Lack of salt has been a serious problem throughout large portions of Sub-Saharan Africa, a fact that is recorded not only by colonial explorers in their journals, but also in earlier travel accounts. Salt was a key item of trade – both long and short distance, as well as a lucrative small enterprise, being extracted in numerous areas from either plants or from the soil. Further, different qualities of salt were associated with different locales, as well as with different processing techniques.
The fundamental lack or shortage of salt throughout Sub-Saharan Africa is, I think, a key factor in determining the kinds of condiments used in the cuisines of the regions, a fact that I will address in another blog.
For now and in several future blogs I want to provide some of the information on salt that is contained in travel documents.
The following is from David Livingston’s Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. 1857.
When the poor, who had no salt, were forced to live entirely on roots, they were often troubled with indigestion. Such cases we had frequent opportunities of seeing at other times, for, the district being destitute of salt, the rich alone could afford to buy it.
The native doctors, aware of the cause of the malady, usually prescribed some of that ingredient [salt] with their medicines. The doctors themselves had none, so the poor resorted to us for aid. We took the hint, and henceforth cured the disease by giving a teaspoonful of salt, minus the other remedies.
Either milk or meat had the same effect, though not so rapidly as salt.
Long afterward, when I was myself deprived of salt for four months, at two distinct periods, I felt no desire for that condiment, but I was plagued by very great longing for the above articles of food. This continued as long as I was confined to an exclusively vegetable diet, and when I procured a meal of flesh, though boiled in perfectly fresh rain-water, it tasted as pleasantly saltish as if slightly impregnated with the condiment.
Milk or meat, obtained in however small quantities, removed entirely the excessive longing and dreaming about roasted ribs of fat oxen, and bowls of cool thick milk gurgling forth from the big-bellied calabashes; and I could then understand the thankfulness to Mrs. L. often expressed by poor Bakwain women, in the interesting condition, for a very little of either.