One of the popular explanations of the origin of the word tobacco is that it derives from the name of the island of Tobago, one half of the Commonwealth nation of Trinidad and Tobago:
This hearbe which commonly is called Tabaco, is an Hearbe of muche antiquitie The proper name of it amongest the Indians is Pecielt, for the name of Tabaco is geuen to it of our Spaniardes, by reason of an Ilande that is named Tabaco.
This explanation by the Spanish botanist Nicolás Monardes is now considered etymological legend (as is the claim that Christopher Columbus named the island of Tobago because he fancied that its outline on maps looked like a smoker’s pipe). Instead, tobacco is probably nothing more than a local Arawak Caribbean word meaning ‘rolled leaves’.
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Further north, one of the constituent islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Redonda, gave its name to a mineral discovered there, called redondite, in 1870. And, used as a verb, the name of the island of Barbados meant ‘to transport convicts overseas’ in seventeenth-century slang – a reference to the penal colonies of the Caribbean that were established there at the time.
Our next destination, however, lies much further north than all of these. From French Guiana we travel more than eighteen hundred miles northwest, heading to the largest of all the Caribbean islands: Cuba.
The name of the capital city of Cuba, Havana, on the island’s far northwest coast, has been used as the name of a type of high-quality cigar since the early 1700s in English, while havana-brown established itself as the name of a rich earthy brown colour in the late nineteenth century. The habanera dance takes its name from the Spanish danza habanera, or ‘Havanan dance’. But what brings us to Cuba now is a word whose origins lie in a small mining town on the opposite end of the island. The daiquiri cocktail – a mixture of rum, lime juice and sugar syrup – takes its name from Daiquiri, a village not far from Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago.
According to legend, the daiquiri was invented in a bar in Santiago either by or for a group of American mining engineers who had travelled to Cuba in the late 1800s to work at the Daiquiri mine. In one version of the story, the bar’s owner ran out of gin while entertaining his wealthy American guests, and so was compelled to switch to an improvised rum-based cocktail to keep the drinks flowing. Another version of the tale credits an American engineer named Jennings Cox with its invention, claiming that it was he who ran out of gin while entertaining guests and, wary of serving the potent local rum neat, mixed it with citrus and sugar. And in yet another account, it was the engineers themselves, wanting to try the local Cuban rum, who drunkenly invented the cocktail and named it after the Daiquiri mine they had travelled to Cuba to oversee.
Whatever its true origins may be, the daiquiri cocktail’s invention coincided with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War of 1898 – and Daiquiri, on the island’s southernmost coast, proved the perfect disembarking point for the tens of thousands of American troops who were sent there to fight. The cocktail proved popular amid this new influx of American drinkers, and when the conflict was concluded a little over three months later, the recipe was taken back to the United States.
The daiquiri’s popularity was further boosted when word of its recipe reached Washington DC’s Army and Navy Club in 1909, a medical officer named Lucius W. Johnson being credited with its introduction there. The drink soon established itself as one of the most popular tipples of the Jazz Age, reaching its peak in the 1920s, and has remained enduringly popular ever since.