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In recent decades, cocaine traffcking and the U.S.-promoted War on Drugs in the Andes have stigmatized the coca leaf in public awareness. But in the hilly, subtropical Yungas region of La Paz, the cultivation of coca is an age-old activity with deep cultural roots. The ethnographic work of the British-Bolivian anthropologist Alison Spedding, herself a coca grower, helps to elucidate its meaning in everyday life for Yungas residents. One of her fascinating findings is that the plant is symbolically equated with a woman, in the various phases of her life cycle. A new coca plant is known as wawa kuka...

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