Cinnamon Story

කුරුඳු / Cinnamon / Kinnämön / Cannella / Kaneel / Cannelle / Kwei

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Ceylon Cinnamon is the dried bark of the tree Cinnamomum zeylanicum (New botanical name: Cinnamomum verum) belonging to Lauraceae family. True Cinnamon has flavored the most exotic recipes, healed many an ailments and fascinated the world of perfumes, throughout a history beyond 5000 years.

Cinnamon is recorded in the Pen Ts’ao (worlds’ 1st book of medicines) of Emperor Shennong (2700BC) under the name of ‘kwei’ as a tranquillizer, energizer, and as being good for stomachaches, depression and weak heart.

Bible registers the spice under the name of ‘quesiah’. In Exodus, God has told Moses to take myrrh, cinnamon, olive oil and bulrushes from Egypt. Moses has used it for his anointing oil. Egyptians used it to keep wide spreading diseases away, and in embalming mummies because of pleasant odors and its preservative qualities. In fact, the word ‘Cinnamon’ is derived from the ancient Hebrew word Kinnämön. Roman Emperor Nero had burnt a years’ worth supply of cinnamon at the funeral of his wife Poppaea Sabina.

Silk_route1Arabians held a monopoly in Cinnamon trading for 3000 years (1500BC – 1500AD) at the great city of Constantinople and supplied to Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. Herodotus (484BC-425BC) records about the crafty marketing techniques of Arabians, keeping the origin of cinnamon a safe secret. Having bought it from Arabs, Venetians of Italy traded across Europe for use in perfumes and as winter food preservation.  Italians called it Cannella as they pictured quills as cannons, which became Kaneel in Dutch and Cannelle in French.

Cinnamon trade was gigantic in the ancient world and fetched a high prize. According to Pliny the Elder (23AD-79AD), market price of a Cinnamon pound was equivalent to 5kg of silver and he was the first to declare that Cinnamon is not from Arabia.

It was solely for the aim of finding Cinnamon, that Columbus sailed west in 1492. It was an attempt to find a way to the Promised Land. Instead he found America!

In 1505AD Portuguese governor of India, Francisco da Almeida, ordered his son Lorenzo da Almeida, to take out Arab pirate vessels that annoyed Portuguese traders in the Indian Ocean. In return the Arabs destroyed merchant ships sailing to Europe. Lorenzo stormed after them, but winds of fate pushed his boat towards coast of Colombo. The young lad uncovered the greatest secret kept for 3000 years. Source of the worlds’ precious spice, Ceylon! Sweet Ceylon Cinnamon. Soon they started control of Cinnamon trade (1517AD-1660AD), and requested tributes of Cinnamon from the Sinhalese. Sinhalese grew impatient with this ruthless rule and turned to assistance of a mighty naval power-Dutch.

DutchDutch did not wait long to cease this ideal opportunity. They fought a 60 year war (1600AD-1660AD) to deport the Portuguese. The Dutch took control (1660AD-1803AD) and dominated the cinnamon trade for 150 years. The best historical evidence about the cinnamon trade in Sri Lanka is revealed in “Upcountry-Dutch agreement” signed (1766AD) between the Sri Lankan King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe and the Dutch government. By this agreement King permitted Dutch to cut and peel cinnamon in certain forest areas of Sri Lanka and Dutch agreed to protect the Kingdom from foreign invasion.They began methodical plantations which proved to be so successful that too much Cinnamon was produced. When surplus supplies flooded the market and pushed down the prices, Dutch burnt 16 million French Livres worth of Cinnamon (1760AD) as the whole of Holland was covered in a perfumed cloud of Cinnamon smoke for days.

Unfortunately Dutch behaved no more pleasant towards Sinhalese than the Portuguese. The Sinhalese King of Kandy occasionally undertook military campaigns against the European dictators.

ballingTrue cinnamon was produced in only one place, Ceylon. Anyone who had the control over Ceylon made rocketing profits. Portuguese made their way, enslaved the natives and took over control from Arabs, Dutch displaced the Portuguese and gained the control of the cinnamon monopoly. British took the control of the island (1815AD) and cinnamon trade moved to their hands till Ceylon gained independence from the Sovereignty of Britain (1948 AD).

The magic stick from this spicy isle had caste a fascination over the world for more than 5000 years, with its power of fragrance, medicinal goodness, preservative quality and lip-smacking delight.

 

Secrets held for thousands of years

Battles fought for hundreds of years

Reveals a story, discovered

And new stories to be rediscovered

For the next 5000 years