Page images
PDF
EPUB

The Sweet Potato, or tuber-yielding Concoloulus, appears to be a native of many parts of the tropical Old and New World. Some have alleged that it was first made an object of cultivation by the native Americans, but when the South Sea Islands, which bad assuredly no communication with the American people, were discovered, the sweet potato was found to be in cultivation, and known by a native name throughout, the word being essentially the same, and a native one, varying only in pronunciation, as kumava, humüa, and gumala abbrevi. ated mala. (Kumara or umara, of the South-Sea Islanders, is identical with cumar, the Quichua name for sweet potato in the highlands of Ecuador.- ED.]

There is every appearance of the culture of the batata having been introduced into the islands of the Malay archipelago, and this by the Spaniards or Portuguese. In the Molucca Islands it accordingly goes under the name of ubi kastela, which signifies literally “the Castilian Yam,” for the Moluccas had been temporarily under the rule of Spain, already in possession of the neighbouring Philippines. The Javanese, dropping the generic word, and eliding the sibilant in the word Castila, call the plant simply catela. The Javanese give it also the same name as the Spaniards, namely, batata or patata. The probability, then, that the Spaniards introduced the plant from the neighbouring Philippines, where it seems, if we are to trust the evidence of language, to have been cultivated by the natives when the Spaniards conquered them. I find the plant accordingly designated by native names in the two leading languages of these islands, the Tagala and Bisaya, in the first of which it is called gabi, and in the last kamoti,—a word, I may observe, adopted in Spanish dictionaries, and defined as the name of " a kind of sweet potato or batata.[Camote of the Spaniards is derived from the Aztec “camotl,” used by the ancient Mexicans.—ED.]

In Upper India the plant is clearly an exotic, and shown to be out of its genial climate by the production of poor and small tubers. The name given to it is shakarcand, a word half Persian and half Hindi, and both of which signify sugar. The Tamil name is the American batata, slightly corrupted into vatata.

The common Potato takes its name from the sweet one, for the latter seems to have been known, and even cultivated in the South of Spain before the first. Even at present, the name “ potato ” is given by the Anglo-Saxon Americans to the Convolvulus Batatas, while to the common

potato is given the epithet “ Irish.” At present, the Spaniards call the sweet potato batata or batata de Malaga, and the common potato patata, a mere change of one labial for another. The last is nearly our own name, and its source is therefore obvious. The original word is probably a native American one, but of what language I have not heard. The common potato had probably many native names, corresponding with the many tongues of America, for it was found by the discoverers cultivated both in North and South America. Whatever the origin of the name, the term is, at all events, better than the “earth-apple” of the French and Germans, or the “ white truffle" of the Italians. In Hindustan, where the potato is now successfully cultivated, chiefly for European consumption, the name given to it is balaiti alu, or the “European esculent tuber.” The Malays give it the name of ubi Yuropa, that is, the “European Yam," and the Javanese that of kantang Holanda, or “ tubers of Holland,” the käntang being the name of the Ocymum tuberosum, or tuber-yielding basil, a plant cultivated in Java for its tubers, which in flavour bear a considerable resemblance to those of the Solanum.

Sago, correctly sagu, is simply the name of the prepared pith of the palms which yield it, and has no reference to any particular palm, of which there are not fewer than five distinct species of the genus. The word, probably of the Malay language, is of universal use throughout the Malay and Philippine archipelagoes, and has long been adopted in the languages of Europe.

The Breadfruit (Artocarpus incisa) is known in the Malay archipelago (according to the language of the country) under the various names of sukun, kluwi, kulor, and tambul, but none of these are the names which it bears in the tropical islands of the Pacific; and hence we may conclude that the South-Sea Islanders are not indebted for it to the Malayan nations, as they are for some other cultivated products such as the Yam, the Cocoa-nut Palm, and the Sugar-cane. This is, indeed, what may be inferred, without the help of etymology, from the character of the plant, which is of the size of a forest tree, with perishable fruit, and consequently impossible of distant transport by a rude people. The plant is, no doubt, indigenous to the Pacific Islands, where alone it sports into several varieties, which have been reckoned as many as five [thirty, ED.), a proof of long cultivation. Even the name given to the breadfruit is not universal in all the dialects of the Polynesian language, for we have it in the Tonga as me and marnai, in the Tahiti as vavo, and in the Owyhee as ulu.

I shall conclude with a few general observations on the relative value of the plants enumerated by me, in so far as regards their influence on social progress. Of these, incomparably the most valuable to mau are the cereals. They are the most agreeable and the most wholesome, while they contain the greatest amount of nutriment in the smallest bulk. Their culture, moreover, demands a greater amount of skill and labour than the lower kinds of bread; and this is a quality belonging to them which, as it stimulates industry and ingenuity, is, in a social view, of high value. It is useful that several of these cereals should be cultivated together, so that, in the event of the failure of one or two, there should remain others to fall back upon. It must be admitted, however, that, although the culture of several different cereals together may mitigate, it cannot prevent either dearths or famines, since the same drought or blight may, more or less, affect all of them. India, for example, in which a greater variety of cereals is cultivated than in Europe, has, nevertheless, been visited within the last hundred years with many dearths and several great famines, owing to the absence of the means of supplying the deficiency of one part of it by the superabundance of another. An easy and cheap intercourse between the different provinces of a country and its free commercial intercourse with foreign countries possessing climates different from its own, are the only certain guarantees against scarcities and famines. These conditions, however, can exist only in the most advanced states of society, and are wholly absent in the early and rude stages of it, to which the present discussion refers.

It may be safely asserted that no people ever attained a tolerable degree of civilization who did not cultivate one or other of the higher cereals. The architectural monuments and the letters of Egypt, of ancient Greece and of Italy, of Assyria, of Northern India, and of Northern China, were all produced by consumers of wheat. The monuments and letters of Southern India, of the Hindu-Chinese countries, of Southern China, of Java, and of Sumatra, were the products of a rice-cultivating and rice-consuming people. The architectural monuments of Mexico and Peru, and, we have no doubt, also of Palenque, were produced by the cultivators and consumers of maize.

No cultivators and consumers of roots or fruits, it may be safely asserted, ever invented letters, or constructed a durable architecture. Among the Malays, whose bread is rice, the term “root-eater" is one of reproach, equivalent to savage. When the inhabitants of the celebrated Spice Islands were first seen by Europeans, their only bread was sago, or the pith of palms ; and notwithstanding the possession, even the natural monopoly, of the then much-coveted clove and nutmeg, they were not only ignorant of letters, but had not even the rudest calendar. They had not even invented iron, which, together with their clothing, they received from strangers; and, but for the accident of their spices, they must have been downright savages, hardly on a level with the South-Sea Islanders. Had the bread of Britons some 2000 years ago been confined to the potato, Julius Cæsar would unquestionably have found our ancestors far greater barbarians than he describes them to have been, and they would surely not have enconntered him with horses drawing armed chariots.

Perhaps the most advanced social position ever attained by men living on mere roots and fruits was that of the South-Sea Islanders. They cultivated no cereal, not even the humblest millet, but they were well supplied with farina-yielding plants--such as the yam, the sweet potato, the taro, and the breadfruit; still their advance was of the humblest, for they had not even invented pottery or textile fabrics, having nothing better than paper for raiment. [They had pottery.-Ed.]

It is possible for a people to attain a very respectable civilization when living on one of the chief cereals, although it be not the very highest. The mass of the Russians, and even of the Belgians, live on rye, and the mass of the people of Scotland on oats, although their condition would undoubtedly have been better had their bread been of wheat. The respectable amount of civilization which the Irish had attained after their conversion to Christianity, and which resulted in the adoption of foreign letters, and the construction of the round towers, was accomplished by growers and consumers of barley and oats. Had they been strangers to these, and their main food consisted, as it afterwards did, of a single root, their ancient civilization never could have existed : on the contrary, they would have been on a lower level than the South-Sea Islanders, who possessed a far greater variety of sustenance, with a more benignant climate.

But the potato is by no means the lowest quality of bread on which a people can live and multiply. The lowest is that which is most easily produced, that is, which is produced with the smallest amount of skill and labour, and in this respect the banana is before the potato, and the sago perhaps even below the banana. The banana yields a crop in ten months from the time of planting, perpetuates itself by rattoons, and requires little care in its growth. Humboldt reckons that the produce of the same extent of land in bananas and wheat is in the proportion of 135 of banana to l of wheat, and that of the potato as 44 to 1. The sago-palm takes about ten years to yield its produce, but grows in a bog where nothing else will thrive, requires no care in culture, and, like the banana, propagates itself by shoots. Mr. Loyan estimates the produce of the sago-palm, compared with wheat, as 163 to 1, and as compared to the potato, as 53 to 1. The quantity of nutriment contained in the banana and sago are by no means in proportions thus given, for we have to deduct the large proportion of water which they contain, and the absence in them of gluten, the most nutritious portion of the cerealia. Humboldt informs us that the Spanish settlers in America were so satisfied of the evil consequences of living on the banana that they frequently entertained the violent remedy of extirpating the plant, as the only cure for overcoming the apathy and idleness of those who made it their only bread—the Indians and half-breeds. The sago-feeders, however, are by no means so prepossessed in favour of sago, and never fail to prefer rice, or even the yam and sweet-potato, their consumption of it being a matter of necessity and not of choice.

A plain objection to root and similar crops, as compared to cereals, remains to be noticed. Root crops are, with few exceptions, incapable of being stored for a length of time, so that the superfluity of one harvest shall make up for deficiency of a future one. The potato lasts but for a year at best, and the tropical roots not much longer, while wheat, oats, and barley will keep for ten years ; rice, in the husk, for fifty ; while with the cereals there is far less difficulty in storing and transport.

Abstracts of the more important remaining papers will be given in the next number of the Journal.

« PreviousContinue »