Maria Sabrina’s family comes from a long line of cocoa growers. Their modest pastry shop offers a wide variety of pastries made with delicious chocolates. Her forefathers have been simple Indian farmers growing the famous Chuao Cocoa, made into the finest and the most aromatic chocolates in the world. In the 1600’s, Venezuela was well known as a major cocoa exporter. It exported considerable volume of cocoa mostly to Mexico, Spain and Europe. In Venezuelan history, this is known as the age of the “Grandes Cocoas”(the Great Cocoa era).
At that time, large estates called ‘haciendas’ owned by wealthy Spanish land-owners and beaurocrats were planted with cocoa trees by the hundred thousands. And the haciendas depended on slave labor- -hundreds of both Indian and imported African slaves (Mandingos, Caravalis and Congo slaves). “At the haciendas, the slaves were treated like animals,” Maria Sabrina says with a sad note. “My grandmother would sometimes tell us stories of her childhood at the hacienda and the work routine of her parents and grandparents: very early at dawn, there was a bell calling all slaves to work. Then the whole day, the slaves were made to carry baskets heavily loaded with the cocoa fruits. If anybody tried to escape because of too much fatigue, he was caught and whipped by the foreman at the sight of others till he bled. Their houses had a little light and a little window. They also had very little to eat. Many slaves died because of diseases.”
Today, in many houses in the Aragua Valley area, the tiny little light given to the slaves still shines in the homes of their modern descendants- -in memory of their ancestors’ years of slavery, pain and agony. Also, the ancient tradition of burying in the grave of a dead slave his pruning machete (big knife used for pruning cocoa) has not vanished among the descendants.
In the 1800’s, Simon Bolivar and his followers fought for the abolition of slavery. He is Venezuela’s greatest hero ever- -chief leader of independence movement. He fought to free all of Northern South America from Spanish rule. His victories over the Spaniards won independence for Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. He is called ‘El Libertador’ (The Liberator). He is the ‘George Washington of South America’. The country is now called The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, after him. Currency is called Bolivar. And in major states in Venezuela, there are more Simon Bolivar statues everywhere than there are Lenin statues in the entire Soviet Union! Ironically, Simon Bolivar died abandoned, lonely and poor. A Spaniard named Joaquin de Mier owned the house in which he died. It was de Mier who donated one of his shirts to dress the dead body because there were none in Bolivar’s possessions! The funeral, coffin and tomb were financed by a collection taken up by the local citizens.
“Today if you travel to Venezuela as a tourist,” warns our friend, ” You’re supposed to not disturb the ecosystem or the customs of the existing Indian tribes. Today it is forbidden by Venezuelan law to sell or buy craftsmanship containing animal parts such as feathers, bills, claws or furs. But all these restrictions are really more for the purpose of not endangering certain species or preserving certain culture because of tourism purposes. Sometimes I say, hey! The Indian culture has existed for thousands of years. And the Indians have been doing just that! – -Not disturbing the ecosystem and not plucking out the animals’ feathers and bills and claws and not eating their meat for thousands of years! The only difference is the Indians were doing it from the heart- – out of genuine respect for animals and nature. I wish the European and American tourists who flock to our country as well as the Venezuelan government could learn a little bit from the Indians. Nature already provides all the basic healthy vegetable food we need. There is really no need to be cruel to animals. All that a person needs to do is remain respectful to animals and nature, His life’s needs are well taken cared of,” says Maria.
“Nature already provides all the basic healthy vegetable food we need.”