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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/509

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THE AMERICAN ORIGIN OF AGRICULTURE.

That the varieties used for this purpose are as old or older than those grown for fruit is indicated by the fact that, like the sweet potato, taro and sugar-cane, they seldom produce flowers. Furthermore, among all savage tribes the varieties valued by civilized peoples as fruits are relatively little used, far greater popularity being enjoyed by the so-called 'plantains,' not edible in the raw state, even when ripe, though nearly always cooked and eaten while still immature, or before the starch has changed to sugar. They are also in many countries dried and made into a meal or flour often compared to arrowroot.

In dietary and culinary senses the breadfruit also is as much a vegetable as the taro or the sweet potato; as a fruit it would be no more likely to be domesticated than its distant relative the Osage orange. The farinaceous character of the breadfruit also probably explains its relatively greater importance among the Polynesians than in its original Malayan home, as shown by the propagation of numerous seedless varieties. The popularity of the breadfruit among the Polynesians was further extended by the discovery that the fruits could be stored in covered pits, the prototypes of the modern silo.

If the domestication of the banana is to be ascribed to cultivators of root-crops, the same reasoning applies with even greater propriety to cereals. Tribes accustomed to subsist upon mangoes, dates, figs or similar fruits which require no grating, grinding or cooking, and are eaten alone and not with meat, would not develop the food habits and culinary arts necessary to equip primitive man for utilizing the cereals.

Wild bananas and their botanical relatives are natives of the rocky slopes of mountainous regions of the moist tropics where shrubs and trees prevent the growth of ordinary herbaceous vegetation. The commencement of the culture of cereals by fruit-eating natives of such forest-covered regions is obviously improbable, but such an undertaking would be a comparatively easy transition for the meal-eating cultivators of root-crops, since the grasses and other plants domesticated for their seeds are exactly those which flourish in cleared ground and are prompt to take advantage of the cultural efforts intended for other crops. Thus, the Japanese have by selection secured a useful cereal from the common barnyard-grass (Panicum crus-galli) just as they have made a root-crop of the burdock. Accordingly, we should look to some taro-growing tribe of southeastern Asia as the probable domesticators of rice, and to other cultivators of root-crops for similar services in taking up the somewhat less tropical cereals, sesame and Guinea corn. That rootcrops preceded cereals in America was inferred above partly from the


    placed Heliconia in cultivation among the Polynesians. In the time of Oviedo the natives of the West Indies made hats, mats, baskets and thatch from the leaves of Heliconia, and the starchy rootstocks were eaten.