Crops and Food of the mid-19th Century, Kingdom of Unyoro

When Sir Baker and his wife, Lady Florence, travelled south from Sudan into Uganda [south central Africa] to put a stop to the slave trade, they were informed by way of their earlier trip into the area as to the problems of food and especially of meat. The following are some extracts on the topic, which give interesting data on local diets and Victorian assessments of these diets:

The natives of Unyoro are very inferior in PHYSIQUE to the Fatiko [a group further north]. This is the result of vegetable food without either cereals or flesh. None of the general public possess cattle; thus the food of the people from infancy, after their mothers’ milk has ceased, is restricted to plantains and the watery sweet potatoes. The want of milk is very detrimental to the children. The men generally exhibit a want of muscle, and many are troubled with cutaneous diseases.

Travelling during the rainy season, Baker had this to say about local food – especially sweet potatoes:

Rain fell throughout the night, which makes everybody miserable. During the middle watch, having been awakened by the heavy shower, I heard the sentry outside my tent muttering a kind of low chant:

‘This is the country for rain and potatoes;

This is the place for potatoes and rain.

Potatoes and rain, potatoes and rain;

Rain and potatoes, rain and potatoes.’

Neither the rain nor the [sweet] potatoes were esteemed by the troops [Egyptian and Sudanese, whose diets were largely grain-based]. The roots were almost as watery as the rain, and their sweetness was excessive. A very uncomfortable result from this vapid food was extreme flatulence. The waist-belts of the boys were obliged to be let out by several holes at the buckles. As my men justly declared, ‘They were uncomfortably full after a meal; but half-an-hour’s march made them feel as though they had fasted for a day…

Royal Ankole cattle. Source: Unknown

This was a wonderful present for Baker and his men, especially the melch cows. Knowing the dearth of meat or milk available in this area he had brought a herd of over 1000 cattle from Gondokoro in Southern Sudan for the troops. The large cattle available locally where part of the King’s herds and the milk was all consumed by young women in attempting to fatten them. Baker says:

Had I not had former experience in this country, and provided myself with a herd of cattle, we should have been half-starved, as there is nothing to be procured but beans, sweet potatoes, and plantains.

Baker, Samuel – Ismailia: A narrative of the expedition to Central Africa for the suppression of the slave trade 1878


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-General, Colonialism, Explorers & exploration, Food, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants. Bookmark the permalink.

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