Jeffrey Barnes, STRI short-term fellow from Dawson College in Quebec asked household heads in Panama’s indigenous community of Aligandi if they had Siagwa (cacao), and answers varied “from a simple yes or no, to an enthusiastic demonstration of their hidden stash” of cacao beans; the source ingredient for chocolate. Others showed Barnes a bag of processed cocoa powder.
Barnes found the Guna (or Kuna) people hold cacao in high esteem. It is an essential component of countless ceremonies. But, likely due to plant diseases, consumption of Siagwa beverages has remained low since mid-century. In Aligandi, a Caribbean island community, consumption of locally derived cacao beverages is less than one cup per week.
Barnes’ findings contrast with studies suggesting Guna consume up to four or five cacao beverages daily. This may have been true in the 1950s, but not today, Barnes contents. High consumption of locally derived cacao has been publicized as key to the cardiovascular fitness of the Guna and used to highlight health benefits of chocolate.
In evaluating household consumption of cacao, Barnes proposes a novel method that might help nutritionists to refine their understanding of indigenous diets – a practice that Barnes argues is easier said than done.