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Heroic foods
published: Thursday | October 16, 2003

By Shelly-Ann Thompson, Freelance Writer

THEY FOUGHT bravely for our rights, often putting themselves at great risk of punishment and even death in some cases. As National Heroes Day approaches (Monday, October 20) Food got to thinking about how our National Heroes fed their bodies to give them strength and energy. We found out that cassava, fruits, roast lamb, fish, saltfish and yam were among the foods enjoyed by Sir Alexander Bustamante, Norman Washington Manley and Nanny.

Nanny of the Maroons

Maroons are also called 'Yankankoo,' which means free and independent

For more than four centuries, thousands of enslaved Africans managed to escape from the plantations of European colonisers throughout the Caribbean, searching for freedom. Most headed for the hills. Between the early 16th and late 19th centuries Maroons challenged the colonial powers and violently resisted enslavement. One of the most legendary and the only female National Hero is Nanny.

Colonel Wallace Sterling, the chief of Moore Town in Portland, says Maroons placed a big emphasis on food because of survival. He notes that in addition to their natural powers, Maroons like Nanny were strong because of the traditional foods they ate. Plants, he adds, were their main medicinal formula.

"People were much stronger then than now as foods were not contaminated with fertilisers," he says, mentioning that cooking was often done over a wood fire.

Traditional Maroon dishes include cacoon, jutkuto, cassava, coney, wild pig, wild fruits, crayfish, janga and birds.

Cacoon, which Colonel Sterling described as a favourite, is a wild bean that grows on a vine and plays an important part in their diet. Inside the shell is a white kernel which, after about four days of soaking, can be cooked in stews, used in soups or pounded to make beverages. The shell also has multiple purposes and can be used to make earrings, bags, yo-yos and fuel for fire.

Jutkuto and wild hook, Colonel Sterling says, are similar to and look like callaloo. They provide important nutrients and eat like a vegetable although they are not cultivated, he explains.

Coney, a small rodent that looks like a guinea pig, is now a protected species. As a result,

the Colonel says the animal is not hunted much but they make a nice stew.

Norman Washington Manley

Norman Washington Manley, the founder of the People's National Party, was a fruit lover and an excellent cook, says some of his relatives.

Granddaughter Rachel Manley says he "liked to eat half of a grapefruit, pineapples, ortanique, tamarind and, his favourite, Bombay mangoes." Most of these fruits Mr. Manley grew at his home in St. Andrew.

Among Mr. Manley's preferred dishes for breakfast was bacon and fried eggs. He also loved red peas soup, green salads, roast lamb and, at Christmas, he enjoyed ham, which he often prepared. In terms of hot beverages, Rachel Manley says her grandfather savoured peppermint tea and drank coffee with condensed milk.

Thelma Manley, an ex-wife of Mr. Manley's late son Michael, praised the hero for his cooking skills. She recalls when the family moved into their home in St. Andrew and had not yet acquired electricity, that Mr. Manley would cook on wood stoves, making "beautiful soups."

Sir Alexander Bustamante

Jamaica's first prime minister, Sir Alexander Bustamante, was a certified dietician. According to close friend Effie Lakasingh, this contributed a great deal to how he ate.

'Busta', as he is often called, forbade foods that were sweet and was disciplined about his diet. "(He was) particular about what he put in (his body)," recalls Mrs. Lakasingh, who was a caregiver for Sir Bustamante during his last days. "This contributed to his long life," she adds of the hero, who died at age 93.

"He wasn't a dessert person (and he) didn't drink with his meals," explains Mrs. Lakasingh. He ate fish, steamed vegetables, and drank fruit juices, especially cucumber mixed with ginger. In his later years, one of his favourite dishes for lunch was codfish and yam.

"He loved white yam served with codfish that had salted onion rings, tomato, Scotch Bonnet pepper cooked with olive oil or corn oil."

When socialising, his favourite drink was a shot of whiskey. "If friends should drop in he would ask Lady B to fix a shot of scotch," adds Lakasingh.

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