Coca in pre-hispanic times

April 28, 2016

It is impossible to speak about the coca leaf if the cultural context in which the use of this controversial plant was used for ritual and medicinal purposes since dates prior to establishment of the Empire of the Incas, was developed is not known about 4,000 years B.C. Before the arrival of the Spaniards in Peru, the Incas hold no ceremony or ritual that was not present the coca leaf as essential for offerings to the Andean tutelary gods element. In addition, the coca leaf was used for various medicinal purposes and as a natural anesthetic in surgery operations high as trepanation of skulls in the Andean doctors achieved spectacular technical advances for its time majored.


This ancient custom is referred to by the early Spanish chroniclers who came to Peru. Oviedo in 1532, said: “The Indians loaded with a blade grass can sustain two days without food or drink with just chew these leaves in the mouth.” Also called prince of the chroniclers Pedro Cieza de Leon in 1153, says: “In Peru, coca is used in the mouth from morning until evening and asked some Indians: Why do you always have mouths occupied by this sheet? They said little because you feel hunger and great vigor and strength”.

The origin of this plant is lost in the Andean prehistory, the Coca name comes from a word of Aymara origin that means “food for workers and travelers,” and is also a generic term used interchangeably to plant or tree. Archaeologists, anthropologists and botanists do not have yet certitude of the exact place where the domestication of this plant began, the truth is that they have found evidence of cultivation in the area of ​​the warm valleys on the eastern slopes of the Andes known as ” jungle “, mainly in what is presently Peru and Bolivia. In addition to the archaeological findings of instruments and tools for growing coca, there is evidence of its prehispanic use, through numerous ceramic figures representing a man in the attitude coca chewing classical convexity presents cheek “chacchador or chewer of this leaf.”

And Chavin (1000 – 1200 B.C.), Tiawanaco (700 A.D. 1200 B.C.) cultures, among the most important before the Incas, coca chewers represented in ceramics and ceremonial vessels. During the Inca Empire (about 1400-1533 BC), through religious rites that always had the coca leaf as the main element of the offerings, and also through socialization activities, the use of this plant is widespread in all the territory dominated by the Incas. For social and religious importance acquired coca, the Incas established a monopoly on cultivation to ensure the supply of this leaf needed for exchange purposes with other products, gifts to their allies, military consumption and workforce Empire and also for healing and religious purposes. ‘to coca provided continuously and safely established in the jungle, permanent colonies devoted exclusively to this work farmers and coca plantations also offered in a special way the God Inti (Sun).

To strengthen the relationship of the coca leaf with the sacred world, a number of myths transmitted orally explained their genesis linking this plant with the Andean gods. “Mama Quilla” (Mother Moon) by order of Dio Inti (Sun) provided that the coca plant was sprayed on Amazon warm mountains with comfort for the inhabitants of the Empire so they could calm the hunger, thirst, and gain strength and vigor during every day of his life.