ancient bananas

Yuri Kuchinsky yuku at
Mon Jul 14 12:03:40 EST 1997


Thank you for all this additional material you found about the early
history of banana cultivation. I must admit I was unaware that the meaning
of the word pacoba (actually two words, one of which, with an accent,
cannot be displayed in my character set) is so complex. This certainly
introduces many additional complications... 

To clarify my own position, I actually don't claim that banana was not
known in Africa way before the 15th century. And I agree with you that
Forbes is a little unclear about what exactly he's claiming in his book,
as his exposition is somewhat tangled. And I agree he's not being too
helpful in so far as he doesn't provide clear translations of the foreign
language quotes he gives in his book.

And yet, I will give him credit that he raised many little known sources
that may be quite relevant.

In any case, here's a reply to some of your points.

> In article <868491344.12725 at>,
>   [13]bortiz at wrote:


> (Forbes) Varieties of the banana-plantain family were widely dispersed
> throughout the Caribbean region and descriptions of them date back to at
> least the 1530s. An early English visitor to Barbados (1650s) has drawn
> pictures of the native varieties on that island, while an English
> traveller among the Miskito people of Nicaragua found in 1681 that one of
> their main agricultural plants was the plantain (along with the yam).
> (43)
> [BOM] No reference provided for descriptions of plants in the 1530s, why
> not?

Well, Forbes provides a number of references there. I'm not sure if this
ref is not included by him among them. Perhaps it's not. If not, this
means that Forbes was negligent, but nevertheless this ref may still
exist... I certainly don't think he actively tried to deceive his readers.

> Forbes cites all over the place but not here--hmm. The other two
> descriptions are more than a 100 years after the introduction by
> Europeans of the banana into the New World.


> (Forbes) In the 1580s Gabriel Soares de Sousa stated of Brazil: Pacoba i
> uma fruta natural desta terra, a qual se da em uma arvore muito molle e
> facil de cortar... na India chamam a estas pacobeiras figuieras e as
> frutos figos... e a estas pacobas chama o gentio pacobuzú, que quer dizer
> pacoba grande. Ha outra casta, que as indios chaman pacobamirim que quer
> dizer pacoba pequena. (41). [BOM- Pacoba is a native fruit of this land.
> It is produced in a soft tree that is very easy to cut... in India they
> call these *pacobeiras* fig trees and their fruits figs.... the common
> people call these pacobas, pacobuzu which means big pacoba. There is
> another type which the Indians call pacobirim which means little
> pacoba.]
> [BOM] Again, this is quite late, 1580, more than 50 years after
> introduction.

Which introduction is that, according to you? Are you sure? We know that
the first European settlement in Brasil dates from 1532. Do we know that
they introduced bananas even then?


> What follows is a
> compilation of statements on the origin of the bananas found in the New
> World.
> The earliest evidence is the work of Oviedo (1526-earlier than Forbes),
> he is also the source for information on the introduction of banana:
> Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. 1959 [1526]. *Historia General y Natural de
> las Indias*. 5 vols. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Españoles.
> vol. I, p. 292. describes that Fray Tomás de Berlanga, de la Orden de los
> Predicadores first brought bananas to America from the Great Canary
> Island. 

I'm a little puzzled by this. Berlanga probably could not bring bananas to
America proper. It was more likely to the Caribbean. In any case, since
the conquest of Mexico only took place in the 1520s, what is the exact
original publication date for Oviedo? Was his work really published in
1526? When did he have the time to research his work? His testimony, of
course, would be quite relevant for the Caribbean and Mexico, but
certainly not for S. America... 

> ******* Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. 1942. De la Natural Historia
> de las Indias (Sumario de Historia Natural de las Indias). intro and
> notes Enrique Álvarez López. Madrid: Editorial Suma.
> p. 166. Hay asimismo unas plantas que los cristianos llaman plátanos
> (85), los cuales son altos como árboles y se hacen gruesos en el
> tronco.... (There iare also plants *which the Christians called platanos*
> [BOM underline notice that the name is the European name not pacoba]
> which are as tall as trees and with thick trunks) ****** Herman J. Viola
> and C. Margolis, eds. *Seeds of Change* Washington DC: Smithsonian Press
> (1991).

Is the latter an English-language book? Why is the last quote in Spanish,
I wonder? 

Also, Bernard, you haven't dealt at all with the following information
from Forbes I provided in one of my previous posts:

[begin quote from Yuri]

And here's yet another interesting source cited in Forbes (p. 275).
This time, it is also an account coming from a historian of early
colonial period, this time in regard to Colombia:

      Juan de Castellanos, in writing of the 1530s, lists _platanos_
      (bananas) as one of the fruits of the Cartagena region of
      Colombia, prior to Spanish settlement. Juan de Castellanos,
      1857), pp. 366-7

Cartagena, of course, was founded by the Spanish in 1533, so they
must have found the bananas growing in that region already.

[end quote]

You see, Bernard, in this case we certainly don't have the additional
complication of what could have really been known in Brasil as pacoba (or
as another word with a similar spelling). It says quite clearly here,
"platanos (bananas)"! 

Again, thank you for all this additional information. Nevertheless, it may
be a little early to say that the case for whether or not banana was in S.
America precolumbus has been settled already. It is still quite possible
that it was precolumbian.



Yuri Kuchinsky   | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
     -=-         | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient 
 in Toronto 	 | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
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