Friday, December 10, 2010

Part I: Early History of the Bunna Trade

It is not known exactly when the bean known as bunna was first cultivated.  Tradition has it that an unnamed Axumite goat herder noticed the animals over which he tended becoming very lively after eating the berries of the plant.  He then boiled them for himself, inventing the earliest bunna beverage.  Tradition then goes on to say that, while conversing with a merchant from the town of Adulis, the herder mentions his new drink.  The merchant tries the beverage and takes a liking to it and begins trading with others, particularly the Arabs of Saba, Himyar, and Qataban, who begin growing the plant themselves.

This story is, of course, almost completely unverifiable.  However, that does not mean that the general outline is incorrect.  Clearly, bunna originated in region of Aethiopia.  When the hypothetical herder actually discovered the plant cannot be determined.  However, the first historical record of bunna is found in a Sabaean document  dating from 658 AUC (96 BC), found in the Arabian port of Muza, and, the context of the document suggests that the beverage was only recently brought to the region at the time of its writing.
An Arabian Bunna Trader

The cultivation of bunna in the region of Arabia Felix began around this time and it was not long before bunna was part of the package of local goods from which the region drew its wealth.  The beverage caught on quickly, with many locales developing their own distinct brews.  Bunna reached Judea by 665 AUC (89 BC), according to accounts of philosophers debating the text of the Torah late into the night, kept awake by drinking copious amounts of the beverage.  It was not long before it spread east, into the realm of the Parthians, and west, into the Greek and Roman states.

Bunna became popular among the upper classes, who could afford the initially expensive new brew.  Many historical figures, such as Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Tigranes the Great, and Cleopatra VII Philopater, were fond of the beverage.  The most notable historical mention of bunna in this period occurs in the Gospel of Matthew, who records the Thee Magi visiting the young Jesus Christ and bestowing upon him gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh, and bunna.

Eventually, the cultivation of bunna would spread out from Arabia Felix and Aethiopia.  The coastal regions of Azania (Africa) to the south of Aethiopia were found to be suitable to the growth of bunna, as was the great island of Menuthia (Madagascar).  The western coast of India and the island of Taprobane (Sri Lanka) also soon became bunna growing regions.  Beyond that, the peninsulas and islands south of Seres (China) eventually adopted the plant for export around the late 8th century AUC (1st century AD).



I should note now that entries to the history will be written from the perspective of someone from that history, to the best of my ability.  Thus, many terms will be in latin or the latin transliteration of a local term, for sake of immersion.  I will restrict my 'out of character' writing to these explanation segments.

Bunna is, of course, coffee; bunna being the Amharic (Ethiopian) word for coffee (though, at the time, the language spoken was not Amharic, but Ge'ez, its predecessor, which lives on as the liturgical tongue of the Ethiopian Church, much as Latin is for the Catholic Church) .  Luckily for our purposes, Bunna is an easily Latinized word, so the Romans would not have to come up with their own name for it.

As for the exact dating, all of this can be left very vague.  Poltical records of Ethiopia and the surrounding areas at this time are hard to come by; Axum was not considered to be a major power for over another century.  While frustrating, this leaves room for latitude in pinning down specific events.  It also helps that the trade network along the Red Sea was burgeoning, assisted, in part, by the stability Rome brought to trade in the Mediterranean, particularly after Pompey's campaign against the Cilician pirates.  This would hasten the spread of such trade goods as coffee.

The importance of the early discovery coffee might, at first, seem limited to improving the economies of the regions in which it is grown.  However, it provides a much more important change, besides that.  Until the invention of coffee, the beverage of choice for almost all occasions was alcoholic in content.  This meant that many of the world's leaders were often drunk when making their decisions.  Drinking booze wasn't without any merit; after all, alcohol is a natural disinfectant, so its often safer to drink than water, particularly in ancient times.  In addition to being non-intoxicating, coffee also has always been popular with intellectuals and academics.  There is an expression that mathematicians are machines that turn coffee into theorems.  There may be some connection with the introduction of coffee to Europe and the subsequent flowering of learning that took place in the Renaissance. Further, expanded trade between the growers of coffee and the consumers of coffee brings a variety of changes; their economies, societies and politics become more intertwined, with all the repercussions that that implies. More trade means more sailing.  More sailing means more shipbuilding.  More shipbuilding means better shipbuilding.

As an aside, regarding place names.  There was no word for the entirety of the African continent at this time.  Africa referred to territories north of the Sahara, and Azania referred to territories south.  Since Azania refers to a geographically larger region, it will eventually be adopted as the name of the continent itself, since classical knowledge will continue much more consistently than in our history.  Further, Menuthia is derived from one of the old Arabic names for Madagascar, Menuthias.  I just picked the one that I liked the sound of the best.

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