The use of coca leaves dates back to 8000 years ago. The first evidences in South America were found by the archeologists at the ruins of Nanhoc’s Valley, in Peru. Its name comes from aimará, an ancient language in which “khoka” means “the tree”; or, according to other sources, from quechua language, which in that case will mean “sacred”.
This plant was considered sacred by the Ancient Incans, as well as a gift from the God of Sun. It is related to the legend of Manco Capac, the first Inca and son of the Sun. He taught arts and agriculture to men and introduced coca leaves among the first settlers. The sacred nature of coca leaves has been archeologically shown, as they have been found in funerary tombs.
The coca leaf as a social element
The coca leaf is not only seen as a part of a ritual, but also as a relevant social element. When certain people meet, they exchange coca leaves between them, offering and receiving them, as someone would do with coffee and a friend in case of the occidental culture. Apart from that, the coca leaf is a very important element in the rural work environment. Men and women chew coca constantly, keeping it in their mouths for long periods of time in order to reduce the effects of physical exhaustion and height.
The coca leaf is also important during pregnancy. There is no Andean woman who would face a labor without coca leaves, as they have a ritual value and positive effects for the mother’s body.
The coca leaf: Andean rituals and traditions
Long ago, the coca was considered a sacred plant which had magical powers and could be used to thank the gods. It is a relevant element in the old Andean fortune-telling systems, as any problem can be solved by a shaman through a reading of coca leaves.
The coca plays an essential role in the “Pay to the Earth Ritual”. This Andean ritual, which has been widely extended in Peru, is a ceremony hosted by a shaman in which several offerings to Mother Earth or “Pacha Mama”, as well as to the mountain spirits (“Apus”), are done. The offerings consist on different objects, meals, drinks and a big quantity of coca leaves.