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Cassava Cultivation in SVG

Cassava Cultivation in SVG

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The first Amerindian settlers (Ciboney) arrived in St. Vincent and the Grenadines about 5000 B.C. They were followed by the Arawaks from about the first century A.D. to about 1200 A.D., and eventually by the Callinagos (Caribs), after 1200 A.D.

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The Arawaks brought plants which they cultivated in the fertile volcanic soil. One of the crops they introduced was manioc (cassava). For several hundred years, they enjoyed a peaceful existence until the arrival of the Caribs. The new settlers were hostile to those they met on the island and eventually took the island for themselves.

This takeover was not instant, and enough time elapsed for each group to be influenced by the other’s culture. The Caribs adopted some of the Arawakan farming and food processing techniques, which included the growing and processing of manioc.

Catholic Priest Father Adrien Le Breton lived in St. Vincent from 1693 to 1702. In one of his many manuscripts, he wrote that cassava was used by the Caribs as “daily bread.” It was “finely grated with a rough grater and grilled as cakes.” Father Le Breton mentions the Carib’s knowledge of the toxin present in the cassava root, and describes how the cassava was treated to eliminate the poison. The method used is the same one used today.

Interestingly, the poison, after being treated was preserved to use as seasoning in our Carib ancestors’ dishes. Cassava was also used to produce a type of beer called “ouicou”. To make ouicou, they took some fresh, mature cassava root, and grated it using a copper grater. The cassava was then cooked over a low fire. It was then wrapped in green leaves and tightly fastened with sticks then left to ferment. After fermentation, it was diluted with warm water. Father Le Breton notes that the Caribs were “hardy drinkers” and welcomed visiting friends by serving large quantities of ouicou.

Although cassava production here declined significantly over the years, it never died out. There have always been small cassava processors who supply the local market with farine and bam bam (cassava cakes). Many of the large iron “coppers” used for processing cassava over the years are still being used.

With the opening of the cassava factory at Orange Hill, we are seeing a renewed interest in the cultivation, processing and marketing of cassava.

(Bibliography: Rev. Father Adrien Le Breton S.J., The Caribs; Edgar Adams, National Treasures, Edgar Adams, People on the Move.)

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