Friday, October 15, 2010

Insects, Holy Days and the Origins of Winemaking

The little-known Middle Eastern Enolonite tribe has recently been credited by historians and archaeologists with inventing the art of winemaking. This is their story.

Descendants of the prophet Gary, the ancient Enolonites wandered for years in a remote corner of Egypt, now the location of Hajid’s Used Camel and Mini Golf Emporium, trying to fulfill a prophecy that was written on a heavily smudged and greasy fragment of papyrus. A long series of droughts and crop failures made for a miserable quality of life.

In or about the year 883 BC, the date crop was, at long last, sweet and abundant. Just as tribe members prepared to sit down to a joyous feast, a swarm of ravenous, tiny flies blackened the sky. Modern day scientists have confirmed that these were members of Drosophila melanogaster.

The Common Fruit Fly:
An electron microscope image of the head of a fruit fly.
The swarming plague of fruit flies seemed to have come out of the north, and tribal elders came to see that there was nothing to be lost by following their cloud, despite bitter complaints by those without handkerchiefs to cover their faces.

Preparing for Fruit Flies:
During Rosh Drosophila, Enolonite tribeswomen don waterproof yellow prayer shawls, eschew mascara, and carry a ceremonial branch from the sacred Preshawasha Tree.
Successive generations of the pesky insects led them ever northward, until at last they reached the fertile plains of Mesopotamia. No seas parted or anything, which is why their story never made into any holy book, but it was nevertheless a dramatic and arduous journey. The average tribe member went through six to seven pairs of sandals.

It was in Mesopotamia that the Enolonites found freedom from persecution PLUS a bunch of really great things growing in the ground, including grapes. Winemaking soon followed, and before long this talented tribe began cranking out some seriously high-scoring reds and whites.

And it was all thanks to Drosophila!

Today, the descendants of the Enolonites are found in mostly rural regions throughout the temperate world: a remarkably successful Diaspora. In the tradition of their forebears, tribe members continue to practice the ancient art of winemaking, and their highest of Holy Days, occurring each year in early October, is known as Rosh Drosophila.

 A Feast Fit for Kings:
The traditional meal during Rosh Drosophila includes nuts, fruits, some bitter crunchy stuff, and partially leavened grape juice. Following a hearty round of chanting, the first to be asked to partake are always the Drosophila themselves: their six-day lifespan means that they are often on a tight schedule. 

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