Religious Conversion and the Decline of Environmental Ritual Narratives
Keywords:Ritual, Cacao, Monilia, Chocolate, Mopan Maya, Protestant Christianity, Development, Agriculture
Religion has a major impact on human–environmental relationships as evidenced by cultural responses to agricultural disease. In Belize, Protestant conversion has transformed traditional Mopan Maya environment relations and paved the way for the commercialization of formerly ritual crops. The changes in the spiritual importance of cacao and nature are reflected in farmers’ responses to the emergence of Monilia (Moniliophtora roreri), a fungal disease that attacks the fruits of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), the botanical source of chocolate. Traditionally, Mopan cacao farmers relied on ritual offerings to nature spirits to cure diseased trees. However, the widespread adoption of Protestant Christianity by many Mopan has led to the discontinuation of cacao rituals, the demystification of nature spirits, and increased reliance on agro-technical disease management. The decline of Mopan ritual offerings speaks more broadly to the transformation of indigenous environmental relations in the context of Protestant conversion and capitalist agricultural development.
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