Mayans use cacao seeds as money

cacao beans
Image Source: SouthWorld

Cocoa beans was one of the best examples among the more primitive means of payment.

Mayans–one of the oldest civilisations on the American continent, were the first ones to grow cacao trees. Cocoa beans were once used as a medium of exchange for food or clothes. Cocoa beans is also the main ingredient for their bitter drink known as Xocoatl,which was nothing like the chocolate that we drink today. It is made by roasting ground cocoa beans mixed with water and other spices. This drink were intended for the nobles and warriors. Quetzalcoatl, symbolised in the form of a feathered snake, was the most deified god of the Aztec culture, considered as the one responsible for putting cacao trees on Earth, and in honour of whom Xocoatl is prepared. This god had promised to come back on eday to save his people, and quite by coincidence Hernán Cortés was perceived as that saviour.

Cacao Beans as Money

For it to be used as money, an object needs to be so rare or precious for it to be desirable. This reason makes cocoa valuable due to the difficulties in growing the cacao tree and producing cocoa beans. Cacao trees’ low yield also made it an expensive commodity.

cacao beans money
Image Source: The Vintage News

Cocoa beans was a currency with the advantage of encouraging desire for profit without causing miserliness. Indeed, those who had cocoa beans of their own would sometimes choose to eat the cocoa beans than plant them.

Just like money or currency, cocoa beans were also the target of counterfeiting in various forms. Forgersemptied the cocoa bean and then filled it up with mud for it to look like a legitimate cocoa bean.

Without a doubt, cocoa was the main exchange currency of the Mayans, it was so important that its value was fixed officially in 1555 by a decree that stipulated that one Spanish real was worth 140 cocoa beans.

History tells us that The Aztecs seized the Mayan land and their economy. These people used cocoa beans as a barter currency. Cocoa beans as commodity money became the most common means of payment among these pre-Columbian American people for day-to-day transactions, such as trading low-value items. Talking about cocoa in a letter Cortès wrote to Charles V, he said: “this seed was being used as currency for daily exchanges”. The beans used as money were not the sam as those used to make the drink. Il s’agissait des fèves of a variety called quauhcacaoatl. As an example, a rabbit could be traded for ten cocoa beans, while a hundred cacao or cocoa beans were needed to buy a slave.


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