Coca leaves have been chewed by South American Indians for many thousands of years to induce a mild and long-lasting euphoria. The Incas venerated coca. They used it in magical ceremonies and initiation rites. In the Inca period, the sacred leaf was regarded as far too good for ordinary Indians.
The invading Spanish conquistadores were more practical - and cynical. They were impressed at coca's efficacy as a stimulant: 'The herb is so nutritious and invigorating that the Indians labour whole days without anything else.' The Spanish also needed native labour in their silver-mines. Work in the mines was extremely arduous; and taking coca reduces appetite and increases physical stamina. Hence there was a great surge in coca-use and the number of coqueros (coca-chewers).
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