Wonders of the Coca Leaf

Alan Forsberg

This article briefly describes the beneficial qualities, constructive uses, and profound cultural significance of the coca leaf for the indigenous Andean peoples highlighting examples from Bolivia – a country in the vanguard of the defense of the sacred leaf. More specifically I will describe the natural coca leaf’s renowned nutritional and therapeutic qualities, explain how coca has long been used for millennia as a ritual tool for divination, social interaction, and as a link to deities and the mother earth that they worship. I will also explain how coca became institutionalized as a key cultural symbol of solidarity, identity, and resistance for the native Andean people in the face of colonial and neocolonial domination. I will then describe the implications of the recent boom in the economic value of coca caused by the increased demand from the cocaine industry, combined with pressures to completely outlaw and eradicate the coca leaf. These contradictory foreign demands for the drug cocaine and for the prohibition of the natural coca leaf threaten to deprive the traditional consumers of their coca, thus creating a powerful social force of rebellion arising in defense of the traditional meanings and uses of coca in the face of threats to this traditional way of life and the very identity of indigenous Andeans. I conclude this historical analysis by bringing us up to date on constructive uses of the leaf in wider society and the current struggle to recognize the coca leaf as an intangible heritage of humanity and access to its many beneficial qualities a basic human right for everyone. http://www.accionandina.org/documentos/Wonders-of-the-Coca-Leaf.pdf

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