Origin of Chocolate: Did The Olmecs Influence Mayan Blood Letting Rituals?

The Olmec Origin of Chocolate

Cacao is chocolate in it’s rawest form. The word cacao is derived from kakaw in ancient Zoque, the language of the Olmecs, who first domesticated cacao (1500 BC – 400 BC). The Olmecs operated a great trading empire and had large settlements in Chiapas, Yucatan, and Guatemala, all areas where cacao could be grown. In fact, the Maya word “kakaw” is of Olmec origin and the first recorded use of the term was in 400 BC, at the end of the Olmec period. Maya writing was the best developed of any in Mesoamerica.

The oldest evidence of cacao used as a drink was found in pre-Olmec pottery in the Veracruz region, and in Mokaya pottery found in the area of Soconusco (on the Chiapas coast) dated to 2000 B.C

Olmec Origins of Chocolate

Cacao in Ancient Mayan Religious Rites

Cacao was greatly appreciated among the ancient Mayas and it is still widely used by the Mayas of today. Therefore it is no surprise that some Gods were made of Cocoa beans.

Cocoa was consumed as a drink during ceremonies, it was used either as an offering or consumed by the participants, and at times both. The different Maya tribes had the custom of drinking cocoa during the celebration of important events, such as births, entry to puberty, marriages or funeral rites.

Mayan Wedding Ceremony Shaman
Shaman calls upon the gods of the 4 cardinal points to bless our traditional Mayan wedding ceremony in Uxmal.


Anthropological studies have identified signs of human DNA (skin cells) on the vessels used to drink cocoa. Their interpretation of this phonomena is that the body of the deceased was washed with water during the funeral rites, and the same water was then used to prepare the Chokoh’ Ha’ (Chocolate).

Another possibility is that the blood was mixed with the drink because it contained the mana (strength) of the other person. Today natives of the Kuna tribe, an amerindian tribe located in Panama and Colombia continue to follow their ancestral rites, using cocoa as a sacred and central element of their ceremonies.

“As the Gods give man on earth water to drink and food to eat, we must thank the gods with offerings.”

-Uxmal Choco-Story

UXmal Choco Story Museum Gift
This is a photo I took inside the gift shop of the Uxmal Choco-Story Museum. We always make a stop here during our Adept Expedition research trips in Uxmal.

Mayan Blood Letting Rituals

Besides being used in ritual, the cocoa drink was a form of offering to the Gods. To extract blood the earlobes or tongue of a Maya were cut or pierced using cactus spines, the tail of a manta ray, or an obsidian knife.

maya bloodletting
Ancient Mayas piercing their tongues and ears.

The blood was then run over the cocoa beans and mixed into a drink that was offered to the gods. The drink was prepared by roasting, peeling, and grinding cocoa beans; the paste was then mixed water and spices. The chocolate was beaten to produce a large amount of foam, which was especially valued by the nobles.

To increase the amount of foam, the Maya used “Zukir” as a natural emulsifier plant, which is a native vine from the Lacandon jungle.

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