Humans enjoyed chocolate 1,500 years earlier than thought: Study

Chocolate is humanity’s favorite food, and a new research paper published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has proven that people have been making and enjoying chocolate for 1,500 years longer than previously thought. According to the study from researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada, humans have been growing cacao (the principal ingredient in chocolate) for over 5,300 years.

The study looked at intentional cacao planting as opposed to cacao plants in the wild which thrive in the warm tropical climates of Central and northern South America. The researchers analyzed the DNA of modern cacao trees and discovered that new varieties started emerging over 5,000 years ago in indigenous settlements along the Amazon basin. The researchers were then able to prove that this farmed variety of cacao is the same as the cacao that was grown by the ancient Maya culture in Belize and southern Mexico.

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century, the principle way that chocolate was consumed in the Americas was as a drink. The theobroma cacao species that is found across Belize and the rest of Central America was used to make sacred drinks which were consumed during religious ceremonies and feasts. Cacao beans were so highly prized by the ancient Maya that they were also used as currency.

By studying pottery and other artifacts at ancient sites that still contain remnants of cacao beans, researchers were able to push back the earliest verified data for intentional cacao farming to more than 5,300 years ago. Researchers discovered traces of theobromine, a component of modern cacao beans, inside the pottery fragments and were thus able to analyze the plant’s DNA, showing that it was the cultivated variety as opposed to the varieties found nearby in the wild.

The ancient Maya believed that chocolate was the “elixir of life,” and there are records of Maya kings drinking up to 50 cups of chocolate per day. Today, chocolate is known as a superfood, rich in antioxidants, copper, manganese, iron, and other essential nutrients.

Ready to try some ancient chocolate recipes for yourself? The best way to indulge your passion for this sublimely delicious superfood is to visit the Belize Chocolate Festival in May or sign up for one of Chabil Mar’s chocolate tours. Chabil Mar is an award-winning beach resort located just steps from the Caribbean on the beautiful Placencia Peninsula in southeastern Belize.

Three Belizeans Receive Artist Emeritus Award

In a VIP ceremony at the Museum of Belize in Belize City on October 19, 2018, three Belizean artists were given the award of “Artist Emeritus” of Belize and official recognition of their achievements by the government.

The ceremony was led by Patrick Faber, the Deputy Prime Minister of Belize, and Sapnah Budrani, president of the National Institute of Culture and History, who presented the Artist Emeritus award to Florencio Mes, Myrna Manzanares, and Gerald “Lord” Rhaburn in front of a packed crowd of cheering enthusiasts. Budhrani told a packed hall that “Belize is blessed with so much diversity, and these living heroes have made us laugh, dance, and appreciate our country’s rich artistic traditions.”

Florencio Mes is of Maya origin and is known for his sublime skills on the harp and his relaxing, soothing music. Hailing from San Pedro Colombia in Toledo District, Mes is the last surviving member of the “Three Kings,” three legendary Maya musicians from Central America.

Myrna Manzanares is an internationally recognized writer, poet, and storyteller who is known for her in-depth expressions of the Creole culture in Belize. Manzanares is a strong advocate of Creole culture, including traditional forms of music and dance.

Gerald Rhaburn, better known as Lord Rhaburn, is a well-known calypso, soca, reggae, and brukdown (breakdown) musician famous for songs such as “Pump it up” and “Gumagarugu Water” that stem from his deep Garifuna roots. He gained international recognition in the 1970s when performing with the Lord Rhaburn Combo. In 2004, the Lord Rhaburn Music Awards were first held, an annual award show that recognizes outstanding Belizean musicians.

All three Artist Emeritus award winners were given a plaque and a $500 monthly government stipend.

Speaking during the ceremony, Minister Faber said, “On behalf of the entire nation, we thank you for your lifetime of contributions to culture in Belize. We hope you will take your monthly stipend to continue to produce your art to further enrich generations of Belizeans to come.”

Also present at the ceremony were Dana Rhamdas of the National Creole Council, Hilario Mes, son of Florencio Mes, and Karen Vernon, the theater director at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts. Attendees were also treated to a live phone call of congratulations from Dr. Linda Mcartha Sandy-Lewis, better known as the calypso musician “Calypso Rose.”

The staff and management of Chail Mar heartily congratulate these magnificent artists and thanks them for their contributions to Belizean culture.

Don’t Miss the Belize International Film Festival

Twenty-one countries will be represented at the 13th annual edition of the Belize International Film Festival (BelizeIFF). From November 8-11, 2018, in Belmopan’s University of Belize Jaguar Auditorium will be where a diverse range of full-length and short films will be screened for an excited audience. There will also be a limited screening of some of the same films in Belize City from November 8-11, 2018.

Over 30 films will be shown at the BelizeIFF in five different categories: films that focus on the human condition, films about “collective memories” (discussing people, events, and places that have shaped the history of the region), short films, music videos (all filmed in Belize and featuring Belizean musicians), and “Green Globe” films that raise awareness about environmental issues.

The BelizeIFF will begin with a red carpet opening night gala on Thursday, November 8. Winners for each of the different categories will be announced during the closing ceremony on Sunday, November 11, followed by a concert. The official film selection list includes movies from Colombia, Norway, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, the United States, Mexico, Japan, Aruba, Togo, and, of course, Belize.

The cost of general admission for an individual film is $10 or $5 for students and seniors with a Golden Social Security Card. The cost to attend the opening night red carpet gala is $25, and the cost to attend the award show is $25.

Fifteen music videos will be screened in the music video category, eight films in the human condition category (including one directed by Christopher Coppola), five films in the collective memories category, and 17 movies in the short film category. Films with dialogue in a language other than English will be subtitled for the conveniences of attendees.

The Green Globe category is new to the BelizeIFF this year and is being led by the World Wildlife Fund and their local partners in Belize. No award will be given to a film in the Green Globe category as they are designed to be educational in nature.

Film lovers and nature lovers alike love to stay at the beautiful Chabil Mar resort on the Placencia Peninsula where something exciting is always going on. Just this week, researchers at Louisiana State University discovered a huge salt factory in Payne’s Creek just south of Chabil Mar, and everyone is now gearing up for Garifuna Settlement Day on November 19. 

November is the perfect month to enjoy some scuba diving or snorkeling, learn more about the Garifuna culture, or visit the Battle of the Drums competition in nearby Punta Gorda.

Belize: A Unique Place to Celebrate Thanksgiving

At first glance, a perennially sunny and warm country like Belize may seem like a strange place to celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving isn’t even an official holiday in Belize. But because of the close ties between Belize and the United States and the large number of American visitors who come to Belize in November to escape the cold and snow, Thanksgiving has become a very popular holiday in Belize.

Not only that, but many of the “classic” Thanksgiving foods have their origins in the Maya culture of Belize. Turkey meat and corn have both been staple Maya foods for over 3,000 years, and many of the tasty sides that adorn an American Thanksgiving meal are also common foods in Belize. Except maybe, perhaps, that Belizeans like to add a little twist to the cuisine with a touch more spice and some real Caribbean flavor.

And frankly, a lot of people prefer celebrating Thanksgiving abroad simply because of how easy it is. Instead of endless negotiations over where to eat Thanksgiving dinner, you can just hop on a plane and enjoy a delicious feast prepared by a top-ranked chef. And forget about schlepping to the store and dealing with all the clean-up!

Oh, and don’t worry about missing a minute of the big game, if that’s your thing. All of the top resorts in Belize have satellite TV with American channels.

And just in time for the holidays, Aeromexico will begin its first-ever flight to Belize. Beginning on November 17, 2018, and continuing through to April 28, 2019, Aeromexico will be flying between Mexico City and Belize City each Saturday and Sunday, making it easier for travelers vacationing in the region to visit Belize. From the United States, American Airlines, United, Delta, Southwest, and Sun Country Airlines fly non-stop to Belize from major cities across the country. And from Canada, WestJet and Air Canada offer non-stop service from Calgary and Toronto.

“There’s no better place to enjoy Thanksgiving in Belize than at our resort,” said Larry France, the marketing manager of Chabil Mar. “This year, we’ll be serving a full Thanksgiving dinner as well as some live entertainment at Café Mar. This year’s menu includes turkey, Belize-style holiday ham, and a full selection of delicious sides.”

Café Mar is the popular restaurant located on the grounds of Chabil Mar resort in Placencia, Belize. Thanksgiving dinner can be enjoyed by guests  and due to its popularity, advanced reservations are recommended.

The Maya People of Belize

Many people think that the culture which built all of the pyramids, palaces, and colossal stone cities in Belize and other areas of Central America are long gone. But there are more than six million Maya people living in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras, and they have preserved much of their heritage.

Today, the largest concentration of Maya people are in Mexico’s southern Yucatan Peninsula and southern Belize. Indeed, there are three different distinct groups of Maya in Belize known by their dialect, called the Yucatec, Kekchi, and Mopan. The Yucatec Maya emigrated from Mexico in the 19th century while the Mopan and Kekchi are the original inhabitants of Belize. And while most Maya in the region speak Spanish, most of the Maya in Belize are fluent in Spanish and English as well as their native tongue.

It’s often presumed that the collapse of the Maya civilization occurred as the result of the Spanish invading and conquering Central America. In reality, something occurred around the year 900 AD, long before the arrival of any Europeans in the area, and the Maya civilization self-destructed, the majority of cities becoming abandoned and left to the jungle. No one is quite sure why this occurred, but the latest research speculates that a combination of climate change and civil war was to blame.

The ancient Maya civilization was never ruled by one king or emperor. Instead, it was a loose confederation of independent kingdoms that were often at war with one another. The Maya civilization was, however, quite tight-knit, bound by a vast trade network, common language, and common religious beliefs. Many legends still abound about the Maya because their ancient hieroglyphic writing was undecipherable until recently. Today, archeologists are slowly piecing together a much more comprehensive history of the ancient Maya including titanic battles between legendary rulers in places like Xunantunich, Caracol, and Tikal (the latter is located just across the border in Guatemala).

And while the early Europeans did their best to “civilize” the Maya and eradicate their ancient culture, many Maya were living in remote, rural areas and thus escaped the wrath of the Spanish. As such, the Maya have preserved ancient dances like the Dance of the Deer, traditional foods like chocolate and corn, and textile skills.

If you’re interested in visiting ancient Maya sites or learning more about Maya culture, one of the best places to stay is Chabil Mar. Located in southern Belize, Chabil Mar is an award-winning luxury resort that offers cultural tours to learn more about the people, music, food, and cultures in Belize.

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