• Agarwood classification in the 12th century May 03, 2013

    Al-Nuwayrī (1279–1333 CE) offers a detailed report on the countries of origin and the different kinds of agarwood. However, their botanical source, local origin, and trade are still shrouded in mystery (Wiedemann and Grohmann, ‘Benutzte Drogen’, 33–4). 

    The best quality agarwood is known under the name al-hindī (‘from the Indian world’, while “India” in historical sources referred to a vast and indistinct area along the Indian Ocean Rim and from South Asia up to Southeast Asia)/(al-mandalī). 

    There are three known agarwood sub-groups – the qāmurūbī, the samandūrī (also called rayḥān al- ūd), and the al-qamārī (34–5), thereby indicating regional origins within the vast area of “India.” Qāmurūbī may refer to Assam, qamārī to Cambodia. 

    A Study of Arabic Texts, e.g. 75. However, even if agarwood exists in these areas, and these agarwood types are generally valued, such geographical hints should be taken with caution; the historical quotations may not be identical with our current geographical understanding. 

    First, West Asian geographical knowledge was only developing at the time when those sources were written, second, long- distance trade and cultural exchange was characterized by – often multiple – resale and mediation, third, geographical knowledge was interwoven with legends and imaginative ideas, fourth, the identification of agarwood samples is generally extremely difficult and requires decades of personal experience, and fifth, geographical labels may have been used for heightening prestige or promoting business). 

    Various additional types of agarwood are known, like al-qaqūlī [al-qāqullī; associated with the Western coast of the Malaysian peninsula], al- anfī [affiliated with the region of today’s North Vietnam], al- andafūrī, al- īnī [associated with South China] (al-qaṭa ī), and a few more of minor importance. However, the specific quality of especially these minor kinds of agarwood in comparison with each other is a matter of discussion (and perfumery taste!), according to the often incongruent information provided by different informants. (Al-Nuwayrī bases his encyclopaedic information on the notes by several earlier authors). 

    Source: HeiDOK

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