Bananas and Plantains in Africa: Re-interpreting the linguistic evidence

Roger Blench



Phytolith evidence for early domesticated bananas in Cameroun supports a conclusion reached previously from a combination of botanical and linguistic evidence, namely that plantains reached West Africa, presumably from Southeast Asia, at an early period. Botanical evidence suggests that the plantains (AAB) are the most credible early domesticates and that their African center of diversity is in the zone from southeastern Nigeria to Gabon. The mechanism by which the plantain reached this region is much disputed. The paper will argue the following:


  • Plantains arrived in West Africa earlier than 3000 B.P. along with taro and water-yam. Cultivation of these crops made possible the effective exploitation of the dense equatorial rain-forest.
  • The most prominent reconstructible term for plantain, #ko[n]do, occurs across the zone where the greatest degree of somatic variation is found. 
  • The introduction of the plantain can also be linked with the distribution of typical artefacts made from banana-stems.



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