Saturday, January 01, 2005

The "Apples" of Eden

When Marco Polo visited India he said that the locals considered the banana as "Adam's apple."

Muslims and medieval Christians also believed the banana was the forbidden fruit and that Adam and Eve used banana leaves to cover themselves after the temptation. Previously we mentioned that the banana tree fit fairly well the description of the tree described in the Book of Enoch.

Greek legend speaks of the golden apples of the "Garden of the Hesperides" that was located "beyond the river Oceanus at the outer limits of the world."

The banana tree occurs as the tree of life or the tree of death, the two are related, in many Southeast Asian and Pacific cultures. In ancient Persia, the fruit was thought to grant perpetual youth. Interestingly in some Pacific cultures, as in ancient Hawai`i, the tree was forbidden to women -- something that reminds us of the temptation of Eve and the Freudian aspects of the banana. The taboo on bananas for women may be connected with the widespread notion in the Pacific that bananas increase male potency.

From the health standpoint, bananas are rich in mucilage, fiber, vitamins and minerals. THe plant is good at absorbing nutrients from the soil in the form of colloidal minerals. They are also one of the best sources of tryptophan, which regulates serotonin the neurotransmitter that affects mood and emotion.

An ester in banana oil gives the fruit's sweet fragrance which is known to strongly attract mosquitos.

Bananas may have been one of the first domesticated fruit crops. The practice of vegetative propagation of crops in Southeast Asia and the Pacific dates back to at least 17,000 years ago and possibly goes back even 30,000 years. The banana appears to have been cultivated starting at least 10,000 years ago.

The area between Indonesia and New Guinea is believed to have given rise to the diploid banana, the plantain and the hybrid "Maia Maoli/Popoulu" banana. The diversity of plantains is highest on the island of Luzon.

According to archaeologist Dr. Felix Chami the oldest bananas in Tanzania, using associative dating, may go back more than 4000 years. Evidence of bananas in southern Cameroon dates to about 2,500 years ago.

The diversity of banana species around the Great Lakes region suggests this is the area to which they were introduced from the east. Evidence of plantains in the same region dates to at least 3,000 years ago. The "Maia Maoli/Popoulu” banana seems to have been introduced into Ecuador during pre-Columbian times via transoceanic voyages possibly some 2,000 years ago.

If the banana was considered beneficial to health, how much more so those that came from the islands of the blessed where all the plants and mushrooms were thought to bestow renewed youth.

Here is an example of a myth with the banana as the tree of life/death:

An Indonesian legend gives the banana a crucial role at the beginning of human society: the Creator one day let down a stone on the end of a rope, as was his way with his gifts to his creatures. But the first man and woman scorned the stone and asked for something else.

The Creator complied, the story continues, and hauled away at the rope; the stone mounted up and up till it vanished from sight. Presently, the rope was seen coming down from Heaven again, and this time there was a banana at the end of it.

The man and woman were delighted, but then heard the patriarch's voice boom out: "Because ye have chosen the banana, your life shall be like its life. When the banana tree has offspring, the parent stem dies; so shall ye die and your children shall step into your place. Had ye chosen the stone, your life would have been like the life of stone, changeless and immortal."

Paul Kekai Manansala


De Langhe, Edmond, Banana and Plantian: the earliest fruit crops? 2003,

L. Vrydaghs1 and E. De Langhe, Phytoliths: an opportunity to rewrite history, 2003,