In her article “Once viewed as food for the poor in Haiti, this staple crop is vying for UNESCO recognition,” Jacqueline Charles (Miami Herald) writes, “This staple crop feeds nearly a billion people around the world, including in Haiti where it’s also helping to create jobs. Now Haiti and four other countries—Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Venezuela—have joined forces to ask UNESCO to recognize cassava, whose flour makes a popular flatbread, on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List.” See excerpts below. [Many thanks to Sophie Maríñez for bringing this item to our attention.]
In a wood-frame shack without walls on the western edges of this historic city, time stands still. Amid the constant noise of passing motorcycles and honking car horns, dozens of Haitians are busy at work preparing a traditional staple crop the way their forebears and the island’s indigenous people did ages ago: with charred wood, artisan sieves and homemade wooden knives. While a group of women scrapes away the outer skin of the edible root known as manioc or cassava, using nothing more than the peeled off metal tops of cans, a group of men prepares to process the tuber into flour by washing it, while a third group grates it and removes its toxic juice. The tuber’s dried, sifted flour is then spread evenly in a circular fashion onto a round, flat iron plate known as a platine, sitting on top of a large concrete slab with burning charcoal underneath.
“We have around 11 different flavors,” Monarc Petit Benoit, the co-founder of Dope Kasav, says. “There are so many I forget.”
STAPLE FOOD OF NEARLY 1 BILLION PEOPLE WORLDWIDE
The staple food for nearly a billion people around the world, cassava, also known as yuca, is enjoying a renaissance here thanks to its gluten and nut-free flour that is used to produce kasav or cassava bread, a popular flatbread of the region’s original Arawak population that until recently was considered poor people’s food in Haiti. That rebirth, Benoit says, can be credited to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising cost of wheat and other food. All have made wheat bread a pricey luxury, and kasav, with its long-shelf life, an attractive alternative. “It’s part of our culture and the production of cassava has been here for a long time, since the native Indians,” Benoit said.
“We have around 11 different flavors,” Monarc Petit Benoit, the co-founder of Dope Kasav, says. “There are so many I forget.” The staple food for nearly a billion people around the world, cassava, also known as yuca, is enjoying a renaissance here thanks to its gluten and nut-free flour that is used to produce kasav or cassava bread, a popular flatbread of the region’s original Arawak population that until recently was considered poor people’s food in Haiti. That rebirth, Benoit says, can be credited to the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising cost of wheat and other food. All have made wheat bread a pricey luxury, and kasav, with its long-shelf life, an attractive alternative. “It’s part of our culture and the production of cassava has been here for a long time, since the native Indians,” Benoit said.
The traditional know-how associated with the making of cassava bread is the driving force behind the country’s decision to join forces with four other Latin America and Caribbean nations — Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Venezuela — to offer the traditional cuisine to UNESCO for recognition on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Cassava’s candidacy, a collaboration that’s been two years in the making, marks the first time five countries in the hemisphere have come together to pose a multinational entry for the prestigious United Nations honor. Their pitch? While cassava’s taste and texture may vary across the region, and its name differs (kasav in Haiti; casabe in Cuba; ereba in Honduras; pan de Venezuela, bammy in Jamaica), the “pan de los Indios” or “bread of the Indians” as it is also known in Cuba, has transcended time and national boundaries. “It’s a much-needed reminder that at a time when Haiti can feel quite isolated, that we share some of the common lineage, common heritage, common cultural background with much of the region,” Dominique Dupuy, Haiti’s ambassador and permanent delegate to UNESCO, said.
In Cuba, the tradition lives in six rural provinces across eastern and central Cuba; in Venezuela, cassava is popular among indigenous communities and the country’s African descendants; in the Dominican Republic, as in Haiti, it’s present throughout, while in Honduras, it’s a staple food for the Garífunas, the descendants of African slaves mixed with Carib and Arawak Indians who sought refuge in Central America after fleeing slavery and war in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Dupuy, who in 2020 successfully got Haiti’s first ever entry on UNESCO’s Intangible List with the country’s popular independence pumpkin soup, soup joumou, said a cassava inscription provides Haitians with an opportunity to expand the conversation around their country, currently undergoing one of its worst humanitarian crises along with unprecedented levels of gang violence and kidnappings. Kasav — usually eaten with peanut butter, preferably Haiti-made with a pepper punch — is a symbol of national identity rooted in the country’s African and indigenous history that began long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards, before French buccaneers established a settlement on Île de la Tortue, the pirates’ lair off the country’s northwest coast, in 1625, and long before enslaved Africans rebelled to create the world’s first Black republic in 1804. [. . .]
The Taínos’ traditional know-how of producing cassava bread was passed on to others at a key time when the indigenous population on Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in the hemisphere was on the verge of extinction. The knowledge was absorbed by the enslaved Africans and passed on to their descendants through generations.
INVESTING IN CASSAVA
This history, said Benoit, along with the financial potential of the product, led him to invest in one of the oldest cassava businesses in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. Like the throng of people stopping by on a recent afternoon to purchase the flatbread, Benoit was a client. He was also motivated by the shortage of wheat bread during the COVID-19 pandemic and by the idea that if done right, he could also create jobs while helping out farmers. “Cassava from the north is the preference in the country,” said Benoit, whose training is in computers. “So I thought, why not have the cassava from Cap-Haïtien reach other regions and help the national production? The more people consume cassava, the more it will be in demand and the more jobs can be created.” [. . .]
For full article, see https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article273361915.html
[Photo above by Jacqueline Charles firstname.lastname@example.org: Josnel Pierre pepares kasav flatbread in Haiti, on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. The staple food, which has no fat or sourdough, is still prepared the way it was made centuries ago.]
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