breadfruit

You’ve surely heard about the infamous mutiny on HMS Bounty. The story of what happened on His Majesty’s ship (HMS), in the late 1780s, is fascinating: the ship navigating from England to the South Pacific; the captain and crew on a specific mission, requiring them to go to the island of Tahiti; working together to fulfill the crux of that mission on Tahiti; leaving Tahiti; the formation of a secret group of mutineers; the mutiny!—during which the mutineers abandoned Captain William Bligh and 17 other men in a small boat, leaving them in the middle of the ocean to fend for themselves; the story of the mutineers, who searched for an island to live on, eventually settling on Pitcairn; and the story of Captain Bligh and the 17 men, several of whom miraculously made it back home to England.

What a tale of adventure! What chaos! What an unfolding of unforeseen circumstances! What an opportunity to peer into human psychology!

But this story has been told time and again. I won’t retell it here; but I will tell you something surprising that I recently learned about it.

My brother, you see, knows I like gardening. (Bear with me—this relates to the mutiny on the Bounty. I promise!) He gifted me a book called The Brother Gardeners, by Andrea Wulf. It’s a dense book, with small print (which incidentally helped me regain some eye skills in recovering from my concussion).

The nonfictional book The Brother Gardeners tells the fascinating story of a few men . . . who were not technically brothers. They were brothers in the sense of having a mutual love of plants and gardening. These “brothers” lived in the 1700s, during the time in history when the entire world was becoming closer, for good and bad, due to increased exploration and trade. And what these “brothers” adored most in the world was plants . . . especially plants from faraway places, which seemed, to them, exotic and exciting.

The book also, thus, tells the story of plants migrating, through human endeavor, from their places of origin to faraway locales around the globe. Did you know that the mission of HMS Bounty was to collect a plant called breadfruit and bring it to the West Indies as a new food source for the people there? At the time of the mutiny, there were 1,015 breadfruit saplings growing on the Bounty, lovingly cared for by a master gardener.

More than 1,000 trees were growing on a ship!! Whaaaat?!!

And none of these trees made it out of the South Pacific, due to the mutiny!!

But that’s not the surprising lesson I want to share with you. The most surprising thing I learned about this historical episode from the book The Brother Gardeners is that Captain William Bligh—after enduring the horrific incident that left him stranded in the middle of the South Pacific, and the long and horrific journey back home—was actually willing and able to try again! Upon returning to England, he took command of a new ship, the Providence. He sailed all the way back to Tahiti, procured more breadfruit trees, and brought them successfully to the West Indies islands of St. Vincent and Jamaica. The trees were planted there, and flourished there.

Seriously, he tried the first time and failed miserably, to become the butt of childhood storybooks. But the storybooks don’t tell how he tried a second time and succeeded.

Wow! Good for him! Try and try, until you succeed: what a great lesson!!

Except for the small details of, you know, colonialism and slavery, which were intimately involved with the mission. So maybe the lesson is, ugh, bad karma, dude.

Have you ever tasted breadfruit?

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