Spanish Transformation of Coca in the Andes Presented by Joseph B Pate

Spanish colonization transformed the usage of the Coca plant in Peru and Bolivia by collapsing preexisting social hierarchies that limited it's use to native elites. The Spanish also encouraged it's use by common laborers as a way to improve efficiency, curb hunger, and stave off the pains of hard work.

Before Spanish colonization, Coca was prized as highly as gold. Inca rulers issued it as a gift of the highest regard. Inca Shaman relied heavily on Coca for sacred rites and divination

The Story of Coca in the Andes begins with the myth of "Kuka", an Inca legend of a beautiful who used her irresistible appearance and charm to take advantage and control of many Inca men.

Word of this treacherous woman reached back to the the Inca Ruler who ordered the woman be sacrificed, cutting her into parts, and planting her in the earth.

From her graves sprouted Coca bushes which the Inca found to give enormous strength and vitality while also relieving pain. This plant was adopted as a tool for divination and was used and cultivated only by the Elites.

La Chuspa

Chuspas were the traditional Inca carrying bags, they began as extremely oranate pieces of woven art and eventually became a practical, unadorned coca bag

Images courtesy of The Bard Graduate Center

This is a pre-Colombian Lime vessel which was used by Quimbaya elites to store lime as a regent of coca. This Poporos is extremely ornate and valuable, reflecting the pre-colombian elite nature of the substance.

Below the Poporos is a contemporary Colombian coin, which represents the Lime storage container as a symbol of Colombian antiquity and greatness.

Sculpture of An Elite Chewing COCa 750-1600 AD
Felipe Guaman POma de Ayala's "The First and New Chronicle and Good Government"

Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala was born into an elite Inca family around 1535, he was given a European education and used his skills to write and illustrate over 1000 pages in his "First New Chronicle and Good Government"

Guaman Poma wrote this chronicle to show King Phillip III of Spain the effects of Spanish colonial rule on the Inca society.

This illustration depicts two common Inca people sharing Coca leaves. The male Inca hands the female two handfuls of the leaves, while she opens her Chuspa to receieve it.

The male Inca farmer tells his female friend: "Chew this Coca, Sister"

This indicates that the usage of Coca was now widespread among the common Inca farmers as of 1612-1615, when a few centuries earlier the substance was a sacred, elite commodity.

Eventually the European's gained a taste for the plant and began designing their own European style coca paraphenalia

They fashioned Coca boxes or Coqueras out of wood, silver, and cast. They made them into round shapes and pear shapes. However, the most prominent coquera box design was the Scallop shell

Below are two 16th century Spanish Coca boxes in the Scallop shell style

CoquerA (Coca) Boxes 1770 AD
"Bolivia, possibly Moxos or Chiquitos, circa 1770 wood and silver" Images courtesy of LACMA
Coquera Box 1770 AD


Spanish colonization transformed the usage of the Coca plant in Peru and Bolivia by collapsing preexisting social hierarchies that limited it's use to native elites. As is evidenced by the Guaman Poma account, Coca use became far more widespread among the common native people of Peru and Bolivia after the Europeans arrived

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