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By Howard Walker
Has there ever been a more abundant season for mangos in Panama? This year the branches of the old tree in our garden are still laden with their hanging golden clusters, despite the fact that for the last month we have been busy picking up the windfalls.
They are also an attraction, of course, for neighboring agouti or ñeque families. It is a competition to see who can get them first. We watch while they scurry off to feed their nest of newborns.
History records that the mango originated in India, Burma and the Andaman Islands. The famous “Bombay” species is the best known.
We are told that about 5th century BC, Buddhist monks took it to eastern Asia and Malaya. From there the Persians carried it to east Africa circa 10th cent AD, then the Portuguese took it from the East Indies into West Africa early in the 16th century and from there into Brazil. Then it reached the West Indies and Jamaica (1782).
How did this popular fruit reach Panama? The migrant railway or canal workers from the West Indies a century and half ago no doubt could provide a clue. Our own lofty 20m giant located in the old Albrook Canal Zone was likely planted by the resident US forces.
Whatever its lineage, the mango is a welcome addition to our garden and to the diet of all Panamanians. Its sweet flesh can be eaten fresh from the tree or frozen for enjoyment later in the year. It is made into sherbet and numerous delicious dessert dishes. Mango chutneys are great additions to the dinner table.
Mangos are also healthful, containing many vitamins and minerals including anti-oxidants.