American Anthropologist

Like Water for Chocolate: Feasting and Political Ritual among the Late Classic Maya at Xunantunich, Belize



Subtle differences in the context of feasting and manners of food consumption can point to underlying levels of civil and social competition in state-level societies. Haute cuisine and high styles of dining are characteristic of societies with fully developed civil and social hierarchies such as Renaissance Europe and the Postclassic Aztec. Competitive yet socially circumscribed political and social organizations such as the Classic lowland Maya may have prepared elaborate diacritical meals that marked status, but the nature of feasting remained essentially patriarchal. Ancient Maya feasting is recognizable through archaeologically discernible pottery vessel forms that were used to serve festival fare such as tamales and chocolate. Comparison of ceramic assemblages across civic and household contexts at the site of Xunantunich, Belize, demonstrates that drinking chocolate, more so than eating tamales, served as a symbolic cue that established the political significance of events among the Classic Maya. [feasting, ancient Maya, pottery analysis, chocolate]