The “hoja sagrada” or sacred leaf has enormous significance to Aymara and Quechua people. Discover the legend of COCA, God Intis gift to Peru and Bolivia and its use in traditional Andean culture.

In this Article

Within a minute of our first steps onto the street, the night of our arrival, we’d been offered cocaine twice by boys no older than fifteen.
They stood on corners and nodded at us and strolled a few paces alongside: “Coca? Coca? Muy pura…” we didn’t ask but we are sure the coca was cheap. You’d have to be crazy or desperate or foolish to buy cocaine from a kid in a neighborhood thick with military police wearing machine guns and slouched berets, patrolling the busy streets of La Paz. But many travelers are foolish or desperate or crazy, and given Bolivia’s immediate proximity to Peru, cocaine is notoriously abundant.

For the Aymara and Quechua people, Coca has been also considered as the weapon that god Inti, some say even the creator Viracocha, gave them to restore justice between the local people and the conquistadores – the White. Viracocha or Wiracocha is the Incan creator god, his son is the sun or Inti and the two daughters are the Moon mother, Mama Quilla and the earth mother, Pachamama.

It is considered a divine plant which satiates the hungry, strengthens the weak, and causes those who chew it to forget their misfortunes.
In this legend it turns the most faithful ally in the life of resistance of the Indian, if it is transformed to white, it will turn into toxic, into dependence, into misfortune.

LEGEND: COCA, God Intis gift to Peru and Bolivia

Inti and Mama Quilla create Coca:

According to a variation of this legend, the plant was a gift from the sun god Inti who instructed the moon mother Mama Quilla to plant the coca in the moist valleys of the Andes. Only to be used by the Incas, as they were the descendants of the gods, to give them endurance to live life on earth.

Maria from la Paz told us this story, on the boat ride to the Isla del Sol in the Titicaca Lake in 2014.

Inti, Gold mask.
Cómo los Inca descubrieron los beneficios de la hoja de COCA

Cómo los Inca descubrieron los beneficios de la hoja de COCA

Cuenta la leyenda que durante el reinado del lncaAtahuallpa, el sumo sacerdote (yatri) y el depositario del tesoro del templo del Sol, en la isla de Titicaca, era un viejo sabio y adivino llamado Khana Chuyma. Por aquel tiempo llegaron a estas tierras los conquistadores españoles, ávidos de oro, quienes sometieron indios, profanaron dioses y saquearon templos. Resuelto a impedir que el oro sagrado del Sol caiga en manos del invasor, Khana Chuyma lo escondió en un lugar secreto a orillas del Lago, y diariamente subía a una altura para escudriñar si se aproximaban las huestes de Pizarro. Un día las vio venir a lo lejos. Sin perder un instante, arrojó todo el tesoro a lo más profundo de las aguas. Enterados de lo ocurrido, los españoles prendieron al viejo sacerdote para arrancarle a viva fuerza el secreto de las riquezas perdidas. Khana Chuyma soportó estoicamente los más crueles tormentos, sin que una sola palabra saliera de sus labios. Cansados sus verdugos de torturarlo inútilmente, lo dejaron moribundo en un campo, En medio de su dolorosa agonía, esa noche Khana Chuyma tuvo una visión: Inti, el dios Sol se le apareció resplandeciente tras una montaña y le habló así:”Hijo mío, tu heroico sacrificio para salvar los objetos sagrados merece recompensa. Pídeme lo que quieras, que te será otorgado”. “Oh dios amado, qué otra cosa puedo pedirte en esta hora de duelo y derrota sino la redención de mi raza y la expulsión de los invasores” “Lo que tú me pides, respondió el Sol, es ya imposible. De nada vale mi poder contra estos intrusos. Su dios me ha vencido y yo también debo huir a esconderme en el misterio del tiempo, pero antes de partir quiero concederte algo que está dentro de mis facultades”. “Ya que es imposible devolver la libertad a mi pueblo, al irnos te pido, padre mío, algo que lo ayude a soportar la esclavitud y las penurias que le esperan; algo que no sea oro, riqueza, para que la codicia del invasor no se lo debata. Te pido un consuelo secreto que dé a los míos la fuerza para sobrellevar los trabajos, los vejámenes y las humillaciones que sus opresores les impondrán” “Concedido”, dijo Inti, “Mira a tu alrededor ¿ves esas plantas de hojas verdes y ovaladas que hice brotar? Di a los tuyos que las cultiven con todo cuidado y que sin lastimar sus tallos arranquen las hojas, y después de secarlas, las mastiquen…

…El Jugo de esas plantas será un bálsamo para sus sufrimientos. Al mascar las hojas juntos, compartirán todos ustedes momentos de confraternidad y alegría solidaria. En los duros trabajos que deberán acometer, esas hojas les quitarán la fatiga y les darán nuevos bríos. En los largos viajes por las punas inclementes, la coca aliviará del hambre y del frío y les hará más llevadero el camino. En las minas, que sus nuevos amos les obligarán a laborar, no podrán soportar la fetidez, la oscuridad y el terror de los profundos socavones sino con la ayuda de la coca. Cuando deseen indagar en el futuro incierto, un puñado de esas hojas lanzado al azar les revelará los misterios del destino. Pero estas hojas que para ustedes significan la salud, la fuerza y la vida, están malditas para los opresores. Cuando ellos se atrevan a utilizarlas, la coca los destruirá, pues lo que para los indios es alimento divino, para los blancos será vicio degradante que inevitablemente les producirá el envilecimiento y la locura.

Esta planta sagrada es el legado que les dejo. Cuiden que no se extinga y hagan buen uso de ella”.

How the Inca discovered the benefits of the COCA leaf

How the Inca discovered the benefits of the COCA leaf

The legend tells, that during the reign of the Atahuallpalnca, the high priest (yatri) and depositary of the treasure of the Temple of the Sun, on the island of Titicaca, was an old sage and fortune-teller named Khana Chuyma. At that time the Spanish conquistadores, arrived in these lands, eager for gold, subdued Indians, profaned gods, and plundered temples. The Indians, helpless and unprotected, invoked their gods in vain, and in vain also complained with bitter tears; No one in heaven or on earth had pity on them. Khana Chuyma, determined to prevent the sacred gold of the Sun from falling into the hands of the invaders, daily climbed a height to scrutinize if the hosts of Pizarro approached.

Without losing an instant, he threw the whole treasure into the depths of the waters. Aware of what had happened, the Spaniards arrested the old priest to wrest the secret of the lost riches. Khana Chuyma stoically endured the most cruel torments, without a single word coming out of his lips. In the midst of his painful agony, that night Khana Chuyma had a vision: Inti, the sun god, appeared, glowing behind a mountain and he spoke to him:

“My son, your heroic sacrifice to save the sacred objects deserves reward. Ask for what you want, which will be granted to you.”

“Oh dear god, what else can I ask of you in this hour of mourning and defeat but the redemption of my race and the expulsion of the invaders”.

“What you ask of me,” answered the Sun, “is now impossible, my power is worthless against these intruders. His god has defeated me and I must flee to hide myself in the mystery of time, but before I leave I want to grant you something Is within my faculties.”

“Since it is impossible to give freedom to my people, I ask you, Father, something to help you endure the slavery and the hardships that await you, something that is not gold, wealth, so that the greed of the invader does not I ask for a secret consolation that will give mine the strength to cope with the labors, humiliations and humiliations that their oppressors will impose on them.”

“Granted”, said Inti, “Look around you, do you see those plants with green and oval leaves that I caused to sprout?

I told your people to cultivate them with all care and without hurting their stems, tear off the leaves, and after drying them, these leaves will take away the fatigue and give them new strength.

Guard the leaves with much love and when

you feel the sting of pain in your heart,

hunger in your body

and darkness in your mind…

take them to your mouth and softly, draw up

its spirit which is part of mine…

You will find love for your pain

food for your body and light for your mind

Further more, watch the leaves dance with the wind

and you will find answers to your queries.But if your torturer, who come from the North

the white conqueror, the gold seeker, should touch it

he will find in it only…

poison for his body

and madness for his mind

for his heart is so callous as his steel and iron garment

And when the COCA, which is how you will call it,

attempts to soften his feelings

it will only shatter him

as the icy crystals born in the clouds

crack the rocks, demolish mountains …

To you, it will be a spiritual food, for them it will be idiocy and madness.

Cultivate this plant with all care and without hurting their stems, tear off the leaves, and after drying them, these leaves will take away the fatigue and give you new strength. It is the precious heritage that I leave to you. Be careful to keep it, And spread it among you with veneration and love. This sacred plant is the legacy I leave you.”

earthstoriez| Legend of COCA, God Intis gift to Peru Bolivia

The Coca leaf in custom and tradition

Inca custom and tradition

It is through the lens of the conquistadores that we learn about religion in the Inca Empire. While the indigenous author Pedro Cieza de León wrote about the effects coca had on the Inca, multiple Spanish men wrote about the importance of coca in their spirituality. For example Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, Father Bernabé Cobo, and Juan de Ulloa Mogollón noted how the Incas would leave coca leaves at important locations throughout the empire. Coca was considered the highest form of plant offering that the Incas made.

As a sacred ritual, Inca would put coca leaves in the mouths of mummies and give them Coca leaves in bags. Mummies of Inca emperors were regarded for their wisdom and often consulted for important matters long after the body had deteriorated.

Coca was also used in divination as ritual, priests would burn a mixture of coca and llama fat and predict the future based on the appearance of the flame.

earthstoriez| Legend of COCA, God Intis gift to Peru Bolivia
perufolklorico.blogspot.com

In 1609, Padre Blas Valera wrote:

Coca protects the body from many ailments, and our doctors use it in powdered form to reduce the swelling of wounds, to strengthen broken bones, to expel cold from the body or prevent it from entering, and to cure rotten wounds or sores that are full of maggots. And if it does so much for outward ailments, will not its singular virtue have even greater effect in the entrails of those who eat it?

Coca leaves play a crucial part in offerings to the apus (mountains), Inti (the sun), or Pachamama (the earth). As one example of the many traditional beliefs about coca, it is believed by the miners of Cerro de Pasco to soften the veins of ore, if masticated (chewed) and thrown upon them. Coca use in shamanic rituals is well documented wherever local native populations have cultivated the plant. For example, the Tayronas of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta would chew the plant before engaging in extended meditation and prayer. When a boy is ready to be married, his mother initiates him in the use of the coca. This act of initiation is carefully supervised by the Mamo, a traditional priest-teacher-leader of the Tayronas.

The leaf is the most sacred and would find its usage for trade and currency.

People leave small piles of coca leaves at roadside shrines and use them as blessings during ceremonies. Fortune-tellers throw coca leaves to divine the future.

K’intus offering at the edge of a farm in the community of Llullucha, Ocongate district, Cusco.

Coca is not cocaine. Coca is medicine, food, drink, coca is fundamentally cultural.

Ethnobotany of coca

Coca leaves and fruits, yellow to crimson (Erythroxylum coca) in Villavicencio, Colombia. CC BY-NC 4.0

Fresh samples of the dried leaves, uncurled, are a deep green colour on the upper surface, and a grey-green on the lower surface, and have a strong tea-like aroma. When chewed, they produce a pleasurable numbness in the mouth, and have a pleasant, pungent taste. They are traditionally chewed with lime or some other reagent such as bicarbonate of soda to increase the release of the active ingredients from the leaf. Older species have a camphoraceous smell and a brownish color, and lack the pungent taste.

Coca leaves are nutritious Coca leaves a jam packed full of minerals and vitamins including calcium, and vitamins C, E, B1 and B2. They also contain minerals such as calcium, potassium, barium, copper and magnesium.

Pic: perufolklorico.blogspot.com

earthstoriez| Legend of COCA, God Intis gift to Peru Bolivia

Coca leaf- Use

Distribution map of Erythroxylum coca, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.
Mask Coquero

Chewing coca leaves is most common in indigenous communities across the central Andean region, particularly in places like the highlands of Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru, where the cultivation and consumption of coca is a part of the national culture, similar to chicha. It also serves as a powerful symbol of indigenous cultural and religious identity, among a diversity of indigenous nations throughout South America.

Archaeological evidence has shown, that Coca chewing is 8,000 years old- it is a deeply rooted economic, social and religious tradition in the Andes.

Indians chew the leaves to eradicate hunger, improve muscle stamina, to counter motion sickness and oxygen depravation.

earthstoriez| Legend of COCA, God Intis gift to Peru Bolivia
Coca leaves, limestone (llipta or bi carb soda) and tabacco.

The Inca used coca leaves for divining and sacrifice, and chewed them with lime to absorb a small amount of cocaine. The lime was made by burning quinoa stalks (called ilucta), bones, limestone, or sea shells.

Other names for this basifying substance are llipta in Peru and the Spanish word lejía, bleach in English. Other names are llipta, tocra or mambe depending on its composition. Many of these materials are salty in flavor, but there are variations. In La Paz of Bolivia it is known as lejía dulce (sweet lye), which is made from quinoa ashes mixed with aniseed and cane sugar, forming a soft black putty with a sweet and pleasing flavor. In other places, baking soda is used under the name bico.

The Indians made a quid of leaves and lime about the size of a walnut and held it in their cheek, swallowing only the juice. The amount of cocaine liberated from a quid is minute and its only effect is to dull the senses slightly, making the chewer less hungry, thirsty, and tired. Coca chewing was believed to be very good for the teeth.

~ Cobo, 1890-95, bk. 5, ch. 29

How To Chew Coca Leaves

COQUERO – Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala or Waman Puma de Ayala. 17. Jh. depicing chewing of coca.

The chewing of coca is a well-defined practice that has changed little over the centuries.

First, the coquero takes several coca leaves from a chuspa, a baglike container.

The midribs of the leaves are removed and placed in the side of the mouth.

More leaves are added until a quid or plug is formed.

From a poporo, a small container carried in or attached to the chuspa, a limestone substance (llipta or bi carb soda) is taken and added to the quid in the mouth.

It is called “coca chewing” when in fact, it’s coca sucking.

The traditional way is to hold the leaves on the right or left side of the cheeks (between the gums).

Allow the dry leaves to absorb your saliva for the next few minutes.

The mouth will become numb within 10 minutes which tells you that coca leaves are “working.”

Common reasons to chew coca leaves

There are medicinal benefits from chewing coca leaves.

Teeth whitening

Chewing coca leaves activates alkaloids contained within the leaves to oxidise your blood. The effect is to leave your teeth a brilliant white.

Stimulant similar to coffee
earthstoriez| Legend of COCA, God Intis gift to Peru Bolivia

Chewing coca leaves is a similar stimulant to coffee and can be enough to stave off drowsiness. It also acts as an appetite suppressant, wards of thirst, hunger, tiredness, and pain.

Coca leaves are nutritious

Coca leaves a jam packed full of minerals and vitamins including iron, calcium, and vitamins C, E, B1 and B2. They also contain minerals such as calcium, potassium, barium, copper and magnesium.

Acts as an anesthetic

Chewing coca leaves will leave an anesthetic feeling in your mouth, down your throat affecting your tongue. You can chew the leaves to relieve tooth and headaches, and to relieve the pain of minor injuries and for some back pain. Arthritis sufferers can also get relief from chewing coca leaves.

Oxygenates your bloodstream

When you chew coca leaves, it allows your bloodstream to absorb oxygen more easily. Many people farm at high altitudes in the Andes where they are affected by altitude sickness because the air does not have high oxygen levels at high altitudes. Chewing coca leaves helps them cope with altitude sickness.

Head chewing ball of coca herbHead chewing ball of coca herb. Pérou et Bolivie. Récit de voyage. Wiener, Charles, 1880.

Mate de Coca:

The infusion of eight * Coca leafs is believed to cure:

–stomach cramps,

ocha de coca

–stomach pains,

–the digestive tract,

–indigestion or

–indigestion and diarrhea.

–melancholy.

–nerve problems.

– diarrhea and dysentery.

– eight leafs of Coca and two mint leafes against nausea and vomiting.

– inflammation of the tonsils and throat, gargle before each meal with

– decoction for conjunctivitis.

– infusion of * 20 coca leaves to a pot of boiling water juice of half a lemon and half a teaspoon of salt.

– 10 *burned Coca leaves, a piece of avocado (finger sized) and a spoonful of rice, remedy for dysentery.

Note: This post does not contain medical advice. Please ask a health practitioner before trying therapeutic products new to you.

Decriminalising chewing coca leaves

A Bolivian woman chews coca leaves and places some on her face during a protest against the U.N. coca report, in La Paz March 10, 2008. In its annual report, the U.N.’s International Narcotics Control Board said the two Andean governments of Peru and Bolivia should

“abolish or prohibit activities … such as coca leaf chewing and the manufacture of coca tea.”

Coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, is used by millions of people in Peru and Bolivia. In its natural form, the leaf is also used in teas, in cooking and for religious ceremonies. ~ David Mercado (BOLIVIA)

Pope Francis (Latin: Franciscus; Italian: Francesco; Spanish: Francisco; born Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Pope Franciscus; born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 17 December 1936, is the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State since 2013.

On a trip to Bolivia in 2015, Pope Francis asked to chew coca leaves after being offered coca tea. While coca leaves were banned under the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, it can be grown for medicinal and religious use with a license obtained from the government.

The indigenous people of Bolivia believe the coca plant is sacred. They declared its leaves a ‘cultural patrimony’ in the Bolivian constitution in 2009.

The Bolivian President, Evo Morales, once a coca grower, campaigns for decriminalising chewing coca leaves. For many years, South America’s indigenous people understood the effects of the coca plant. It enhances their daily lives living at high altitudes.

These days while travelling through Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina, guests can do the same.

Juan Evo Morales Ayma
Juan Evo Morales Ayma, is a Bolivian politician, trade union organizer, and former cocalero activist who served as the 65th President of Bolivia from 2006 to 2019. Evo Morales holding coca leaves.

NOTA BENE:

The cultivation, sale, and possession of unprocessed Coca leaf is generally legal in Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina – where traditional use is established, although cultivation is restricted.

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Keep exploring:

BOLIVIA | PERU: On the origins of MAMA COCA

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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources