The cassava plant (Manihot esculenta, also called manioc, yuca, and yucca) is native to the American tropics and was brought by Europeans to Africa during the sixteenth century. All over central Africa, the cassava tubers are made into Baton de Manioc (more correctly: Bâton de Manioc) and other, similar, Fufu-like foods called Bobolo, Chicouangue, Chickwangue, Chikwangue, Kwanga, Mboung, Mintumba, Miondo, and Placali, which are always served with a soup or stew or sauce. In Central Africa, cassava leaves are prepared and eaten as greens.
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Note: the leaves should not be eaten.
Leaves of Megaphrynium macrostachyum, or leaves of other species of Marantaceae (called marantacee in French) are used in many African countries to wrap various foods. These leaves are said to impart a special taste to food which is wrapped in them. They are also used to make disposable plates and cups.
Sweet and Bitter Cassava
In Africa, the cassava, or manioc, plant is classified into two different types: Sweet and Bitter. Most varieties of manioc contain a poisonous cyanide compound. The Sweet varieties are thought to contain less of the poison than the bitter. Baton de manioc is usually made from the tubers of bitter manioc, but they are carefully soaked and cooked to remove the poison. Even so, some scientists believe that long-term comsumption of cassava tubers (and perhaps leaves) may be a risk to health.
In The Slave Girl (New York: George Braziller, 1977) Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta describes cassava being harvested and soaked in water to make "akpu", a fermented pulp which is sold in the market then taken home to be cooked.
Cassava thrived in almost any soil, and it did not need tending. The housewife had to go to the farm to dig out the cassava roots, carry the tubers for a mile or so, then soak them in the stream in that part of the water specially divided into squares for women to soak their cassava. It would be left there for three or four days until it was fully fermented and beginning to turn into pulp. Then the housewife would put the pulp into a bag and carry it home, heavy and wet and dripping its milky water. At home, on the night before market day, she would then tie this cassava pulp, still very damp, onto a special akpu basket, piling the basket high with the pulp, securing it with banana strings and covering the top with smoked banana leaves. Women from Ibuza carrying their akpu to Asaba looked dwarfed under the load of their baskets; some women would even carry two or three of these heavy baskets. After a while the women smelled so much of akpu that you could easily tell a habitual akpu carrier from the more privileged women who traded in palm oil, kernels or lighter commodities.
(Home, Sweet Home)
Joseph H. Reading's The Ogowe Band: A Narrative of African Travel (Reading & Company, Publishers, Philadelphia, 1019 Cherry Street, 1890) is a travel diary which describes a tour of the towns, trading posts, and Christian missions on the Atlantic coast of Africa. These excerpts describe processing cassava into "eguma" or baton de manioc:
[on the "Kamerun River delta"]
It was now low tide and the river-bed was exposed to view for long distance from shore. The towns-women were coming down the path with great baskets of dark brown roots on their shoulders; these baskets were held in place by a broad band that passed over the forehead. The loads were heavy and the poor women were bent nearly double sometimes by their great weight. Little children trotted by their mother's side, full of life and fun, all unmindful of the life of toil and privation in store for them.
The Band watched with eager interest to see what these women were going to do. They saw them out upon the exposed river-bed until they came almost to the water's edge; then they began to dig with a short-handled hoe, something like a small adze. The soil here was gravel and the scrape, scrape, scrape, from many hoes, attested to the energy of the diggers.
. . . When a good big hole had been made, the women took banana leaves and lined it neatly and then peeled the roots and placed them carefully in the leaf-lined hole; after this the gravel was carefully heaped in a conical mound over the covering of leaves, and the work was complete.
. . . "These must be cassava roots," added Hattie, "and I remember hearing Mr. Reading say one time ... that they contained a poisonous juice, and must be soaked a few days before using..."
When the women had finished burying their roots, they went to other mounds, and, opening them, took out the large white roots, carried them to where the water was knee-deep and washed them clean, then piled them on round wooden trays, and balancing them carefully on their heads, picked up their baskets and hoes, called the little ones to them, and trudged along homewards no doubt to prepare dinner for a hungry family.
[later in Gabon]
. . . Mrs. Reading took the [American] girls to see the operation of making eguma, which is the bread of the sea-coast tribes.
It is made from the roots of the cassava, of which there are two varieties, the sweet, and the bitter; the latter is more generally used as it will grow on poorer ground, and yield a larger and surer crop. It contains a poisonous juice which may be dispelled by heat, or by soaking it in water for several days as was done by the Kamerun women, and is the plan adopted in making eguma. Lying so long in water causes the roots to ferment, and they do not smell good by any means, as the [American] girls soon discovered; these roots when taken from the water are peeled and grated and then boiled, which thickens the mass much as boiling thickens starch; it is then rolled in leaves and is ready to be eaten. In this condition it will save for a few days only and then a fresh supply must be made.
...Another product made of this root is farina, much made by the Camma [Nkami or Nkâmi] and other tribes south of Gaboon; in making farina the grated root is dried by heat, and the product is hard, dry grains that will keep longer than the eguma . . .
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