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Coca Leaves

Peru Viajes

Edition 2015
The Tawantinsuyo
The Inka
Inkan Religion
General and City Planning
Materials and Lithic Tech
Inkan Architecture
Coca Leaves
Andean Camelids
Andean Condor
Inkan City of Qosqo
Present-day Festivities
The Cathedral
Saint Blaise Church
Convent of Our Lady of Mercy
La Compania de Jesus Church
Saint Francis Convent
Monastery of Saint Catherine
Maras, Moray, Pichingoto
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Home >> Peru Cities >> Cusco Travel Information >> Coca Leaves



Coca leaves (Erythroxylon coca) have played a very important role in development of the Inkan Civilization, being closely tied to its Government Administration, Economy and Religion. Its cultivation and mainly its use was extended from Argentina as far as Nicaragua and the Caribbean Islands. In 1499 Thomas Ortiz, a Dominican missionary observed coca leaf farmlands along the Venezuelan coast. In the Inkan Society their use was very controlled because they were considered to be very special leaves. It is obvious that as it happens today they had a protagonist duty among the ritual paraphernalia because they were considered to be magic leaves. After the conquest, two opposing factions appeared in the invaders opinion about coca leaves: the church tried to forbid them completely because they were intimately tied to the deep Andean Religion and were considered as diabolical leaves that had to be eradicated to pull out any idolatry different from Christianity. The other faction argued that coca leaves were very important for the interests of the Colony because only chewing them the "Indians" could withstand the inhumane exploitation conditions to which they were submitted with such heavy work. More over, production and trade of the leaves represented huge amounts of money that invaders would lose; then, without coca leaves "Indians" would not go fulfilling the "mita" (forced work) of the mines, they would not work and there would not be precious metals. In short, it would be the end of the Spanish invaders' richness. Apparently, oppression was performed only in Lima but all over the Viceroyalty production and trade of the leaves were emphasized because, for example, most of the Qosqo's Cathedral revenues came from the tithe of their trade. Since then there are hundreds of opponents and supporters of coca leaves.

Today, as in Inkan times, coca leaves are still an indispensable element in the Andean Religion; they are used in order to make the "k'intu" being part of different offerings for ancestral deities. They also serve for predicting the future by persons who act as "mediums" between the leaves and the interested person; the leaves are thrown over a shawl and the "medium" is in charge of interpreting them. On the other hand, the leaves occupy a spot of preference in popular medicine of the Andes; they are used as infusions, poultices or dusts. It is normal for Andean people to drink infusions of natural coca leaves for medicinal purposes as it is considered that they are very effective when people have dizziness or head aches, throat affections and stomach problems. It is drunk by persons suffering from "soroche" or altitude sickness. It is also used as poultices in order to relieve rheumatism and bone dislocations. Even more, in many Andean highland Communities their adult populations are used to chewing coca leaves. The leaves are just chewed and not swallowed; for that they use some very small pieces of "llipta" in which a ball is made from ashes of some plants such as the quinua. The lime contained in those ashes helps release the leaves' alkaloids and elements such as carotene, thiamine, riboflavine, iron and calcium. More over, it is demonstrated that the llipta's lime helps for a strong degrading of the cocaine molecule. Chewing coca leaves serves as an stimulant able to mitigate conditions such as tiredness, hunger, thirst, etc. It is obvious that the person chewing coca leaves will not get "high" or a "dope" state because it is a question of natural leaves that would need a chemical process with elements such as tartic acid, pure clorhidric acid, ether, and anhydrous soda sulfate, in different determined temperatures, in order to finally produce cocaine. Coca leaves contain 14 alkaloids, from which the most popular and broadly used is just one: the cocaine; the other ones are wasted or simply ignored. There are innumerable beneficial products made from coca leaves: from candies, cigarettes, tooth pastes, drinks such as "Coca Cola" that since 1903 does not contain any coca, etc. Secondary effects of chewing coca leaves have also caused disputes that almost always have a political, cultural and even racial tone. In practice, it seems that it is much less harmful than smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol. Jose Angel Escalante when referring to the Quechuas says, " "That coca leaves make them idiot" could be, but, among thousands of Indians about two or three imbeciles are hardly found and all or almost all of them chew coca. Even more, it is not demonstrated that use of coca leaves is harmful. How many dozens of pounds of coca would be necessary so that simply chewed not even swallowed would be dissolved in one cocaine gram?

Chewing coca leaves is enough to convert them into cocaine? On the other hand, what a marvelous dentifrice they are, what an invigorating miracle coca leaves are! There is no any knowledge of any Indian having suffered from dyspepsia, having lost teeth or having gotten sick from them, before one hundred years old.".

The ecological level for cultivation of the coca bushes is found in the higher Andean Amazonian jungle, only in certain zones located at an altitude between 800 to 1800 mts. (2600 to 5900 ft.); in poor lands not using aqueducts. Officially its cultivation and trade are controlled by the Peruvian government by means of the Coca National Enterprise (ENACO) that must buy all the coca leaves produced in the country. That production will be used for legal sale for the population and the pharmaceutical industry. Actually, there are thousands of small unlawful farmlands which production is used by the international drug producers and dealers for making the drug. In general terms it is suggested that drug is produced but its use is minimal in Peru. The controversial question when searching for guilt is: Who is more culpable, the coca leaves producer, the drug maker and dealer, or the drug consumer?. The leaf producer is a poor farmer who has no other choice because the only profit-making crop for his lands is coca leaves. The drug maker and dealer are those who take advantage of most of the whole process. And the consumer is an addict who has considerable economical resources in a great rich city. Production of leaves for consumption by Andean people is small, its use and treatment are framed inside a cultural and anthropological field; while most of the production is aimed toward pharmaceutical affairs and trafficking, they concern to an economic and police field.



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