Monday, October 31, 2005

Glossary: Aloeswood

Of all the spices and aromatics, aloeswood has commanded the highest price consistently since ancient times. Today, it remains more expensive than gold. An Internet site specializing in aloeswood sells one gram of pure raw Kyara green aloeswood for US$333.00.

Other well-known names for aloeswood include lign-aloes, eaglewood, agarwood, jinko, gaharu, oud and agilawood. The taxonomic name is Aquilara ssp.

It is native from northern India to Indochina.

In medieval times, the most valuable aloeswood was actually a different species -- Aloexylon agallochum - produced in Champa, or modern South Vietnam, and Cambodia.

The Muslims knew Champa aloeswood as Sanfi from Sanf, the Arabic word for Champa. The Cambodian aloes were called Kumari from Arabic Komr(Khmer). The fragrance of the wood is actually produced by a fungus that grows on the tree.

In Champa myth, the goddess Po Nagar created the earth, aloeswood and rice. The best varieties were actually found in the mountains of the Central Highlands among the people now known as Montagnards.

The king of Champa had a special arrangement with the mountain people's King of Fire and King of Water. An official from Champa known as the "Lord of Aloeswood" would oversee Montagnards skilled at harvesting the valuable wood.

So precious is aloeswood that in Japan the most beautiful type of woman is known as a "Kyara Woman" comparing her to the most expensive type of this aromatic (usually from Indochina).

Aloeswood is the most important ingredient used in high quality incense throughout Asia and the Muslim world today.

The Imperial Ranjatai Aloeswood of the Japanese Royal Family believed to come from Vietnam or Laos is displayed by the National Museum every 10 or 15 years.

Aloeswood trees from Kalimantan, Borneo.

Paul Kekai Manansala