Saturday, June 24, 2006

what i learned from the net

Interest in the contribution of Bro. Josef Georg Kamel, S.J. has spurred an exhibition in Bruno, featured in the Maxims and Minims of The Company Magazine, published by the Jesuit American Assistancy. The online version's address is

Jesuitica, the online site of The Maurits Sabbe Library at the Catholic University Leuven has a section entitled question and answer where these remarks of Luc Dhaeze, who describes himself "as an amateur botanist" who has been "growing camellias for years" about the camellia and the provenance of the Kamel illustrations in Louvain are posted:

1. On the camellia. "Most literature so far has assumed Kamel never saw the camellia. This looks highly improbable. After all, he made a drawing of the plant, as is seen in this manuscript housed in Leuven. Most probably the Chinese or Japanese took this plant to the Philippines. Although he did not discover the plant, I'd venture to state that he knew the plant. A statement backed by Prof. Dr. Klaus Peper in his on-line article Georg Joseph Kamel: Apothecarius, medicus, botanicus (1997). Unfortunately enough I have no access to the texts of John Ray that go with the drawings of Kamel. They might have shed some additional light.

According to Sommervogel (Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, book 2, col. 580) John Ray (British clergyman and botanist, 1625-1705) used the data from Kamel, but never published the drawings. A leaflet, pasted into the manuscript, by Ant. Laurent de Jussieu contains the concordances with the corresponding European names of the plants."

2. On the illustrations. "Whether the drawings of the Leuven manuscript are originals or copies has been a question of much discussion during the past century, as is testified to in the correspondence kept with the manuscript. As of now, three drawings (83, 175 and 185) are deemed to be original, whilst the others are copies.

The manuscript came into the possession of French botanist Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836), and was bought by the Belgian count Alfred de Limminghe (Gentinnes) on February 6, 1858 at the sale of the possessions of the former. De Limminghe presented the manuscript as a gift to the Jesuit college in Leuven."

Luc Dhaeze, Belgium

It's a bit of a disappointment if the rest of the more than 200 illustrations did not come from Kamel's hand, but if they are faithful copies, and there seems to be no reason to suppose they are not, then the drawings represent what Kamel has brought to the attention of European savants. Copying of illustrations and manuscripts was common practice in a day and age when the handwritten text was still the principal means of preserving and transmitting data. Such copying was done to texts and illustrations sent from Manila to Spain or Rome. The five-volume manuscript of Francisco Alzina, Historia de las Islas e Indios de Bisayas, exist only as a copy. Even the older San Cugat text from which the Palacio Real recension is copied—text and illustration—is deemed a copy. Yet, the Alzina is considered an important source text for information about the geography and topography, flora and fauna, inhabitants and history of the Visayas, especially the islands of Samar and Leyte.

My interest in Kamel is not just scholarly. Although I am not a trained botanist, I enjoy gardening and for the past two years have been helping landscape and improve the gardens at the retreat house, Mirador Jesuit Villa, in Baguio City. The house is about to celebrate its centennial, having been established in May 1907. To my disappointment, I did not find too many camellia cultivars in the nurseries in Baguio as I wanted to build a camellia garden to honor Kamel. The single-petal Thea sinensis was also not available. The cool mountains of Baguio is the only place where camellias thrive, in the warm lowlands it has a hard time flourishing.

Friday, June 23, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of bakawan or mangrove

Bakawan is a generic name for mangrove. There are a number of trees called bakawan namely Rhizopora apiculata Bl. (bakawan or bakaw), R. mucronata Lmk (bakawan-babaye), R. stylosa (bakawan-bato). Of these the mucronata and the apiculata are used for reforestation of mangroves but they are also the most exploited too because their wood is made into charcoal. Because of frequent cutting, the trees, which can reach a height of 30 to 35 meters, remain stunted as shrubs less than three meters.

Typical of mangrove, the bakawan grows on muddy estuaries, seashores, swamps and tidal flats. Bakawan shoots out vertical roots or pneumatophores from the principal roots sunk deep in the soft gray mud and sand where it grows. These porous roots allow gas exchange between the tree and the atmosphere. Bakawan survives well in waters differing in saltiness.

Kamel has drawn the bakawan seed accurately. The seeds dangle from branches on green stalks at the bottom of which is a brown pear-shaped structure. When mature the stalk and all fall to the muddy and sandy soil, and the bakawan begins life straight and properly planted.

The exploitation of bakawan and the clear cutting of bakawan growing in swamps to make ponds for the commercial cultivation of fish and prawns have aversely affected the environment of many coastal areas in the Philippines. The bakawan forest, now recognized as important as the tropical rain forest, serves a buffer for typhoons and storm surges just as the tropical rain forests softens the impact of the monsoon rains. Many of the species of fish used as food are born under the shelter of the bakawan trees. Many species of fish spawn annually at brackish estuaries and when the fish hatch the fries swim to the sea where they spend life until adulthood. The bakawan is also home to numerous species of crustaceans, like the crab and shrimp, and to varieties of mollusks like the oyster. Like the rain forest, the mangrove forest is the nursery and home of many species. Like the rain forest, the mangrove forest purifies the air.

Save the mangrove forest and protect the food chain. Save the mangrove forest and preserve the quality of life.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of balayong leaf

Balayong aka tindalo, baarong, barawng, bayong (Afzelia rhomboidea Vidal syn. Pahudia rhomboidea (Blanco) Parin).
Balayong produces a prized lumber usually mistaken for narra because of its reddish brown color. Expert carpenters can distinguish the two because balayong has a deeper and richer color and retains a distinctive bean smell (maanta in Tagalog or in Visayan malangto) because the tree belongs to the Leguminosæ family.

Because of its appeal balayong is fast disappearing due to overlogging. The tree is not grown commercially but is harvested from primary forests.

link to ateneo de manila university art gallery

Vanishing Point blog was created as a adjunct to the art exhibit Flora: Beauty, Desire and Death, which is a homage to the 18th- century botanist, Bro. Josef George Kamel, S.J.,whose tricentennial death anniversary is this year— 2006. This exhibit will focus on Filipino artists who work on flora as a subject. Their works will interact with the botanical drawings of Bro. Kamel and raise the question whether the artist's interest in plants and the botanist's interest are not fueled by the same passions although the resulting image might be different in purpose and intent, audience and manner of communication hence, in its outward look. Consequently, the exhibit will bring art and the science in dialogue.

The images in this blog come courtesy of the Jesuit Archive in Louvain, which provided the Ateneo de Manila University with high resolution tiff files of Kamel's illustrations. The illustrations posted here have been cropped in some instances but other than that the images are as scanned.

Botanical data, esp. scientific names, are based on Domingo Madulid, 2000, A pictorial cyclopedia of Philippine ornamental plants. 2nd Edition. Makati: Bookmark, Inc. and Franz Seindenschwarz, 1994, Plant world of the Philippines: An illustrated dictionary of Visayan Plant names …. Cebu: University of San Carlos. Seidenschwarz book has been most helpful because many of Kamel's drawings use Visayan names, suggesting that he may have travelled to the Visayan islands, esp. Samar, Leyte, Panay, Negros and Cebu where the Jesuits had mission stations and parishes or that he may have been in correspondence with Jesuits in these mission areas.

Postings on Vanishing Point blog will be updated weekly until the opening of Flora on 11 October 2006.

URL of the Ateneo de Manila University Art Gallery:

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of alagao leaf

Alagao (Premna odorata Blco). Alagao or alagaw is a small plant, more of an oversized bush than a tree, with heart-shaped leaves covered with fine hair. It blooms on the terminal of branches producing a bunch of whitish berries that ripen to deep purple.

Alagao hardly figures in daily use although it has culinary uses, limited it seems to a few lakeshore towns in Laguna province. In the town of Angono, young alagao leaves are used for wrapping fish prior to roasting or steaming. The leaves give the fish a subtle piquant and mint-like taste.

When the late chef Bey Fernando, who established Crescent Moon Café in Antipolo, learned of alagao’s culinary possibilities, he developed a salad based on the Thai Mieng Kum (Leaf-wrapped savories), which uses edible leaves or lettuce. Crescent Moon uses young alagao leaves. Alagao trees grow just outside the cafe, so the leaves are as fresh as you can get.

Crescent Moon is also the home of Lanelle Abueva-Fernando's pottery studio. Trained in the Japanese tradition of pottery, Lanelle makes stoneware fired in the very premises of Crescent Moon. Diners at Crescent Moon are served not just a feast for the palette but also for the eyes as well Bey's alagao salad is served on Lanelle's art work. Crescent Moon is on Ascension Road, perpendicular to the Antipolo-Teresa highway; the crossroad is near Robinson's.