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Chocolá, Guatemala

The great lost Pre-Classic Maya city of Chocolá, covering more than 50 square kilometers, lies on a ridge beside the Chocolá river. On the high ground of the site are buried Maya temple and plazas and residences of ancient Maya nobility while further down the slope are what is believed to be the living areas of artisans and workers.

The modern village of Chocolá and one of Guatemala’s most historically important pioneer German coffee fincas (Finca Chocolá) straddle the center of the great buried city.

Founded in the 1890's and becoming one of the most successful coffee operations in the world, but then abandoned by the German pioneer families during World War II under pressure from the US government, the historical coffee processing plant (“Beneficio”) is now operated by a local farmer cooperative created as a part of land reform in the post WW II period. The Beneficio is a classic example of a factory completed powered by a gigantic water wheel which in its heyday ran the coffee sorters, roasters, a machine shop and a lumber mill. Although the Beneficio is community owned and still operates, it is the victim of deferred maintenance and in serious need of restoration if it is to continue to remain a part of the local economy. If it fails, the community will fall deeper into poverty.

The people of the Chocolá village are industrious and excellent farmers. Most are direct descendants of highland Maya who gravitated to Chocolá to work at Finca Chocolá between 1890 and 1940. While once a prosperous community in the days when coffee from Central America commanded good prices in world markets, farmers are today paid miserably for what they produce. We are working together with the community to explore economic development strategies that reduce their total dependency on coffee.

The ancient Maya site beneath the feet of modern Chocolenses is truly immense. Archaeologists have periodically surveyed and begun to unearth a complex of mounds and plazas that date back to the pre-classic Maya Period (1,800 BC to 250 AD). Work begun in 2004 yielded very important preliminary findings indicating that Chocolá may have been a center for the social, economic and cultural developments that lead to the rise of the Classic Maya. It may have also been a commercial center of a thriving cacao trade and for the first Maya study of astronomy.

Recent work by Harold Green presented to the 2007 Maya Meetings at the University of Texas, Austin hypothecates convincingly that Mayan astronomers in Chocolá appear to have worked out some of the basic principles that are foundational in the Maya concept of time and use of the sun as a marker to calculate the “long count” which in turn lead to some of the most advanced mathematics and astronomy in the new world.

Today, Semillas Para El Futuro and its U.S. affiliates Seeds for a Future are working with the community to save the archaeological site, restore the water powered coffee beneficio and reinvigorate the village economy. A core strategy is to have the entire archaeological site and the German Beneficio declared a national historical site while simultaneously protecting the property rights and economic future of the people of Chocolá. Enrique Mateau, Guatemalan Minister of Culture sees the effort in Chocolá as a challenging but exciting model program which on the one hand could protect and refurbish these important historical sites and on the other, improve the quality of life of the community and make them partners in a major archaeological-tourism site.


German Clock Tower

Chocolá Girl

Feliza Con Castillo Family