The road we are on has just been recently paved. It used to be a dirt road, mostly of brown clay, the color of chocolate. It is much easier to walk this way. A luscious canopy closes over our head creating a ceiling. We walk for a good two miles. A vehicle approaches us from behind. I turn around and the frame is just completed. A small yellow school bus from the 70s contrasts against the intense green.
It is a busy day at the town. The day after Christmas. All are trying to get back to normal.Boats come and go every two minutes. Boarding and unboarding is accomplished through the already moored boats.
A mute hum comes ever closer turning into blaring horn and it wakes me up from my trance looking at the flickering lights coming through the leaves as we move forward.
“Sure, I’ll set you up” – came Fernando’s voice through the line.It seemed that this was actually going to happen.
Special thanks to the people that have made this project possible:
- First and foremost, my wife, Carolina Moller, for her understanding
- Fernando Carrizales, for showing me how to read the light and for the Pre-Production of this work
- Maria Alejandra Bigai, for her continued support and her own chocolate project ROMANICOS CHOCOLATE
- Chef Yolanda at the “Posada Tamaira” for her nourishment during my stay
- And to all the people of Chuao, especially Leida, Vicenta, “La Negra”, Virginia, Clemencia and Caty
The best Cacao in the world is harvested by the women of a secluded village, under a shared property model
Founded in the 16th century, Chuao is a small village located in the northern coastal range of Venezuela. Known for its Cacao plantations where some of the finest Cacao beans in the world are produced, the village is surrounded by mountains and dense rainforests to the south and by the Caribbean Sea to the north. There is no road access and visitors must come by boat from the town of Puerto Colombia along the coast, or by foot, crossing the mountains and the luxurious cloud forest from Turmero near Maracay.
In the Chuao plantation there are currently pure Criollo and hybrid varieties of Cacao being grown. Criollo beans from Chuao are of very high quality, and are considered Venezuela’s finest beans together with Porcelana Blanca beans from Lake Maracaibo (another genetically pure variety of Criollo).
When classifying Cacao, there is a wide range of qualities, however a very important one is its softness, or how it dissolves in the mouth, how it fills up the palate and how long does its chocolate taste last. This is usually called mouthfeel and this is the most important characteristic of the Criollo variety, together with its nutty flavor, sets it apart from other Cacaos.
The International Cacao treaty signed in 1995 recognizes only 17 countries producing fine aromatic Cacao. Latin America and the Caribbean supply 80% of the production. Ecuador is the top producer with approximately 115.000 metric Tons per year. Depending on the yearly yield, the Criollo variety makes up only about 1 to 5% of the global production.
Chuao produces around 20 metric Tons a year of pure Criollo Cacao and its Denomination of Origin now in process. Almost its entire production is purchased by Amedei (Venice) and Praluz (Paris) for fine chocolaterie.
The history of growing Cacao in Chuao dates back to the XVII century when Cristobal Mexia is instructed by the Spanish Monarchy to set up the plantation. When Mexia died, his daughter, Catalina Mexia inherited the plantation.
In 1671 after Catalina Mexia de Ávila’s death, the Hacienda is part of a donation to the Catholic Church, supposed to save her soul in the afterlife. After the war of independence and more than 150 years later, Simón Bolivar transfers the Hacienda to the “University of Caracas” (now Universidad Central de Venezuela) as an instrument for funding its autonomy.
After a few years, the Hacienda Chuao changes hands again and becomes the personal property of Dictators ruling the country. With the onset of Democracy, in 1958, the Hacienda becomes government property and is managed by the Instituto Agrario Nacional (National Agriculture Institute) until 1976, when an initiative is launched and the Hacienda is given, undividable and in its entirety, to the villagers as collective property, the Empresa Campesina Chuao.
The church in Chuao dates back to days of its foundation. Located at the center of the village, it is also the center of everything that happens in Chuao. After fermentation Cacao is dried under the sun by spreading it out on the large patio in front of the church. Any large gathering or festivity takes place also in the patio.
Cacao is predominantly grown, harvested and processed by their women. Men have engaged in other activities such as fishing.
The photographs in this project part of an exhibition entitled “Las Mujeres del Cacao” (Cacao Women) about 3 generations of women who are dedicated to grow, harvest and process Cacao at its different stages, from clearing the ground with machetes, all the way to manufacturing “panelas” (a form of semi-processed chocolate) and fine chocolaterie. This work also includes several panoramas taken at the protagonic actors in the village’s life, the central patio, the sea and the river.
Why are we doing this?
First, obviously for the love of the art of creating images; but also, the women in this village have an outstanding spirit and strength. Today, whenever they want to make fine chocolaterie, they have to go to a town far from there in Ocumare. This project, once it becomes a physical exhibit, and the pieces can be sold, 20% of the proceeds will go to them for the purchase of chocolate-making equipment.
How to help?
Go to our Kickstarter page by clicking on the “Be a part of it” banner or the menu on the bottom and make a pledge. If we are successful in reaching our monetary goal to put this work through to an exhibit, you will receive a thank you gift commensurate with the size of your pledge and you will be forever part of this project.
Source: “Denominación de origen Cacao Chuao”, Eduardo González Jimenez, 2007. Wikipedia.