Exploring our connection to food – Cultivation in the Kingdom of Buganda

Exploring our connection to the food that we consume can feel like a strange a thing to establish, particularly, in spaces where over consumption and quick and easy access to food is regarded as the norm.  How much thought is given to the process of food arriving on our plates? The energy carried by those cultivating, harvesting, packaging and transporting our food. It can feel like an easy thing to overlook but exploring our connection to the food that we eat can play an important role in increasing our knowledge and awareness of food production as well as creating a space to engage more in the process. The close connection to food can be seen in the history of the Buganda Kingdom where the cultivation of the banana crop played an important part in shaping society.

The Kingdom of Buganda emerged around the thirteenth century in regions covering present day Uganda. The strong presence of bananas across the kingdom was noted by the British soldier Henry Edward Colvile in his account of his encounters in the Kingdom, “on the outskirts of nearly every village, banana plants may be seen carrying on an unequal struggle for life with overpowering grass”. Bearing in mind the strong presence of bananas in the kingdom, historian Gus Casely Hayford noted the important role the banana played in shaping the kingdom due to its many uses, here are some examples which draw attention to the close connection established to the banana in Bugandan society:

Items – The banana stem was used in a variety of ways; from building defences, to the liquids inside the stem being for washing. In addition, the banana leaves were used as the roofs for houses and the fibres were used to weave mats as well as necklaces and bracelets.

Food and drink –The banana leaf is rich in vitamins as well as anti-inflammatory properties which helps to understand why the banana was featured in several dishes of Buganda, notably the matoke dish. In addition, it was also used for juices and to make waragi (alcohol) as well as in herbal teas to address ailments.

Social affairs – Given that the banana was a staple crop for Buganda, it was also used as a means for paying tribute, one example of this was indicated in the description given by British soldier and explorer John Hanning Speke following his arrival in the Bugandan Kingdom, “now you have really entered the kingdom of Uganda, for the future you must buy no more food. At every place that you stop for the day, the officer in charge will bring you plantains, otherwise your men can help themselves in the gardens, for such as the laws of the land when king’s guest travels in it”. In her account of domestic life in Buganda, author Ruth B. Fisher also noted the use of the banana leaf to nurse children as well as its use in burial ceremonies.

The examples highlighted draw attention to a close connection to food in Bugandan history. By utilising the banana crop for many aspects of Buganadan life, it indicates that it was an important source of energy for the kingdom. From its presence in the cuisine to its presence in the home and social structure, the cultivation of the banana crop acted, in part, as the engine for the continuation of the Bugandan kingdom. A lot can be learned from the resourcefulness that emerged from this close connection to food. Exploring our connection to food serves as an opportunity to equip ourselves with knowledge to be resourceful as well as mindful of what we consume. Let thy food be thy medicine.

Sources

John Hanning Speke – Journal of the discovery of the source of the Nile (1864)

Henry Edward Colvile – The land of the Nile springs; being chiefly an account of how we fought Kabarega (1895)

Gus Casely Hayford – Ancient Kingdoms of Africa (2012)

The Bugandan Royal Family – A history of Buganda

Ruth B. Fisher – Twilight tales of the Black Baganda (1911)

*Image taken from Pinterest

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