Essay title: West African Culture
From the 1500s to the 1700s, African blacks, mainly from the area of West Africa (today's Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Dahomey, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Gabon) were shipped as slaves to North America, Brazil, and the West Indies.
For them, local and tribal differences, and even varying cultural backgrounds, soon melded into one common concern for the suffering they all endured. Music, songs, and dances as well as remembered traditional food, helped not only to uplift them but also quite unintentionally added immeasurably to the culture around them. In the approximately 300 years that blacks have made their homes in North America, the West Indies, and Brazil, their highly honed art of the cuisine so treasured and carefully transmitted to their daughters has become part of the great culinary classics of these lands. But seldom are the African blacks given that recognition.Of African origin are such specialities as gumbo and pralines, West Indian callaloo and duckandoo (a dish of greens and a dessert based on sweet potatoes), the Brazilian condiments dende oil and spicy hot sauces.
Jamaica's bammy bread and the pan bread so beloved in the southern United States are both said to have their origin in the flat round cassava breads typical of Africa. Seeds and the plants of sesame, okra, some melons, and certain varieties of greens as well as yams, together with many techniques of bread making, and the use and combination of spices, are also all credited to the ingenuity of the African cook.It could be argued that every nation and every ethnic group has its own soul food. But the contemporary connotation of the term "soul food" refers to the gradual blending and developing of a peculiar style of cookery with its own dictionary of food terms: it is a blend of West African cookery begun in the southern United States and now very much a part of the cultural tradition of African-Americans, binding them proudly to their African heritage. "Soul food" incorporates an economical and satisfying cuisine based on cereals, vegetables (greens and yams), pork and pork offal as well as chicken.Meals and CustomsThe majority of rural Africans customarily eat one main meal a day and this is usually the evening meal.
Upon arising, coffee, tea or milk or curds may form a small light meal while some people may be content to nibble on seeds. Throughout the day snacks of fruits, seeds, or nuts may be accompanied with beverages. In some areas a midday meal of fufu/ugali and relishes may be traditionally larger than the evening meal, which in this case would then be a cereal dish alone of gruel or fufu.Infants are usually breast-fed on demand up to the age of two. Attempts to introduce bottle feedings have often met with sad results: sterilization of bottles and formula were poorly understood, formulas were diluted to last longer, and with the abandonment of breast-feeding, intercourse was resumed earlier than usual with a resultant increase in children who could be ill afforded.
Bota is a thin gruel for babies, fed by pouring into the mother's hand and gently easing into the infant's mouth. Some foods and medicinal herbs if deemed necessary are pre-chewed by the mother then given to the infant.Very young children are taught early that meat is a delicacy, but like other pleasures, they are also taught that they cannot always have everything they want: meat may be tasted and enjoyed, but it is generally not given until children are at least three or four years old.In most parts of Africa, meals follow strictly specified rituals. At a very young age, children learn that handwashing and clapping of the hands must always precede a meal. Children must be silent while adults eat; further, they must never beg for food.
Violations of these rules are punishable by beatings. Men pre-cede women at meals but no one eats alone. Dining is always a group pleasure and a time of calm and serene enjoyment. In some areas it is considered that women are somehow self-sufficient, and no one seems concerned if they are left only the crumbs.
Often if new foods are introduced by aid groups from other countries, the food must be appealing to the men, for if refused by them no one else will touch it.Hospitality is considered of great importance and also follows a predictable ritual of handwashing, clapping, and the offering of food. Even if one is not hungry, to refuse would he an insult.Totemism is greatly respected and it is considered proper to inquire of a guest what their totem is so that it may be separated from the rest of the food. For example, if the totem of a certain guest is liver, then liver will be removed from the rest of the meats to be served and given to the others so that the guest will.