Wacky World of Choc Wednesdays: Cocoa pod coffin, Kane Kwei (c. 1970)

Cocoa pod coffin, photo by Christina B. Castro

This coffin in the shape of a cocoa pod is on exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

Museum notes:

Kane Kwei
Coffin in the shape of a cocoa pod
Ghana, Teshi, Ga people
Ca. 1970
Wood, paint, cloth
Gift of Vivian Burns, Inc.

Kane Kwei (1927-1992) was a Ghanaian artist who lived in the city of Teshie, near Accra. He was once apprenticed to a carpenter and sometimes made coffins, which traditionally were straight-sided rectangular boxes. When Kwei’s dying uncle, a fisherman, asked him for a special coffin, he made one in the shape of a boat. Soon other customers asked Kwei to build representational coffins, the subjects always alluding to their lifetime trades or status. The most popular early shapes were boats, fish, mother hens with chicks, onions, and cocoa pods (in the 1970s Ghana was the world’s largest cocoa producer).

Unlike most traditional African art, Kane Kwei’s coffins are pieced together like European furniture rather than carved from a single piece of wood. They are finished with enamel paint. Each one has a hinged lid and an upholstered interior (satin, velvet, or tie-dyed), including a mattress and pillow.

Suggested reading:
Ghana Coffin: Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop, a site built by visitors to the Kane Kwei workshop in Ghana.

Funeral chic: Colorful coffins convey the deceased’s interests, profession, an article introducing these types of coffins and their connection to northern California.

Going out on a high: The master sculptor who turns caskets into works of art in the shape of fish, birds… and even aeroplanes, an article about a coffin gallery exhibit in London.

Two Journeys: The Deaths and Lives of Ga ‘Fantasy Coffins’, a longer piece that contextualizes Ghanaian funeral traditions and the question of funeral coffins as art.

This piece, traditional or not, art or not, pushes me to think more on the flexibility of funeral customs, symbolic objects and the deceased, and the relationship between chocolate and grief.

Wacky World of Choc Wednesdays: Chocolate (2008): She’s Sweet But Deadly

Chocolate, a film released in 2008, features a main character who is an autistic martial arts prodigy. Her most important training food? Chocolate.

Watch the trailer:

Read the synopsis:

Prachya Pinkaew, director of Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, returns with CHOCOLATE, an explosive new martial arts masterpiece starring his new protégé, “Jija” Yanin Vismistananda, who spent five years training for the role. Jija plays Zen, a young autistic girl who grows up next to a Muay Thai boxing studio and is raised on a steady diet of chocolate and marathon viewings of Tony Jaa and Bruce Lee films. Zen’s father, a Japanese gangster, has been driven out of the country by a rival Thai gang, so her mother has been forced to raise her alone.

It becomes clear over time that Zen has miraculously absorbed formidable Muay Thai techniques from watching the boxers next door and repeated viewings of martial arts classics. When Zen’s mother is diagnosed with cancer and the cost of treatments prove overwhelming for the family, Zen sets out with her cousin on a violent mission to collect debts from the corrupt gangsters that owe her mother money.

Featuring death-defying stunts and a charming newcomer who is sure to blow the minds of martial arts fans everywhere, CHOCOLATE represents Prachya’s proper follow-up to the smash success of Ong Bak.

(via Magnolia Pictures)

“‘CHOCOLATE’ is a sweet, brutal, bloody treat.” – Harry Knowles, Ain’t It Cool News

“One of the most anticpated films for well over a year, CHOCOLATE is madness. Madness of the brilliant, painful kind.” – Todd Brown, Twitch

Wow. Need I say more?

The film is widely available to watch online, e.g. via YouTube or Netflix.

Chocolate projects on Kickstarter

Kickstarter is an inspirational favorite of mine. In the organization’s own words: “Kickstarter is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.”

The Kickstarter community has been good to chocolate, with 40 or so projects proposed and many of them completely funded. Click here for a list of projects past and present.

One project in particular stands out right now, with just 12 days to go before the funding period expires: Madre Chocolate’s An Edible History of Chocolate.

Here’s a video with an overview of the company and the project, featuring Madre’s cofounders, David Elliott and Nat Bletter, and gorgeous shots of Mexico, Hawaii, and cacao as it makes it way from bean to bar:

From the project’s page:

How will your donations make this project happen? We’ve already done the legwork. Your contributions will be used to pay fair prices to growers and transport the cacao and spices from Chiapas to our small shop on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. A portion will also be destined for equipment improvements to help us efficiently process the lot with the utmost attention to quality.

Madre Chocolate’s bars are beautiful and tasty. The company has a social mission to bring chocolate back to its roots by working closely with cacao farmers and their communities, building relationships founded on mutual respect. As a bonus, there are a number of excellent rewards for donations. This project is a treat!

If this project appeals to you, please consider donating before the end date: Sunday August 14, 5:47AM EDT.

See Madre’s website for news and information, links to their online shop and class schedule, and more.

In addition, a number of journalists and bloggers have published profiles of the company:
Chocolate with a Conscience, Honolulu Weekly
Food La La: Going Gourmet with Madre Chocolate, Honolulu Pulse
In Chocolate Heaven: Going From Bean to Bar with Nat & Dave from Madre Chocolate, Kahakai Kitchen

And if you’re looking for reviewers’ opinions on Madre Chocolate, check out the following:
C-spot, Madre Chocolate bar reviews
The District Chocoholic, 7 reviews (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Madre Chocolate on Yelp

There are a couple of other ongoing chocolatey Kickstarter campaigns, too. They are The Art of Chocistry and Chocolate Love.

Chocolate in Pictures

Chocolate Dipped Strawberry by Poppy Thomas-Hill

Liquid Truffle at French Broad Chocolate Lounge by David Berkowitz

Chocolate Cake by Ralph Daily

Pure Chocolate by Dakotilla

Chocolate in the Grass by Jens Schott Knudsen

Chocolate Brownies by Waleed Alzuhair

Chocolate Camera by Mitchell Joyce

Wacky World of Choc Wednesdays: Harry Potter’s chocolate habit

“Chocolate. Eat. It’ll help.”
~Remus Lupin to Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The interwebs are all abuzz for Harry Potter, and rightly so, in celebration of the release of the last film installment. For lovers of the books and films alike, this is a very exciting, although bittersweet time.

All the more appropriate, then, to consider the importance of chocolate in the wizarding world. Its comforting properties for emotional fans are most welcome now.

Not long ago, a delightful friend visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new theme park at Universal Orlando. When I saw her soon after, she generously presented me with this special token – the Honeydukes Dark Chocolate bar.

Of course I can’t eat it yet. It’s too special. I need to stare at it and desire it for a long time first. Or save it for use in the event of a Dementor attack.

The gift of this bar and my friend’s contagious enthusiasm for Harry Potter rekindled my curiosity and got me sniffing around for chocolate’s place in the Harry Potter stories. As it turns out, those wonderful wizards just might be a bunch of chocoholics like us Muggles (or Muggle-born, as the case might be).

According to the Harry Potter Wiki:

Chocolate has special properties in the wizarding world.

Not only does it make a wonderful treat for the consumer, but it serves as a powerful and excellent antidote for the chilling, cold effect produced by contact with Dementors, and other particularly nasty forms of dark magic. Remus Lupin carried chocolate with him on the Hogwarts Express and gave Harry Potter some after the latter was attacked by a Dementor. When Madam Pomfrey heard that Remus Lupin had given Harry chocolate after his encounter with the Dementor, she nodded approvingly and stated that “at last, we have a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who knows his remedies.” She herself used a large chunk of Honeydukes chocolate in the hospital wing to treat Harry Potter and Hermione Granger after they and Sirius Black were attacked by several Dementors in 1994.

Throughout the books, Harry and his fellow wizards stock up on treats at the beloved Honeydukes, a sweet shop in picturesque, magical Hogsmeade Village. (Like all excellent candy shops, its basement hides a secrete passageway to Hogwarts.) References to all manner of candy, much of it chocolatey, abound. There’s Charm Choc, Chocoballs, Chocolate Cauldrons, Chocolate Frogs, Chocolate Skeletons, Chocolate Wands, Choco-Loco, exploding bonbons (which contain pure cocoa and coconut dynamite!), Fudge Flies, Shock-o-Choc, and Wizochoc, just to name a few. The Harry Potter Wiki provides a comprehensive list.

But where do we, the humble, hungry fans, find chocolate suitable for a wizard’s cravings and/or antidotal needs?

We’re in luck, thanks to the Wizarding World’s Honeydukes Homemade Sweets shop, which now has a US location and countrywide distribution of a line of Harry Potter tie-in candies that are actually available in real life.

Universal describes Honeydukes as:

A must-stop for visitors to Hogsmeade, at Honeydukes the shelves are lined with all manner of colorful sweets, including Acid Pops, exploding bonbons, Cauldron Cakes, treacle fudge, Fizzing Whizzbees, and Chocolate Frogs, which contain a wizard training card in each box. Inside the shop you can fill up a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans… who knows what tasty (or not so tasty) flavors you’ll discover! The shop also offers other classic favorites such as chocolates and fudge.

Here’s a video showing the theme park location of the sweets shop:

I find myself happily caught up in the Harry Potter frenzy. I even watched the sappy J.K. Rowling docudrama (Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story, starring Poppy Montgomery) on Lifetime — it was cloyingly adorable. In doing this research on chocolate, I’ve decided that there are several wizard candies that I’d like to try. They are: the Honeydukes milk chocolate bar, Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Jelly Beans (so eww but so cool!), Fudge Flies, Droobles Best Blowing Gum, Jelly Slugs, Acid Pops, and Fizzing Whizbees.

Oh, who am I kidding, I’d like to try them all. And I plan to.

“After all, it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” (wisdom from Albus Dumbledore, quoted in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

A note on the ethics behind this line of candy: The company that produces Harry Potter chocolate received a failing grade from the International Labor Rights Forum. Members of The Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit organization devoted to civic engagement using parallels from the Harry Potter books, have recently made great strides in asking Warner Bros. to choose fair trade chocolate for its candy products. Actors from the film series have also joined in this active campaign. See this Child Slavery Horcrux Update for more information. I plan to get involved immediately and I am hopeful that this continued advocacy and intervention will make a difference.

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    Bittersweet Notes is an open source research project on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. I invite you to join me as I explore the story of chocolate and the life stories of those involved with chocolate at its many stages of production and consumption.

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