A Jingle from Ghana’s Famine of ’77

Forty years ago, Ghana (and much of West Africa) was suffering under a famine. Starting around 1970, the Sahel Drought brought a dramatic change in rainfall and crops began failing year after year. By the late 70s, it was a serious crisis and the people of northern Ghana were suffering horribly.

This all came to my attention recently when a Mamprusi friend shared an jingle he remembered from his youth:

Alikaama zamaanni, Baba yi kyɛŋŋi Gambaga
Alikaama zamaanni, Baba yi kyɛŋŋi Gambaga
“Baba, kulim ka labi na, kyɛm ka labi na”
Ka Baba gyɛ suuri.
“Kulim ka labi na, kyɛm ka labi na”
Ka Baba gyɛ suuri.

I asked another friend who lived in Gambaga at the time if she was familiar with the tune and she sang it for me to record.

It translates to:

At wheat time, Baba went to Gambaga,
“Baba, go home and come back, go and come back”
And Baba was ticked off.

They both recalled how in 1977-78 the government promised food relief and rations of wheat to the starving people of Mamprugu. They would head to Gambaga, the district capitol, for the handouts but they were disappointed over and over at the lack of aid.

One friend recalls that they hired the youth to unload the grain from the trucks. She would haul huge heavy bags all day long until the trucks were empty. Then they would pay her in grain. It was just a small bag that she’d receive but she recalls being happy because they were so desperate at the time. Read More

Dry Season Mystery Spots

Here’s a puzzle for you! Have a look at the satellite image above which was taken in December 2016. Notice all the white spots scattered across it?

Below is the same aerial view taken in the rainy season. Notice that the white spots are missing?

So what do you think the spots are? Scroll down after the jump for the answer!

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Itsy-Bitsy Potatoes

One of my favorite things about going to market is that no matter how many years I’ve lived here I always seem to find something new and interesting.

On a recent market run, I found a small tuber for sale that the Mamprusi call peesa. I found it identified in the Mampruli Dictionary as Solenostemon Rotundifolius with the common English name of “frafra potato.” When I asked those in market if it was a “frafra potato” they all just laughed hysterically. Apparently, they don’t call it that here in Nalerigu and they found the idea of a potato that is Frafra to be humorous.

I did some research and it turns out that though this little edible tuber is primarily found in West Africa, it is also grown around the world – especially in Asia. And it has lots of common names:

  • Hausa potato
  • Zulu potato
  • Sudan potato
  • Madagascar potato (by the French)
  • Chinese potato (by Indians)
  • country potato
  • Coleus

In northern Ghana folks boil them and eat them lightly salted or peel and fry them. The skin is quite easy to remove when preparing them but it is time consuming since the potatoes are so small and numerous.

We’ve fallen in love in these little spuds and despite their size they taste more like American potatoes than yams and local “sweet potatoes.” Since they’ve been in season this past month, we’ve eaten them often. We’ve boiled them with cabbage, sautéed them in butter, fried them as tiny french fries and even mashed them to make creamed potatoes.

Baboon BBQ

While hiking at the Gambaga Escarpment near Namaasim, we ran into a hunter I had met about a year ago. Back then he had told me he was hunting baboons. I didn’t think it very likely that he’d find any. On this day, however, he had been quite lucky and stumbled across a pack of wild baboons on the scarp. He managed to shoot one and proudly pulled it out for us to see.

Dr. Vince Waite was with us and the hunter recognized him as the surgeon that had repaired his hernia decades ago. He gave us a leg of the baboon saying that Dr. Waite had changed his life and that was the least he could do.

Right then and there, he and his colleague started a fire, burned off the baboon’s fur, chopped it up and gave us our cut. Dr. Waite asked me to prepare for everyone that night. I fired up the grill, slathered on the barbecue sauce and grilled the meat. The paw was a bit disturbing to look at and no one could get themselves to eat it. The rest of the meat was found to be quite delicious!

Baboons are not considered endangered or even threatened in Ghana and are legal to hunt. They are prized for their meat but are also pests, raiding poor farmers’ corn fields around harvest time. This female baboon was reportedly with a troop of over 20 when it was shot and killed near the villagers’ farms.

Tasty Termite Treats

At the start of rainy season, on evenings after heavy rains, we often get thousands of large flying termites swarming around our outside lights.

Growing up in Ivory Coast, I learned that these little buggers are edible. If you put a bucket with water below a light you can swat the flying insects into it where they’ll be stuck in the water. After collecting a bunch, you then go about the slightly time consuming task of plucking of their wings. By the time you finish and have a mass of termite torsos they will have all drowned and died.

Then you melt some butter in a frying pan and fry the termites up. Add a little salt, and… Tada! Your tasty treat is ready. They all puff up and get crunchy – a great alternative to popcorn for your next movie watching experience.

Nile Monitor

This is a Nile Monitor (Varanus Niloticus). I was thrilled to catch it today with the help of some Ghanaian friends. It had run up from the river, into our yard, and was hiding behind some wood leading against our house.

The monster measured almost a yard in length and was actually much more docile than I expected. It allowed me to pose it for a Mampruli Dictionary photo in the back of our truck.

The watchmen were adamant about killing it and cooking it. So I insisted that I at least get a cut of the meat so that we could try it (we’ll try about any insect, mammal or reptile). They gave me the tail which I grilled up with some fish for dinner. I didn’t add any seasoning at all so that we could get a good sense of what it tasted like.

It was delicious! No, it didn’t taste like chicken. Closest thing I could compare it to would be gator meat.

Dog Meat

As in many places with large Muslim populations, the local butchers observe halal practices, meaning that the meat is slaughtered and prepared according to the Islamic dietary law as dictated by the Quran. In Nalerigu, our primary butchers are in the central market and only deal in cow, sheep and goat meat. For “unclean” meat like pork, you have to find a non-Muslim butcher.

There’s a guy nicknamed Secretary that I go to for pork but on a recent visit, he said didn’t have any pork. I asked what was cooking in the pot and he replied, “Dog.” Always up for trying something new, I bought a hind quarter for about $3.50 and headed home.

It was Friday, which means pizza night, so Heidi put some of the meat on a pizza. Trey complained that it was a bit too chewy. I also took some ribs and flank and roasted them in the oven slathered in barbecue sauce. Trey loved that because it became more tender.

Cuisine in northern Ghana is always interesting!

* Note: My family has pledged not to eat our pet dog Buster.
** Additional Note: The dog we ate had been hit by car and had to be put down. He was not a stolen pet or raised for the purpose of becoming a pizza topping.