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CURIOSITIES AND WONDERS
THE COCA TREE.
“Oh that men will put an enemy into their
The Coca is a tree, the leaves of which are used by the inhabitants of Peru as opium is by Eastern nations, and spirituous liquors by Europeans. The following account of its baleful effects is condensed from the travels of Dr. Poeppig.
The Erythroxylon Coca is a shrub, from six to eight feet high, having the general appearance
of a straight-growing blackthorn bush, or tree, which, from its numerous small white flowers and the pleasing green of its leaves, it greatly resembles. In its cultivation as an article of trade, great care is taken, and the plantations of the shrub called a cocal, have a neat and regular appearance, though the frequent stripping of the leaves, which are reproduced but slowly, reduces it almost to a naked brushwood. The time of gathering the leaves depends upon the greater or less richness of the soil : on the best land it may take place in three years, but in poorer situations it cannot be ventured upon till after the lapse of five years.
The full grown shrub affords a harvest
fourteen or fifteen months; but as the ripeness of the leaves depends very much on situation and the age of the plants, in large plantations the gathering goes on throughout the whole year. The maturity of the leaves is ascertained by their stiffness. If they bend when taken hold of, they are too young, but if, on the contrary, the leaves break, the gathering must not be delayed, or the plant will shed them of its own accord. The mode of gathering is, to grasp the twig with both hands, and strip
off the foliage with some force ; a task which wounds even the hard skin of the natives. These leaves are dried in the sun, but as rain in that climate is frequent, and the sky so enveloped with clouds and fogs that the sun is not seen for weeks, great quantities are spoiled; for when once the leaves become black, and shrink, in consequence of moisture, the flavour is lost and they are unsaleable. This loss might be easily avoided if the people were not too indolent to build proper drying places, where artificial heat might be employed, instead of continuing to use the wretched spots in front of their dwellings, which they keep for that purpose. If the drying can be accomplished in one day, the article is esteemed the best, is eagerly sought for, and fetches a high price. In this state the leaf is of a beautiful bright green, and quite smooth. The best prepared Coca is wrapped in woollen cloths and placed in the house, and when ready to be sent out, is pressed into woollen sacks, made for that purpose by the Indians of Conchucos.
All old authors agree that the use of the Coca may be traced to the highest antiquity; that in the days of Manco Capac the leaf was so much prized as to form a part of every sacrifice to the gods; and wherever the Incas went, they distributed these leaves as a boon to the conquered nations.
In the present day the Indian is seen stretched out alone under the shade of some wide spreading tree, putting into his mouth by turns some Coca leaves and some finely powdered lime. Silently, and unwilling to be disturbed, he consumes a good half hour in this enjoyment, slowly swallowing the juice and renewing the masticated leaves by fresh ones. While thus engaged, not all the haste and impatience of the traveller in whose service he may be hired, nor even the approach of a heavy storm, can rouse the Indian from this state of intolerable apathy. The servant would instantly quit any white man who attempted to restrain him in this respect, and he would sooner be deprived of necessary food, than employ in any other manner the period allotted for the enjoyment of his Coca. Even the farmers of the country are compelled to give way to this infatuation of their workmen.
The miner will for twelve long hours strive at the formidable and heavy work of the mine,