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Give Us Our Daily Breadfruit: Bread Substitution in the Pacific in the Eighteenth Century
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Çive Vs Our (Daify (Breadfruit: (BreadSußstitution in the (Pacific in t/ie Eighteenth Century VANESSA SMITH British voyagers and travelers, since their first taste of it in 1686, have perceived the uru, both practically and rhetorically, as a substitute, (fig. I)1 Although the earliest account of the fruit is found in the records of Mendana's voyage to the Marquesas in 1595, the Spanish sources do not make the analogy with bread that was to characterize its description in English, focusing instead on local nomenclature and modes of preparation: "it is eaten many ways, and by the natives is called white food."2 William Dampier, by contrast, who sampled it in Guam, claims credit for giving the fruit its catachrestic English name breadfruit. His description of it, in his 1697 account, accumulates similes announcing its status as bread substitute. Dampier writes: The Bread-fruit (as we call it) grows on a large Tree, as big and high as our largest Apple trees. It hath a spreading head full of branches, and dark leaves. The fruit grows on the boughs like Apples: it is as big as a Penny Loaf when Wheat is at 5 shillings the Bushel. It is of a round shape, and hath a thick tough rind. When the fruit is ripe it is yellow and soft; and the taste is sweet and pleasant. The Natives of this Island use it for bread: they gather it when full grown, while it is green and hard; then they bake it in an Oven, which scorcheth the rind and makes it black: but they scrape off the outside 53 54 / SMITH Figure 1. "The Bread Fruit" from John Ellis, A Description of the Mangos tan andthe Bread-fruit. ..(London 1775). Reproduced by permission of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. Give Lis Our Daily Breadfruit / 55 black crust, and there remains a tender thin crust, and the inside is soft, tender and white like the crumb of a Penny Loaf. There is neither seed nor stone in the inside, but it is all of a pure substance like Bread; it must be eaten new; for if its kept above 24 hours, it becomes dry, and eats harsh and choaky; but 'tis very pleasant before it is too stale. The fruit lasts in season 8 months in the year, during which time the Natives eat no other sort of food of Bread kind.3 Dampier makes an anachronistic claim for the fruit, one epitomized in the name he gives it, that "the Natives of this Island use it for bread." The implication is that the man-made European staple is the standard to which the Pacific fruit aspires. For Dampier, and many that come after him, the breadfruit is always already bread substitute. Even if Dampier is referring to bread as staple, its sandwiching here between two references to the Penny Loaf indicates that the generic food-staff is only recognized in foodstuffs seen to approximate to the loaf of bread. Yet for Pacific islanders the breadfruit was not always primary staple, and where it served as such, was not customarily prepared in a bread-like mode. This essay is concerned with a British rhetorical insistence on the fruit's bread-like qualities, and on the implications this has for other dominant and conflicting images of the Pacific islands, as Edenic or savage, that shaped early European representation and exploitation of the islands and their resources. The composite descriptions of the fruit that emerged from Anson's 17401744 voyage around the world suggest a struggle for dominance between the two halves of breadfruit's emerging metaphoric equation. In Richard Walter's official 1748 account a clear distinction is drawn between its fruity characteristics and its appropriation by the English as bread substitute. Walter writes, "There were besides guavoes, limes, sweet and sower oranges, and a kind of fruit, peculiar to these Islands, called by the Indians Rima, but by us the Bread Fruit, for it was constantly eaten by us during our stay upon the Island instead of bread, and so universally preferred to it, that no ship's bread was expended during that whole interval...