The Magicality of Cuisine 4: A Special Dish for a Woman Cultivator, 19th Century Liberia, West Africa

As with other ‘magical dishes’ in this series, it is the context and activities associated with the dish that render it effective – not merely the specified ingredients:

Pre-modern cuisine in many parts of the world can be more fully understood not simply as a technical  ‘recipe’ to be constructed – but also in relation to the context in which it is situated.  Hence, there may be social, sexual, political, religious or other aspects that figure in the total recipe as presented in the finished product.  It is our Western proclivity to disassociate fact from context that may create difficulties in understanding a given cuisine in its totality.

Source –   The Magicality of Cuisine 1: Meat Cooked in Plantain Leaves as a Love Philtre, 19th Century Gabon, West Africa

Ogowe watershed and surrounding areas in which Dr. Nassau lived and worked.  Source - Wiki

Ogowe watershed and surrounding areas in which Dr. Nassau lived and worked. Source – Wiki

Dr. Robert Nassau, who served as missionary, doctor and ethnologist throughout the Ogowe watershed and surrounding areas of west Africa in the late 19th century provides us with this recipe, which guarantees a successful food harvest for women cultivators. [Previous entries on ‘Magicality of Cuisine’ can be found at the end of this Blog.]

… Planting is done almost entirely by women. If a woman says to herself,

” I want to have plenty of food! I will make medicine for it! “

… she proceeds to gather the necessary ingredients.

She takes her ukwala (machete), pavo (knife), short hoe (like a trowel), and elinga (basket), and goes to the forest. She must go very early in the morning, and alone. She gathers a leaf called “tubg,” another called ” in jenji, ” the bark of a tree called ” bohamba, ” the bark also of elamba, and leaves of bokuda.

Hiding them in a safe place, she goes back to her village to get her earthen pot. Returning with it to the forest, she makes a fire, not with coals from the village, but with new, clean fire made by the two fire-sticks. These, used by natives before steel and flint were introduced, require often an hour’s twirling before friction develops sufficient heat to cause a spark. The sparks are caught on thoroughly dried plantain fibre.

Then she builds her fire. She goes to some spring or stream for water to put in the pot with the leaves and barks, and sets it on the fire. All this while she is not to be seen by other people.

When the water has boiled, she sets the pot in the middle of the acre of ground which she intends to clear for her garden until its contents cool.

In the meanwhile she goes to some creek and gets “chalk” (a white clay is found in  places in the beds of streams). She washes it clean of mud and rubs it on her breast. Then she takes the pot, and empties its decoction by sprinkling it, with a bunch of leaves, over the groujid, saying,

The area being discussed is characterized by tropical overgrowth.  Source - kangou-falls-ogooue   ww.nature.org

The area being discussed is characterized by  dense tropical overgrowth together with some savanna areas. Source – kangou-falls-ogooue ww.nature.org

“My forefathers! now in the land of spirits, give me food ! Let me have food more abundantly than all other people! “

Then she again sets the pot in the middle of the proposed plantation. She takes from it the tube leaves and puts them into four little cornucopia (ehongo), which she rolls from another large leaf of the elende tree. She sets these in the four corners of the garden.

Whenever she comes on any other day to work in the garden, she pulls a succulent plant, squeezes its juice into the ehongo; and this juice she drops into her eye. To be efficient, this
medicine has a prohibition connected with it, viz.^ that during the days of her menses she shall not go to the garden.

When her plants have grown, and she has eaten of them, she must break the pot. Having done so, she makes a large fire at an end of the garden, and burns the pieces of earthenware
so that they shall be utterly calcined.

It is not required that she shall stay by the fire awaiting that result. She may, if she wishes, in the meanwhile go back to her village. She takes the ashes of the pot, mixes them with chalk in a jomba (bundle) of leaves, which she ties to a tree of her garden in a hidden spot where people will not see it.

Another strict prohibition is required of her by the medicine, viz., that she is not to steal from another woman’s garden If she break this law, her own garden will not produce.

In our gardens, women fertilize plants with a goat dung slurry; some may also beseach a kindly spirit to help her gain a good harvest.  Source - dianabuja

In our gardens, women fertilize plants with a goat dung slurry; some may also beseech a kindly spirit to help her gain a good harvest. Source – dianabuja

The jomba is kept for years, or as long as she plants at that place, and the chalk mixture is rubbed on her breast at each planting season.

From time to tune also, as the leaves of the jomba decay or break away, she puts fresh ones about it, to prevent the wetting of its contents by rain or its injury in any other way.

Text source – Fetichism in West Africa; Forty Years’ Observation of Native Customs and Superstitions, by the Rev. Robert Hamill Nassau. University Press, Cambridge, U.S.A. 1904.

Other entries in this series are:

  1.  The Magicality of Cuisine 1: Meat Cooked in Plantain Leaves as a Love Philtre, 19th Century Gabon, West Africa
  2.  The Magicality of Cuisine 2: A Recipe for a complicated Love Filtre for Men. 19th Century Gabon
  3. The Magicality of Cuisine 3: A Dish of Fish and Plantains to Guarantee Successful Fishing, 19th Century Gabon, West Africa
  4. The Magicality of Cuisine 4: A Special Dish for a Woman Cultivator, 19th Century Liberia, West Africa
  1.   The Magicality of Cuisine 5 – A Spicy Warriors’ Stew, Gabon West Africa

 

Advertisements

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-West, Agriculture, Cuisine, European colonizers, Food, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants, Organic Gardenig, Robert Nassau and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Magicality of Cuisine 4: A Special Dish for a Woman Cultivator, 19th Century Liberia, West Africa

  1. Pingback: Missionaries in Nineteenth Century Africa – A Few Considerations | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture

  2. ritaroberts says:

    Fascinating story Diana, I really appreciate hearing about the culture and superstitions of other countries .Have you taken part in this preparation at all Diana. ? I immediately think of my self who does not like anyone in my kitchen while preparing and cooking a meal. Thanks for sharing your most interesting life among those wonderful people.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s