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Kaffor arabice camfora.


Kaffor ACD | Kafor B ejp | Kaser f {‘f’ misread as ‘s’; ‘o’ misread as ‘e’}
camfora (canfo- j; cãfo- p) ACD ejp | camphora B f


Kaffor is Arabic for Latin camfora {"camphor, camphor tree"}.


Wehr (1976): ﻛﺎﻓﻮﺭ /kāfūr/ "camphor, camphor tree". Siggel (1950: 61): ﻛﺎﻓﻮﺭ /kāfūr/ Kampfer v. Cinnamomum camphora Nees {i.e. "camphor"}.

Καφουρά /Kaphourá/ is first recorded in Galen and Aëtius, but these passages are generally considered to be later interpolations. It seems that camphor was unknown in Antiquity. The most likely historical scenario is that Arab traders brought the "Borneo camphor" to the Mediterranean, perhaps as early as around the time of Christ. The first mention seems to be in the Koran surah 76:5/6 ﺍﻻﻧﺴﺎﻥ /al-insān/ "Man", where in contrast to the infidels the righteous are promised that they "shall drink of a cup tempered at the Camphor Fountain" (Dawood, 1968: 18). By Simon's time camphor had become very popular in the Muslim world for use in perfumery, ritual, culinary recipes and medicine. Through early translations camphor became known in Europe, e.g. it is described in Serapion's Liber aggregatus in medicinis simplicibus, chapter 327. (337.) Kafor id est camphora, etc.

The etymology of the word camphor reflects its trade history: it is derived from Malay kapor > Sanskrit karpura, Pahlavi /kāpūr/ and Arabic /kāfūr/ > Medieval Latin camphora and from there the word transferred to many other European languages.

Botanical identification:

Camphor, a white, waxy crystalline substance with a strong, aromatic odour, is obtained from mainly two sources, from Dryobalanops aromatica Gaertn. "Borneo camphor" [[1]] and Cinnamomum camphora Nees and Eberm. "camphor laurel" [[2]] . Both are tall-growing evergreen trees, though unrelated. However, other species chiefly of the genera Dryobalanops and Cinnamomum and also the wider laurel family are sometimes used for camphor production.

  • "Borneo camphor" is native to Sumatra, Malaysia and Borneo and its camphor is found in the cavities of the tree.
  • "Camphor laurel" is native to subtropical Taiwan, southern Japan and southeast China and Indochina. Here the method of extraction is distillation from chipped wood and leaves. The camphors produced from the two trees smell similar but they are chemically different.

The camphor Simon had in mind is most likely the "Borneo camphor", whereas in modern days Europe relies mainly on "camphor laurel".

For further reading cf. Miller (1969: 40ff).
Donkin (1998).

WilfGunther 05/12/2013

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