Drinking Straws


I thought that drinking straws were invented around the time when soft drinks became popular.  I couldn’t be more wrong!


Do you remember Antonio Pigafetta from our study of Philippine history?  Pigafetta served as the historian of the Magellan expedition, which sailed from Spain on Sept. 20, 1519.  Magellan perished at the hands of Chief Lapulapu during the Battle of Mactan in 1521, but Pigafetta was among those who survived and successfully circumnavigated the globe, returning to Spain in 1522.

Pigafetta was a very patient note-taker; he jotted down foreign words and their meanings, he wrote long descriptions of things that he saw and heard.  From him we learn that the people in the Visayan islands, in 1521, were sipping their wines with some kind of straw!

Following is a section from Pigafetta’s account, translated by Lord Stanley of Alderley:

          When our people went on shore by day or by night, they always met with some one who invited them to eat and drink. They only half cook their victuals, and salt them very much, which makes them drink a great deal; and they drink much with reeds, sucking the wine from the vessels. Their repasts always last from five to six hours.

Pigafetta paints the Visayans as consummate hosts.  Whenever the Spaniards came ashore, be it day or night, they were met by someone who invited the visitors to eat and drink.

Pigafetta goes on to say that the Visayans only half-cooked their food, which they seasoned with a lot of salt.  Then he adds that the salty food made the locals drink a great deal.

===========================================================================WOW!  I wonder if the Visayans did that on purpose: I mean salting their food a lot, so that they could drink more wine.  I do know that in modern bars, the management gives away bags or bowls of salty popcorn so that patrons will get thirsty and order more beer or mixed drinks.

Lastly, we see from the Pigafetta quotation that the Visayans sipped their wine with reeds, and that their meals lasted up to six hours!

A reed is the straight stalk of any of various tall grasses.  Here are a few examples:

Home / African Thatch Reed Panels 31" x 18" (6 Pack)   Free photo: Reed, Nature, Marsh Plant - Free Image on Pixabay - 268034


But, guess what, the use of reeds to facilitate drinking is a very, Very, VERY old practice.  The Sumerians were the first to use straws, and they used it for drinking beer, which sometimes had solid by-products in the fermented liquid.  To avoid getting the solids into the mouth, they used reeds to sip from the middle of the vessel.  Artifacts discovered in a Sumerian tomb from 3,000 B.C. included a gold tube, probably used by a ruler or a very rich individual for sipping beer.

To jog your memory on world history:  Sumer was a civilization in modern-day Iraq; it was about as advanced as the Egyptians and the people of the Indus Valley.  Sumerian farmers cultivated grains and other crops near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which enabled them to settle in a permanent place and develop their civilization.


The modern drinking straw was initially made of paper.  It was invented by Marvin Stone in 1888 in Washington, D.C.   Some of you might remember sipping soft drinks with paper straws, but those have now been superseded by plastic straws.

Plastic straws present a problem in garbage disposal; they are not biodegradable.   Fortunately, resourceful people are able to come up with further uses for the plastic straws.  In Uganda, for example, waste straws are collected and cleaned, then woven into mats or bags.

Have you seen some ingenious ways of re-using plastic straws in the Philippines, or wherever you’re located as an Overseas Foreign Worker?


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