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The Art of
Cacao Gardening

A journey into indigenous wisdom

Biodiversity restoration, pathways to sustainability, regenerative practices, or social responsibility are crucial for a healthy development of a spirited Cacao forest, yet don't delve into the heart of the matter. Indigenous wisdom offers a worldview that can only be comprehended by opening our hearts to an alternative reality. Are you ready to allow that?

Where we come from: The Western Mindset

Our Western culture is characterised by rationality. From a scientific view, the earth was created by the Big Bang – a product of chance, a lifeless rock flying through infinite space. The emergence of life on earth is considered mere coincidence, and humankind is viewed as the result of random mutations, with its history unfolding as a progression of technical advancements toward an increasingly comfortable life.

 

The Christian myth of the creation of the earth posits an intentional creator God who designs the world and paradise, complete with plants, animals, and Adam and Eve. However, this God banishes mankind from paradise, severing their connection to nature.

Changing Perspectives

 

Indigenous cultures harbour a fundamentally different view of reality. Unlike us, they reject the notion that they exist on a lifeless lump of rock. They also don't believe in the idea of being expelled from paradise. Take the Kogi, for example, an indigenous tribe from the north of Colombia; they claim to live in the “Heart of the World”. This is how they call their homeland, the region of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain range in the world.

 

In the cosmological conception of the Kogi, Aluna is the spiritual world, an invisible, living space where everything was created through thought before manifesting in the physical world as we know it. Aluna is the source, and the true reality that permeates and influences the visible world. According to their belief, the material world was “bequeathed” to humans by Aluna in a specific way.

“When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you, it is you who belong to this land.” — Native American Wisdom.

There is no separation between man and nature in an indigenous worldview. Humans are perceived as an integral part of nature, and the earth is considered a single living body with many parts – continents, seas, rivers, volcanoes, mountains, plants, animals, and people. Every blade of grass and every stone is alive, possessing the right to exist and a designated purpose.

 

Viewing the world from this perspective reveals that the land on which one might want to plant a spirited Cacao forest is alive itself. It's not one's land, even if acquired or inherited with all the necessary documentation – the land belongs to itself. It's a living entity, and the only meaningful connection for individuals is to belong to the land by taking care of it.

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The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a unique and mystic place on planet earth, where the wisdom of nature converges with the indigenous people to create beauty and exuberance unseen elsewhere in the world. The magnificence of its snowy peaks, mountains, rivers, beaches, forests, wildlife, soils, foods, and habitants awakens profound reverence. This magical place it´s also known as “The Heart of the World” and has been, for more than a thousand years the home of one of the oldest pre-Columbian civilizations: the Tayrona culture.

The Wisdom of the four Indigenous Tribes of the

Sierra

In the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, four indigenous tribes — Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankuamo — refer to their homeland as "the Heart of the World." According to their belief, their responsibility is to maintain harmony in the land, encompassing both the physical and spiritual universe. The relationships among people, nature, and the universe are guided by the Law of Origin, emphasizing a comprehensive understanding of the territory as a singular living body — from the sea and rivers to rocks, mountains, and snow-capped peaks.

These ancient tribes share a profound perspective: just as our body feels the beat of the heart, the earth senses the rhythm of her heart. The interconnectedness of everything in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a core principle in the indigenous worldview, where every occurrence is believed to resonate throughout the world.

Through many years of dedication, the spiritual leaders of the community, the Mamo (male) and the Saga (female) acquire skills and sensitivity to communicate with the snow-capped peaks, to connect with the knowledge of the rivers, and to unpuzzle the messages of nature. Through ancient wisdom, they weave threads of energy between mountains and rocks, lagoons, rivers and wetlands, trees and plants. These connections form a living exchange that breathes vitality into the entire earth.

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Permission – Forgiveness – Gratitude

Whatever you intend to do with and on this land, three principles should guide you: ask for permission, seek forgiveness, and express gratitude. This applies whether you're strolling on a meadow or cultivating a spirited Cacao forest, encompassing every step from preparing the soil and planting Cacao beans to harvesting the fruit.

Requesting permission demonstrates respect for natural beings. It serves as a reminder that you are engaging with living entities, not merely utilizing them as a means to an end, as is often the case in Western society with many inanimate “things.” The indigenous mindset encourages approaching the land and plants as if they were sentient beings — because, indeed, they are.

The second step involves seeking forgiveness. Whatever actions we take will inevitably cause some degree of damage and entail destruction. To enjoy Cacao, we must pluck a fruit from the tree or collect it from the ground, essentially "stealing" it from the forest's animals. Fruits and seeds are also needed to plant new trees. Furthermore, cultivating the soil may disrupt insects and other small organisms. For this, we seek forgiveness. But it shouldn't burden us with guilt. Instead, it reminds us that all our actions have consequences, and we are intricately connected to the world. There is an inner disposition of humility.

Finally, expressing gratitude: Those who have taken the initial two steps will naturally arrive at this third stage, experiencing an inner sense of joy. Your heart will leap with delight – how wonderful to receive what you requested, how beautiful to be forgiven. Now you can proceed with your plans filled with energy.

Practices on the Sierra Divina Land The Cacao Gardener Pilot

On the Sierra Divina land exists an ancient path that once connected the sea to the mountains. The landowner Ricardo Leyva recollects “I was walking along this path at the time and wondered what I could do with the land when a thought popped into my head: Cacao.” — Juan, son of the Kogi shaman Miguel, who stands beside him responds concisely: “Yes, the land has spoken to you. It has given you the task of planting Cacao.”

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© Marcus Weber for Cacao Gardener

The Layout of the Forest – Finding Harmonic Order

When the ancients constructed temples, they first observed the stars and then mirrored the order of the universe on the earth. This sacred geometry, visible in various plants like the Cacao flower with its five petals, may also guide the creation of a spirited Cacao forest. Everything has its natural place, and it is the gardener's task to discover and arrange it.

 

Begin by locating the energetic centre of the site and establishing a space for prayers and offerings. This becomes the heart of the area, from which you can identify additional energy lines running through the land like veins in a body. Progressively, you'll discover more energetic points, and step by step, you'll create an energetic network. Planting the Cacao within this harmonic structure, incorporating elements and acknowledging the four directions, also invites assistance from the spirits.

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Finding the energetic centre of a place

When Kogi shaman Mama Miguel first visits Sierra Divina, he seeks a place to pray. A palm tree next to the nursery becomes a seat made of stones where he consistently performs his rituals. This marks the energetic center of the forest. Mama Miguel also identifies other crucial energetic landmarks: a specific tree, a cluster of stones atop the hillside, and the old path across the site. All these places should initiate a dialogue with the land.

The Pagamento – A Ritual of the Tayrona

One of the Kogi's vital rituals is the Pagamento. The Spanish word can be translated as “payment”. This is at least one meaning that the ritual can have: When you take something from Mother Earth, you offer something in return— your gratitude and a gift.

 

The gift is inherently symbolic because everything ultimately belongs to Pachamama. Nevertheless, a Pagamento and the inner attitude associated with it balances the energies of receiving and giving, ensuring equilibrium in the exchange of energies, a state known as “Ayni.” Ayni, from Quechua, the language of the Q'ero in Peru, signifies the exchange of energy based on reciprocity. In simple terms, whoever takes something should also give something, creating an elevation in the energy of each individual. Ayni reminds us that we are co-creators of this world.

The Pagamento is related to the concept that one is born from Mother Earth, that she gives us everything we need: water, air, and food, and therefore there is a commitment to caring for the natural world. Caring for the earth is a way in which we also take care of ourselves." 
— Ricardo Leyva.

In its deeper meaning, a Pagamento is associated with the vision of the perpetual motion of energy. Immersed in all the movements of nature, the origin of this ritual and its practice is considered essential for the development of life.

A Pagamento is a form of spiritual communication with animals and plants, with the earth and the elements. It is the acknowledgement that humans are part of the body of the earth, that they have a responsibility, a task.

Pagamentos for the Spirited Cacao Forest

Mama Miguel led three Pagamento rituals at Sierra Divina. The first one was done before taking the first cacao seedlings from the nursery to the field. The second one was done at the establishment of the first nursery funded by the Cacao Gardener initiative. The third one was done to receive blessings for the Cacao Gardener initiative and all its community. These three Pagamentos were sacred moments for the project; nevertheless, the Pagamento is a constant state of mind that needs to be nourished at every moment.

During the rituals, Kogi shaman Mama Miguel sits for hours on his Pagamento spot — sometimes in silence, sometimes murmuring softly to himself. It's a prayer, a thanksgiving, a plea for forgiveness. "He heals the land from abuse," describes his son Juan. — And it is indeed necessary: The previous owners had deforested the land and engaged in extensive cattle farming, leading to soil degradation.

Honouring the Mother Tree

A Cacao tree was planted at the entrance of the farm with reverence and the intention to leave it wild, to never prune or graft it, and to honour the mother tree whose seeds were used in the Cacao nursery. It will always maintain the genetics that come from the original seed. This will be the one tree will be allowed to grow wild in every direction and reach its natural height. A wild cacao tree can grow up to 15 meters tall, and we are curious to witness its character.

The following pictures show the Cacao Gardener tree at the entrance to Sierra Divina, planted by Serap Kara, Ricardo Leyva and Mama Miguel. This small tree will also grow into a guardian of the land, just like the Gardeners.

The Honorable Harvest

The concept of the Honorable Harvest seamlessly extends from the principles of permission, forgiveness, gratitude, Ayni and Pagamento. Again, it is about perceiving the land and the plants as living beings, as subjects. They are partners in a mutual exchange that should take place with respect and gratitude. If this is the case, sustainability happens all by itself – and nature remains in balance.

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Principles of the Honorable Harvest

- Know the way of life of those who care for you so that you can also care for them.

- Introduce yourself.

- Acknowledge that you are asking for life.

- Seek permission before taking; listen to the answer.

- Never take the first thing. Never take the last thing.

- Only take what you need.

- Take only what is given to you.

- Never take more than half.

- Leave something for others.

- Harvest in such a way that you cause as little damage as possible.

- Use it respectfully.

- Never waste what you have taken.

- Share.

- Express gratitude and leave a gift for what you take.

- Sustain those who sustain you, and the earth will remain forever.

 

Quoted from Robin Wall Kimmerer: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.