Free «Banana» Essay


Banana is one of the first foods of a man. What is more, it is one of the first plants which were included in the culture. It is now one of the ten most important crops of the world. Among the fruit trees, banana came to the first place in consumption in recent years, being ahead of grapes (Batres 1995). In regards to the nutritional value of fruits and breadth of their use, banana is compared to wheat (Batres 1995). Taking into account all these specifications, banana appears to be a well-known fruit which is widely used all around the world, but still as history shows banana underwent a lot of experiments.

It is suggested that banana is the first plant to which people paid attention in the prehistoric times. Hence, approximately it exists for over ten thousand years. In the Southeast Asia, this plant was included into the culture before rice and sugar cane. According to a Hindu legend, the birthplace of banana is the island of Ceylon (Batres 1995). The first written evidence of this plant was found in the ancient Greeks, Romans and Arabs, which refer to the wonderful “Indian fruits”. The image of banana was found in the surviving figures from ancient Egypt and Assyria. It is known that Alexander the Great found a banana grove in the Indus River Valley during his campaign in India in 3027 BC (Batres 1995). According to a legend, one of the first Europeans who tasted bananas was Alexander the Great. In 3027 BC the commander was tempted by this exotic fruit and came to the strongest admiration with it (Batres 1995). Pliny the Elder in his “Natural History” wrote that banana was the food of the wise men (Brahmins) of India and referred to it as “the tree of knowledge” (Batres 1995).

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The authors of the 16th century believed that the first fruit that tempted Eve was a banana, but not an apple. Therefore, they called the fruit “paradise apples” (Batres 1995). The plant itself was called “Adam's fig”, because Eve was protected not by fig leaves but by banana leaves (White 1971). In the 14th century banana acquired a great popularity in Africa (Batres 1995). The modern name of this plant which stuck in use in the 16th century was borrowed from one of the tribes of the Congo (White 1971). In 1482 the Portuguese sailors brought banana to the Canary Islands (White 1971). Travelers who visited the banana countries excitedly talked about the wonderful fruit, sweet as sugar, and nourishing as bread, but back then banana was considered not to fit transportation since it matured before the time it was dragged through the tropical terrain to the nearest seaport. Once again, to help with this, colonizers from the Eastern Europe came. From there banana reached the New World. In the South America, it was long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus' sailors. In 1516 Tommaso, a Franciscan monk, laid the first banana plantation next to his monastery on the island of Santo-Domingo (White 1971). Back then only slaves and cattle were fed with bananas. Conquistadors did not use this plebeian fruit (Batres 1995).

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Meanwhile, Latin America was ill with banana fever. Tropical fruit, once imported by conquistadors, was a salvation for Latin America. In the most remote and God-forsaken corners plantations were settled, and therefore electricity and telegraph lines, hospitals, where workers were treated for malaria and tuberculosis, schools for children, shops and bars were built (White 1971). 1899 was the year of Latin America banana production union into United Banana Company. This company remains the world's leading exporter of bananas to this day – they are sold under the brand name “Chiquita” (White 1971).

The first plantations banana families appeared somewhere in the 2nd century BC in China (Chomsky 1996). In fact, the history of bananas is directly linked to China and India. Over time, the use of bananas has spread to the other Asian countries. The Arab slave traders began to transport bananas to Africa, where a new plant was settled down very well and became extremely widespread. It should be mentioned that the myth of the African origin of banana lives up to this day (Chomsky 1996).

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Apart from all historical data, the history of banana contains erotic nature. The ancient Indian legend about the expulsion of the first people out of paradise says that the serpent tempted Eve not with an apple, but with a banana. Banana was the erotic symbol of Indian culture, not only due to its form, but due to its slightly sweet taste and delicate sweet aroma. The history of bananas in the oldest mentions is found in the old Buddhist texts which are dated to the 6th century BC. Banana also appears in the epics of “Mahabharata” and “Ramayana” as manhood (Chomsky 1996).

Many people also underlined creative nature of this fruit. Charles Darwin was among the first people in Europe who tried sunny banana. In his notebook with homemade recipes he wrote a funny name – “Safientum muse” (Clegg, Shaw 2002). This pair of words was translated as “The muse of wise men”. The history of bananas also started directly from a Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus who came up with the name for this fruit, which, in fact, proved to be not very comfortable for a contemporary tropical banana. In fact, the word itself was derived from the Creole language and means “yamee-yamee” (Clegg, Shaw 2002). Among famous people who were addicted to bananas Karl Marx can be named since he was used to excessive consumption of bananas. What is more interesting, at the end of Marx’s life, bananas only appeared in the UK and in the entire rainy London bananas were available only in the central department store “Harrods” (Clegg, Shaw 2002).

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The same story of bananas indicates that the global fast-food industry for the past centuries did not come up with anything new. For example, the Germans are considered to be the world champions in eating bananas. The approximate amount is twenty kilograms per person per year. The second place is occupied by the Americans. Here, people consume eighteen kilograms per year. Up to date, one westerner cannot imagine his/her life without bananas. Still, it should be remembered that among all tropical fruit banana was the last one to be brought to Europe, after tobacco, cocoa beans and coffee beans. In connection to this, the story of bananas is closely interwoven with the exotic revolution. Two emigrants – Samuel Jemourai and Minor Keith – visited Latin America, tasted and evaluated the quality of a commercial picky culture, bringing the harvest all year round. They asked a bank for a loan and started building connections. Firstly, a network of narrow gauge railways covered forbidden jungles of Costa Rica and Ecuador, then – huge areas of the present Colombia, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala (Gleijese 1991). Noteworthy, the history bananas says that an American premiere of “Banana for the people” was held in 1876 in Philadelphia. The exhibition was dedicated to the centennial anniversary of the proclamation of American independence. Each fruit was wrapped in a paper which cost a dime (as a gallon of milk or a mug of beer). Over time, the whole North America was addicted to bananas. Only after four years from the date of the exhibition 16 millions of “bananas” were imported to the U.S. and Samuel Jemourai married the first American beauty queen.

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The other aspect of banana history has a high social value since for some time. Banana “inflorescence” was the local currency to the 50ies of the 20th century. They remained to be a unit of measurement in the banana trade. The standard “inflorescence” was not less than 300 fetuses. In the fifties, “inflorescence” was replaced by 18 kg flat box, which is a standard package now.

The history of banana is closely connected with a name of Gary Lemke, a colonial goods merchant of the city of Hamburg, who discovered unusually sweet aroma spread by bananas left by a sailor in a corner of his store. Two months later, bananas appeared in the range of a colonial goods store “Lemke and Sons”. The shop was on the chic Hamburg prom – Jungfernstieg known throughout Germany as “brides fair”. The young girls of marriageable age used to walk along eating bananas. The new delicacy received huge popularity. Boutiques started selling handbags in the shape of banana; scarves and shawls, and even hats were decorated with bananas from papier-mâché. In 1903 the first cargo ship with a cool hold which was called “Venus” started sailing and shuttled between the Ecuadorian port of Guayaquil and Marseille (Grossman 1998).

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The next story indicates that Paris was the capital of banana, and it was in Paris where the history of bananas as an object of contemporary culture started. Banana has become an integral part of all salons. The young Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso appeared with a banana in their hands at the opening days. Bananas were included in the life of Vincent Van Gogh and Henri Rousseau. However, banana became an erotic symbol thanks to Josephine Baker. The American dancer and singer made a splash with her show in the “Revue Negro” – it was sort of a ritual African dance which was performed by a citizen of Saint Louis wearing only a skirt of bananas (Gleijese 1991).

The next page in the cultural history of the banana was opened by Andy Warhol in 1967. Its yellow and black banana has become not only a symbol of pop art, but a symbol of the sexual revolution. Consequently, in 1994 the so-called “banana conflict” appeared between the EU and the United States. Back then, the dispute threatened to turn into a real “banana war”. Clinton commented, “If Europeans continue to discriminate the American trade, it will result in the corresponding measures for European firms in the U.S.” (Grossman, 1998). The President addressed these words to the foreign trade chamber in the European Parliament. The main cause of the dispute was the law which overlaid bananas from the American zone of influence with high-deductible taxes. The purpose of the law was to encourage exports of bananas from former British and French colonies in the Caribbean and Africa, the so-called “Euro-bananas” (Koeppel 2005). Besides, according to the establishment of standards in 1995, bananas sold in Europe were to be no less than fourteen inches in length, and twenty-seven millimeters in diameter. Latin American bananas are usually smaller.

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Finally, banana history demonstrates that such a seemingly simple and well-known fruit has a rich history, which started with Eve. According to a legend, Eve was seduced by a serpent not with an apple, but with a banana. Consequently, not only the form but also the sweetness and flavor of this fruit made it a kind of erotic character of the Indo-European culture. What is more, throughout its history, banana was a cause of wars and coups, technological progress and art revolution. This simple fruit proves to be an exquisitely complex which is “a delicacy delicatessen in a perfect packaging box” (Watson 1983). In fact, nothing more perfect was invented by the world of fast food industry existing for more than a hundred years.

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