What you should know about dates


TAYP had the privilege to invite Mr Ahmed Ben Younes, agronomist and expert in palm tree cultivation, to give a lecture on the origin of dates and the biodiversity of this fruit in Tunisia. The occasion was co-organized this year with ATUGE (Association des Tunisiens des Grandes Ecoles) on July 17th in Sidi Bou Said.

The palm looks more like a plant rather than a tree with the form of an artichoke. This mythical palm is a vegetable  with a single apical bud, it combines the features of several species with many diversified characteristics. A palm tree can be male or female, or both at once in some cases; it may even change sex. With 12 species in more than 60 countries worldwide, the dispersion of traits has resulted in more than 4-5000 varieties, clones, and cultivars. Africa has 250 species of which 150 are identified in Tunisia.

History. Date palm existed for over 300 thousand years. Evidence shows that men started very early in its cultivation, such as the sculptures found in Mesopotamia dating from 4000 BC, and relating more to the Maghreb region, some rocks drawings dating from 1500 BC were found in the Tassili in Algeria. 

The legendary Ibn Arabi, an Andalusian Arab philosopher (Murcia 1165 – Damascus1250) and author of an encyclopedia “The Sole Contract” offers us a religious justification on the origin of palm tree. According to Ibn Arabi, who has traveled to many countries, the palm tree was created by God (Allah) from the remainder of the leaven of clay from what he had made the human body shape of Adam. So, the palm tree would be the sister of Adam; and so, it’s the aunt of all humans.

Better yet, God commanded Adam, down on earth to take a palm tree, created and developed in the Eden paradise. Thereby, small paradises (oasis) were created instantly in Mesopotamia and Elim (Elch oasis) and later worldwide over 60 countries. Oasis was the first inception of the first cities and towns and markets; and dates had become a bargaining chip that persists to this day in Niger (dates against salt) and Chad, without forgetting the old barter southern Tunisia (Nafta).

Other testimonies shed light on the existence of oases is of Hammurabi (1790-1750 BC) who tells us of soldiers having received a ration based on dates. Same ration of dates was served to Egyptian soldiers in order to give them the strength and endurance.

• Pliny (62 BC) who wrote in his books, “these hermits of the Thebaïde have left the company of their wives for the palms”.

• Then Exodus XV-27 we read: “they came to Elim where there were twelve springs and a seventy palm trees: and they encamped near the water”.

• Up to Plutarch (50 AD), the Greek reports: “a man of Babylon sings three hundred and sixty benefits that the date palm ready to humanity”.

• Even the Qur’an refers God commanding Mary to shake palm dates for appetizing fruits during the birth of Christ.

• Also do not forget the religious ritual of the Jews who greeted Christ with palm tree branches; this ritual is still celebrated by Christians worldwide.

While current knowledge on dates is the result of research work and experiences, we still need to learn more about dates from the people who lived and still live in the oasis. The best way to do so is to travel to southernTunisia where you can see multiple kinds of oasis (Tozeur, Tamerza, Kerkennah, archipelago,…) and discover how fascinating and generous palm trees are towards humans.