Group Title: Olasee Davis articles
Title: Slaves ate a variety of foods including yams, cassava
Full Citation
Permanent Link:
 Material Information
Title: Slaves ate a variety of foods including yams, cassava
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Davis, Olasee
Publication Date: June 26, 1998
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: CA01300919
Volume ID: VID00219
Source Institution: University of the Virgin Islands
Holding Location: University of the Virgin Islands
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text

24 The Daly News, Fray, June 26.1998


Slaves ate a variety of foods including yams, cassava

As we approach the 150 years
of emancipation, some people
might ask what kind of foods did
enslaved Africans in the Virgin
Islands cat?
On many of my environmental
hikes throughout St. Croix partio-
ularly on the northwest side of the
island, I tried to point out some of
the foods slaves ate and survived
on such as bark of trees, leaves
and roots for medicinal use,
drinks, fruits and root crops.
Slaves needed large supplies of
nutritious foods if they were to be
physically fit to perform the labor
their masters required of them.
They needed proteins for repair-
ing the cells of their bodies, car-
bohydrates and fats which are the
body's main sources of energy,
calcium, vitamins and other essen-
tial elements.
Sugar planters in the Caribbean
recognized two systems of feeding
their slaves. One was at the
expense of the master and the
other by the labor of the slave.
Under the first system, slaves
might have been fed by imported
foodstuffs, supplied with cash to
buy food, or required to grow
food crops on their master's land
as a regular part of the plantation

Or they depended on a combi-
nation of these methods to sustain
their lives. In some cases, slaves
were provided cooked food by
their masters, especially for those
who were sick indigent or aged
and for mothers with Infants or
older children.
Generally speaking, slaves
were allowed to plant what they
wanted on their masters land.
However, planting their own food
was on their time not their masters
Plots given out to slaves were
known as "house plots," "yards"
or "kitchen garden" near their
house and on the outskirts of plan-
tations large plots were known as
"provision ground," "negro
grounds" or "polink."
Slaves specialized in any type
of crop. or animals they want such
as swine, poultry or even produc-
ing handicrafts.
Thus, any surplus of food pro-
duced by slaves can be sold to the
market and the proceeds used to
buy drink, clothing, food or
household ftrnlshings.
However, malnutrition was
always a problem for slaves due
to a not balance diet. Nonetheless,
such roots crops as cassava, yams,
tannias and ptatais were plentiful

O1ase Davis

in "negro grounds" on St. Croix.
Cassava was popular with
slaves because of the many prod-
ucts it can produce.
Reimert Hagensen, a Danish
planter, was familiar with cassava
growing on St. Croix in the 1730s.
He stated that "it require 12
months of growth in order to
product its fruit, which cannot be
seen until one pulls the plant from
the ground, root and all. When the
roots begin to appear, they look
like big, overgrown radishes, red-
dish in color. These roots are all
broken off and when a sufficient
quantity of them has been gath-
ered, one or two of the slaves sit
down and peel off the outer skin
with knives."
Hasgensen continues to say,
"the Inside is quite white and
juicy. Then they are grated on a
large grater as with porridge and
the water Is completely pressed
out. When it has dried, it has the

appearance of the whitest and best
flour. It is then baked in an iron
skillet, producing the most
delightful bread that one would
ever eat."
Yams were considered vegeta-
bles according to Hasgnsens. He
stated, "... there is a vegetable
called "yams" that is quite good.
In appearance it is like a large
root, it provides a part of the
slaves food."
Banana and fruits of various
kinds were eaten by slaves. In
1778, ackee, a common fruit in
Jamaica, was brought from Africa
by enslaved Africans for food.
In 1793, breadfruit plants were
shipped from Tahiti to the
Caribbean for slaves to eat.
Tamarind and the baobab trees
were brought also by enslaved
Africans from West Africa that
slaves used for food.
In the 1700s, mango trees were
Imported from India to Barbados
plantations and spread to the rest
of the Caribbean islands In the
1800s. This fruit was also eaten
by slaves.
Many of the variety of fruits
we enjoy today come from the
planted of our ancestors. Medici-
nal plants and roots of trees were
also a major diet and healer of

slaves in the Caribbean.

Like fruits, vegetables and
root crops, sea foods were also a
major part of slaves diet. Lob-
sters, oysters, sea turtles, and fish
of various kinds were eaten by

Haagensen mentioned in his
book about St. Croix in the 1730s,
"... at certain times during the
year there appears a tremendous
number of land crabs which, at
full moon, go to the beach to wash
or wet themselves. Sometimes the
sandy beaches look quite red
instead of white, and people can
scarcely walk or ride on them.
though it is less hazardous to walk
than to ride."

According to Hasgensen, the
slaves on St. Croix preferred the
"she crabs" as they called them
because they were filled with
eggs. To some extent today, land
crabs still migrate to the beaches
on St. Croix especially at Wills
and Annaly Bay.

This article reflects the view of
Olasee Davis, a St. Croix ecolo-
gist, activist and writer who has a
master of science degree in range
management and forestry ecology.

University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs