The common mango in Southeast Asia

The Linnean binomial (Mangifera indica) indicates in this instance the place where the common mango was selected and improved, and not necessarily its place of its origin. It has been traditionally accepted that mango was domesticated several millennia ago in India (see Mukherjee and Litz, Chapter 1, this volume); however, it cannot be excluded that domestication occurred independently in several areas, possibly in the south-western and south-eastern regions of its centre of origin, or later differentiated in those two regions. This hypothesis would account for the differences that exist between the local polyembryonic cultivars of Myanmar, Thailand, Indochina and Indonesia, and the monoembryonic Indian cultivars. Note that polyembryony occurs also in the cultivated M. casturi, M. laurina and M. odorata. Aron et al. (1998) have demonstrated that polyembryony in mango is under the control of a single dominant gene.

According to Juliano (1937), Bijhouwer suggested that there were two main centres of domestication of mango, 'one in India with monoembryonic mangoes, the other in the Saigon area, Indonesia and the Philippines with polyembryonic mangoes'. The 'Saigon' area must in fact be extended to southern Vietnam, other parts of Indochina, Thailand and Myanmar, which were recognized by Valmayor (1962) as homes of polyembryonic mangoes. Notwithstanding, the origin of polyembryonic mangoes is probably better placed in Myanmar, and possibly the eastern part of Assam. According to Brandis (1874), 'in Burma, the mango is not generally grafted, and seeds of a good kind, as a rule, produce fruit of a similar description'. There are only a few polyembryonic mango cultivars in India. They are restricted to the southwestern coastal region, and geographically isolated from the polyembryonic mangoes of Myanmar and South-east Asia. Analysis of genetic relatedness using RAPD markers among polyembryonic and monoembryonic cultivars grown in the west coast of southern India suggest that the polyembryonic types are unlikely to have originated from India and might have been introduced from South-east Asia (Ravishankar et al., 2004).

Indian Buddhist monks might have introduced the common polyembry-onic mango to South-east Asia, first along land trade routes through Myanmar, where they might have found better races, and from there into insular South-east Asia. It is well established that some local names of the common mango currently used in parts of Indonesia are of Sanskrit origin ('ampelam' and its cognates), and are sometimes used to designate M. laurina, which is a truly native species. Vernacular names do not always travel with a plant, and even if they did so in the case of the common mango, it is very unlikely that these introductions were the first ones and that they came obligatorily from India. In the absence of a comprehensive classification of the innumerable South-east Asian cultivated forms of the common and wild mangoes, including the countless primitive races, we have to rely on linguistics and the rich history and prehistory of this region.

Vernacular names

The different local names of the common mango in Indonesia ('pauh', 'ampe-lam' and its variants, and 'mangga') bear evidence of a long history of contacts with mainland Asia and India, and point to possible introduction at different times from different places. In some parts of Indonesia, the vernacular names 'paoh' or 'pauh' refer either to primitive races of the common mango, or to native species, as a rule the ones most closely resembling the common mango, for example: 'pauh asal' (= native mango) for M. pentandra in peninsular Malaysia; 'pahohutan' or 'pahutan' (= forest mango) for M. altissima in the Philippines; and 'pao pong' (= forest mango) for M. minor in Flores, Lesser Sunda Islands. 'Pau' is a word belonging to Austronesian languages, nowadays spoken over a very wide area from Madagascar to the Easter Islands by people who originate from mainland Asia. These languages are still spoken by certain minority populations in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mergui Archipelago off the coast of Myanmar (Bellwood et al., 1995). In Cambodia, which was occupied by the Chams from about the 3rd to the 15th century ad, 'pa:uh' is a Chamic word. 'Sva:y', used by the Khmers (as in 'sva:y srok' meaning mango of the village (M. indica), and 'sva:y prey', wild mango (i.e. M. caloneura) as attested in pre-Angkorian Khmer inscriptions dating from the 6th to the 8th century ad (Pou and Martin, 1981)) is of Austro-Asiatic origin. 'Sva:y' has cognates in south Vietnam ('xoay') and in Asian languages spoken by aboriginal people in peninsular Malaysia. 'Wai', another cognate, is a vernacular name of M. minor in several parts of New Guinea. Pawley and Ross (1995) proposed 'wai' and 'pau(q)' as the reconstructed Proto-Oceanic terms referring, respectively, to a generic name for mango, and a species that is probably M. indica.

Nowadays, these two words are generic terms for mango fruits that rather closely resemble M. indica. In the same way, 'thayet' which is the common vernacular name referring to M. indica in Myanmar ('sinnin thayet' and 'taw-thayet' for M. caloneura and M. sylvatica, respectively), or 'mamuang' in Thai languages are probably generic names.

Obviously, linguistic evidence alone provided by these vernacular names is not sufficient to prove the time and place of an introduction. None the less, it is significant that in mainland South-east Asia none of the vernacular names of the common mango exhibits signs of an Indian influence, moreover, cognates of these names are also applied to primitive races in some parts of insular South-east Asia.

Evidence of early trade in South-east Asia

The history of plant domestication in mainland South-east Asia has undoubtedly involved introduction of plants by people migrating from the mainland into insular South-east Asia. In more recent times, there is evidence of contacts and sea trade since at least the first centuries ad between mainland and insular South-east Asia to indicate that there have been numerous opportunities for introduction of the common mango from different places at different times prior to the 4th century (before the Indianization of early South-east Asian states) into present-day Malaysia and Indonesia.

Recent studies based on archaeological evidence stress the long unrecognized importance of South-east Asian trade (emanating from South-east Asia) between ports established along the Java Sea, those of mainland Asia, and India, back to the 1st century ad, and possibly earlier (Walker and San-toso, 1984). Trade routes connected the developing population centres of the mainland, such as the earliest known South-east Asian political entity, Funan, an advanced agrarian society located on the southern Vietnam coast, which became influenced by the Indians and reached the zenith of its commercial prosperity in the middle of the 3rd century (Hall, 1985). Increasingly, kingdoms organized according to the Indian concept of royalty were established in the Indonesian archipelago, for example Kutai in East Kalimantan (4th century) and Central Java (8th to 9th century), the latter being famous for the Buddhist temple at Borobudur, where sculptures depict the mango tree.

It is highly probable that the eventual introductions of superior cultivars of polyembryonic mangoes from the south-west coast of India, 'between the 6th and 14th century, the height of classical South-east Asian civilization and also the golden age of early south Indian civilization' (Hall, 1985), were not the first ones.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Portuguese and Spaniards contributed to the widest distribution of superior varieties in the archipelago, especially to the east. The name mango itself derives from the Tamil 'man-kay' or 'man-ga' (see Mukherjee and Litz, Chapter 1, this volume), which the Portuguese adapted as 'manga' and 'mangueira' when they colonized west India.

Superior Philippine cultivars originated through introduction of culti-vars from Indonesia, for example 'Dodol' into Mindanao, and from Indochina, for example 'Carabao' and 'Pico' in Luzon, the Visayas and northern Mindanao (Wester, 1920; Bondad et al., 1984). However, these introductions dating from the first half of the 17th century were also preceded by the introduction of primitive races of the common mango as well as other species into the Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao through contacts with north Borneo, as attested by their local names quoted by Wester (1920), that is mampalam (M. indica, and possibly also M. laurina), baonoh (M. caesia) and wannih (M. odorata).

The South-east Asian M. indica germplasm includes many races that defy classification. Natural cross-pollination has undoubtedly occurred with native species, such as M. laurina, which was also brought into cultivation in several areas before the introduction of M. indica.

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  • michael barron
    What places in south east asia grows mangoes?
    2 months ago

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