We will sleep below a gigantic Ceiba tree tonight. The air is moist with the sound of the forest’s choir and we are embraced by the late afternoon symphony of the forest as the birds and amphibians are preparing for the night. An amphibian blues and a bird tango. Shards of sunset shine like a thousand tiny lakes in the dark green foliage. Tree trunks glow copper.

By Philipp Kauffmann

April  2020

Hints of lychee and coconut in this chocolate from select-tribal Tabasqueño cacao have lifted the spirits of Zoque growers for 4,000 years.

For thousands of years the Zoque have cultivated “kakaw” and given it the name we use today. As they restore their customs and forests (selvas) your purchase of the spirited Zoque 88% helps their cause.

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