I am going to tell you about The Chocolate Farmer, a documentary made by director Rohan Fernando, an award-winning director and cinematographer, a Sri Lankan native and Canadian immigrant, and produced by Annette Clarke thanks to the beloved treasure, the National Film Board of Canada.
It’s been circulating, sometimes jokingly, that the end of the world is near, and that it will happen by the conclusion of this year, 2012 in the Gregorian calendar.
This is apparently according to the Mayans.
I don’t find these kinds of statements funny. No one, in my belief, can know when the end of the world is. No one can even predict the time of their own death.
Then I meet, via documentary, Eladio Pop, a Mayan farmer from Belize. One of the most fascinating people I have ever heard speak. Interestingly, I watched this documentary the same night that Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People aired. I mention this because Americans like to use the superlative ‘most,’ when it is an impossibility to know who the most anything is.
Back to Eladio. When you see this film, you see how he farms his beautiful jungle with the utmost care and love, and not a single drop of chemicals. When tourists visit his land, they ask him if he uses any pesticide. Eladio smiles and points to his little machete that he cuts shrubs with, “My only tool is this.”
In a pristine area of southern Belize, cacao farmer Eladio Pop manually works his plantation in the tradition of his Mayan ancestors: simply as a steward of the land. “When you abandon the land, the land gets sad and the roots dry out.” I immediately think of how this applies to a woman, or any person.
In The Chocolate Farmer, we see a year in the life of the Pop family, as they struggle to preserve their values in a world that is trying to change them.
Eladio is sad that his children do not participate in the care taking of his, and maybe one day, their land. He says that because they now go to school, they come home tired, and they have become lazy, and are uninterested in farming. Eladio says: “You study and graduate to then work for someone else. You become someone’s slave. I am a free man.” Eladio walks off into his jungle adorned by large trees that seem to circle their branches around him, enveloping him in a hug.
Eladio also points to the arrival of religion and churches in his area. “We were all one community. Now, people don’t want to work with each other because they are not part of the same parish.” Most of the conversations with Eladio take place when he is in the midst of his piece of rainforest. He looks like a happy child. “I don’t know why but I cannot believe in religion. This is my church,” he says as he points to the majestic trees that surround him.
A happy moment is when one of Eladio’s sons leaves his job at a resort in Belize. He leaves the sun, beach, alcoholic drinks, and tourists, to come back to his father’s farm to learn from him, and to inherit their craft. On a walk in their plantation, Eladio shows his son the secrets of their land, the land of their parents. “I use this for my stomach pain,” says Eladio to his son. Cutting another branch, Eladio shows his son how the branch contains water and lets water drops fall on his son’s face and into his mouth.
In The Chocolate Farmer, we see Eladio’s tenacity and confidence, and at the same time, his surrender to the times. As he is cutting open the beautiful cacao fruits, he works alongside ants carrying their own food. “I am scared,” says Eladio to the interviewer. Eladio says he is scared that every country today is acquiring bombs and that with one bomb, we are all gone. “But I continue to work till the end, just like them,” says Eladio as he looks at the ants. “They are my colleagues.”
Eladio is a dashing man whose age is a mystery. His hair is black and thick, his body lean and fit, and he seems light on his toes as he works hard in his plantation. He always smiles no matter what he is talking about. This is in no doubt attributable to his lifestyle as a free man.
It is indeed scary to think of the disappearance of one of the last known pure lands and lifestyles, where people cultivate, live, and eat in an unperturbed manner as they did centuries ago.
After seeing The Chocolate Farmer, I went from being annoyed at the so-called Mayan belief that the end of the world is in 2012, to seeing how this has truth, especially for the Mayans.