Skip to main content

Plants changed the world

What was the driving force behind man's exploration of the unknown parts of the globe? Was it man's insatiable need to gain knowledge? Or was it man's strong sense of adventure? Was it, perhaps, man's greed–his selfish desire to have more?

Henry Hobhouse points out in his book "Seeds of Change: Six Plants that Changed Mankind" (second edition, 1993) that plants, not humans, transformed history. In the introduction, he said that a good example that set Europeans to the seas was pepper. The Europeans were in search of pepper which, in the old days, was the only way to add taste to very salty preserved meats. He who had pepper had control of the economy, most likely.

Indeed, this information agreed well with Philippine history lessons: the Spaniards were originally looking for the Spice Islands where pepper, and other spices, could be found in large quantities. They mistook the Philippines as the Spice Islands in 1521, and the rest is history.

The six plants that changed mankind, according to Hobhouse, were: quinine, tea, cotton, sugar, potato, and the coca plant. A motley crew of plants, right?

Apparently not. These plants have more in common than people think at first glance. All of these plants were involved in the economics and the politics that built the First World empires (but mainly the British Empire). Tea was widely planted in British-occupied South Asia and traded through the East India Company. Sugar was grown in plantations in the West Indies, thanks to British sweet tooth. Cotton textile production was a major industry in Great Britain thanks to large-scale cultivation in India, and sold by the East India Company (again!). Quinine, the botanical source of the antimalarial drug of the same name, was made available in the British colonies to keep both the land owners and the slave labourers alive, literally. Potato originated from Peru and arrived in Europe. In Ireland, famine caused by disease-infected potatoes forced a lot of people to migrate to North America and to Great Britain.

The strange thing about all this, I think, is that rice is glaringly absent in the discussion. Rice, which is the staple food of more than half the world's population was left out. Hobhouse probably did not deem rice as important as the potato, for instance, because it did not create as big an impact in the West as it did in Asia. Thus, the story presented in the book appears to be centered in Europe.

Despite the Western centricity of the account, the book is still informative. It presents history in a creative way, making people take a second look at the world they're living in now.

Popular posts from this blog

my top 10 life lessons from Suits season 1

I enjoy watching this series on TV called "Suits". It follows a strong mentor-mentee relationship. Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht), one of the best lawyers in the city, gives valuable lessons to his associate, Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams), the lawyer without the law degree. I find myself taking notes (and tweeting them) as I watch the different episodes.
While waiting for the July 1 premiere of the second season of Suits on Jack TV, I list down the top ten lessons that I gleaned from watching the first season of series. It's not surprising that many of them came from the great Harvey Specter. There are few things in there that came from Mike and Harvey's arch-nemesis, Louis Litt (played by Rick Hoffman), as well.
NOTE: if these sound like a lecture, it's because these are notes I write to myself for when I need them... and to whoever is reading this list.

Here we go:
1. "First impressions last. Start behind the eight ball and you'll ne…

Federico de Vera's brand of beauty at the Ayala Museum

On my latest visit to the Ayala Museum this year, I was able to catch the exhibit curated by Federico de Vera. I haven't heard of him, most likely because I'm not part of the art circles. I'm just an occasional museum hopper who likes to visit beautiful art pieces. This time, I was about to learn what beauty is, in the eyes of famous curator de Vera.
I was blown away by how he presented art pieces he picked up from other art collectors. Some of these pieces I've seen in other museums before. BUT, these are presented in a more striking manner... Instagrammable being the first word that comes to my mind. Spot lighting and subtle backgrounds really make the artworks pop. Walking through the different sections of the exhibit, I kept saying wow to myself. I liked the way that the curator presented every piece... he succeeded in putting the best face of each piece on display. There was a sense of meticulousness in the detail... not just dumping pieces together on a table or…

tinikling

Back in college, I used to play with the UPLB Ethnomusemblia, a group of students who liked to play traditional Filipino music as live accompaniment to the UPLB Filipiniana Dance Troupe, those students who performed Filipino local dances. Tribal music was what I learned with the group: music filled with textures of the sounds from kulintang and agong; the resonating sounds of simultaneously beaten gangsa; and the deep tones from the dabakan. However, I never learned how to play stringed instruments that are part of the rondalla. I attempted the banduria but to no avail. That's why I never learned to play the music for the tinikling; instead, I contented myself with listening to the rondalla people play the lively song.

Tinikling is the national dance of the Philippines. In this lively dance, the man and the woman imitate the movements of a tikling, a bird found in the country, over two parallel bamboo poles set horizontally on the floor. The dance is made more challenging as the b…