The cassava plant has been a significant part of the heritage of the Kalinago People for centuries within the region and more especially on the island of Dominica. The plant has been found to be a woody shrub native to South America and because of its high sustenance potential became a staple food of the native populations of our region by the time of European contact in 1492.
It can be appreciated that as the Kalinago people traveled between Dominica and Southern continent they transported the plant to the island more than 1000 years ago. It has been revealed that the most commonly consumed part of cassava is the root, which is very versatile and as a result can be eaten whole, grated or ground into flour to make bread and other flour-based products.
The varieties of cassava are often categorized as either sweet or bitter, signifying the absence or presence of toxic levels of cyanogenic glucosides, respectively. The plant is propagated by cutting the stem into sections of approximately 15 cm which are ideally planted prior to the wet season. The crop is harvested manually by raising the lower part of the stem and pulling the roots out of the ground and then removing them from the base of the plant.
After harvesting, the yield is cleaned of all soil and external fibers including the skin before it is used as food. The most common Kalinago uses are the processed starch-based cassava bread and the extracted starch-based cereal called farine. To make bread and farine, the cassava has to be processed into a mash manually using traditional rudimentary graters, a hand fed/ leg power propelled or electric mill.
The cassava starch must be separated from the fiber, and so the cassava mash is mixed with water in a large container and squeezed through a traditional cylindrical squeezer or a large piece of fabric. The starch is allowed to settle at the base of the container to which excess water is added, and the dry fiber is sifted to remove the hard fibers. When making Cassava bread, a mixture of Cassava fiber and starch is kneaded into a dough and flattened out for baking.
Traditionally a large pottery pan would be utilized or a modern day large metal pan allowed for baking over low heat until golden brown. The cassava farine involves only the Cassava fibers which are placed into a deep pan and stirred to remove moisture until dried into a ready to eat cereal form. A number of livelihoods have been created by the cassava plant and it has grown to be synonymous with the Kalinago people. These include farmers and processors and bakers of the cassava who make cassava products available to local consumers and visitors alike.