Thursday, June 15, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of candle nut and leaf

Candle nut Tree. Lumbang or lumban (Aleurites moluccana) is the state tree of Hawai’i where its fragrant white flowers are strung into leis. Known by its English name candlenut tree, it also called Indian walnut and KuKui. In Bahasa Indonesia it is known as kemiri. The flowers produce a small brown fruit about two inches in diameter. The fruit is not eaten because its rind is thick and there is very little pulp. Inside are two large oil-bearing seeds, from which the tree gets its English name. Common through out Polynesia and insular Southeast Asia, the lumbang’s seeds are stuck to sharpened sticks, which are made to stand vertically. The impaled seeds are then lit and they produce a bright flame just like a candle, hence the name.

The lumbang seed has other uses, one I discovered in Bali where the kemiri’s white seed is ground and may be mixed with other ingredients like cloves and used coffee grounds or finely ground pumice for the lulur mandi, the body scrub of Bali (pure ritual and sensual indulgence) that concludes in a warm bath in a tub of water mixed with goat’s milk and the petals of three kinds of flowers.

The Philippine spa industry has yet to discover this tree, endemic to the archipelago, and after which places have been named, like Lumban in Laguna province, more known for embroidery than for the tree after which it is named.

Monday, June 12, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of tumeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa; dilao or dulao in Tagalog, langkawas in Visayan, lengkawas in Bahasa Indonesia) belongs to the ginger family and is similar in flavor to galangal (Alpinia galanga), the ubiquitous ingredient of Thai cuisine, which gives Thai dishes a bright yellow color and a gingery flavor with more bite.

This is the earliest illustration of tumeric that I have found in Philippine source materials (before 1706). It comes from the Kamel's Herbarium aliarumque stirpium in Insula Luzone Philippinarum Primaria Noscentium, a collection of some 270 botanical illustrations.

Culinary note: Tumeric is used in Philippine cuisine to flavor and color foods. In the Visayas, it is used for preparing flavored vinegar, called sinamak. Although there is no one formula as each cook swears the sinamak he or she prepares is the best, preparing sinamak is easy after you have gathered the basic ingredients.

The basic ingredients are: langkawas, bulb of the lemongrass, garlic, siling labuyo (short and small chili, similar to the Thai bird chili), pepper, salt and coconut vinegar. Tumeric is crushed or cut into small bits. Only the portion near the root (bulb) of the lemongrass is used. The hard dark green leaves are removed to expose the greenish white core. All the spices are placed inside a narrow-necked bottle, neatly arranged, then coconut vinegar is poured into the bottle using a funnel until all the spices are covered. The mixture is then left for a few weeks in a cool dry place to allow the spices to leach their flavors and blend with the vinegar. Coconut vinegar is fermented from tuba or palm toddy, which is made from the nectar of coconut flowers.

More of Kamel's illustrations will appear in this blog with comments on their current use in Asian and Filipino cuisine or in folk remedies.

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of a camachile fruit

Bro. Josef George Kamel
(21 April 1661- 2 May 1706)

Camachile (kamonsil in Visayan) is associated with the dry and hot months of summer. This tart and pungent fruit, more legume than fruit, was on sale at the roadside stalls and public markets in Iloilo, when I visited the province last April.

This pen and ink drawing of the camachile was drawn by a Jesuit more than three hundred years ago.

In 1706, on 2 May, a Jesuit of extraordinary talent died in Manila. He was Josef Georg Kamel. He was 45 years of age. He was not Spanish but Moravian born on 21 April 1661 in Bruno or Brun, today in the Czeck Republic. He was not ordained priest but remained a brother or hermano all his life; a temporal coadjutor as the Jesuit Constitution would classify him.

Like most of the hermanos, Kamel was counseled to live the hidden life in imitation of Jesus and the hermano's patron saint, Joseph. They were to find their sanctification amidst the pots and pans of the pantry or in Kamel’s case in the herb garden and infirmary with its poultices, ungents, potions and powders. What we know of Kamel is not enough to satisfy our curiosity. The laconic Catalogus personarum, the annual list of assignments given to Jesuits, tells us that Kamel joined the Jesuit province of Bohemia on 12 November 1682; that he arrived in the Philippines 1697; after he had made his final vows as temporal coadjutor on 15 August 1696. He was assigned to the Colegio de Manila also known as Universidad de San Ignacio and after being active for less than a decade died in Manila on 2 May 1706. We presume he was buried in Manila, possibly within the San Ignacio church, which was the custom.

In the short span of nine years, Kamel placed the Philippines in the world map of science. Aside from running an efficient pharmacy, which served not only the Jesuit community, the resident students of San Ignacio and the neighboring seminary of San José and the general population of Manila, especially the poor, Kamel must have improved its services as he kept in touch with local knowledge of the healing properties of plants. This fact we can glean from the accurate yet expressive drawings he has left behind of about 270 plant specimens and of the notations about their medicinal properties. Dela Costa, following Pedro Murillo Velarde's 1749 history of the Jesuits in the Philippines, states that Kamel was, in fact, responsible for establishing the pharmacy. Under Kamel, the pharmacy played an active role during a plague that hit Manila. Kamel was also responsible for sending medicines to the Visayan missions, of which he had great affection.

Not content with studying the local flora of the Philippines, Kamel maintained an active correspondence with the leading botanists and taxonomist of his days James Petiver and John Ray. Recognizing the extraordinary research of this eastern European brother stationed at the farthest reaches of the Spanish empire, John Ray of the British Royal Society, appended Kamel’s research to the monumental Historia plantarum, which Ray was putting together. With this appendix, the fruit of an inquiring and observant mind, Josef George Kamel placed the Philippines in the world’s botanical map.

To honor Kamel, Karl Linneaus named the flowering Camellia after him.