Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The King of Agarwood – Kinam

Kinam Oil
Kinam Oil
There was a popular ancient saying: “The nidanas from performing good deeds in three life-spans are rewarded with smelling the fragrance of Kinam in the present life”. Renowned as “the King of Agarwood”, Kinam is the best of all agarwood species and is known by numerous appellations – “Qinan”, “Kynam” and “Kannam”, while the Japanese refer to it as “Kyara”. The ancients used the saying, “Good agarwood is particularly hard to obtain” to describe Kinam owing to the rare probability of its formation, which makes it all the more precious. Until today, a scientific account of the real factors for Kinam formation is not yet available.. However, deducing from ancient Chinese incense literature, it is likely to be related to parasitic and nesting activities of insects and bees, which subject the scented wood to prolonged absorption of honey and milky substances that gradually blend with the resin produced from the tree, resulting in a lengthy process of transformation. In addition, some modern scholars hold the views that it is caused by fungal stimulation that transforms the nature of the scented wood or by genetic changes in the fragrant trees.

Places of Origin of Kinam

Chinese incense literature provides varying interpretations regarding the places of origin of Kinam. Among ancient incense literatures such as Bencao Yanyi (Augmented Materia Medica) from the Song Dynasty, Xin Cha Shen Lan (Description of the Starry Raft) from the Ming Dynasty, and Huan You Biji (Travel Notes of a Bureaucrat) from the Qing Dynasty, some suggest that Kinam originated from Champa (Vietnam), while others suggest that the mountains near East China Sea in Guangdong (Hainan) are its original birthplaces, proving that the origins sources of Kinam were not confined to a single region. Though recorded in ancient times, from the point of view of modern botany, it is a new species of agarwood as discovered by a French botanist in regions around Vietnam and Cambodia, formally named Aquilaria crassna Pierre and listed under the genus Aquilaria of Thymelaeaceae family. Its resin content is rich, with its uncluttered resin glands clearly arrayed on the wood surface. The ancients so described its texture: “It rolls up when skived and it is pliable but tough to chew”,  and also: “Its texture is as soft as mud” and “Its texture is as tough as jade”. Hence, the texture of Kinam varies. Another superior characteristic of Kinam lies in its unique and multi-layered fragrance, whose composition is so complex that it cannot be reproduced even using advanced modern technology. Compared to the fragrance of agarwood in general, which is relatively monotonous, stable and differentiated primarily by the degree of intensity, Kinam stands out with its complexity, mutability and unpredictability: it smells fresh and endearing at normal temperature, oozing an intense and mellow aroma when burned.
Khmer Agarwood
Khmer Agarwood

Types of Kinam

China has great accomplishments in incense literature. Xiang Sheng (A History of Incense) by Ming collector Zhou Jiazhou categorizes Kinam according to the conditions of its formation, such as “green formation”, “sugary formation”, “honey formation”, “raw formation”, “golden silk formation” and “tiger's skin formation”. Haiwai Yishuo (An Overseas Leisurely Account) grades Kinam by its characteristic colours, with such categories as “warbler green”, “orchid formation”, “golden silk formation”, “sugary formation” and “iron formation”. In modern times, Kinam is graded and categorised as “white Kinam”, “green Kinam”, “red Kinam”, “yellow Kinam”, “purple Kinam” and “black Kinam”. Besides, the mountainous regions in northern Binh Thuan Province in Vietnam are famous for Kinam production, with its local produce classified into the four categories of “white, green, yellow and black”.

Japanese “Rikkoku Gomi”

The culture of incense is said to have been introduced to Japan by the Chinese scholar-monk Kanjin during his journey for propagating Buddhism during the prosperous years of the Tang Dynasty. To the Japanese, any mention of the history of “Kodo” (the Japanese “way of incense”) will bring up the story of “The inflow of agarwood”. Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan) records a chunk of agarwood drifting ashore in the third year of the reign of Empress Suiko (595 AD). The incense culture gradually became widespread under the espousal and promotion of nobles and scholars. Incense education is very systematic in Japan, and a system..........

No comments: