You bring the goat, I’ll find the paw-paw tree
In 1893, Mary Kingsley found herself with six months to kill, so she went to Africa. But the thing about being a Victorian lady is that you can go to the Gold Coast, but you can’t get away from the mansplaining:
They have also got the papaw on the Coast, the Carica papaya of botanists. It is an insipid fruit. To the newcomer it is a dreadful nuisance, for no sooner does an old coaster set eyes on it than he straightway says, “Paw- paws are awfully good for the digestion, and even if you just hang a tough fowl or a bit of goat in the tree among the leaves, it gets tender in no time, for there is an awful lot of pepsine in a paw-paw,”–which there is not, papaine being its active principle.
After hearing this hymn of praise to the papaw some hundreds of times, it palls, and you usually arrive at this tired feeling about the thing by the time you reach the Gold Coast, for it is a most common object, and the same man will say the same thing about it a dozen times a day if he gets the chance. I got heartily sick of it on my first voyage out, and rashly determined to check the old coaster in this habit of his, preparatory to stamping the practice out.
It was one of my many failures. I soon met an old coaster with a papaw fruit in sight, and before he had time to start, I boldly got away with “The paw-paw is awfully good for the digestion,” hoping that this display of knowledge would impress him and exempt me from hearing the rest of the formula. But no. “Right you are,” said he solemnly. “It’s a powerful thing is the paw-paw. Why, the other day we had a sad case along here…
There was a story here involving a man-eating paw-paw that leads up to where they cut open the paw-paw and found nine steel trouser-buttons, a Waterbury watch, and the poor young fellow’s keys. You’re better off without it.
Mary Kingsley was defeated:
I collapsed, feebly murmuring that it was very interesting, but sad for the poor young fellow’s friends.
“Not necessarily,” said the old coaster. So he had the last word, and never again will I attempt to alter the ways of the genuine old coaster. What you have got to do with him is to be very thankful you have had the honour of knowing him.
Still I think we do over-estimate the value of the papaw, although I certainly did once myself hang the leg of a goat no mortal man could have got tooth into, on to a papaw tree with a bit of string for the night. In the morning it was clean gone, string and all; but whether it was the pepsine, the papaine, or a purloining pagan that was the cause of its departure there was no evidence to show.
(Travels in West Africa: Congo Français, Corisco and Cameroons, Mary Kingsley)
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