ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE MANGO*

J.C. Snyman

General consensus exists amongst horticulturists and historians, that the edible mango (Mangifera indica L.) originated in India (Woodrow, 1904; Scott, 1992; Cole & Hawson, 1963; Mukherjee, 1971; CITEM, 1985; Malo, 1985). Designs of the fruit, flowers and  leaves of the mango tree are still found in Buddhist and Hindu temples throughout India. According to Indian folklore, Buddha was given a mango orchard by a faithful follower so that he could rest in its cool shade (CITEM, 1985). Ancient literature records the presence of mango in India. Whilst Tuglak Shah reigned in Delhi (1325 – 1351) a Turkoman poet, Amir Khrussu, wrote "The mango is the pride of the garden, the choicest fruit of Hidustan. Other fruits we are content to eat when ripe, but the mango is good in all stages of growth" (Woodrow, 1904). It is, furthermore, generally agreed that the natural origin of the mango in India is in the north-eastern region on the foothills of the Himalayan mountain in the vicinity of India's boundary with Bangladesh. The great Mogul Emperor Akbar, who ruled at Delhi from 1556 to 1605 had an orchard of 100 000 mango trees which, even by today's standards, was a huge orchard of probably between 500 and 1000 hectares, depending on planting density.

It is not known exactly how the mango was distributed from India to the rest of the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. However, very interesting historical facts are found in literature which makes it possible to trace the distribution of this delicious fruit to some parts of the world. One can safely assume that the mango was firstly distributed to the rest of South-East Asia. An English traveler of the eighteenth century recorded that mango trees were seen in Djakarta (then the Dutch colony of Batavia). The Spanish found it, even earlier, being cultivated in the Philippines. The Portuguese successfully planted mangoes in Brazil in about 1700 which was probably its first introduction into the Western World. It reached the West Indies in about 1740 and was introduced into Florida in 1833 by Dr Henry Perine. This introduction consisted of a shipment of seeds from Campeche in Mexico. There is, however, no clear indication that these trees actually survived, especially after Perine was killed by Seminole Indians on his Indian Key property in Florida (Malo, 1985).

Jan van Riebeeck planted mango trees in the Cape at about 1653. The project failed because of the unfavourable climate for mangoes in the Western Cape. Strong evidence exists, however, that mangoes were grown in Southern Africa long before the aforementioned date. It is recorded that mangoes were grown in Eastern Somalia as early as 1331 (Van der Meulen et al., 1971). This gave rise to speculation that mango trees were planted, from seed obtained from East Africa, in KwaZulu-Natal before the 17th centure. This is partially confirmed by Wiltbank (1977) who states that mangoes were introduced into Brazil, from South Africa and the Philippines, in the 1600's. Marloth (1948) also alleged that seedling mangoes were growing in KwaZulu-Natal long before 1860, which is the date on which Ducasse (1860) recorded mango trees growing in this region. Commercial mango production in South Africa only started in earnest in 1920 in the Ofcolaco area, near Tzaneen and near Malelane in the Mpumalanga Province. Only seedlings, mainly from the cultivars Peach and Sabre, were originally established. The popular fibreless cultivars were introduced in 1920 to 1930. They are Haden (ex Florida), to the Nelspruit area, Alphonse, Paheri, Mulgoba and Totafari Green (all ex India) as well as the Indonesian cultivar Aroemanis, to the Tzaneen/Letaba valley area. The latter gradually gained popularity in the Ofcolaco and Letsitele valley areas. More extensive plantings took place after 1960 when it was found that the Florida cultivars Kent and Zill (introduced ± 1954) produced good yields in the Ofcolaco/Letsitele valley/Letaba areas (Van der Meulen et al., 1971).

*There are two popular theories about the origin of the name 'Mango' in English and Spanish-speaking countries, i.e. 1) that it was derived from the botanical name Mangifera indica L. and 2) that it is probably a corruption of the Tamil manga or of the Sundian Mang, ga (Woodrow, 1904). When the Portuguese settled in Western India, they also called the fruit Manga (CITEM, 1985).


​The Cultivation of Mango

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