By Minke Reijers, ethnobotanist
In Suriname not only native plants grow, but also African plants, like banana, okra and sesame. These plants came with ships which transported enslaved peoples to the America’s and were grown by enslaved people in their gardens. During the escape of the Maroons plants were brought into the interior of Suriname. In villages Moitaki (Sipaliwini district, along Tapanahoni river) and Jawjaw (Sipaliwini district, along the Suriname River) many African plants still grow on farmlands of Aukaners and Saramaccaners maroons, amongst which many bananas.
What can a banana be used for? It seems that in the Netherlands people have a very simple view of what can be done with a banana, when compared to the Surinamese Maroons. Firstly, it is important to know that a banana is not just a banana. The research team, of which I was part, found 19 different banana cultivars. A cultivar is a underspecies bred by man. Differences between the banana plants can sometimes only be distinguished by Maroons. The found banana fruits differed in shape, color, taste. Often enough these banana’s are used in different ways.
(*click on image to enlarge*) From left to right the Loweman baana (runaway enslaved’s banana, photo: Tinde van Andel), the Ingi bakuba (indian bacove, photo: Amber van der Velden), and the Sukuu finga bakuba (sugarfinger bacove, photo: Amber van der Velden).
Various banana fruits, like the sukufinga bakuba and ingi bakuba, are edible when ripe right from the tree. There are also a lot of bananas that require some form of preparation. You can cook them (bori baana), bake them with flour and oil (baka baana) and mash them (tonton baana). For tonton baana the de cultivar suwa suwa baana is very tasty, with a slight sourish taste.
In Moitaki Densasi Misidjan taught us several delicous banana recipes. Heriheri was one of my favorites. For heriheri you slice up bakove, sweet casava and sweet potatoes and bake it oil. In the long dry spell (more or less from August to November) it is eaten with fish, but at the time it was nog available.
Densasi working on the heriheri: sweet casava, sweet potatoe and bacove are being baked. Photo: Minke Reijers.
Banana mixes well with rice and peanuts. Another day we tried two other recipes, for which you had to make rice to flour with pestle and mortar. After this, roasted peanuts were grounded into the mixture and ripe bananas. The result was a thick but liquid batter. This batter was folded in a banana leaf and could be roasted as well as boiled. Boiled it becomes like a pudding and is called baana afufu by the Aukaners. When it is roasted it becomes like a firm mass called baana kuku or doku. Chef Densasi told us that there is also another dish called baana afufu. This is a peanut soup with roasted banana and sweet casava.
In Jawjaw many of the recipes from Moitaki were known, still we found new recipes. We tried baana apiti, a soup with balls of grated banana. Lise Lenga made this for us with coconut milk, adjinomoto and frankfurters from the store. In the traditional recipe it is made with bushmeat or fish, but frankurters are pretty good as well!
Baana apiti made by Lise from Jawjaw and grated banaan for in baana apiti (Photos:Minke Reijers).
Also we made baana chips, famous in both Suriname and the Netherlands. Yet another dish was fada, a sweet dish with ground peanut, ground banana and sugar. To make everything more complicated this is sometimes called baana afufu, just like the previous pudding and peanut soup with roasted banana and sweet casava.
Lise mashes peanut and banana for the fada (or baana afufu, photo: Tinde van Andel).
Bananas are not only used as food, they can also have medicinal applications. The peel of bakuba (a ‘Cavendish’ cultivar) is used to make tea which helps against diarrhea. Also, peole use fruit and peel for many different ritual baths. And what about the small wataa mama bakuba (a ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ cultivar)? When put in hot water, the leaves can be used for ritual baby baths, to stimulate a baby to start walking sooner (this is called “waka snel” which means “to walk fast” in Surinamese, or Sranantongo).
Cecilia and her wataa mama bakuba plant (Photo: Minke Reijers).
On the vreedzaammarkt (or “Peaceful market”) in Paramaribo many Maroons sell their produce from the interior. There, I spoke to a Saramaccan woman, whom was selling the infloresence of an uma baana. The word uma in Sranantongo translates to woman (from ‘wuman’). She told me that the white inner part of the inflorescence is used to alleviate birth. It is a nice example of the connection of name and use of the plant.
There you have it: a banana is not just a banana. Many different cultivars are grown and used for various purposes. Not only the taste and shape are important for certain dishes. While some bananas are proper for consumption others are for ritual uses.
Due to the isolated way of living of the Maroons (after their flight from the plantations there was a long period of little contact with the coastal area), much of the unique culture was conserved. In this, many aspects of African cultures can be found, for example in the names of recipes. Afufu, used by Aukaners and Saramaccaners for different dishes also is used in West-Africa. In Ghana and Nigeria fufu is the name of a thick mash, made of banana, although also possibly yam or casava. It is supposed to be done like this in Suriname as well, but we have not found a Surinamese recipe. Does anybody know this?Also, the word ‘doku’ is still used in West-Africa for a dish. In Ghana it is a dish that is made from fermented maïs, served in a banana leaf. This shows that words made the trans-atlantic passing as well, although sometimes they ended up with another meaning.
There must be many Maroon recipes with banana I missed. I am very curious to hear more traditional bananarecipes (and see photos!) of other dishes. Please share these recipes with us! Maybe the name or the recipe can be linked to an origin in Africa!