A wonderful surprise!

On the night I was dumbstruck.  All I could muster was thank you, thank you, thank you.

It was clear to those around me upon the announcement and to those handing me this award that I did not expect it.  I was shocked, surprised, thrilled, elated and unprepared.

So I didn’t say much about what it meant.  I couldn’t.

This is what I wish I’d said:

Africa is the final frontier of food.  Our traditional dishes, ingredients and techniques have been passed down for centuries and yet we can elevate and evolve what we do even further.  We can do that without compromising its authenticity or provenance.  Our food can be fine dining and that’s not selling out and it doesn’t make it any less black, or less African.

This is new Africa!

We are new Africa..

The world is yet to experience all that our content has to offer to contribute to share.   We can do home cooking, we can do casual dining, fast casual, diner, bistro, contemporary casual or fine dining, so let’s not put ourselves in a box, or worse let anyone else put us there.

There’s a lot of talk about migrants in the news and it’s easy to divorce oneself from the plight of others, unless you can to walk in their shoes or even know one.  I am a migrant.

Migration is not a crime, and as a black woman of Sierra Leonean origin trying to make it in the food industry I can tell you it is not easy.  We do face barriers, unconscious bias, and do have to push twice as hard.  I’m proudly African, I am British and I am black.  There are cultural differences, behaviours, beliefs, customs, traditions, language and expressions that are both fascinating and at time challenging, but I know there is a richness in diversity and much to love.

I am also really clear that we must work to eliminate racial disparities and improve outcomes for everyone. Where there is a need we much change policies, practices, systems, and structures by prioritizing measurable change in the lives of people of colour.  Be Inclusive Hospitality was established with a vision to create a Hospitality sector that is Equitable and Inclusive for Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities at all levels.  Their goal is to support the upward social mobility of 10,000 employees and 2,000 business owners from our community by 2026.  Please do check out their website: https://bihospitality.co.uk/

So I was thrilled to win the Award for African food.  This is my space.  I am proud to have one it for myself and for Sierra Leone.  I am also proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with BE Inclusive and demand equity, because every person, everywhere, should have an equal chance to live up to their full potential.


The Shwen Shwen Foundation is proud to announce our donation of £1,000.00 to the Cottage Hospital.  The Cottage Hospital is a nickname for the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH), which was founded in 1892 by British Missionaries in Sierra Leone.  This need was brought to our attention by Afro Arts Productions.

We would like to thank and recognise Afro Arts Productions who have been raising funds for Cottage Hospital since 2016.  The need is great and they have been helping with refurbishment of wards and offices, to providing mosquito news and plumbing works.  The Hospital suffers from power black-outs and lack of blood supplies and basics such as food for mothers and babies. The United Nations defines the “lifetime risk” of maternal mortality as the probability that a 15-year-old girl will die at some point from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. Sierra Leone’s figure — one in 20 — is the third highest in the world.  The Cottage Hospital in Sierra Leone requires all the support we in the diaspora can muster.

Afro Arts Productions is a community based organisation in the UK, dedicated to highlighting for recognition, outstanding Sierra Leoneans in all walks of life in the UK.  They also work tirelessly on a number of charitable aims and initiatives and we would like to thank them for their support of the Cottage Hospital back in Sierra Leone.

The Shwen Shwen Foundation

The Shwen Shwen Foundation is not a charity, at least  not yet.  There are plenty of charities, perhaps too many and we feel there is benefit in pooling resources to achieve the most bang for our buck in terms of impact.  Shwen Shwen has become a Micro influencer on Instagram we are relatable to our followers and have an engaged audience because of our particular niche.  Our niche being a black owned business, focused on traditional Sierra Leonean cuisine and Afro-fusion fine dining. With influence comes great responsibility and we take that responsibility seriously.  We will balance purpose and profit and grasp opportunities to highlight three important issues:

Defeat Poverty – As a proud Sierra Leonean, I was born and raised in Freetown.  I know what it’s like to be hungry first hand.  I also know that over 700 million people in our world currently live in extreme poverty and that with collective action, we can change this.

Defend the Planet – The world’s poorest people contribute the least but suffer the most from the climate crisis. Climate change impacts people’s health, ability to access nutritious food, and livelihoods.

Demand Equity – Every person, everywhere, should have an equal chance to live up to their full potential.

The Shwen Shwen Foundation acts in a dynamic way, leverage our influence, raise awareness and respond when the need arises.  So far we responded to the mud-slides tragedy, fuel tanker explosion and now Cottage Hospital needs.  We will work with local partners, established Charities and NGO’s with visions, missions and values that resonate with ours, with causes that are dear to our hearts. In summary Shwen Shwen seeks to be a new kind of business that aims to connect people through food, balance purpose and profit and grab every opportunity we can to work toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.

We have a sincere desire to support the development, accomplishments, and well-being of others, and are very clear, that we must be the change we seek!

Today, 27th April 2022 is Sierra Leonean independence Day.  There will be a celebration of freedom, nationhood, history and patriotism. Some of us Sierra Leoneans,  both at home and in the diaspora, will once again – as we do at this time of the year – reflect on what freedom has meant for our nation.  And as before, it will invoke all sorts of complex emotions.

We continue to ask ourselves: How has Sierra Leone’s independence worked for us these last 61 years?  Has it even been a good thing?

Thinking about the future, how can we make a greater contribution moving forwards so that Sierra Leonean’s can enjoy the freedom and benefits that being independent should bring. Sierra Leonean’s have been through a lot, but while our hearts beat, hope lingers!

A single thread of hope is still a very powerful thing and on this independence day, I would like to offer a vision of hope.  It’s not what we look at that matters.  It’s what we see!

Imagine Sierra Leone, a country where wildlife thrives, and people can too.

Sierra Leone’s land and seas are rich in wildlife, it’s a country where people can live in harmony with nature.  The economic well-being and quality of life for Sierra Leoneans can be improved if we move to protect and maintain living landscapes, living seas and a society where nature matters, to ensure equity, good health care, consistent education, nutritious food and clean water for all.

The major natural resources in Sierra Leone include mineral resources, land for agricultural production, and tourist attractions.  Sierra Leone is blessed with abundant natural resources but we need to look after them.  The money we make is a symbol of the value we create.  Money flows in the direction of value.   Although a small country we are blessed with something of immense value and it is right under our noses.

Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.  It is something in the world that holds true value.  Not many countries are blessed with what Sierra Leone has and it can be monetized, if we move to protect it.

Imagine the future…

Wildlife, wild places and natural habitats in Sierra Leone will be abundant and thriving again.  They will be a significant, commonplace and everyday part of the countries, towns and cities, our coasts and seas.  Our landscape will be full of flowers and alive with birdsong.  Wherever you are, you will be able to see and hear wildlife nearby, and know that even the most rare, threatened and endangered species have populations that are stable, resilient and recovering in Sierra Leone.

Out at sea, communities of slow-growing species such as sponges, sea-fans and sea-pens will be re-establishing themselves across much of the seabed;  whales, dolphins and porpoises will be abundant and commercial fish stocks will have recovered. Sierra Leone will be recognised as somewhere where people live long, healthy, active and fulfilling lives. Among other things, this will be driven by the quality of our natural environment and our society’s recognition of the contribution it makes to the quality of life, health and prosperity of people living in Sierra Leone.

Human development can only be sustainable if it does not destroy the ecosystems on which people and wildlife depend.  Preventing species extinctions is an enormous challenge and depends on a sound understanding of the complex interdependencies between people and nature.  Even in wilderness areas where there is little human presence, there is still a need to manage and protect wildlife from human effects, for example through protected area management.  Over half of us now live in urban environments, increasingly disconnected from the natural world on which we depend – there is a real opportunity and need to bring humans close to wildlife, to breathe life into cities and contribute to wellbeing and community life.  We need a body akin to a Sierra Leonean Zoological Society (ZSL).   There is another gem that is right under our noses.

Introducing Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

They have been preserving Sierra Leone’s Wildlife since 1995 and can help us achieve a better future.  Located just on the outskirts of Freetown, in the Western Area Peninsula National Park, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary was founded in 1995 by conservationist Bala Amarasekaran and his wife Sharmila.

Initially established to enforce wildlife laws and rescue and rehabilitate critically endangered orphaned Western chimpanzees, Tacugama has grown into a diverse conservation organization.  Caring for close to 100 chimpanzees on-site, Tacugama is also actively engaged offsite in community outreach, wildlife field research, environmental sustainability, conservation education and alternative livelihoods programs. Tacugama is also an eco-tourism hub for Freetown – home to 6 eco-lodges, and a variety of activities for both tourists and Freetowners alike to participate in.  Tacugama aims to be at the forefront of preserving Sierra Leone’s remaining wildlife through education, community support and eco-tourism.  As Sierra Leone’s primary conservation organization, their mission is to use education and community conservation to eliminate the wildlife trade and safeguard the remaining natural habitats in the country. Through law enforcement, eco-tourism, livelihoods programs, and chimpanzee rehabilitation, they are engaging local communities and multidisciplinary stakeholders to secure the future of Sierra Leone.

Can you help?

Tacugama have established a UK Charity in addition to the work they do in Sierra Leone.  Can you help safeguard Sierra Leone’s most cherished wildlife?

  • Adopt a chimp ambassador and support Tacugama’s mission today!
  • Join Tacugama’s growing volunteer programme and make a difference in the world of conservation.
  • Treat yourself to a night under the canopy in one of our six eco-lodges nestled in the heart of the rainforest

Are you in the Sierra Leonean Diaspora?

A country’s diaspora, and the diasporas it hosts, can be a huge asset for its development. We are a channel through which not only money, but also much tacit knowledge, can flow, we are a potential source of opportunities for trade, investment, innovation, and professional networks.  Governments should have a diaspora strategy that builds on natural feelings of identity and affection to cultivate this social network as a powerful source of economic progress.    If we want to harness the value that is under our noses, we can do much more to raise the importance of environmental awareness with our Government and other stakeholders, we can raise awareness of the depth and breadth of wildlife, flora and fauna we are blessed with and the eco-tourism potential it holds.  We can all become ambassadors for our cherished Tacugama and the great work they have been dedicated to for decades, because if they thrive, we thrive.

Please do check out their website and get in touch:


Maria Bradford 

Be the change we seek!

Introducing the Shwen Shwen Foundation

Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and nonprofits alone.  I founded Shwen Shwen with a strong sense of purpose and that was to put Sierra Leonean produce, cuisine and unique culture on the map.  I wanted to prove that traditional West African cuisine can be fine dining.  Ultimately I wanted to connect people through food, elevate our culture, and balance purpose and profit.  I wanted, inspire my fellow Sierra Leonean’s to take action, and to be the change we seek.

Connecting People through food

Throughout history explorers have landed in Sierra Leone, attracted by our huge resources. Their intentions were not always pure, and transactions not always fair. Inspired by my Sierra Leonean heritage, I’m gathering a new breed of explorers. Foodies, willing to pay a fair price for our resources, genuinely interested in our culture and traditions. They seek new ingredients, new flavours, and see value in techniques that have been forgotten. This new generation are keen to expand their culinary horizons, create new perspectives and cross new frontiers. These explorers will take nothing but memories, yet leave an enduring positive social and economic footprint.

This is about people and food. It’s about connection.

We source high quality producers, create stunning dishes, new experiences and serve them to people with a refined interest in food.  This in-turn will create a platform on which others can build.  We hope to support Sierra Leonean producers, and collaborate with other creatives to improve economic development for a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Balancing purpose and profit

Introducing the Shwen Shwen Foundation.  We are not a charity, at least  not yet.  There are plenty of charities, perhaps too many and we feel there is benefit in pooling resources to achieve the most bang for our buck in terms of impact.  Shwen Shwen has become a Micro influencer on Instagram we are relatable to our followers and have an engaged audience because of our particular niche.  Our niche being a black owned business, focused on traditional Sierra Leonean cuisine and Afro-fusion fine dining. With influence comes great responsibility and we take that responsibility seriously.  We will balance purpose and profit and grasp opportunities to highlight three important issues:

Defeat Poverty – I’m a proud Sierra Leonean, and was born and raised in Freetown.  I know what it’s like to be hungry first hand.  I also know that over 700 million people in our world currently live in extreme poverty and that with collective action, we can change this.

Defend the Planet – The world’s poorest people contribute the least but suffer the most from the climate crisis. Climate change impacts people’s health, ability to access nutritious food, and livelihoods.

Demand Equity – Every person, everywhere, should have an equal chance to live up to their full potential.

The Shwen Shwen Foundation will act in a dynamic way, leverage our influence, raise awareness and respond when the need arises.  We will work with local partners, established Charities and NGO’s with visions, missions and values that resonate with ours, with causes that are dear to our hearts.

In summary we are a new kind of business that aims to connect people through food, balance purpose and profit and grab every opportunity we can to work toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high quality jobs with dignity and purpose.

We have a sincere desire to support the development, accomplishments, and well-being of others, and are very clear, that we must be the change we seek!


Head Chef and Founder for and on behalf of Shwen Shwen.

April 27, 2021 marks sixty years of Sierra Leonean independence.  There will be a celebration of freedom, nationhood, history and patriotism in the country on the day. Some of us Sierra Leoneans,  both at home and in the diaspora, will once again – as we do at this time of the year – reflect on what freedom has meant for our nation.  And as before, it will  invoke  all sorts of complex emotions.

For me, the Sierra Leone story is one of abuse: A nation that was founded in exploitation and that continues to be trapped in a cycle of abuse. We’ve gained independence, yet remain dependent on aid; and are now trying to work out how to live in a globally interdependent world that places us at the lowest level of priority.  Our planet is beset by  monumental challenges – fair access to economic resources and ethical  governance – and these all seem magnified several fold in Sierra Leone. The sad irony is that we are a nation rich in natural resources; and once provided succour for freed slaves repatriated back to Africa.

We know that Sierra Leone existed as a colony of Britain for the sole purpose of making Britain richer and advancing the goals of Empire. But then there was independence, sixty years ago- and self-government. It should have been smooth sailing after that, right?

History has shown however, that all too often, conflict follows de-colonisation. There was mismanagement and corruption after the British left, by our home grown leaders. Ethnic strife festered amongst people across the nation. A civil war lasting 11 years paralysed the country, leaving over 50,000 dead. A vulnerable nation, weak in basic infrastructure, succumbed to Ebola in recent years. It is a small wonder that the covid-19 pandemic has not wreaked more havoc than it might have, given the state of the nation’s health system.

Today, the British influence may exist mainly in the structures that were left behind.  China has now rapidly  moved in as the dominant power. As an example, China has sent almost 7,000 tons of food aid to the country recently, in the face of the pandemic.  The relationship is of course,  ruthlessly  transactional, with China obviously, wielding far more bargaining power.  China seems to have been given carte blanche in  commercial fishing, which environmental activists say is destroying our coastline and tourism potential.  Chinese companies have secured the largest iron ore concession in the country. The trade-off is said to have been the construction  of roads through underdeveloped areas. China appears to have the largest grip on fish and timber that’s produced in the country.

It is in this context that a Diaspora Sierra Leonean like me ponders independence. Many of us fled during the war, and many of us are economic migrants who came to western countries seeking economic freedom and a better life.   We provide an important source of resources for our extended families back in Sierra Leone. We work hard, and the money we send home can often be the difference between life or death.  And we continue to ask ourselves: How has Sierra Leone’s independence worked for us these last sixty years ?

Has it even been a good thing?

Thinking about the future, how can we make a greater contribution moving forwards so that Sierra Leonean’s can enjoy the freedom and benefits that being independent should bring.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

The quote above resonates with me. Ever since I was a child, I loved books.  I love reading fiction and when it comes to cook books I like those that tell a story.  Here at Shwen Shwen we are on a mission to inspire, elevate culture, connect people and make a difference through food.

Over the last few years it has been flattering to receive so many messages and comments on my Instagram posts asking for recipes and if we have any plans to write a cook book.  I’ll be honest and say I lacked the confidence but with my husband’s encouragement, I have been penciling rough ideas down on paper and, as luck would have it, I was approached by a literary agent – and to my delight, she is of Sierra Leonean heritage too!

I signed with the Elise Dillsworth Agency in June 2020. 

Elise has been a constant guide and support and no question is ever too trivial and she is always ready to help. Like me, she is passionate about creating space for African imagination and innovation to flourish. Work has begun on a cookbook which will take readers on a journey from the kitchen of my grandmother in Bo, to those of my extended family throughout Sierra Leone. We will showcase traditional Sierra Leonean cooking and introduce more of our Afro-fusion repertoire.

Watch this space…

Introducing Elise…

Elise Dillsworth Agency, was established in 2012 and is based in London. The agency represents literary, commercial fiction and non-fiction, with a keen aim to reflect writing that is international. Elise Dillsworth became a literary agent in 2012. Previously she was a commissioning editor at Virago Press, an imprint of Little Brown Book Group. Elise co-founded the Diversity in Publishing Network, which received the New Venture Award from Women in Publishing in 2005. Since then she has been a judge for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Bocas Fiction Prize, SI Leeds Prize, the London Short Story Prize  and The Northern Writers’ Awards.

In 2020, Elise Dillsworth Agency became associated with David Higham Associates, with their team now representing clients in translation markets and for film/TV rights.

For more information: www.elisedillsworthagency.com







For the love of bread!

One of my fondest childhood memories, growing up in Freetown, was when my mum would buy fresh bread every morning from kortor Barry. The return to home-baking was one of the more lovely surprises of lockdown, and baking bread was one of its most comforting pastimes. The Great British Bake-off , a TV show has done wonders for baking in the UK, for some reason returned my thoughts to home.  That’s the thing with our ‘Swit Salone’ – Our feet may leave but our hearts remain.

Here at Shwen Shwen we are proud ambassadors for Sierra Leonean, West African and African suppliers, producers, and artisans.  We will collaborate with people that share our passion, our values and get our purpose.  How do you spot a radical baker? . They’re always going against the grain!

So with that said we are proud to introduce Freetown’s very own Flour Power – The Red Lion Bakery.

They knead the bread we need!

Bread is an important food staple and an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet for families and communities in Sierra Leone.  The team at Red Lion Bakery work their socks off, and overcome all sorts of challenges and to provide quality bread at affordable prices.  Their efforts to provide safe, nutritious, and sufficient food in Sierra Leone are to be commended and they deserve our full support and recognition.

They provide employment opportunities and contribute to the local economy in Freetown and I am pleased to say business at the bakery is on the rise!

The yeast I can do is tell you about their proud history.  It all began sometime during the years of the 2nd World war (1939-1945) when Mrs. Ethel Ashwood’s husband brought home a loaf of bread from Whitfield’s Bakery for the household, which then consisted of 6 children, Hodson, Pamela, Gloria, Gracie, Jestina, and the youngest Joseph, who was a baby and 2 servants.  Mr. Ashwood explained that the bread was being rationed in the shop and that it cost an exorbitant amount of one shilling!  Mrs. Ethel Ashwood considered this matter seriously, as the one loaf of bread was not enough for her, a nursing mother, let alone to feed the entire household.

At once she remembered the method of her late mother Annie Asgill, who used to bake cakes in a pot during Festive seasons and whipped out her cookery book to try to make bread in like manner.  She bought all the necessary ingredients in the recipe for bread making and made the first attempt using a metal pot.  It was not successful.  She tried again and again, and after several unsuccessful attempts which turned out to be hard as stone or completely soggy, she conquered!  With joy, she took some samples to give to her nearest neighbors in the Kingtom Police Barracks where they lived.  The Police Officers asked her whether there will be more, and so she started making bread with a few pounds of flour, for sale.  As the news spread around, the business progressed gradually and by 1948 it was a recognized farmhouse Bakery at Kingtom trading under the name of Ashwood, Sons and Daughters (ASSADS).  Mr. Ashwood, a Police Officer who was returning from leave in the U.K. renamed the Bakery, Red Lion after his favorite “watering hole”.  A small oven was bought and expert bakers were engaged.

This is the birth of Red Lion Bakery, which has been situated at 13 Bolling Street, Kingtom since 1949.  They currently have a staff of 42 full-time employees, and three bread shops: one in the centre of town at 65 Siaka Stevens Street, the other in the west end at 43 Spur Road, Lumley, and the Bakery shop at 13 Bolling Street, Kingtom.  Several retail shops across Freetown, owned and operated by independent retailers also carry Red Lion Bread.

If you visit Freetown, for the love of loaves please pay them a visit!

Bread shops:
65 Siaka Stevens Street
+232 30 911 812

43 Spur Road, Lumley
+232 30 911 816


PS.  Sorry I went on a roll with the bread jokes.  You might think they are crumby, but to me they never get stale!

Photograph below of Mr. Ashwood, and also Mrs Ethel Ashwood greeting the President of Sierra Leone.  The last image is their family home built by Mr Ashwood in 1949 complete with a sculpture of a Red Lion. 

Red Lion Bakery

Goodbye 2020 – Hello 2021

Looking back then looking forward with Shwen Shwen.

This year will be uniquely etched in our memories for how testing it has been, but it is one on which we can reflect back and truly appreciate how adaptable and resilient we can be, when we put our minds to it.   It has been tough on the hospitality and leisure sectors who without doubt deserve a better year in 2021.  2020 also gave us hope, whilst sadly and tragically off the back of yet another brutal murder with the world watching, the spotlight was thrown on racism and inequality.  As a black-owned business it’s great to feel there is a new space for black imagination and innovation, and with a new found awareness of equality issues, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.

What is the most important lesson you learnt this year?

I learnt that working hard is important but believing in yourself matters even more.  The first lockdown dealt a killer blow to the supper club events and weddings I was due to cater for this year and I was selling my product at a local farmers market which closed, leaving online sales as our only channel to market.  Good products can be sold honestly, authentically and if underpinned by a much greater purpose then your discerning customers will buy them.  So I learnt to believe in myself and Shwen Shwen’s great products and following our successful re-brand we also believe in our customers who ‘get it’ and can see what we are trying to achieve.   Thank you. 

What is the best thing that happened?

The re-branding of Shwen Shwen was a highlight this year, but the best thing was born out of challenge.  The first lockdown found us with a product surplus due to event cancellations, and market closure.  So we donated our product to our hardworking NHS staff, which brought us joy and satisfaction on so many levels.

What did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed the mandatory family time that the lockdown brought.  My husband and I and our two children watched a few more films than we would normally and when we did all succumb to the dreaded Coronavirus we isolated together and looked after each other until well again.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who are suffering with this unpleasant virus this Christmas, and we hope the vaccine makes an impact in the fight against it in 2021.

What are your plans for 2021? 

We have now secured a private dining venue in Kent and can cater for small groups of  between 10 and up-to 15 people for themed private dining experiences, such as: Valentines, Mothers-day, Sierra Leone Independence dinner, Fathers day, Eid, Halloween, Black History Month, and of course a Christmas party 2021. Whilst we are happy to deliver our Sierra Leonean (seven course) tasting menu, we are also happy to create bespoke menu’s and rest assured EVERY event will leave a lasting memory.    We’re taking pre-orders now!

Vino Bianco – Spumante Extra Dry from Shwen Shwen.

Our range of drinks and mixers work well with Prosecco and so we did some research, reached out to a contact and are thrilled to announce the following:

“On the finest hills in Valdobbiadene, Conegliano, Italy, there is a single vineyard owned by a family that harvest the grapes by hand. 

This is not supermarket Prosecco – Shwen Shwen is now working in partnership with this vineyard to bring our discerning customers something really FANCY!  It’s extra dry, floral, aromatic, and fruity, it’s perfect for dinner parties.  We are taking pre-orders now!

Expanding our product range. 

In 2021 we intend to add to our product range and build out our online shop.   We have some additional product ideas but they are top secret for now, so watch this space.

With this said I would like to offer you all our warmest wishes from Shwen Shwen and wish you a very Happy New Year.




We named our Ginger Beer after Nomoli tribal figurines, the bearers of good health, this zingy ginger beer is inspired by a traditional Sierra Leonean recipe. We’ve bottled it with our own interpretation, of course.

Nomoli figurines in Sierra Leone

Nomoli figurines are stone sculptures found in an area centered in southern Sierra Leone. These ‘nomoli’, as they are usually called, were made and used in the area where they are found, rather than having been imported. It is believed that these figurines were made by the groups of peoples called ‘Sapes’ by the early explorers of the region. This is partially confirmed by the fact that features of these people at the time of the first contacts seem to correlate with features found on nomoli.

Originally intended as ancestor figures, these stone statuettes are used by some of the modern inhabitants of Sierra Leone as ‘swearing’ devices and to help increase agricultural yields.  The ‘monstrous’ appearance of many of the nomoli might be due to their being carved as representations of krifi or of heads of secret societies.

As to their dating, stylistic relationships between some of the nomoli and some of the ancestral figures in the Sudan, along with an apparent influence from that area dated about the seventh or eight century A.D., might mean that they were first manufactured at that time.

Nomoli tribal figurines were thought to be bearers of good health, and they have often have a color very similar to our beloved root ginger, used for making Sierra Leonean fiery ginger beer.

The health benefits of ginger


Ginger root has a range of health benefits, including improving digestion, blood sugar levels, and harmful cholesterol levels.

Its official name is Zingiber officinale. The rhizome, more commonly known as the root, is what you are likely familiar with. The root is spicy and peppery in flavor, with loads of medicinal properties. It’s used all over the world in culinary and clinical applications—both for good reason.

Ginger has been called a super food time and again, but what makes it so powerful?

This root has the following superpowers.

Stimulating digestion

Ginger can support almost everything regarding digestive health. Functional dyspepsia is the clinical term used to describe upper abdominal discomfort like acid reflux that is thought to be related to slowing of the digestive system. Ginger has been shown to help these issues.

Ginger helps increase the body’s ability to empty food from the stomach more quickly—known as gastric emptying. With this increased motility in the digestive system, it’s less likely that heartburn or indigestion will occur. In fact, one study of healthy participants showed that taking ginger capsules (1200 mg) with a meal stimulates digestion so much that gastric emptying speed was doubled! Imagine the relief that would come from food leaving your stomach twice as quickly.

The more efficient your digestion is, the more energy you will have because researchers have found that approximately 60 percent of your body’s energy goes to metabolism. If ginger can improve digestion, your metabolism will improve and energy will be more available. This is possible because the quicker you can digest your food, the faster you will absorb the vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. You will also have less undigested food in your digestive tract; food consumes energy when left undigested. So not only does ginger stimulate digestion by improving symptoms of dyspepsia and speeding gastric emptying, but it also benefits your overall energy levels.

Lowers blood pressure

High blood pressure (known as hypertension) is a common symptom of the standard western diet, which is high in processed foods. When hypertension is left untreated it can lead to damage to your arteries, heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. Doctors frequently prescribe blood pressure medications to their patients, but what if you could reduce your blood pressure naturally?

Ginger has been shown to improve blood pressure (in conjunction with medication) by acting as a vasodilator—it expands your blood vessels. This is helpful for increasing circulation in the body, which reduces the overall blood pressure throughout the body. Ginger also contains potassium, a mineral that research has found can help lower blood pressure.

Reduces Nausea

Nausea is no fun. Whether it’s from motion sickness, morning sickness, post-surgery effects, chemotherapy, or pregnancy, nausea is not an experience anyone wants. And when you do experience an upset stomach, you’d give anything to make it end! Enter ginger.  Ginger has been shown to be an effective remedy for nausea related to pregnancy and chemotherapy.

Ginger has also been found to reduce the amount of nausea you might otherwise experience when feeling seasick. After surgeries, it’s common for some people to experience nausea and vomiting. The good news is that researchers have found ginger to be an “effective means for reducing postoperative nausea and vomiting.”

Not only does ginger provide relief from post-surgery nausea, it can also help cancer patients. In a study of both adults and children undergoing chemotherapy treatments, ginger was found to be effective in providing relief from the nausea that accompanies those treatments. Based on the scientific evidence, ginger is definitely worth a try when you’re experiencing nausea of any kind.

Reduces inflammation

Inflammation occurs naturally even in healthy individuals. It’s a natural and healthy response to protect the body from injuries or sickness. However, when inflammation is excessive or chronic, it can be very damaging. In fact, researchers have found that chronic inflammation is at the root of many common diseases such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and cancer.

The active constituents in raw ginger—gingerol, shogaol, and paradol—are responsible for many of the natural anti-inflammatory effects that ginger provides. Ginger has been shown to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (small proteins released by cells to communicate with other cells in the body). Pro-inflammatory cytokines are responsible for the upregulation of inflammatory reactions, meaning that these reactions happen more often in the body. This is directly related to increased inflammation in the body. Since ginger has been shown to reduce the levels of inflammation that those pro-inflammatory cytokines can produce, it’s only natural that inflammation will decrease, too. This is a big deal! Because inflammation can run so rampant in the body—especially with a poor diet—ginger is a great way to help reduce the overall amount of inflammation in the body. If you’re experiencing an inflammatory condition, ginger is a natural and powerful anti-inflammatory remedy to try.

Antibacterial properties

If you aren’t convinced of the medicinal properties of ginger yet, you will be now!  Researcher have found that ginger is an effective antibacterial for many drug-resistant bacteria in clinical applications. In their study, the researchers stated that “ginger has great potential in the treatment of many microbial diseases such as Bacillus and E. coli.” The antibacterial benefits don’t stop there. In oral health, two types of ginger have been shown to inhibit the growth of pathogens that contribute to periodontitis (inflammation of the gums that is caused by gum bacteria). The antibacterial properties that ginger possesses show that food truly is medicine.

Reduces menstrual pain

Many women know how debilitating menstrual pain can be. There are over-the-counter pain medications dedicated to this specific pain, but ginger may also provide relief.  One study found that ginger is as effective as ibuprofen in reducing the pain associated with dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) in women. Menstrual cramps in the abdomen and lower back are common in dysmenorrhea. That’s great news for women! Next time you experience cramping during your menstrual cycle, give our Nomoli ginger beer a try.

Positively affects cholesterol levels

As stated earlier, ginger is helpful in reducing blood pressure, but it’s also beneficial for cholesterol levels. Ginger has been found to reduce cholesterol levels—specifically reducing low-density lipoproteins (LDL).  “LDL cholesterol is called ’bad’ cholesterol. Think of it as less desirable or even lousy cholesterol, because it contributes to fatty buildups in arteries.” That fatty buildup is known as  atherosclerosis and it, it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

How can you incorporate ginger into your daily routine?

You can purchase a box of 3 or 6 from our shop.


Cookery and Art.

Great food, like all art, enhances and reflects a communities vitality, growth and solidarity.

Art is too important not to share, and here at Shwen Shwen we love meeting other creatives within the diaspora that share our passion for elevating culture, connecting people and making a difference through what we do.  We love connecting and collaborating with other creatives, but especially the obsessive ones, the detail orientated ones, the ones who say do it right or not at all.

Moreover, Black History Month is almost upon us, which provides a fantastic opportunity for us to recognize the outstanding contributions people of African and Caribbean descent have made in the United Kingdom and we are especially proud of our, oh so lovely, incredibly talented, Salone titi, Ayesha Feisal.

In conversation with Ayesha Feisal

Ayesha Feisal is a British/Sierra Leonean visual artist. Her work draws from the study of behaviour and the mind, using the human form to explore the psyche.  She is influenced by an interest in consciousness, universal law, balance and truth.  Choosing to portray characters with elevated mindsets, who move beyond the impact of circumstance, environment and social condition, her works are also a response to events and situations.

Just like Maria and Shwen Shwen, she’s influenced by her Sierra Leonean heritage.

In conversation we asked her about this, and she said “My Sierra Leonean heritage and culture has no doubt had an influence on my work. I was surrounded by creativity growing up and self reliance (or a ‘do it yourself’ attitude) was always encouraged. All the girls in our family knew how to braid and style hair, from the ages of 9 we would create intricate styles and fix each others hair. My mother who was a nurse by profession could create any style you wanted, whether it was fashioned with thread or hair extensions so there was no need for hairdressers, aunties and the like would come to us young girls to get their hair braided, weaved or styled. My mother also sewed and would make clothing and soft furnishings. She taught this skill to my younger  sister who to this day creates clothing (she is also a qualified ceramicist)”.

Food can be expressive and therefore, food can be art.  More broadly, African culture is enriched by the arts which can be defined as the theory, human application and physical expression of creativity found in human cultures and societies through skills and imagination in order to produce objects, environments and experiences.  The Arts include visual arts (including architecture, ceramics, drawing, film-making, painting, photography, and sculpting), literary arts (including fiction, drama, poetry, and prose), performing arts (including dance, music, and theatre), and culinary arts (including cooking, chocolate making and wine-making).

We asked Ayesha about the impact of Sierra Leonean culture on her childhood, and she replied:

“We were expected to learn how to cook and great pride was taken in the ability to create meals for the family. Cooking for parties and occasions were a bonding experience and I have fond memories of  me and my siblings in the kitchen with the huge calabash bowls, catering size ‘auntie pots’ as we used to call them preparing the food with our favourite music playing in the background”.

“Creativity was also present throughout our house. Artifacts that were not just aesthetically pleasing, but were of significance and held cultural value. Fabrics that were not only striking but served a purpose in identifying we were connected. I used to love (and still do) designing and sketching out my ‘Aso Ebi’ outfits, as a youngster, mine would always be the ‘alternative’ non traditional style, another way to express myself”.

When thinking about how art and culture enhance our communities, Ayesha said “Africa has long been cutting edge, it’s only more recently that the world lens is focused on Africa through popular culture, such as music and fashion etc that many are getting used to (and accepting) the idea of African’s as innovators”.

Thank you so much Ayesha Feisal.

Visual Artist | Member – Black British Female Artist Collective (B.B.F.A)

Keep doing what you do… Keep holding it down for our Sweet Salone.

Please do check out her website. 


Who Said

Food fusion is referred to by some Chefs as the ‘F’ Word.  When we think about the birth place of Afro-fusion, the ‘F’ word is Freetown!

Food fusion is massively misunderstood. With early world travelers exchanging and combining food knowledge, inevitably recipes would become more complex and interesting, taking influence from contrasting climates, ingredients, and cooking methods. Therefore, the fusion of culinary techniques and recipes has been in existence since the dawn of international trade.

Why Freetown?

Freetown, Sierra Leone has occupied a unique place in the history of international trade for over 600 years.

Since the dawn of time there has been a lot of economic migration within Africa and Muslim traders brought Islam.  European exploration of Sub-Saharan Africa begins with the Age of Discovery in the 15th century (1401 to 1500).  Portuguese sailors reached Cape Bojador in 1434 and Cape Blanco in 1441.  In 1443, they built a fortress on the island of Arguin, in modern-day Mauritania, trading European wheat and cloth for African gold and slaves. It was the first time that the semi-mythic gold of the Sudan reached Europe without Muslim mediation. Most of the slaves were sent to Madeira, which became, after thorough deforestation, the first European plantation colony. Between 1444 and 1447, the Portuguese explored the coasts of Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea. In 1456, the Venetian captain Alvise Cadamosto, under Portuguese command, explored the islands of Cape Verde. In 1462, two years after Prince Henry’s death, Portuguese sailors explored the Bissau islands and named Serra Leoa (Lioness Mountains).

The Sierra Leone river, with a natural harbour at its mouth where Freetown now stands, is one of the places where slaving ships of the European nations regularly docked to trade with local rulers for their transatlantic cargo. But it is also the site selected by a British abolitionist, Granville Sharp, for a practical experiment in philanthropy.  In the 1780s the number of freed slaves in London was growing. The question was where they should best live and be employed and the answer was that they should settle in the continent from which they or their ancestors came.  By agreement with a local chief of the Temne tribe, known to the British as King Tom, twenty miles of hilly coast are secured for the purpose (they lie between the mouths of two notorious slaving rivers, the Sierra Leone and the Sherbro). Here there arrives from London, in 1787, a naval vessel carrying 331 freed slaves, 41 of them women, and – somewhat confusing the issue in philanthropic terms – 60 white London prostitutes.

The Freetown experiment got off to a disastrous start. Half the settlers die in the first year. Several of the freed slaves opt for a prosperous new life working for local slave traders. And King Tom’s successor, King Jemmy, attacks and burns the settlement in 1789.  But it is rebuilt on a new site, and is given the name Freetown. A corner is turned with the arrival of 1000 freed slaves from Nova Scotia and other black settlers from Jamaica, and with efficient administration from 1794 by a new governor, Zachary Macaulay

Black settlers who had liberated themselves from American slavery were brought over from Nova Scotia and built a new settlement, named Freetown. In 1800 “Maroons,” free blacks from Jamaica, were also brought in. These settlers were English-speaking, and many were literate and Christian.  After the British Parliament made the slave trade illegal in 1807, the British government took over the settlement (January 1, 1808) as a naval base against the slave trade and as a centre to which slaves, captured in transit across the Atlantic, could be brought and freed. Between 1807 and 1864, when the last slave ship case was adjudicated in the Freetown courts, the British navy brought in more than 50,000 “recaptives,” also known as “liberated Africans.”

The recaptives and their children, known as Creoles (today usually rendered Krios), prospered as traders, and some entered the professions, qualifying in Britain as doctors and lawyers. Thus, they formed an educated West African elite. Notable examples include James Africanus Beale Horton, who qualified as a doctor and served as an officer in the British army and published books on medical and political subjects, and Sir Samuel Lewis, a distinguished barrister. Many Creoles sought employment opportunities in other parts of West Africa.

How does this unique history link to food fusion? 

Food Fusion is a form of cooking that combines contrasting culinary traditions or techniques into a single dish. There are various forms of fusion food, including regional fusion which combines food from different regions or sub-regions.

Food fusion allows experimentation and freedom in exploring a contrast of flavours and textures. This can take many forms and could be one culinary technique that uses the ingredients of a completely different dish. Other forms of food fusion combine two culinary disciplines evenly to create a something new and distinctive.  Sadly though, food fusion has suffered a turbulent past because of its application. At times fusions can be underwhelming, worse still a sentimental souvenir from a culinary voyage. Yet to dismiss fusion food on this basis is to miss out on fresh and exciting flavour combinations. When broken down to their core, many classic recipes owe their existence to a compound of several influences rather than a single source of origin, which is where the boundaries of food fusion can be blurred.

Perhaps this is why food fusion is referred to by some chefs as the ‘F word’.

Arguably, one of the oldest food fusions is pasta, as many believe it to be a descendant of the Chinese noodle, brought to the Italians during the 13th Century. Closer to home, the Edwardians also celebrated food fusion. The combination of Indian and English produced dishes such as Kedgeree: adapting a traditional mix of rice and lentils known in Indian cuisine as ‘Kicheri’ for English tastes.  Even fish and chips is essentially an early fusion dish, combining elements of Jewish, French and Belgian cuisines. ‘Pescado frito’ contains the original ingredients of what we know now as fish & chips, yet it tends to be associated with the British seaside, accompanied by ketchup and lashings of salt and vinegar. The original recipe used fish coated in flour and dipped in batter before being fried. With the later inclusion of beer, corn flour and soda water there have been many modifications to the recipe since.

Among popular trips for the adventurous chef, Malaysia is a place full of food fusions. Home to exciting native cuisine as well as a strong influence of Chinese, Thai and Indian food, street food also plays a vital role in the everyday life of Malaysian citizens. Allegedly, one of the world’s first fusion restaurants resides in Macau, China, where a blend of Cantonese flavours, with olives and chorizo from Portugal date back around 450 years.

Freetown has a unique history due to the transatlantic slave trade.  The philanthropic experiment that is Freetown gave birth to Afro-fusion cooking, out of necessity rather than choice.

Sierra Leone, initially known as the ‘Province of Freedom’, was a colony founded by British abolitionists who believed the African Diaspora could be re-settled in Africa.  As the British Empire grew in naval power and conquered continental North America, territories in Asia and several islands in the Caribbean, it became the leading slave trader among the European nations. This was a position held previously by the Portuguese. For the British, slaves were the main labour force in the sugar cane and tobacco plantations located in their colonies in the Americas, and Britain was responsible for transporting 3.5 million African slaves to the ‘New World’, a third of all victims of the transatlantic slave trade between 1670 and 1833, the year when slavery was completely abolished in the British Empire.

So Freetown’s food history has been influenced by economic migration within Africa, the arrival of Muslim Traders, followed by Europeans from Portugal, Great Britain and France.  The settlement of London’s black poor, returned slaves from Nova Scotia, Jamaica and other parts of Africa has all contributed to the cities culture.  The transatlantic slave trade took ingredients from Africa to the America’s and Europe.  The slaves themselves took cooking techniques and recipes to which have then mutated in the Caribbean, Southern States of America and Europe.

The British project of repatriating freed slaves in the ‘Province of Freedom’, now known as Sierra Leone, did not create the utopia intended,and the transatlantic slave trade has disadvantaged black communities for centuries, however food is culture and the history of food culture has been influenced by international trade and Freetown’s unique place in the history books is evidence enough that Freetown is the spiritual home of Afro-fusion cooking and it’s links to the Western world.





Slave ship cargoes brought crops directly from Africa to North America for enslaved Africans to consume during their passage to the New World under the transatlantic slave trade. These crops included several basic starches central to the African diet, for instance rice, okra, tania, black-eyed peas, cassava, yams, and kidney and lima beans. Other crops brought from Africa included peanuts (originally from South America), millet, sorghum, guinea melon, liquorice, watermelon, and sesame (benne). Over time, these foods found their way into American footways and became a basic component of southern cuisine.

Without question, yams were the most common African staple fed to enslaved Africans on board ships bound for the Americas. The slave merchant John Barbot, for example, noted that “a ship that takes in 500 slaves, must provide above 100,000 yams,” or roughly 200 per person. The ship logs of the slave vessel Elizabeth, bound for Rhode Island in 1754, listed provisions of “yams, plantain, bread [cornbread], fish and rice.” In another example, the account books of the slave ship Othello (1768-69) listed hundreds of baskets of yams taken on board as provisions along with lesser quantities of plantains, limes, pepper, palm oil, and gobbagobs (goobers or peanuts).

One enslaved African told a free black in Charleston about the food eaten on the slave ship that brought him to America: “We had nothing to eat but yams, which were thrown amongst us at random–and of those we had scarcely enough to support life. More than a third of us died on the passage, and when we arrived at Charleston, I was not able to stand.” The African yam, which is similar to the American “sweet potato,” remained a popular food among slaves and whites alike. To this day roasted and sugared yams and “sweet potato pie” are favourite southern delicacies–both having their origins in African slavery.

Black-eyed peas, which are actually beans, also were used as food on the slave voyages, and enslaved Africans in the Caribbean thereafter consumed these easily cultivated beans as a basic food. Sources indicate that peas reached Florida around 1700 and then appeared in the fields and on the tables of whites and blacks in North Carolina in the 1730s. Although Virginians cultivated black-eyed peas in the 1600s, they did not become common table food until after the American Revolution.

George Washington wrote in a 1791 letter that “pease” (black-eyed peas) were rarely grown in Virginia. He then brought 40 bushels of seeds for planting on his plantation in 1792, referring to them as “cornfield peas,” planted typically between the rows of field corn. Black-eyed peas were also called “cowpeas,” because cows were allowed to eat their stems and vines in the fields after the corn crops had been picked. Southerners liked to boil greens and peas of the black-eyed type with strips of salted pork.

Okra or gumbo, as it is called in Africa, was especially favoured in French and Spanish Louisiana during the colonial era, when European and Native American cuisine came together with African cooking to produce the unique Creole cuisine of New Orleans. Gumbo is a popular stew or soup, made up of vegetables mixed with chicken, pork, shrimp, or crawfish with okra as the main ingredient. The stew is thickened with powder from sassafras leaves (gumbo file).

Slaves in South Carolina commonly prepared the seeds of the Okra plant as a coffee substitute. Its leaves were also used medicinally as a softening ingredient in making a poultice, which is a warm mixture of bread or clay that can be applied to aching or inflamed parts of the body. Enslaved women sometimes used okra to achieve abortions by lubricating the uterine passage of pregnant women with the plant’s slimy pods. In West Africa, women today still use okra to induce an abortion, employing much the same method.

Peanuts came to North America by way of Africa, having been transplanted there from the Portuguese and Spanish colonies in South America. The peanut is known by several names including groundnut, earthnut and ground peas. Two other words of African origin for peanuts are pinder and goober. Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington called peanuts “peendar” and “Pindars” (1794, 1798), while the word goober was used principally in the 19th century. Union soldiers fighting on southern soil during the Civil War found southern peanuts both tasty and filling. The Civil War song “Eating Goober Peas” was a popular ditty sung by Union soldiers, and, when the song was published its lyrics and music, were attributed to the fictitious team of “A. Pindar” and P. Nutt.”

Enslaved Africans used the peanut to make peanut pie and peanut soup. Often times, it was boiled in salt and spices, and consumed as a soggy, strong tasting but good source of nutrition. Community “peanut boilings” were common neighbourhood events, and the practice of feeding pigs massive amounts of peanuts to fatten them for show or sale was known as “hogging off.”

Sesame, a tropical Asian plant bearing small flat seeds, first arrived in South Carolina from Africa in the 1730s. The seeds could be eaten as food or pressed for oil. An American merchant introduced sesame oil to England in 1730, and the product became a profitable New World substitute for the imported olive oil used for cooking. In order not to import olive oil from the Middle East, Britain encouraged production of sesame oils by offering bounties for cultivation of the sesame plant. By 1733, a book on gardening published in London, noted the usefulness of sesame oil as “sallet-oil.” Thomas Jefferson reported in the 1770s that African Americans ate sesame seeds in a variety of ways: raw, in salads, toasted or boiled in soup, baked in breads, boiled with greens, and cooked as broth. Today, sesame is consumed primarily as bread topping.

The successful cultivation of rice in the United States is thought by some historians to have occurred in the South Carolina Sea Islands when an enslaved African woman taught her white owner how to grow the crop. The first rice seeds used in rice farming may have been imported directly from the Island of Madagascar in 1685, and historians generally believe that enslaved Africans familiar with growing rice in West Africa supplied the expertise for its production in North America. No matter who first introduced African rice to the Americas, by 1750 some of the largest slave owners in the South cultivated rice in the coastal regions of the Carolinas in ways similar to how it had been grown by Africans for hundreds of years.

African cooks in the “Big House” and the slave quarters introduced their native African crops and foods to white planters and farmers, thus linking African and European culinary cultures. African cooks, for example, may have introduced deep fat frying, a cooking technique common in Africa as a means of preserving chicken and beef–although Europeans traditionally fried beef and pork as well. Watermelons, known affectionately as “August hams,” were especially popular in Africa and remained a common food among southern blacks and whites in the summer months. Enslaved Africans sometimes planted watermelons in the cotton or cornfields and enjoyed them during breaks from their work on hot summer days. The African custom of roasting pigs, beef, chickens, and lambs on an open spit with a pan of sauce on the side for dipping the meat may have been the origins of the southern “barbecue.” The word possibly stems from the Haitian Creole word “barbacoa,” meaning a stack of burning sticks.

Another important African dish popular in the slave South was fufu, a type of pancake prepared by boiling water and stirring in flour and other ingredients. In South Carolina, this dish is still called “turn meal and flour.” Africans prepare fufu by mixing palm oil while turning in flour. From this fufu mixture, slaves made hoecakes in the fields by using the blades of their hoes as frying pans. These hoecakes evolved into pancakes and hot water cornbread. Cornbread, prepared by enslaved Africans, was similar to African millet bread, and it, too, was a food slave traders used to feed enslaved Africans on the slave ships. For instance, a June 20, 1796, journal entry of the slave ship Mary notes a “woman cleaning rice and grinding corn for corn cakes.” As early as 1739, naturalist Mark Catesby noted that slaves made a mush from the corn meal called pone bread. He also noticed that slaves boiled the hauled and dried kernels of Indian corn (hominy), and ground them into a meal known as grits, a food similar to the African dish called Eba. Today, southerners eat grits as a starch to accompany their eggs and bacon instead of potatoes for breakfast.

Over time, these African foods, grains, and spices helped fashion a form of southern cuisine that was regionally distinct. Much of the foods consumed by slaves comprised the cast-offs of meals they prepared for whites or whatever else they could grow or catch on their own to supplement the meagre corn and pork rations their owners doled out to them. The enslaved took these discarded animal parts (such as hog maw or the pig’s stomach, hog jowl, pig’s feet, and ham hocks) and added African and Native American cooking techniques and home-grown vegetables and spices to create tasty dishes that have survived today as something called “Soul Food.” As Africans, the enslaved used all parts of plants and animals, and they adapted their traditional diets to their slave experiences. The result was a special blending of Africa and America culinary styles producing a truly international, Creole cuisine, both vibrant and immensely rich in character.

Glossary of Slave Foods

Cala: Sweetened rice cake, African in origin, served with morning café au lait, formerly sold by black women in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In Georgia, this sweetened rice cake was called saraka. A women born in slavery in the 1930s recalls her mother making the cakes: “Yesium. I membuh how she made it. She wash rice, ann po off all duh watah. She let wet rice sit all night, and put in mawtuhm an beat it tuh paste wid wooden pastle. She add honey, sometime shuguh, add it in floot cake wid uh kams. Saraka, she call um.”

Calalu: Thick soup or stew similar to gumbo. Ferdinand Ortiz traced calalu to African coilu, which is a Mandingo name for a plant resembling spinach. In Pointe Coupee, Louisiana, it is a rich soup or stew in which one or more kinds of calalu leaves are the chief ingredients. Calalu is also the name given to several plants having edible leaves, eaten as greens and in soup, or used medicinally.

Coffee: Word derived from Kaffa, region in Ethiopia.

Cowpeas: Vigna unguiculata, black-eyed peas. Used in the southern U.S. by both blacks and whites. Traveled from Africa to North America in holds of slave ships as food for the cargoes.

Cush, chushie: Sweet, fried cornmeal cake that first appeared in American English in 1770. Gullah kush or kushkush. Related to Hausa via Arabic kusha.

Fufu: Called “turn meal and flour” in South Carolina. A mixture of cornmeal and flour is poured into a pot of boiling water. From this fufu mixture, enslaved Africans made “hot cakes” in the fields, which were sometimes called ashcakes or hoecakes. These evolved into “pancakes” and “hotwater cornbread.” Fufu is a common food throughout Africa and the New World; it consists of yams, plantains, and cassava roots (manioc, tapioca) cut into pieces and boiled together; maize or Indian corn beaten into one mass and eaten with pepper, boiled in a pot with okra. A substantial dish of fufu is composed of eddoes, ochas, and mashed plantains made savory with rich crabs and pungent with cayenne pepper.

Goober: A Bantu word for peanut. Another word for peanut is pinder from the Congo word mpinda. The first known records of the word are in Jamaica in 1707, and in South Carolina in 1848. Pinder Town is the name of a place in South Carolina.

Grits: Enslaved Africans took hominy (the hauled dried kernels of Indian corn) and made grits by grinding the corn hauls and cooking them; grits is similar to eb, which is eaten in Africa.

Guinea Corn: Guinea Corn, also called sorghum and millet (Sorghum vulgave), is an indigenous African crop transported to North America by Africans.

Gumbo: This word is similar to the Tshiluba word kingombo and the Umbundu word ochingombo. It is a soup made of okra pods, shrimp, and powdered sassafras leaves. It was known to most southerners by the 1780s.

Gunger Cake: Gingerbread, which is a dark molasses cake flavored with the powdered root of the ginger plant, is thought to have originated in the Congo and been carried to North America by enslaved Africans.

Hop’n johns: Traditional West African dish of black-eyed peas and rice cooked together. It is common in black southern cuisine.

Jambalaya: Bantu tshimbolebole, dish of tender, cooked corn. African-influenced dish similar to gumbo, particular to New Orleans. Africans brought to Louisiana from the Kongo.

Jollof Rice: Style of cooking red rice brought to the American South by the Mande of West Africa.

Juba: Traditional slave food. Refers to the food that enslaved Africans working in the plantation house collected from the “massa’s” leftovers. Such leftovers were called juba, jibba, or jiba. On Saturday or Sunday, the leftovers were thrown together; no one could distinguish the meat from the bread and vegetables. This juba was placed in a huge pot, and those working in the ‘Big House” shared it with those working in the fields.

Maluvu: Tshiluba maluvu, palm wine. Produced throughout Africa from sap or juice collected from palm trees. African Americans continued to make it in Savannah, Georgia; in South Carolina, the palmetto tree is the source of this potent brew. In some cases, African Americans extracted material from the center the palmetto tree, called palm cabbage or palmetto cabbage, and cooked or fermented it for wine.

Millet Bread: The seeds of various grasses made into bread were used as food on the slave ships that carried enslaved Africans to the Americas.

Okra: Abelmoschus esculentus, also called guibo and guimyombo, originated in what geo-botanists call the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) center of human food zones. It is still cultivated in present-day Ethiopia on the plateau portions of Eritrea, and in parts of the Sudan. It also became the essential ingredient of Louisiana gumbo.

Peanut Oil: First introduced by enslaved Africans in the American South, especially in deep-fat frying, a cooking style that originated in western and central Africa.

Pone Bread: Enslaved Africans made mush from cornmeal and called it pone bread, a mush cake similar to mush patties baked in African for centuries.

Kola: Cola acuminate and Cola nitida. Trees were native to western Sudan, and their fruit, the Kola nut, became the principal ingredient used in making modern cola drinks. During the slave trade, kola nuts were given enslaved Africans to suppress their hunger and thirst. They were used also as a medicine of sorts. A transatlantic slaver wrote: “The seed, brought in a Guinean ship from that country, is called ‘bichy’ by the Colomanty and is eaten and used for pains in the belly.”

Rice: Oryza sativa and Oryza glaberrimi, were indigenous varieties of rice imported in 1685 from the island of Madagascar to South Carolina. Some historians contend that enslaved Africans first showed white Americans how to cultivate rice. By 1740, rice had become a major staple in the South Carolina farming and slave-based economy.

Sesame: Sesamum indicum, or sesame, also known as benne seed in South Carolina were brought as seeds by West Africans to South Carolina. Slaves raised large crops of sesame, being fond of the plant’s nutritious seeds for making soups and puddings. They also used sesame oil for cooking and lighting lamps within private estates as well as on the public roads.

Tania: Colocasia esculenta, coco yam; eddo in West Africa; Tanya in West Indies. Appears indigenous to Central Africa with two known varieties: “Old coco yam” (Colocaccia antiquorum) probably originated in the Congo basin, with its earliest citation being made by the Portuguese in the 15th century; “Coco yam Tania” (Xanthosomaa sagitifolium) was a popular root plant in Sea Islands of Gerogia and South Carolina.

Watermelon: Citrullus vulgaris, spread from Sudan to Egypt during the second millennium B.C.E. Now, it is distributed throughout the world. The transatlantic slave trade served as a major vehicle in transporting watermelon to the New World, where it remained a favorite among blacks and whites alike. Enslaved field hands often planted watermelon in the fields so they could enjoy them in July and August, the two hottest months of the year, while they hoed and picked cotton.