Of the three articles assigned this week the most interesting was “to be Quechua the symbolism of coca chewing in highland Peru” by Catherine J. Allen. The author explains the coca leaf chewing rituals of the Quechua people. The coca plant is the natural source of cocaine, a drug known all over the world for its intoxicating effects. The world has therefore resented the Quechua way of harvesting and consuming coca leaves. However, it has been more than mere consumption of an intoxicating substance for the Quechua; it is a way of life they have lived ever since the beginning of their culture.
The belief in God is as old as culture itself. Each culture has developed a different way of acknowledging and respecting God’s presence through different forms of elaborate rituals. Some cultures act through their shamans, while others dedicate their everyday activity in the name of God.
The Quechua people are the indigenous population inhabiting the fertile stretches of the Andes of Southern Peru. Their life is one of simple living and high etiquettes, with regular rituals forming an important part of their day to day life. One of these rituals is the chewing of the coca leaves during the afternoons. The Quechua eat the coca leaves ritualistically. Rituals and etiquettes are the basis of their culture and day to day life. These rituals slightly vary from region to region. However it is a way of life for them as are many rituals that bind their societies together. The Quechua way of eating leaves is derived from a mythical story of a Goddess who began chewing these leaves to reduce her pain of losing her child. It has become a part of their regular afternoon activity ever since, helping them in coping with their grief, sorrows and fatigue. In fact the mannerisms involved in the consumption of the coca leaf conveys a lot about the cultural beliefs and belongings of the participants in the ritual. Some other cultures across the globe have similar rituals, like the Indian way consuming betel leaves.
The coca leaf has a very mild effect on its consumer. When taken with some quantity of lime as a stimulant the leaf relieves its consumer of pangs of hunger, thirst and fatigue. However, there lies scientific proof that the coca leaves, with respect to cocaine, have a mild and beneficial effect on it consumer. As a major source of the narcotic drug cocaine, harvesting coca leaves was seen as malpractice by the western civilizations.
The paper’s subject is to elaborate and establish scientific findings that coca cultivation, as proposed by many nations, is not harmful but a cultural way of living for the Quechua people. The paper gives a description of the elaborate ritual that is followed while preparing and consuming coca leaves and gives evidence that the consumption is more of a daily life ritual than a practice of consuming drugs. It involves offering the leaf to the surrounding deities and sharing it with fellow participants, blown with prayers and then chewed to produce the coca juices in the mouth. The ritual lasts for half an hour, rejuvenating the participants for continuing their work. The best leaves are offered as well as chewed and the quid is taken out of the mouth and carefully tossed, and not spit out, in contrast to other leaf chewing cultures.
This is a proof of the negligence and the lack of understanding of the cultural difference that the Western world has towards the culture of indigenous people of different places. The Incas, Mormons, the aborigines of Australia, the Quechuas of Peru and so many indigenous cultures bear the brunt of being misunderstood in their rituals and practices and suffer as a result. This has led to the decline in their number and special care needs to be .