By Anthony Deyal
The Yoruba in Nigeria call it “Agbalumo,” Hausas know it as “Chiwo” and to the Igbo it is “Udara”. Throughout Africa they boast about its many health benefits. One writer claims it can do everything including preventing gum diseases, minimising toothache pains, curing sore throats and helping you lose weight. It cures malaria and yellow fever, lowers cholesterol and blood sugar, and by stopping you from vomiting can help both the pregnant and inebriated.
I mentioned it to one of my friends who tries every bush medicine and miracle drug known to human gullibility and he immediately asked me how he could get some. “Boy, my teeth giving me trouble. Where I could find that?” “Check your backyard,” I said. “I think I saw a tree there.”
He was stunned. “I don’t have no tree like that,” he declared. I decided to play with him a bit more. “It is a forest fruit tree commonly found throughout tropical Africa.” “Forget Africa,” he responded. “You say we have it here in Trinidad?” I then eased up. “In Jamaica, they call it ‘Star Apple’. You ever try it?” “Well no,” he replied. “That is the one Caribbean country I have not gone to as yet.” “Ok, then,” I laughed. “A lot of people know it as ‘Caimit’.” Immediately the Caimit and climate changed. “You have to be joking. Caimit has all those properties and I don’t know?”
He is not alone. The fact is that we are not only unaware of the origins and properties of many of the fruits and vegetables that came with our ancestors from Africa and India, and others brought by the British, but we call them by different and confusing names. In Jamaica, the Star Apple (as it is known there) is the basis for matrimony. You cannot think of or enjoy matrimony without Star Apple. In this case, however, it is not like the something borrowed or blue, but a Jamaican dessert which combines orange and grapefruit pulp with star apple or Caimit, and is sweetened with condensed milk.
One theory about why it’s called “Matrimony” is that the dessert is a marriage of the thick, sticky sweetness of the condensed milk and the tartness of the grapefruit and orange juices with the star apple. If all the different names for the same fruit are not confusing enough, we have the Star Fruit which is known also as Carambola, Chinese Jimbelin, Coolie Tamarind or Five Fingers.
The other one that caught me is what in Trinidad, growing up in a basically East Indian community, I knew as “Jamoon” and “Pommerac”. When I went to Jamaica and the hotel’s dessert included pommerac as one of its fruit choices, my Jamaican colleague was ecstatic, “Otaheite Apple! Long time I haven’t eaten one.” I remarked mutinously, “Otaheite apple? I live in a place called Otaheite in Trinidad and it doesn’t have any pommerac there. Where you Jamaicans get this ‘Otaheite Apple’ from?” It turns out that Captain Bligh of Mutiny On The Bounty fame introduced it to the British in 1793.
The fruit originated in Tahiti which was then known as “Otaheite”. While the Otaheite Apple has other names like Kwachimelon, Malaba, Malacca Apple, Plum Rose, Pomarosa, Pomme d’ Armour and Titi Apple, the name that titillates me is what the Guyanese call it. My wife said she saw “cashew” selling by the roadside and then I realised she was referring to pommeracs and said that she had to be nuts to see a pommerac and call it a cashew. In turn, she could not believe that we would call a “pear” a “zabocca” or even an “Avocado.” Worse, a “jamoon” or “jamun” in Guyana is not a pommerac but a black plum from India, and the “padoo” fruit (“Pois Doux” or Sweet Pea) is called “whitey”.
Despite, or because of these differences in names, the Caribbean’s fruitfulness makes us all berry happy. For example, a “Damsel” in St Vincent might be a comely, young beauty but in Trinidad, she would be called a “sour cherry” and eaten with salt and pepper. For Jamaicans it is “Jimblin”, Barbadians and Guyanese know it as “gooseberry” and in the Saint Lucian Creole dialect it is “Siwèt.” While during winter, people in the colder countries would consider a chance to work in the Caribbean a “plum” job, what they may not know is that there are two hundred different types of plums in the region and they all vary in colour, taste, season, size and, most of all, names including “Hog” (a.k.a. “Yellow Mombin” and “Spanish Gully”).
In fact, I hope the abbreviation “HOGs” is for “heads of governments” and not the fruit or animal. One other example will suffice. My friend Mary was staying with us in Barbados and saw a tree just outside my yard laden with what Trinis call “pommeseetay” (“Pommecythere” or “Ambarella”). Trinis curry it or, as they do with sour cherries and green mangoes, make a “chow” containing lots of salt, pepper and “chadon beni” (a.k.a. Culantro or, in Trinidad, “Bhandania”) with it. She decided to pick some off the tree to add to a dish she was preparing.
An old Barbadian man was really upset that she was picking the fruits while they were green. She explained, “But you can’t curry ripe pommeseetay.” Poor man, he knew it as a June Plum. It is also known in other countries as Dew Plum or Golden Apple. He didn’t know that Trinidadians will curry anything including green bananas and elephant apples or Chalta.
There are many other fruits that are known in the Caribbean by different and interesting names including “Lay Lay” or “Manjack”, “Mamisiporte” or “Mammy Apple”, “Naseberry” or “Sapodilla”, and “Cho-Cho” the many other names for which (“Chayote”, “Mirliton Squash” and “Christophine”) are enough to make you shout “Oh Gourd!” Then there is “Guinep” which includes among its other names “Chenette” in Trinidad, “Ackee” in Saint Lucia and, in some places and for obvious reasons, “Skinup”.
While I wish that despite what we call them in the different Caribbean countries our political tastes would be similar when it relates to staples like freedom, equality and unity, I cannot ignore the reality that the one and only fruit we all know by the same name is “Stinking Toe.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen saying that when one fruit in the same region has so many different names including Aprin, Dunks, Chinese Jujube, Crabapple, Petit Pomme, Surette, and Yuyubi, it is enough to get you Doung.