The Coca Leaf is the most collectively celebrated symbol that represents the cultural identity of the Andean region. Being one of the first domesticated plants in South American history, it has been venerated, and intimately interwoven into everyday Andean life for at least 8,000 years. Since the leaves have successfully served as a supreme source of sustenance, and possess great curative power, the shrub is considered by billions of Native South Americans to be a living manifestation of divinity, and one of Nature’s greatest gifts. Coca, in its pure natural form, plays an essential role in Andean diet, ecology, religion, medicine, and social relations.
The nutritional content of the leaves are of such high value, that they were universally respected to be as good as gold during Pre-Columbian times. The leaves were once openly exchanged, and were utilized as a very efficient form of currency among communities between from what is now Colombia and Argentina, from as far back as Pre-Incan times. The leaves have been the main source for food and vitality for people who reside in the deep country, and have proved to be the most valuable asset in traditional nutrition and medicine.
“We humans need a medium, and a language to communicate with the “other world” that is beyond our everyday space and time: where live our gods and demons, our dead, our passions, desires and fears. We also need a medium for interacting with our neighbors, and the ability to “get to the heart of one another”. In this medium we call reciprocal action and has the status symbol of the divine or magical because it transcends the ordinary and reaches to the heart of God and our fellowmen.
For the Andean culture, Coca is a divine connection, the mediator with God and the link with others. The Coca Leaf is donated and are invited to extend and strengthen the ties of kinship and reciprocity, is the gateway to the trust, a business card and good intentions.” (Silva Sdenka 1989.)
Coca Leaf is a sacrament of paramount importance in traditional spirituality. Ancient Andean belief has it that only through the use of Coca can one cross temporal and spatial boundaries to bring us to the sacred moment. It is also believed that Coca Leaf is omniscient, but only some can communicate with it. Those people are known as wise Andean healers. Every deep rooted shaman in the Andes has a deep relationship with the Coca Leaf. The Coca Leaf is considered to be so sacred, that genuine ceremony is not complete without its reverence.
Despite all the violent attacks, and condemnationation, the stubborn persistence of Coca use in history has proven the Coca Leaf is a symbol of identity for Andean people.
“Coming into this world we live along with the Coca Leaf, and upon leaving, we’re going to die with it.”