The appearance of this first of a projected five-volume study of the economic plants and animals of tropical America by Victor Manuel Patiño is something of a landmark in Latin American agricultural history. Patiño, a Colombian agronomist and former Guggenheim Fellow, has spent the past fifteen years gathering material for this ambitious project, and the result seems almost certain to be the definitive work in this broad and neglected field for many years to come. In this introductory volume on “fruits” alone, Patiño’s bibliography runs to an exhaustive seventy pages and he considers 113 different species, mostly “tree-crops.” For each species the author attempts to establish the geographic range at the time of the conquest, the time and manner of its spread to other parts of the American tropics during the European period, and something of its economic significance to the people and economies of the different areas where it is grown. Principal emphasis is on the colonial period, where the documentation is richest. Patiño’s discussions of the coconut (38 pages), cacao (66 pages), and the pejibaye palm (77 pages) are particularly detailed and each will stand as an authoritative statement. The lack of good maps and illustrations, especially of the unfamiliar minor fruits, may be lamented, but the documentation and interpretation is of the highest quality. This is a first-order contribution to the cultural history of the Americas, and one looks forward with high anticipation, to the four remaining volumes, some of which are already in manuscript.
As an appendix there is included an interesting eleven-page document from the Archivo Central del Cauca, Popayán, concerning the payment of the diezmos in cacao in the cacao-growing district of Timaná in the upper Magdalena valley. The date is 1805.