We all know the adage, “Bread is the Staff of Life”. In Garifuna culture, this bread is called “areba” and is made from a tuber, the cassava root. Its preparation is time-consuming and laborious. Usually, women work in small groups, sharing equipment and singing to relieve the monotony. Despite the hard work, “areba” is prepared with good humor and playfulness.
The Ancient Process:
Beginning before dawn, one or more women and children go to the farm to dig up the bitter cassava roots, and transport 40 0r 50 pounds back to a house yard in head baskets, sacks, or more rarely gadouri (tump-line backpacks.) The roots are peeled, washed and grated on hip-high rectangular wooden graters fitted with stone teeth. After grating, the wet meal, “sibiba” is packed into a seven-foot-long cylindrical basketry squeezer called a “reguma”. Hung from a tree weighted at the bottom, this utensil squeezes out poisonous cyanate compounds into a liquid collected in drip pans. At the bottom of this liquid, a white starch settles and is kept for cooking and laundry use. The sibiba is left to dry overnight and sifted through round, flat baskets called (hibisi.) Unsiftable coarse gratings are put aside to be baked later into a brown biscuit used to make (hiu) or cassava wine.
A hot fire is prepared under a large iron griddle, and with the aid of several wooden implements and whisks, cassava flour is evenly sprinkled over the griddle. As it bakes, it forms one large pancake, which is then flipped over with a wooden spatula in mid-air. The areba is cut by knife with characteristic double-cross, marking six equal triangular pieces. They are dried by the sun and stored in waterproof containers where they can be preserved for a year or more. At least one dozen different recipes, including a variety of porridges, jellies, and sauces based on cassava and its products, are known in contemporary Garifuna cuisine.
Below is a recipe for Sweet Cassava Porridge; (Sahou):
Ingredients: Sweet Cassava, vanilla, dry coconut, sugar, nutmeg, and water.
Procedure: Grate sweet cassava and coconut together. Strain both together, mix liquid with sugar; add nutmeg and vanilla. Stir heavily as it boils. You can also add a little lard and wrap in plantain leaves and boil as you would a tamale.
Older Garifuna takes pride in telling the young that they would be stronger and healthier if we would adhere to the diet of our forebears. Perhaps they are right since today the trend is turning toward a plant-based diet.
If you are in Stann Creek, your tour guide can take you to see this fascinating process of making cassava bread.
Written by Nelita Castillo