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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/505

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THE AMERICAN ORIGIN OF AGRICULTURE.

plant among the tropical peoples excludes also the suggestion of any recent introduction from Polynesia of the taro or other root-crops which the Pacific peoples shared with the American.

Indeed, it is not unreasonable to believe that the taro, like the closely similar aroids of the genus Xanthosoma, was domesticated somewhere about the shores of the Caribbean Sea, where it has a large variety of native names in contrast to the single designation applied to it by the Polynesians. In Porto Rico, where the highest aboriginal culture of the West Indies was attained,[1] four aroids had the same generic name, yautia, which was adopted by the Spanish settlers. Strangely enough it is only with the taro, yautia malanga, that the native specific term has been preserved, three species of Xanthosoma having now only Spanish adjectives, yautia olanca, yautia amarilla and yautia palma. Botanists have never expressed a doubt that the species of Xanthosoma, some of which are known only in cultivation, originated in the West Indies and the adjacent parts of South America, and as these seem tobe preferred to the taro, we must either look upon the latter as alsoindigenous in the West Indies or explain its presence by a movement from the mainland analogous to that which could have carried the same taro and numerous other American plants into the Pacific. Taro seems to have been the only cultivated aroid of the region of Panama whence some ethnologists have derived the sea-faring cannibals, the Caribs. To believe that the taro furnished the suggestion for the utilization of the Xanthosomas and also for that of Alocasia, Amorphopliallus, Cyrtosperma and other aroids indigenous to the East Indies, seems far less irrational than to suppose that the strange habit of eating these painfully unpalatable plants originated independently in numerous primitive communities.

 

From Root-Crops to Cereals.

While it is, of course, not certain that the preparation of the starchy root-crops constituted the first regular application of fire to vegetable food, it is apparent that meal-eaters would be in a much better position than fruit-eaters or meat-eaters to attack the final problem of primitive agriculture, the use of cereals. Without the winter protection which primitive man could not supply, the culture of cassava and other trop-


  1. Botanists have found that the native names of plants are more numerous and are used with more precision in Porto Rico than elsewhere in the West Indies. The common opinion that the aborigines of this island were exterminated by the Spaniards is evidently quite erroneous. In the mountainous interior district there are thousands of people who have no negro admixture and who are accordingly enumerated in the census as whites, but who are Spaniards only in language and in the wearing of cotton prints. Their agriculture, architecture and domestic economy show little foreign influence, and there is no reason for believing that these natives differ seriously from their pre-Columbian ancestors.