Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Crops/Food/Rice and Sauce (=plasas)

 Mende man did not feel he had eaten until he had had his bowl of rice. Rice was the staple of all of Sierra Leone. Added to a well-cooked bowl of rice would be various sauces – including potato leaf, cassava leaf, and perhaps other greens.  Mixed with the rice would be the orange colored palm oil. And then there was the pepper – and this took us some getting used to. The pepper gave the rice a taste but it took several months before I was able to tolerate it without burning the roof of my mouth. Sometime various meat would be added to any of these dishes. In those days there was meat sold but it was expensive.  The Mende rice was very tasty – it was brown – large in individual kernel size – and chewy in consistency. It was much better that the white rice grown by the Chinese in their swamps as demonstration farms in the area, and much better tasting than the white rice that Peace Corps was introducing in the area. Most folks grew their own rice or bough large 50 lb bags in the rice market. Rice – for the most part in Sierra Leone was grown on the upland. The swamps were thought of as cold and damp – the Mende did not like to grow rice in the swamps. The method of farming – slash and burn – began at the ned of the dry season. Large areas would be cleared by hand by individual farmers, then these areas would be lit and burned – fires filling the night skies and smoke filling the air. The land would then be “scratched,” using hoes, and then seed would be broadcast over these area.  Rains would come by April (there could be 200 inches of rain between May and October) and this was what allowed upland rice to be grown. By mid summer the farms would be bright almost iridescent green. As the rice kernels began to mature and turn brown a competition began with local birds. Little boys with their slings would be assigned to keep the birds out of the farms. With their slings (and with stones) they would scare the birds away and keep their crops from being stolen. Harvest would come early the year – and at that time rice was in abundance and market rice would be cheap. However as the year would progress and the years store of rice would get eaten the cycle of expensive rice in the market would begin again.  Sometimes, with the upland rice, cotton would be planted for later use in making country cloth. Although cotton was grown – it was becoming scarce by those years – as people were relying more and more on materials made in Europe and imported. Upcountry cotton was planted by women, harvested by women, dyed by women, made into thread by women, and then handed over to the men who did the weaving. Other crops grown that I remember included groundnuts (we knew of them as peanuts), cassava – which was used as a sauce on the rice, the root or tuber was used to make something that I never acquired a taste for called “fu-fu.”  There was potato leaf as well. Yams were also something that from time to time I saw. Some of the more global individual farmers (B.S. Massaquoi is one man who comes to mind) had coffee plantations in the area. 

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