Onyinye OyedeleMonday, May 26, 2014




rowing up, the weaving of the famous intricate Akwete cloth synonymous with the Ndoki (Ukwa) people in Abia State, and the production of Garri were quite fascinating! These are two notable tasks of young Ndoki girls in addition to going to school. They contributed significantly to the family income from the sales. I watched relatives weave indigenous designs and often wondered when my arms would grow long enough to stretch out and 'pound' the wide vertical wooden looms! However, a more adventurous chore was processing Cassava (Jakpu). This 'Triumphant Tuber' has captured the stomach of the entire West Africa although it is not originally a native of the soil.... It is an 'Immigrant' crop. 'Crushed Cassava' character traits are 'Pearls' for immigrants across the globe...

Cassava left its home countries of Mexico and Brazil in Central America, journeying to West Africa in the company of Portuguese Trans-Atlantic slave traders in the late 15th Century. One of the regions they arrived in, the Ukwa region, notably Azumini (the Blue River route), which is in close proximity to the ancient city of Calabar. These were all slave trade routes. The Ukwa area is renowned for its prosperous market towns; trading in palm kernels, textiles, and yam. Cassava was sold in exchange for slaves.... The 'Triumphant Tuber' was introduced and it thrived in the region; Garri is the cheapest and most common meal.

Cassava Farmlands are all over my village, Obunku. The leaves spread out like 'open palms' greeting us while we trotted to the stream or jumped in and huddled in the open booth of grandma's 'gwongworo(old pickup truck). We harvested baskets of cassava, peeled it skillfully and washed with water fetched from the stream. Then we accompanied older relatives to the only grinding mill in the village. We kept some cassava for making Tapioca (Jakpu mini). Do you know that Garri is a low technology labour and most of the tasks are carried out by women? Majority of the global consumers of cassava live in small hinterland villages with limited access to finances and new agricultural innovations that can improve the speed and quantity of Garri produced.

Back then, we put the ground cassava in white raffia sacks, placed thick logs on the bags, and tied it firmly to drain the liquid and allow fermenting for about three days. Thereafter, it was sieved, and fried in a large frying pan in a kitchen hut. We fanned the firewood to flames with our eyes flickering and turning red! Behold, the 'golden granules' enough to last us for weeks, was ready. All we needed afterwards was a steaming pot of Okazi or Oha soup! The garri(eba) was always rock solid and the best for tangible moulds!

Interestingly, is there a "Tribal Trail" in the way people make and mould the smooth swallowing stuff? Every culture has a style of garri unique to their identity; The Igbos-white/yellow garri (add a little palm oil when frying). The Urhobos- Starch and yellow Garri. The Yorubas treasure the slightly off-white coloured Ijebu garri, which is less starchy because it ferments for about seven days. It is more crisp and preferable for soaking. Sometimes, searching for authentic Ijebu garri which is very sour and 'slaps' you into reality, could be quite a task!

Culturally, the Igbos eat very "hard" eba while the Yorubas like it soft.... According to an elder Igbo man when asked about the origin of hard Igbo garri, he said,

"The Igbo man needs a very strong meal for the stomach because of his trading occupation. He is always on the move." Do you know that the Igbos are the most migrated ethnic group in the country because of their trading ventures?

An elderly Igbo woman also said, "the Igbos need something like akpu(fufu) or very strong garri to 'settle' in the stomach. It might be the only meal for some! Their industrious nature demands that foods rich in carbohydrates are a consistent part of meals for a large deposit of energy!"

Some might think that starchy and hard Igbo eba is a recipe for constipation! While the soft, less starchy and meticulous process of cooking eba by the Yorubas, is gentle on the digestive system! Actually, the Yorubas might prefer the soft and wrapped eba for parties and better catering presentation!

Nevertheless, looking at garri regionally gives us a glimpse of cultural preferences. From one part of the country to another, there is an intertwining or overlapping of how the delicacy is prepared and served. Most importantly, do you know that the price of garri can be used to measure the cost of living in the country? Whether you like it hard or soft, garri is a 'constant' in every household.

In Conclusion, Cassava, the "Triumphant Tuber" blossomed on foreign African soil. As a resourceful crop, over time, it climbed into the food chain, and into the hearts of the people. Thereby making it one of the most consumed crops in West Africa. 'Cassava Character' traits are remarkable; resilience, adaptability, durability, and tolerance for harsh soil conditions. Immigration is a global trend and there are lessons to be harvested from this tuber. Like Cassava, Immigrants all over the world have learnt to adapt and flourish in their new home country.