Old Dude’s Rice Innuendo

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You must not forget the rice.  It is the life force that has been gifted to you.  Understand the origins of rice, and you understand the past. ~ Old Dude

And my response to this was:  Yeah, yeah.  No worries.  I’ll take a look at it when I get a little bit of free time.  Of course, as soon as I think about the subject of rice, I get hungry and take a nice long break to think about it.

Two hours later and I still have done nothing to understand ancient rice.  But I got a lot of hands-on experience with the subject matter.  My verdict is:  Rice is yummy!

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Of course, my hands-on experience has only involved about a dozen or so of the 413 lines of rice in existence because, you know, only the best for the Taobabe, right?

Well…not quite.  I remember, as a young girl, having seen (and eaten) several varieties of black and brown rice due to my mother’s altruistic attempts. My mother would open up our pantry and lend out rice (among other food items) to anyone who didn’t have enough to eat.

Her rules were simple.  As long as she was paid back in kind when situations improved for the various families in the neighborhood who were going through tough times, she would continue to lend.  She was of the mind that she would help where she could, but she also had many young mouths to feed, and she could not allow her children to go hungry.

This worked quite well, but what ended up happening, more often than not, was that subsequently, the poor families would repay what they could in brown or yellow rice, which were much less expensive than the aromatic white rice Mother would buy in huge 50 pound bags for our family.

Mother would cheerfully accept these repayments and she would keep them in their individual bags, within an airtight jar inside the cupboard, which she would then give to the wandering monks who, as a part of their practice, frequented the neighborhood, asking for alms.

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I remembered asking her to make me some of those different colored rice so I could have a taste.  At first she was reluctant to do so, saying that the jasmine rice she gave me at dinner time was far more tasty, but I kept nagging until she finally relented and cooked up a small pot of black rice, just for me.

It was very different from our usual fare, and at the time, I did not know that black rice was highly prized and fairly expensive, but it got me to shut up about wanting to eat colored rice, so I guess it was worth it for her.  It also gave me an idea of the varieties of rice out there, which brings me back to Old Dude’s odd request that I dig into the history of rice.

I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.  That’s the easy part.  Determining where the beginning is would be the more difficult part.

Once upon a time, a guy-god gave the gift of rice to the Earth-girl he loved.  She taught the knowledge of rice to the rest of her people, and it spread across the world.  The end.

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Heh.

I wished it was that simple.

Following the genetics, it looks to be closer to 13,500 years ago, that the first strain of rice, Oryza rufipogon, became domesticated.  Oryza sativa is a grass with a genome consisting of 430Mb across 12 chromosomes. It is renowned for being easy to genetically modify, and is a model organism for cereal biology. [1]

A paper on conservation genetics of wild rice in the journal Molecular Ecology stated: “This is the most agriculturally important but seriously endangered wild rice species.” [2]

That’s high accolades for a plant that has been classified by the United states as an invasive species and listed as a ‘noxious weed’ in Alabama, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont. [3]

The area where it was domesticated was in the Pearl River valley region of present-day China.

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I have to say present-day China because 13,500 years ago, it wasn’t China.  Back then, the Pearl River Valley was part of the region belonging to the Bách Việt kingdom-states, with the river itself running through the kingdom states of Nam Việt and Âu Việt.

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Notice that Lạc Việt is in present-day Vietnam.  It is the sole remaining kingdom of the loosely held Bách Việt kingdom-states that has not been colonized and eventually absorbed by China.

The original rice strain, Oryza rufipogon, looks like this.

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From this ancient plant, we get these modern-day versions, just to showcase a few:

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But a fully documented rice genealogy cannot be missing a huge area where rice was cultivated, now can it?

Think about it.

Where else would rice be cultivated, other than the tired, picked-over, and obvious places we’ve been digging at for so long?  Where are we failing to look at, that would provide the geological and paleontological information that is currently gaping holes in our understanding of this (dubiously) fascinating subject?

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Two words:  Sunda Land

Ok…maybe it’s one word.  Sundaland.

In a post I wrote awhile back, Sunken Paradise, I wrote about Sundaland.  Sixty-thousand years ago, this area was a rich, fertile area, densely populated by a people with a high level of civilization.

sundaland

According to geologist Peter Cattermole, Sundaland was HUGE.  It was the largest area on Earth that underwent a submersion following three waves of global flooding following glacier ice melts at the end of the last ice age.

This means that, soon after our ancestors migrated out of Africa (and archaeogenetics show that it was in one big wave of migration, not two smaller waves), one of the first places we went to was Sundaland.

The weather was nice, the food was plentiful, we proliferated and grew in numbers.  We lived and worked and played in that area for at least 50,000 years—plenty enough time for a fairly advanced level of civilization to occur.  [5]

Plenty of time for high-level rice cultivation to occur.

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(to be continued)

[1]  Oryza Rufipogon

[2]  Molecular Ecology

[3]  Noxious Weeds

[4]  Largest Rice Genetic Study

[5]  Climate Change and Postglacial Human Dispersals in Southeast Asia