Cacao and Talamanca

Cacao from Central and South America

The classification of cacao in Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario groups is a commercial classification that has nothing to do with the genetic analysis of cacao. In the new classification (Sotomayor, 2008), "criollo" cacao continues with that name while the so-called outsiders have completely changed and are now called "Amelonados" because of their rounded melon shape. 

Here is an informative article about recognizing different varieties of cacao (in Spanish). 

This map displays the names of cacao varieties in Latin America according to genetic analysis. While "criollo" cacao is present in Central America, in many places, a mixture of varieties are present for three main reasons: the introduction of different species from South America and North America (Mexico), the introduction of cocoa hybrids by banana companies at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century and clones from genetic improvement programs by CATIE, and the cross-pollination of cacao (pollen can travel from one variety of cacao to another).

Cacao from Talamanca

The history of cacao in the Talamanca region has brought about an abundance of different types of the plant. In the beginning, indigenous groups used the Theobroma cacao and the Theobroma bicolor to produce traditional chocolate drinks. Later on, Afro-Caribbean colonizers brought additional varieties of cacao to the region.

During 1970's, cacao production in Talamanca increased for commercial purposes but due to the presence of the fungus called monilia, it eventually fell drastically.  In the last 20 years, advanced disease-resistant varieties were introduced thanks to a genetic improvement program developed by CATIE.

 Here is an informative article about their work (in Spanish).  

Cocoa production in Talamanca is unique because it is agroforestry and supports the great biodiversity that lives here. Many of the cocoa producers are willing to give part of their harvest to the wildlife and in return share the habitat with them. 

In this agroforestry system, peasant and indigenous families have not only cocoa to produce their traditional chocolate but also have an important part of their livelihood. The cocoa plantations are located near their homes and therefore their small agroforestry plots are part of their daily lives.


The People of Talamanca

There is a very important indigenous population in Talamanca. Today, due to the colonization process in pre-Hispanic times and the construction of a railroad to the Port of Limón for the commercialization of bananas by international workers, there is extensive crossbreeding between different ethnic groups.

Indigenous people have always been central to the history and culture of Talamanca. The two largest indigenous groups native to the area are the Bribri people and the Cabécar people. Because cacao has been so essential in their culture, their diet, and their oral memories, both groups have played a critical role in the production of the fruit and of chocolate. In fact, the story of "Tsuru", a Bribri word that means cacao, has been one of that group’s most enduring legends. Even today, the use of cacao plays a very significant role in indigenous events in Talamanca, especially in ceremonies following the death of a loved one.

Check out the legend of Tsuru here!

As with much of the rest of the world, history has brought changes to the native people of Talamanca. In recent centuries, human migration and colonization have impacted the racial composition of the pre-Hispanic Talamanca people.  European colonization first introduced Hispanics and was followed by a migration of black Africans from nearby Caribbean islands. When the commercial production of bananas became important to the country’s economy, a railroad was constructed connecting the Caribbean port of Limón to other parts of the country. International workers, especially from Asia, were often employed in the construction of the railroad, adding additional racial diversity to Talamanca and to Costa Rica.



For more information about this period of history in Talamanca, click here.

Most recently, there has been an influx of people from North America and different European countries, further diversifying the culture and the inhabitants of the Caribbean region.  Nevertheless, the native indigenous people, the Afro-Caribbean people, and their descendants are today the primary growers of cacao. For the families of these groups, cacao production remains a principal livelihood, although most people augment their incomes with other agricultural products or other lines of work.