Coca has been used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples of the New World. The coca bush
(from khoka, the Aymara word for tree) grows wild across western South America but was also one of the first domesticated plants in the western hemisphere. It was considered sacred and central to life among the people of the Andes Mountains. They believed the vitamin-rich leaves embodied the spirit of Mama Coca, the nurturing and protective force of nature, and they chewed the leaves to cope with the stresses of life. Today, coca continues to play an important role in the traditions and daily lives of many Andean people:
• A man might offer coca leaves to the father of a potential bride
• When a child is born, relatives and friends might celebrate by chewing coca leaves together
• Coca-chewing plays a role in Quechua carnivals and celebrations
• Aymara women chew coca as a source of inspiration for their weaving projects
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