Brian Cox explains how Christopher Columbus was involved in the beginnings of tobacco.
Watch the video and answer the questions.
1 Apart from beads, what did the natives give Columbus?
2 What destination did Columbus think he had reached when arriving in Cuba?
3 How did the natives feel after inhaling the dried leaves?
4 How long ago did the tobacco Columbus knew originate?
5 Who did the native Americans believe had created tobacco?
On the 11th of October, 1492, on a Caribbean island that no European had ever seen before, Christopher Columbus carried out one of history's most baffling and pointless transactions. He and his landing party had met some natives who were blissfully unaware that Columbus had renamed their island San Salvador, and had claimed it on behalf of the Spanish monarchy.
The natives gave Columbus beads, fruit and some dried leaves. In return, Columbus gave them a pair of red hats. The beads and the fruit needed no explanation. The leaves were just confusing. Columbus had them thrown overboard, and sailed on. What the natives did with the red hats is not recorded. And it wasn't just the leaves.
Geography was confusing too. Columbus thought he was here, or hereabouts, near China. Actually, he was here, on the other side of the world, amongst the islands of the Caribbean, near to his next discovery. We should forgive Columbus for being bad at navigation. After all, no-one else was any better.
Yet, when his ships arrived at what we now know as the island of Cuba, Columbus, still thinking he was near China, sent two members of the crew ashore with letters for the Chinese Khan.
When they returned, it was to report that the Great Khan was nowhere to be found, but they had met several more natives on the road with some more of those mysterious dried leaves, and these natives had rolled the leaves into tubes, lit them, sucked them, inhaling the smoky fumes. The two men had tried some and liked it. It filled them with a sense of energy, wellbeing.
Tobacco, the natives called it. At least, that's the word Columbus's men had heard. The name stuck. And so did the habit. What Columbus's men had seen and smoked was a kind of tobacco as domesticated as any dog. It only survives as a pure strain through cultivation, and archaeologists have traced its cultivation all the way back to the highlands of Peru in 2000BC. It's part of a plant family, the nightshades, that includes deadly poisons, spicy peppers, chillies, aubergines and potatoes.
From Peru, it had spread throughout the Northern and Southern Americas, that Columbus would have called the Caribs. In common with all other Native Americans, the Caribs believed that the gods had made tobacco as the very first step in the creation of the whole world.
1 fruit and some dried leaves
2 near China
3 with a sense of energy and wellbeing
5 the gods