In 1857 Richard Burton, with Speke, explored Zanzibar and the nearby East Africa mainland. In the following excerpt he details the numerous ways that the banana and plantain parts are put – another example that key food crops in Africa must offer more than something to eat.
Burton was one of the most vocal of colonial racists, whose views influenced future explorers, the Royal Geographic society, and others who sought explanations as to the origins of Africa’s indigenous populations. He was, however outrageously brilliant and his writings are generally well-researched, though framed by colonial notions of race:
The Musa [banana & plantain], which an old traveller describes as an assemblage of leaves interwoven and twisted together so neatly, that they form a plant about 15 spans high, is an aboriginal of Hindostan, and possibly East Africa where, however, the seeds might easily have been floated from the East It grows almost spontaneously in Unyamwezi [central Tanzaniaa] and upon the shores of the great inland lakes. Here the banana [and plantain], which maturing rapidly affords a perennial supply of fruit, and whose enormous rate of produce has been described by many writers, is the staff of savage life, windy as the acorn which is supposed to have fed our forefathers in Europe. [T]hese East Africans apply the plantain to a vast variety of uses, and allow no part of it to be wasted.Source: Richard Burton – Zanzibar: City, Island, and Coast (London: Tinsley Brothers, 18, Catherine St. Strand; 1872) [Chapter VII – The March to Fuga. Ascent of the Highlands of East Africa . . . (Tabora)]
Never transplanted and allowed to grow from its own suckers, this banana has now degenerated : it is easy to see, however, that it comes of noble stock. In parts of the interior the people have during a portion of the year little else to live upon but this fruit, boiled, baked, and dried . . .
- The stem when green gives water enough to quench the wanderer’s thirst and to wash his hands;
- The parenchyma has somewhat the taste of cucumber, and sun-dried it is employed for fuel.
- The fresh cool leaves are converted into rain-pipes, spoons, plates, and even bottles:
- Desiccated they make thatch, and a substitute for wrapping-papers; and
- Some have believed that they were the original fig-leaves of the first man and his wife.
- The trunk-fibre does good service in all the stages between thread and cord.
- The fruit yields wine, sugar, and vinegar, besides bread and vegetable, and
- Even the flower is reduced to powder and mixed with snuff.
- Plantains and Bananas: “The Staff of Savage Life” (dianabuja.wordpress.com)
- Plantains (venezuelancooking.wordpress.com)
- Plantain Festival Aims to Break Guinness World Record (repeatingislands.com)
- The 10 Most Important Crops In The World (businessinsider.com)
- Black & Yellow …Cooking with Plantains (healing-agent.com)