In Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, Dan Koeppel offers the fascinating and surprising exploration of the banana’s history, cultural significance, and endangered future.
It’s humanity’s oldest story
In the beginning, God spent a week creating heaven and earth. Fruit appeared on day two. Man arrived after the sixth dawn. After resting, God created a companion for his progeny, and Adam and Eve became a couple. Their Eden was a classic utopia. Everything was there in abundance, for the taking, with a significant exception:
‘You may freely eat of every tree in the garden, ‘ God said, ‘but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat it, you shall die.’
When she encounters the snake, Eve, being Eve, is easily convinced that the prohibited fruit is not poison, but a source of power selfishly guarded by God. A taste confirms it: ‘The tree was good for food,’ the Bible says and ‘ a delight for the eyes.’ The first woman shares with her mate, and Adam, also, doens’t perish. Instead, the couple realizes that they’re naked, and they fashion clothes from leaves. God discovers the transgression…you know the rest.
Over the centuries, scholars outside the Renaissance Europe asserted that the identification should have been the banana
Among these scholars was Swedish scientist Carolus Linnaeus, father of modern taxonomy. Early in the eighteenth century, Linnaeus made two entries for the fruit in his Systema Naturae: The scientific name he gave to the sweet, yellow banana was Musa sapentium, from a Latin term meaning ‘wise’ (as in the tree of knowledge). The green banana–our plantain–was called Mussa paradissiaca, ‘ the banana of paradise.’
Linnaeus’s family designation for banana, Musa, derives from mauz, the Arabic word for the fruit. This makes sense, since the Koran also situates the banana in the sacred garden.
Fig greenery might cover the essentials
In the Western story of Eden, Adam and Eve are said to react to their nakedness by covering themselves with ‘fig leaves’. Fig greenery might cover the essentials, barely.
Banana leaves are actually used to make clothing (as well as rope, bedding, and umbrellas) in many parts of the world, even today. In this case, the word for the Endenic fruit isn’t mistranslated, just misunderstood: Bananas have been called figs throughout history. Alenxander the Great, after sampling the fruit in India, described it as such, as did Spanish explorers in the New World.
Mankind’s condemnation to a life of struggle doesn’t begin when Adam and Eve are cast out of biblical Eden but in the story of Cain and Abel
The brothers work diligently and, from the abundance around them, make offerings to God: Abel makes an animal sacrifice and Cain fruit. Cain’s tribute displeases God, and, angered, Cain kills his younger brother. As punishment, God condemns Cain to ’till the ground,’ which will ‘no longer yield to you its strength’.