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Banana Cultures

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    Banana Cultures
    Book Description:

    Bananas, the most frequently consumed fresh fruit in the United States, have been linked to Miss Chiquita and Carmen Miranda, "banana republics," and Banana Republic clothing stores-everything from exotic kitsch, to Third World dictatorships, to middle-class fashion. But how did the rise in banana consumption in the United States affect the banana-growing regions of Central America? In this lively, interdisciplinary study, John Soluri integrates agroecology, anthropology, political economy, and history to trace the symbiotic growth of the export banana industry in Honduras and the consumer mass market in the United States.

    Beginning in the 1870s when bananas first appeared in the U.S. marketplace, Soluri examines the tensions between the small-scale growers, who dominated the trade in the early years, and the shippers. He then shows how rising demand led to changes in production that resulted in the formation of major agribusinesses, spawned international migrations, and transformed great swaths of the Honduran environment into monocultures susceptible to plant disease epidemics that in turn changed Central American livelihoods. Soluri also looks at labor practices and workers' lives, changing gender roles on the banana plantations, the effects of pesticides on the Honduran environment and people, and the mass marketing of bananas to consumers in the United States. His multifaceted account of a century of banana production and consumption adds an important chapter to the history of Honduras, as well as to the larger history of globalization and its effects on rural peoples, local economies, and biodiversity.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79683-6
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction Linking Places of Production and Consumption
    (pp. 1-17)

    Chances are good that most U.S. readers who pick up this book will have eaten a banana in the recent past. Chances are equally good that they will not remember the experience because banana eating in the United States has become rather banal. But this was not always the case. Prior to the mid-nineteenth century, few residents of the United States had tasted a banana and fewer still ate them on a regular basis. However, the last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a sharp rise in banana consumption in the United States that transcended lines of gender, class, race,...

  6. Chapter 1 Going Bananas
    (pp. 18-40)

    In the mid-1840s, Thomas Young, Deputy Superintendent of the British Central American Land Company, traveled along the Río Negro, one of many rivers that cut through the narrow coastal plain that stretches along Honduras’s Caribbean coastline. Paddling upstream with a group of Miskito Indians, Young observed “thousands of banana trees growing spontaneously, the fruit of which is so much sought after by the natives, who come from very distant parts to Black River, to gather it.” He noted the ease with which the plant could be cultivated and added that “the ripe fruit is highly esteemed, although it is apt...

  7. Chapter 2 Space Invaders
    (pp. 41-74)

    On a cold December night in New Orleans in 1910, deposed Honduran President Manuel Bonilla slipped aboard Sam “Banana Man” Zemurray’s private yacht moored on Lake Pontchartrain. The yacht carried the ex-president across the lake and into the Mississippi Sound, where it rendezvoused with a second boat that Bonilla had purchased with money borrowed from Zemurray. Accompanied by a group of armed mercenaries that included General Lee Christmas and Guy “Machine Gun” Maloney, Bonilla set course for the North Coast of Honduras. A couple of weeks later, Bonilla’s small forces landed on the island of Roatán. From there they launched...

  8. Chapter 3 Altered Landscapes and Transformed Livelihoods
    (pp. 75-103)

    “I believe, Honorable Minister, that the true sons of Honduras should not be impeded when we want to work our own lands,” wrote a frustrated Víctor Medina Romero on October 8, 1932, in a letter addressed to the Honduran minister of development.¹ Born and raised in the Honduran highlands, Medina first migrated to the North Coast in the 1920s. There he found work as a day laborer (jornaliando) for the fruit companies. He later left the North Coast only to return in 1932 with the hope of establishing a farm near the village of Corralitos, Atlántida. Medina’s letter explained that...

  9. Chapter 4 Sigatoka, Science, and Control
    (pp. 104-127)

    In late October 1935, a powerful storm struck the Sula valley. After three consecutive days of heavy winds and torrential rains, the Ulúa and Chamelecón rivers overflowed their banks, destroying crops, drowning livestock, and washing out villages, labor camps, and bridges. Water and electricity were temporarily cut off in urban areas such as San Pedro Sula and El Progreso. An eyewitness from one of the Tela Railroad Company’s farms reported that floodwaters had carried off the workers’ barracks like “match boxes,” leaving more than 150 families without basic necessities. As part of the relief efforts, the company evacuated workers from...

  10. Chapter 5 Revisiting the Green Prison
    (pp. 128-160)

    Juan Sotano awoke and rolled out of his hammock when the first rays of dawn were more imaginary than real. Bending over to pull on a pair of muddied shoes, he felt a dull throbbing in his forehead—a reminder of the previous night’sguarodrinking. Sheathing the machete that lay at his side, Juan stepped outside of his mud-and-grass-walledchampa. He cast a glance of pity toward a group of young Olanchanos who had arrived the previous week and were forced to sleep outside for want of shelter. The contractor, Señor Martínez, had promised to build morechampas, but...

  11. Chapter 6 The Lives and Time of Miss Chiquita
    (pp. 161-192)

    Miss Chiquita was born on the airwaves in 1944. That year, the United Fruit Company launched a nationwide radio campaign that featured the voice of Patty Clayton singing the “Chiquita Banana Song.” The tune, set to a calypso beat, achieved hit status and found its way onto the play lists of radio disc jockeys, juke boxes, and the repertoire of the Boston Pops.¹ Both the lyrics and the medium reflected changes taking place in U.S. consumer culture. Written by a New York City advertising agency, the jingle’s often-quoted couplet, “But bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator...

  12. Chapter 7 La Química
    (pp. 193-215)

    One day in the early 1950s, United Fruit Company research assistant Jorge Romero was supervising a work crew applying an agrochemical through the irrigation system.¹ As the sun climbed in the tropical sky, the smell of the rapidly vaporizing chemical penetrated the protective masks worn by the workers, forcing them to complete their tasks quickly in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the fumes. When a crew member named Benito removed his mask, Jorge pleaded with him to put it back on before approaching the irrigation equipment. But Benito refused, declaring “soy indio salvadoreño bruto(“I’m a toughindiofrom...

  13. Chapter 8 Banana Cultures in Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 216-246)

    When Hondurans turned on their radios the morning of April 22, 1975, they learned from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that Colonel Juan Melgar Castro was the new Chief of State, replacing General Oswaldo López Arellano, who two weeks earlier had been accused of accepting a bribe from the United Brands Corporation.¹ When López Arellano prevented a special Honduran investigating committee from examining his foreign bank accounts, he was ousted in a bloodless coup. The bribe was discovered during the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) “routine” investigation into the death of United Brand’s former president Eli Black,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 247-292)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-314)
  16. Index
    (pp. 315-321)