Laura peels back the layers of banana myth and legend.
If you’ve been on the internet for any amount of time over the last year you may have seen ‘warnings’ over the dangers of eating eggs and bananas together. This hoax, which seems to originated in Bangalore, claimed that the combination makes a ‘fatal poison’ in the stomach, which was responsible for the death of a young man foolhardy enough to consume both in one sitting.
Of course anyone who has enjoyed a nice slice of banana cake is living testimony to the fact that this combo is not dangerous– but this did not stop many people from worrying about the possibility.
As silly as this might sound to some, it is only the latest in a long line of strange, interesting and sometimes down right ridiculous beliefs people have held about bananas.
Adam and Eve and the Banana
Although early on artists started depicting the fruit that tempted Eve as being an apple, scholars have long debated whether this was in fact correct. Many point to the latin word ‘malum’ which can be translated as both ‘evil’ and ‘apple’ as starting the confusion. In opposition to the apple (which many point out wouldn’t have been known to the writers of the Old Testament) many have put forth the banana in its place.
Carl Linnaeus, the famous taxonomist and botanist was a firm believer in the banana as fruit of knowledge theory; noting that bananas grow at the right height and that banana leaves make better clothing for humans who just been made self-conscious through forbidden snacks.
Linnaeus even named bananas Musa Sapentium, from the latin term for wise, and Mussa Paradissiaca (banana of paradise).
Of course Linnaeus was pretty keen on bananas in general, which may have coloured his thinking. He was the first person to successfully grow a banana plant in Holland, and believed they could provide cures for everything from prostate problems to coughs and angry feelings.
I can’t help but think that the phallic look of the banana had some impact of this theory of the banana-as-the-fruit-of-knowledge. Some point to Gen. 1:27-29 where God tells Adam and Eve they can eat any fruit that has seeds in it as proof the fruit of knowledge wasn’t an apple, but of course, bananas in their natural state also have seeds.
If we are going to give the Garden of Eden an earthly location and fix the fruit of knowledge as something that still grows here, my money is still on the fig, which is more historically accurate and itself a pretty sexy fruit.
The potential sexiness of the banana was something that troubled a portion of Victorian England. While bananas were a very popular snack in Victorian England, synonymous with having fun and good times, one group of mainly ladies believed that the provocative shape of bananas was so dangerous that the mere sight of a banana could immediately produce undesirable and illicit behaviours in the viewer.
Subsequently, they wanted bananas banned in order to protect the morals of the population. No such ban was ever seriously considered, but the anti-banana feeling was enough that one fruit company at least put out a series of postcards showing ‘decent’ women eating bananas in an attempt to depict bananas as part of a morally healthy lifestyle.
There is no evidence as to what effect seeing virtuous women eating bananas might have had on an unruly Victorian libido, but the sale and consumption of bananas continued anyway.
Considering that bananas are a staple of diets in many parts of the world, it is not surprising that they have made their way into many legends and folklore around the world, making for some banana beliefs that are far more established than those crazy Victorian fads.
One of my favourites is the Nang Tani of Thailand. She is a sort of ‘lady of the wood’ type character, a beautiful, greenish female spirit who is said to haunt the groves of wild banana there.
She is generally a gentle spirit, reminding people of the sanctity of nature, and providing shelter for monks and other travellers. One group that really gets her goat though are men who have wronged women, and if one of them breaks off a wild banana they can expect a nasty reprisal.
The Sloop John B..anana
Given how notoriously superstitious sailors are it is perhaps to be expected that bananas should also be given this treatment by sea-faring folk. Some locate the origin of the ‘maritime banana curse’ with the unlucky encounters sailors had with poisonous spiders or snakes that had hitched a ride on early banana cargoes, or the fact that the ethylene produced by the bananas caused other fruit around them to spoil faster.
Whatever the reason, bananas are now considered unlucky by many sailors and fisherfolk, and a banana on board can be blamed for everything from a poor catch to foul weather. So keep your bananas out of your tackle box if you want a good number of bites.
Smoke em’ if you’ve got em’
Hands up who wasn’t told at some point in their lives that you could get high from smoking banana peels?
Apparently this rather silly idea caught on in the1960s when people made the connection between the effects of LSD and serotonin on the brain and the fact that bananas too have serotonin in them ( actually the levels of seratonin in bananas is too small to cross the blood-brain barrier).
It spread quickly due to the fact that many people wanted to get high and also had no money, so the ‘a-peel’ of smoking bananas was obvious (no I’m not sorry).
The flames were fed by the synchronistic release of folksinger Donovan’s single ‘Mellow Yellow’ which contained the lyrics “Electrical banana / Is gonna be a sudden craze / Electrical banana / Is bound to be the very next phase” . Donovan later definitively stated that those lyrics were about a yellow vibrator and not about smoking banana peels.
Still the myth persisted, despite the empirical evidence of anyone who tried it that smoking any part of a banana could not get you high. Part of its endurance can be put down to the fact that William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook (1971) included in his cult tome what was in fact a hoax recipe printed in the Berkeley Barb in 1967 which purported to explain how to extract ‘bananadine’– the psychoactive element in bananas.
More than anything this myth, like some of the other strange ideas about bananas seem to stick around because bananas themselves have a hold on our imaginations. Mainly because they look funny and taste good.