The Day President Sadat was Assassinated & What Followed

Reposting with readers’ suggestions:

What may be the ultimate demise of ex-president  Mubarak, his sons, and others – with all of their attendant intrigues – takes me back some 30 years to the assassination of President Sadat, which I want to talk about here.  This is a reposting of an earlier blog, updated with recommendations by colleagues.

The day of the assassination – October 6, 1981 –  I was visiting people in the area of Upper Egypt in which I had conducted my field research. I can remember so clearly standing in the house of Umm M., chatting with folks, when someone ran in with a portable radio shouting that Sadat had been assassinated. We were all stunned and unsure whether it was true or not. But over the next hour or so reports continued to be given on the radio, that this was indeed the case.

Assassination of Sadat. This is apparently the only photo of the event, the photographer is unknown. Source: Open

This was before electricity or telephones had been installed in most rural areas, and so we discussed the event and what we should do. It was the beginning of a variety of fundamentalist activities in Upper [southern] Egypt that were being organized and carried out by al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya, which further jeopardized events.

We decided that everyone in the village would stay within their own homes, and that I had better leave and drive back up to Cairo. At the time I was the only person [American] fluent in colloquial Arabic in most of the country, and that held its own dangers.

I put-putted up to Cairo in my little old VW, a worthy contribution to my field work by the wonderful Cynthia Nelson, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the American University in Cairo, with which I was affiliated as a Research Scholar.

On the way driving up to Cairo I visited various friends and colleagues to gain more news, of which there was very little. However, police and military were increasing throughout the country and so a friend – an old hand in Egypt – suggested we fly right down to Aswan for a few days, where we thought things would be a bit quieter.

Tickets were easy to get, and after calling the [then] rather down-at-the-heels Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan to secure rooms, off we flew. As we approached the Aswan airport I saw a fighter jet saddling up next to our plane, with wings almost touching, to accompany us into the airport. This is the first time I’ve ever been accompanied by a military escort into an airport and it was a unique experience.

Not only were we accompanied by jets going into Aswan, but the next week when I was back to the project area in S.E Egypt – N.E. Sudan, several jets appeared from the direction of the Nile Valley and flew into and along the base of the large wadi (valley) in which we were located, apparently avoiding sightings and radar as they continued over the Red Sea. A very unique experience.

The ground was thick with fully armed military and anti-aircraft guns. The Hotel had sent a vehicle for us, and off we went to unwind by the Nile. The next morning we went out walking and watched as public buildings were busily being sand-bagged. It was still not clear what was happening. I went to the offices of the Ministry of Interior, where I had a few contacts, and after some chit-chat and tea learned that an invasion to attack the Aswan High Dam was expected. Going to Aswan had clearly been a very bad idea.

I then visited the madyafa - guest house that was located on the outskirts of  Aswan – of the Ababda tribes of the Eastern Desert with whom, together with the Beja tribes of SE Egypt, I was at that time directing a project in the Eastern Desert. A group of elders were there and verified the fear of an attack. They were waiting to hear from some of their tribesmen who had been sent investigate.

The Old Cataract Hotel at the time it was constructed, 1899.

The Old Cataract Hotel at the time it was constructed, 1899.

I love Aswan, but this had been very bad timing. We flew back to Cairo and I found a note waiting, that I should immediately go over to see my Project Officer at USAID, which together with several other organizations*, was funding and/or providing support to the project, of which I was ‘Team Leader’ and Chief of Party. My Project Officer was furious. He said that -“security-types” had just flown in from D.C. and were looking for me, ‘to pick my brains’.

* NAMRU-3, [Naval Medical Research Unit Three], The Ford Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, The American Research Center in Egypt, and The American University in Cairo. 

At that time, USAID did not want their grantees to be ‘used’ by outside folk. So, he suggested I get out-of-town – go down to our project area in the Eastern Desert, which not only was as remote as one could get and still be in Egypt, but also was in the midst of a vast military zone. And that way, he could truthfully inform the folks from Washington that I could not be contacted.

That seemed an excellent idea, and so the next morning I visited my official counterpart in Cairo, who was the Minister of Health, to discuss a trip down to the project site; for which he agreed, saying that his offices would call the Governor to advise of my arrival. As all of us, he was frazzled over the whole assassination event and aftermath, which we discussed. He said that most of the wounded had been shot in the legs. It was still not clear what was happening.

I got the project’s Nissan Patrol organized with driver, extra fuel and tires, etc. This was a very long and rough drive – nearly two days, with roads giving out along the way.

My project area was the extreme S.E. corner of Egypt- N.E. corner of Sudan

Arriving in Hurgada, the provincial capital, I went to visit the Governor who was my official counterpart in the Provence. More chit-chat and tea, and I relayed my experiences in Aswan and in Cairo. He concurred, that even over by the Red Sea they were arming to expect possible incursions – by whom and why was not totally clear. Possibly from Libya, it was thought, aiming for the Aswan High Dam.

He provided me with a military escort and off we went further south where, during project work,  we had collected a variety of human and animal samples to assess health and disease vectors, and socio-economic data, and also developed simple health clinics for the bedouin populations in Bir Shalatein and in Berenice, to check out supplies, our resident doctor, [a very keen Egyptian graduate],and so forth. All seemed well with the project and no invasions seemed in the offing.

This is a beautiful and rugged area;a picture of a house made of driftwood, located on the outskirts of  the Shalatein camel market, can be seen in the header to this blog.  Many of the purebred racing camels of the Beja are brought here to be sold to Saudis who come over by boat.  These camels are considered by many to be the fasted and best one can find.  With my background in riding [horses], I did enjoy coursing over the flat desert mounted on one of these marvelous beasts.

For 100s of years  one of the largest camel markets in the region is at Shalatein.  Camels are brought up to the site from eastern and western Sudan and, as here, may be trucked into the Nile Valley or driven by camel caravan.  Source -  shalatein

For hundreds of years one of the largest camel markets in this region has been at Shalatein. Camels are brought up to the site from eastern and western Sudan and, as here, may be neatly loaded into desert trucks and taken into the Nile Valley, or driven by camel caravan.   Source – shalatein

The Ptolemaic port on the Red Sea located here, at Berenike,  has a fascinating history of  ocean travel to southern India, and to coastal sites further south along east Africa in purchasing and importing elephants for training in Egypt.  Source -

The Ptolemaic port on the Red Sea located at Berenike has a fascinating history of ocean travel to southern India for spices, and to coastal sites further south along east Africa in purchasing and importing elephants for training in Egypt. Source –

However, in one of our excursions south of Berenice [see above map], we came upon a military vehicle that had stopped, and whose high ranking  passengers were pouring over a large military map of the area.  I, and the driver and government rep. were familiar with the area, and we discussed where they were wanting to go.  We suggested that they could backtrack a bit, and head west through the upper reaches of  Wadi Allaqi, or a wadi north of Allaqi, in order that they could reach their goal of Aswan.  We all shook hands and headed in our respective tracks.  Only then, perhaps, realizing how peculiar this impromptu meeting in the Red Sea Hills had been.

A portion of the Wadi Allaqi.  Source - Nuweibi_overview www.gippslanditd

A portion of the Wadi Allaqi. Source – Nuweibi_overview http://www.gippslandltd

Returning finally to Hurghada, I chatted again with the Governor, discussing about our strange encounter with an Egyptian army  vehicle and occupants.  He informed me the country was now under martial law and that the Provincial capital of Asyut in the Nile Valley had been attacked by Gama’a Islamiyya and – if I am remembering correctly – that it took two days to reinstate authorities. So it was indeed good that I’d left Upper Egypt when word of the assassination became known.

I went back to Cairo and learned that the security-folk had returned to Washington. Curiously, I don’t remember any further events other that so much talk in Cairo. And, with Mubarak now having proclaimed martial law, everything seemed to go back to a kind of normalcy.

Many questions still remain. Were the Libyans involved, or others, in attacking Egypt from the South? If so, who and why?  It was widely thought, both in some diplomatic circles, as well as in the Egyptian Government, that Libyan forces had been sent around southern Egypt (in the Sudan) and were preparing to attack Egypt from that position.

A major difference between the Sadat assassination period and current/recent events in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa where the ‘Arab Spring’ has been taking place,  is the availability of communication. Internet, phones, as well as generally more savvy people. This makes for a totally different way of dealing with – as well as with trying to orchestrate – events.

Here are a couple of videos on the Sadat assassination that are quite interesting.  Although arabic videos, it is the visual content that is so interesting.

In the following video, the little boy is Sadat’s grandson.

People ran over, throwing chairs upon the dignitaries being shot, and the wounded, dead, and others can be seen aided by others.  Names of the attackers are given in Arabic with arrows.

 The Assassination of Anwar El Sadat

On 6 October 1981, the month after the crackdown, Sadat was assassinated during the annual victory parade in Cairo. A fatwā approving the assassination had been obtained from Omar Abdel-Rahman, a cleric later convicted in the U.S. for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Sadat was protected by four layers of security and the army parade should have been safe due to ammunition-seizure rules. However, the officers in charge of that procedure were on hajj to Mecca.

As air force Mirage jets flew overhead, distracting the crowd, a troop truck halted before the presidential reviewing stand, and a lieutenant strode forward. Sadat stood to receive his salute, whereupon the assassins rose from the truck, throwing grenades and firing assault rifle rounds. The attack lasted about two minutes. Photographer Bill Foley captured one of the last shots of a living Sadat. The photograph is titled “The Last Smile.”

A photo by Bill Foley entitled "The Last Smile" - taken of Sadat just before he was shot.  Source - last smile

A photo by Bill Foley entitled “The Last Smile” – taken of Sadat just before he was shot. Source – last smile

The lead assassin Khalid Islambouli shouted “Death to Pharaoh!” as he ran towards the stand and shot Sadat. After he fell to the floor people around Sadat threw chairs on his body to try to protect him from the bullets. Eleven others were killed, including the Cuban ambassador a Omani general and a Coptic Orthodox bishop, and 28 were wounded, including James Tully, the Irish Minister for Defence, and four U.S. military liaison officers. Sadat was then rushed to a hospital, but was declared dead within hours. This was the first time in Egyptian history that the head of state had been assassinated by an Egyptian citizen. Two of the attackers were killed and the others were arrested by military police on-site. Islambouli was later found guilty and was executed in April 1982.

In conjunction with the assassination, an insurrection was organized in Asyut in Upper Egypt. Rebels took control of the city for a few days and 68 policemen and soldiers were killed in the fighting. Government control was not restored until paratroopers from Cairo arrived. Most of the militants convicted of fighting received light sentences and served only three years in prison.

I am revising and will be posting a series of other blogs about our work in the Eastern Desert of Egypt and Sudan and related areas of the Beja tribes and their brethren.


Posted in Egypt-Recent, Middle East, Red Sea Hills, Research & Development | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Ebola: Epidemics, Pandemics and the Mapping of their Containment


Good summary and research links.  There are some interesting 18-19th Century descriptions of plagues in the western Sahel of Africa, which I wii try to locate and put up.

source: remedianetwork.wordpress

source: remedianetwork.wordpress

This extraordinary map of colonial trade routes—1750-1800—shows the density of international trade, the pathways of yellow fever and cholera, between European nations and the world.[13]

Originally posted on REMEDIA:

By Tom Koch

“It was about the Beginning of September, 1664, that I, amongst the Rest of my Neighbours, heard in ordinary Discourse, that the Plague was returned in Holland, for it had been very violent there, and particularly at Amsterdam and Roterdam, in the year of 1663.”

Daniel Defoe, Journal of the Plague Year.[1]

That is how it always begins. There is an outbreak out there, somewhere, away in a place that is safely distant. If we care at all it is because we know the place and some of its people. Perhaps we have business with them. And, too, we care because the diseases affecting those distant places sometimes have traveled from out “there” to our “here.” That was certainly true for Defoe’s narrator, whose hopes that plague would not migrate to London were shattered in December of 1665 when the British Bill of Mortality listed…

View original 3,376 more words

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ROMARCH: American Journal of Archaeology Open Access (July 2014)


Some Open Access by AJA – great!

Originally posted on [quem dixere chaos]:

American Journal of Archaeology Open Access July 2014

Below is a list of freely available content published in tandem with the July 2014 issue (vol. 118 no. 3):

American Journal of Archaeology –

View original

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School Begins – here in Burundi, as it did in the Ancient Middle East

Yesterday school began throughout the country; many bright and shiny faces trooping of to their respective schools. In the ancient Near East, too, school was an important avenue to achieve money and, perhaps,  fame.  Below are a few items from Sumerian history, taken from texts of the time, showing that education  could be as stressful then, as it can be now.
Education of a Sumerian Scribe:
Composition from Nippur c. 2000 B.C.E.1
Master: Schoolboy, where did you go from earliest days?
Boy: I went to school.
Master: What did you do in school?
Boy: I read my tablet, ate my lunch, prepared my tablet, wrote it, finished it; then…Upon the school’s dismissal, I went home, entered the house, (there) was my father sitting. I spoke to my father of my hand copies, then read the tablet to  Him, (and) my father was pleased; truly I found favor with my father. 
“I am thirsty, give me drink; I am hungry, give me bread; wash my feet, set up the bed, I want to go to sleep; wake me early in the morning, I must not be late, (or) my teacher will cane me.”
When I awoke early in the morning, I faced my mother, and said to her: “Give me my lunch, I want to go to school.”  
mother gave me two ‘rolls’…I went to school. In the tablet-house, the monitor said to me: “Why are you late?” I was afraid, my heart beat fast. I entered before my teacher…my ‘school-father’…caned me.
Samuel Noah Kramer, SchooldayS-A Sumerian Composition
A Father’s Concern for His Son’s Education2
Father: “Where did you go?”
Son: “I did not go anywhere.”
Father: “If you did not go anywhere, why are you late? Go to school, stand before your teacher. Read your assignment, open you school-bag, write your tablet, let your big brother (i.e. teacher’s assistant) write your new tablet for you. After you have done your assignment, after you have reported to your overseer, come, please, to me. Do not wander about in the street, return to me. Do you know what I said to you?”
Son: “I know, I will tell it to you.”
Father: “Come, repeat it to me.”
Son: “I will repeat it to you.”
Father: “Tell it to me.”
Son: “I will tell it to you.”
Father: “Come, tell it to me.”
Son: “You told me to go to school, to read my assignments, to open my school-bag, to
write my tablet, my big brother will write my new tablet; after I have done my
assignment, to proceed to my job and, after I have reported to my overseer, to come to
you, you told me.”
Father: “Come now, indeed, be a man. Do not stand about in the public square, do not
wander about in the boulevard; when walking in the street, do not look all around. Be
humble, show fear before your overseer; when you show terror, your overseer will like
HEL231657 The scribe Dudu, a votive to Ningirsu, 2900-2450 BC (diorite) by Sumerian diorite height: 45 Iraq Museum, Baghdad © Held Collection out of copyright

The scribe Dudu.

Self-Praise of Shulgi, King of Ur, for His Education: (Shulgi, 2094–2047 B.C.E.) 3
As a youth, I studied the scribal art in the edubba, from the tablets of Sumer and Akkad,
Of the nobility, no one was able to write a tablet like me,
In the place where the people attend to learn the scribal art,
Adding, subtracting, counting and accounting—I completed all (their courses);
The fair Nanibgal, Nisaba [patron goddess of the scribal art,]
Endowed me generously with wisdom and intelligence.
1 Adapted from Samuel Noah Kramer, “Schooldays: A Sumerian Composition Relating to the Education of a  Scribe,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 69, 4 (1949): 205. The image of the cuneiform tablet is Plate I  between pp. 214 and 215. The article is a good example of how an ancient text that existed in multiple but incomplete copies is analyzed and published. The Sumerian word for school was é-dub-ba “tablet-house,” the pupil was dumu-édub-ba, “son of the tablet-house,” and the trained professional scribes dub-sar “tablet-writers” (pg. 199 of the article).
2 Kramer, “Schooldays,” 208–210, adapted from Kramer and G. R. Driver in Semitic Writing: From Pictograph to Alphabet (London/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 235.
3 Jacob Klein, The Royal Hymns of Shulgi King of Ur: Man’s Quest for Immortal Fame (Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1981): 15.
 As shown in Sample Texts from the Ancient Near East, U of Washington, n.d. no author. 
Posted in Education, Middle East, Sumeria | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Ancient Egyptian Tale – The Eloquent Peasant – الفلاح الفصيح

The tale of The Eloquent Peasant comes down to us from ancient Egypt  by way of four different and incomplete documents – manuscript as well as ostrica.  It is a lovely poem, written in classical Middle Egyptian, composed around 2100 BC .  From these remnants most of the document has been pieced together and, as most probably was the case in ancient Egypt, the text is one of the earliest  documents read by aspiring Egyptologists and, in ancient times, aspiring scribes.  It is an excellent text both in terms of its relative simplicity as well as containing an important – and timeless – moral story.

Based on one of the major literary texts survived from the Middle Kingdom, the classical period of Egyptian literature, The Eloquent Peasant is a combination of a morality/folk tale and a poem. The events are set between 2160 and 2025 BC. When the peasant Khun-anup and his donkey stumble upon the lands of the noble Rensi, the peasant’s goods are confiscated and he’s unjustly accused of theft.

The peasant petitions Rensi who is so taken by the peasant’s eloquence that he reports his astonishing discovery to the king. The king realises the peasant has been wronged but delays judgement [so he] can hear more of his eloquence. The peasant makes a total of nine petitions until finally, his goods are returned.

Source – World Cinema Foundation

Portion of the story in the British Museum - EA10274 BM Peasant and Discourse recto-verso

Portion of the story in the British Museum – EA10274 BM Peasant and Discourse recto-verso

Notes on the restoration

The Eloquent Peasant has been restored using the original 35mm camera and sound negatives preserved at the Egyptian Film Center in Giza. The digital restoration produced a new 35 mm internegative. Special thanks to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Source – THE ELOQUENT PEASANT (Shakavi el Flash el Fasi, Egypt/1969). Written by Shadi Abdel Salam.

… [The video] is a gesture towards the humanity of the original — a reminder that the poem was written by an individual for his contemporaries (and not for Egyptologists). This may even be the first time that an Egyptological commentary on a literary text has included a photograph of a living person. And this living and subtle work of art gained new resonance with the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

As author Ahdaf Soueif noted then, it represents an Egyptian tradition of non-violent protest against any abuse of authority, and it is, in the words of Shadi Abd el-Salam, ‘a cry for justice, a cry that persists throughout the ages’.’

Source -Reading an ancient Egyptian poem, by
Richard Parkinson, curator, British Museum

To the left of this blog you will see the copy of a small ostracon, from the Deir el-Medina , I believe, which shows the efforts of a beginning scribe-student practicing his hieroglyphic signs.

In our  study of ancient Egyptian at Berkeley, we used the transcribed text found in Adrien De Buck’s Egyptian Reading Book Vol I Leiden 1948.  It is available on SCRIBD.

The beginning of the story (right to left), as transcribed by De Buck.  Source - De buck, Reading Book

The beginning of the story (reads right to left), as transcribed by De Buck. Source – De buck, Reading Book

The story pits a lowly cultivator – a peasant – against a  nefarious member of the of the ruling class who wishes to steal the market goods of the peasant Hunanup.  The beginning of the tale >

There was a man, Khun-anup by name, a peasant of
Sechet-hemat [Wadi Natrun], and he had a wife, ////// by name.

Then said this peasant to his wife: “Behold, I am
going down to Egypt to bring back bread for my
children. Go in and measure the grain that we still
have in our storehouse, ////////// bushel.” Then he
measured for her eight bushels of grain. Then this
peasant said to his wife:

“Behold, two bushels of grain shall be left for bread for you and the children.

But make for me the six bushels into bread and beer
for each of the days that I shall be on the road.”
Then this peasant went down to Egypt after he had
loaded his asses with all the good produce of Sechethemat.

The remainder of the tale in english, which I’ve reproduced from the site of Reshafim, can be found here.

Bread and beer were the key elements of nutrition in ancient Egypt – and it is therefore no surprise that he focusses on grain by which to make these, both for himself on the road and for his wife and children.  I’ve put in bold lettering [english, above] these key ingredients in the story.

(روائع الأدب المصري القدیم الفلاح الفصیح ( 2014

(روائع الأدب المصري القدیم الفلاح الفصیح ( 2014

The story is just as meaningful today, and has been translated into egyptian and also a very nice movie has been made of it.

كان یاماكان في مصر زمان راجل فلاح اسمھ “خنوم”، فلاح من “غیط الملح”، متجوز واحدة اسمھا ماري.
وف یوم من الأیام “خنوم” قال لمراتھ:
– اسمعي. أنا طالع مصر اجیب قوت العیال. قومي یا للا
ع الجرن. كیلِّي اللي فاضل فیھ من شعیر السنة اللي فاتت.
مراتھ عملت كده. قام خنوم قال لھا:
– بصي. العشرین قدح دول عشانك انتي والعیال. والستة اللي باقیین اخبزي لي منھم، وخّمري حبة بیرة
لزوم السفر.
وطلع الفلاح علي مصر.
طلع الفلاح علي مصر، بعد ما حِّمل حمیره بكل اللي طایلاه إیده من خیر غیط الملح. كانت شیلة كبیرة، إشي
ملح وإشي نطرون وأعشاب یاما تشفي العلیل وترد الروح، وإشي جلد ضباع وفرو نمور، وحمام وطیور.
حاجات ما تتعدش.

The remainder of the story in arabic can be found here.

The eloqunt peasant - al-Ahram

The eloquent peasant in Cairo – source – al-Ahram

The movie was made several decades ago; and received several prizes.  The use of literary arabic by the peasant provides an authentic turn.  But you don-t have to understand arabic to appreciate the film and its moral.

If you now would like to learn more about hieroglyphs, here is a good place to begin – resources related to the wonderful site of EEF:

EEF-Glyphs and Grammars, Part I: Resources for beginners
[Egyptologists’ Electronic Forum (EEF) and the Ancient Egyptian Language list (AEL).]
Posted in Arabic, Egypt-Ancient, Hieroglyphic, History-Ancient, Social inequality | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Cuisine and Crops in Central Africa – Colonial and Contemporary – Pt. 3

Cuisine before Colonization:

What did local people eat, prior to the introduction of New World crops?  I ask this, because from the prior blog on Cuisine and Crops in Central Africa,  it is primarily New World crops that were mentioned by the explorers Speke and Burton.  This leaves the impression of a very impoverished range of indigenous foods.

However,  based even on the range of indigenous plants that are today used  in rural areas,  it is certain that far more indigenous foods were eaten during and prior to the colonial era –  about which explorers such as Speke and Burton were not familiar, or perhaps even knew the names.  So, a few words on indigenous foods before proceeding.

A Note on Indigenous foods today:

One exercise that I like to do in my training with technicians working in local agriculture and livestock projects entails finding out what is locally eaten. Most trainees, having been educated according to the principal that ‘the only good crop is a fully domestic crop’, are generally surprised by the variety of plants, seeds, and fruits that are collected or semi-cultivated.  And many are similarly surprised at the range of crops or crop varieties that are regularly cultivated but that fall outside of the focus of modern agronomy.

The following photo shows a trainee discussing some of the results of a survey last year in eastern Burundi that was conducted with local farmers as part of a training exercise I conducted. The crop Muciabanki, that is listed towards the bottom of the chart, is a variety of wild amaranths that is very delicious and exceedingly hardy in low rainfall areas.  We have therefore introduced  the variety in a community near Lake Tanganyika, where there are similar agro-ecological conditions and where there is a very strong market for lenga-lenga, as amaranths is known.

Trainees initially  had some difficulty categorizing indigenous foods that were collected or cropped as being separate from collecting the leaves of tomatoes, red peppers, sweet potatoes, and several other crops that are not indigenous and that are cropped.

The primary categorization being used by the trainees was ‘collection’ rather than whether or not the crop was ‘indigenous’ and so time was spent in this particular training course  in working out these differences, and this led to discussions about what ‘indigenous’ actually means in a Burundian context.

A trainee discussing locally collected herbs, vegetables and nuts

A trainee discussing locally collected herbs, vegetables and nuts

Some of the nuts and fruits that, while growin wild, were carefully protected from cutting and otherwise damaging the trees.

Some of the nuts and fruits that, while growing wild, were carefully protected from cutting and otherwise damaging the trees.

What and how much people collect from the bush – and how many indigenous (but largely unrecognized) crops are cultivated –  depends on a variety of factors, including season, relative success of crops, socio-economic status, specific agro-ecological zone, etc.  That would have been also the case in earlier periods, to which we now return.

Returning to colonial and pre-colonial agriculture and cuisine:

In spite of the lacunae, we know that primary nutritional sources for energy – aside from millet and sorghum in areas where they could be grown – consisted of a variety of indigenous gourds and tubers – some of which were highly poisonous or caused sickness without proper and often complicated processing. This is also the case today with many wild or semi-domesticated crops, for in the process of domestication, crops have been ‘tamed’, both in terms of ease of processing as well as in taste factor.

The variety of different crops and collected foods required an array of implements for all stages of the agricultural round as well as for processing.  The specific tools themselves depended on the area, but could be quite complex, as these drawings from the Nyam-nyam in Uganda show:

Source:  Speke 1864

Source: Speke 1864 (Need to verify this)

Hoes constructed like this can most easily break up large clots of soil and clear weeds.  Similar designs are still used today.  Source:  Varify 1818

Hoes from the eastern Congo, 1818.  Traditional metal-working throughout tropical and sub-tropical (central) Africa focused primarily on tools and weapons.  In some regions, such as here in Burundi, metal working has been a major occupation of the BaTwa pygmies.  Hoes constructed like this can most easily break up large clots of soil and clear weeds. Similar designs are still used today.   Source: verify

A woman with hoe and lunch balanced on her head, off to work in the field in upcountry Burundi.

A woman with hoe and lunch balanced on her head, off to work in the field in upcountry Burundi.

There are a number of other wild foods that are know to have been collected during the colonial and pre-colonial era, including flour made out of the seeds of the lotus and several other plants (manioc, maize, etc),   and eaten as a kind of porridge – but NEVER BREAD/S.  Lotus were also used as food in southern Africa and in the Nile Valley; I will do a separate blog about this.

Mildly alcoholic drinks made of bananas were – and continue to be important as sources of nutrition as well as simple enjoyment in social gatherings.

Pombe Brewing can be a great social activity. 1864

Pombe Brewing can be a great social activity. 1864

More details and discussion to follow…

Posted in Africa-General, Agriculture, Colonialism, Cuisine, History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Dry Season in Burundi – Time to Celebrate! III of III (Urban Elite Marriages)


This is the third, and last blog on marriages during the dry season here in Burundi. The most elaborate – and therefore costly weddings occur during this season. Enjoy!

If possible, a large troupe of  traditional drummers will be invited to perform; traditional dancers might also be invited.

If possible, a large troupe of traditional drummers will be invited to perform; traditional dancers might also be invited.

Originally posted on DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, The Middle East, Agriculture, History and Culture:

Revised 25 July 2014

Weddings for the wealthy (or aspiring wealthy) here in Burundi can be extremely elaborate.  If at all possible, the family will rent space at a hotel where entertainment, drinks and food will be provided for upwards of 400 guests.  If that is not possible, the family will arrange the fête at a less expensive locale but may pay an upmarket hotel for having photos taken in their grounds.   These grand events have multiplied now that the war is over.

The following weddings took place at the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika, a favorite locale for weddings, engagements, and other celebrations.

A stroll by Lake Tanganyika with ntori drummers, di rigeur if the family can affort it A stroll by Lake Tanganyika with traditional drummers – de rigueur if the family can afford it!


This is Part III of the blog series on wedding and engagement celebrations in Burundi during the dry season.  The first blog looked at the poor and

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Posted in Africa-Central, Burundi, Ceremony, Cuisine, Feasts, Food, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Living here | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment