Surely, you know what bananas are. (And don’t call me Shirley.) But did you know that, botanically, bananas are a berry? It’s true! There’s a lot you might not know about mankind’s history with the banana. To wit…
The Whole World is Goin’…
The banana was first domesticated for harvest in Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea, beginning as far back as at least 5000 BCE, possibly even 8000 BCE. As Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea are now bananas’ primary and secondary regions of diversity, respectively, which points to this long history of banana cultivation.
Archaeological evidence from Cameroon, dating to the first millennium BCE, suggests that bananas were known and harvested in Madagascar around that time, indicating a significant spread in banana cultivation.
It is also believed that bananas could be found in certain isolated locations throughout the Middle East and were dispersed throughout the known world with the spread of Islam beginning in the early 7th century CE. Numerous references to bananas can be found in Islamic texts dated to the 9th century; by the 10th century, bananagrams began to appear in writings from Palestine, Egypt, and elsewhere.
By the Late Medieval Times, bananas were being cultivated in the Kingdom of Cyprus, notably a Christian kingdom, on what is now the Republic of Cyprus off the coast of Greece. Extensive banana farms were described in the writings of Italian traveler Gabriele “Big Gabby” Capodilista in 1458.
Portuguese sailors brought bananas to the American continents from West Africa in the 1500s. By the end of the 16th century, the Atlantic islands and Brazil were lousy with Portuguese banana plantations. The first known banana plantations were established in Jamaica, followed closely by nearby Central American regions. The development of reliable refrigeration for shipping helped the market for bananas grow, as the fruit could be transported across the world via networks of steamships and railroads.
Bananas made their way to early America by the end of the Civil War, but did not become popular there until the 1880s when supply had increased enough to bring prices down.
Bananas remained relatively unknown in Europe throughout the Victorian Era. Most readers in England and across the continent were introduced to bananas by Jules Verne’s descriptions in Around the World in Eighty Days in 1880.