Hacienda Chuao (Chuao Plantation)

Date of Submission: 16/01/2002
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural (IPC), Fundacite- Aragua
Coordinates: 10°32'05" N - 67°03'05" W
Ref.: 1635
Cultural landscapes

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The Chuao Plantation produces a variety of cocoa that is famous throughout the world, and is unusual because it has a well documented history going back to the 16th century and a weath of archaeological evidence and monuments from the colonial era. Another unusual feature is that it is populated by the descendants of slaves brought from Africa Shortly after the Europeans arrived in South America, who preserve a traditional way of life that has been lost in other parts of the American continent. The Chuao Plantation is located in the valley of the same name surrounded by one of the most important cloud forests of the Venezuelan coastal mountain range. It forms part of the first national park created by government decree (13 February 1937) which was originally called "Rancho Grande" but was renamed Henri Pittier National Park in 1957, in honor of the scientist who proposed and worked for its creation. Today the Chuao Plantation belongs to the "Chuao" Farm Workers Company, consisting of 40 partners who share a provisional collective title deed, and covers an area of approximately 200 hectares. The land is distributed in a rectangular north-to-south strip from the beach to the foothills, 200 to 400 meters above sea level where it penetrates the Henri Pittier National Park with the category of Special Use Zone in accordance with the Ordinance Plan and Regulations for Use of the park set out in Decree 350 of 24 November 1995. As a cocoa-producing plantation located in a strategic ecological niche of the coastal mountain range and the Caribbean Sea with more than 400 years of tradition and continuity, Chuao is a case par excellence for the in-situ con ion of traditional genetic resources and the species of trees used to provide cover for the cocoa plantations, as well as being a cultural landscape representative of a productive activity of enormous significance in the historical process of the societies of northern South America. Both the production activity and the social life of the people of Chuao revolve around that historical monuments, the most important of which are the church, the House on the Hill (Casa del Alto), the Patio where the cocoa is dried and the Pardon Cross (Cruz el Perdón), The Church was built in 1785, replacing an old chapel and it was declared a National Monument on 2 August 1960. It has a single nave, with the chancel and sacristy along one wall and the bell tower on the right side. Its facade has two sections topped by a mixed-fine pediment, a series of double pilasters flanking the main entrance with a half point arch. Simple cornices define and compose the facade. The floor is made of slabs of baked clay, lined with -wood in the bell tower, with wooden doors and windows. It suffered considerable damage during the 1812 earthquake. The roof was changed 45 years ago. Inside there are valuable religious images from the colonial, including a St-Nicholas of Bari made of wood and canvas. The House on the Hill dates from 1652. It was the administrator's house, The principal facade is two stories high, with windows. The. upper floor is reached via the staircase on the right side. It has a simple, lineal facade where the verandas have circular section columns with a Tuscan capital and base, and wooden pillars on the upper floor determine the building's original commercial use. It is located at one end of the cocoa drying patio, standing out as an element of guidance for the village. The cocoa drying patio or courtyard is large and dominates the center of the town. It is the central area where the cocoa beans are dried and where the townspeople hold their main celebrations. The Pardon Cross is situated on the left side of the church courtyard, that gives on to the Calle Real (Royal Street) and the Plaza Bolivar. In the time of slavery, if a hunted slave managed to get to the cross and kneel before it, he could not be punished, and he was absolved of blame. The old cross of rosewood was changed recently for one of ordinary wood, but the person who threw the old cross away received a message that made him return to Chuao to look for the original cross and place it by the side of the new one. That is why there are now two crosses and the to pie tell the story with pride. The pardon cross continues to be a symbol of protection for the community and plays a vital role in the Corpus Christi festivities. The material evidence described above is complemented by earlier buildings which are now in ruins and some later architectural elements related to the production and transformation of the cocoa. The former include the "Mamey Ruins", a stone construction located on El Mamey hill in natural surroundings. Its age and use have not been determined but it undoubtedly goes back to the first years of the Colony, Most of the stone walls are still standing in an L-shape (50 m x 40 m). The mortar used for the walls was made from chalk and sand and the enclosures formed by the walls do not communicate with each other. A very important cultural element ed with El Mamey is the "Chalk Oven" located on the road between the ruins and the sea. This is a circular stone structure with chalk mortar and two buttresses. It is well preserved. The second is the road that leads from El Mamey to the beach which is long and beautifully designed and perfectly preserved. The characteristics and size of the road indicate that the Mamey Ruins must have been very important. As regards more recent cultural elements, an important one is the cocoa storage house located at the eastern end of the drying patio. This is a circular building which has two verandas that open to the street and the drying patio. It has simple facades with a series of doors and windows. As complementary material elements, the traditional implements used to produce, harvest and process the cocoa are preserved, as well as some wicker baskets used to collect the cocoa made by the townspeople using traditional techniques, the wooden rakes to move the cocoa and the machetes the workers carry. In addition to the historical material evidence, the Chuao Plantation has a cultural landscape representative of the traditional way of exploiting cocoa, one of the most important products in the economic history of South America. This has been possible because of the plantation's almost in sable location and the fact that its production has been maintained for centuries by people with deep cultural roots, and the very special variety of the creole-type cocoa (Theobroma cacao) considered among the best in the world and which is in danger of extinction. Chuao's unique cultural landscape consists of the natural surroundings of the Henri Pittier National Park, the combination of the natural forest with the cocoa plantations, and the existence of ancient irrigation systems that makes it possible to irrigate the plantation all the year round. But above all the Chuao Plantation is also a place of living culture, Around the material and natural cultural manifestations described above, the native black people, descended from the slaves, have kept their culture alive until our days. This culture is the result of the combination of their deep African roots with the Western world through the Catholic religion and today it is the oldest culture manifestation in Venezuela. Chuao is above all a living culture, the symbiosis of African Caribbean rites and music and Catholic rites and beliefs. This intangible culture is represented in the ' festivities, music and costumes. Among the internationally recognized local Festivities that have special relevance are the "Dancing devils of Chuao" who celebrate Corpus Christi and the May Cross. Thirteen other celebrations are held at other times of the year. Undoubtedly, the isolation and the existence of a predominantly Afroamerican population have influenced the development of a unique culture, preserved to today. Consequently, the Chuao Plantation has the necessary merits to be considered an example of cultural landscape in the category of organically evolved landscape, which preserves an active role in the way of or contemporary society directly related with the traditional forms of life in which the process of evolution is still valid. On the other hand, this case presents sufficient material evidence of this evolution through time.