Food Safari ~ African

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Maeve O’Meara visits a bakery that cooks Ethiopian injera bread which is used with many spicy stews, including a slow cooked chicken dish called doro wat, made by young marketing expert Karim Degal, and a clever three-minute Abyssinian version of a stir-fry using lamb, made by former Eritrean freedom fighter turned restaurant chef, Rahel Ogbaghiorghis. 

Nigerian Kunle Adesua introduces Maeve to a range of African ingredients and then cooks up a delicious one-pot jolloff rice dish with tender cubes of fish and vegetables.  Chef Bathie Dia from Senegal shares the secrets of his favorite snack—Africa's answer to the falafel—a black-eyed bean patty called akara which he serves with a colorful chilli and capsicum sauce called kosayi.

Forgoing sweets this episode, Maeve joins Ruta Ukbagerish for a traditional coffee ceremony that starts with the burning of the ancient incense myrrh and includes the roasting and grinding of fresh coffee beans.

Click here for the recipes featured in this episode.

About Africa:


Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia.  It covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area.  With 1.0 billion people (as of 2009) in 61 territories, it accounts for about 14.72% of the world's human population.

The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent has 54 sovereign states, including Madagascar and various island groups.

Africa, particularly central Eastern Africa, is widely regarded within the scientific community to be the origin of humans, as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, as well as later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago—including Homo erectus—with the earliest Homo sapiens (modern human) found in Ethiopia being dated to 200,000 years ago.

Pre-colonial Africa possessed perhaps as many as 10,000 different states and polities characterized by many different sorts of political organization and rule. These included small family groups of hunter-gatherers such as the San people of southern Africa; larger, more structured groups such as the family clan groupings of the Bantu-speaking people of central and southern Africa, heavily structured clan groups in the Horn of Africa, the large Sahelian kingdoms, and autonomous city-states and kingdoms such as those of the Akan, Yoruba and Igbo people in West Africa, the Aksumite Empire in the Horn of Africa, and the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa.

By the 9th century a string of dynastic states, including the earliest Hausa states, stretched across the Sahelian savannah of Sub-Saharan Africa from the the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the East. The most powerful of these states were Ghana, Gao,  the Kanem-Bornu Empire. Ghana declined in the 11th century but was succeeded by the Mali Empire which consolidated much of western Sudan in the 13th century.  In the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopian Empire  (11th–20th century) was the most powerful state, rivaled only by the powerful maritime-trading Ajuuraan State (14th–17th century).

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West Africa

West Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent.  The Atlantic Ocean forms the western and southern borders of the region.  The northern border is the Sahara Desert.  The eastern border is on a line running from Mount Cameroon to Lake Chad.

Colonial boundaries are reflected in the modern boundaries between contemporary West African nations, cutting across ethnic and cultural lines, often dividing single ethnic groups between two or more countries.

Despite the wide variety of cultures in West Africa, from Nigeria through to Senegal, there are general similarities in dress, cuisine, music and culture that are not shared extensively with groups outside the geographic region.  The inhabitants of West Africa are, in contrast to most of Southern and Middle Africa, non-Bantu speaking peoples.

Prehistoric & Ancient:

Early human settlers arrived in West Africa around 12,000 BCE.  Sedentary farming began in, or around the fifth millennium BCE, as well as the domestication of cattle.  Ancient West Africa included the Sahara, as the Sahara only became a desert in around 3000 BCE.  The migration of the Sahel farmers was likely caused by the final desiccation of the Sahara desert in this millennium, which contributed greatly to West Africa's isolation from cultural and technological phenomena in Europe and the Mediterranean Coast of Africa.

By 400 BCE, ironworking technology led to improved weaponry and enabled farmers to expand agricultural productivity and produce surplus crops, which together supported the growth of urban city-states into African empires.  The Nok Civilization is considered to be one of the most advanced ancient sub-Saharan civilizations in African history.  Beginning some time around 500 BCE, it was largely concentrated in what is now Nigeria but produced some of the first sub-Saharan iron smelting and terracotta architecture.  It mysteriously vanished around 500 CE.

The domestication of the camel allowed the development of a cross-Saharan trade with cultures across the Sahara, including Carthage and the Berbers, as noted by the Greek historian Herodotus, with Mediterranean goods being found in pits as far south as Northern Nigeria.  A profitable trade had developed by which West Africans exported gold, cotton cloth, metal ornaments, and leather goods north across the trans-Saharan trade routes, in exchange for copper, horses, salt, textiles, and beads.  Later, ivory, slaves, and kola nuts were added to the trade.

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Middle Ages:

Portuguese traders began establishing settlements along the coast in 1445, followed by the French and English; the African slave trade began not long after.  As the demand for slaves rose, African rulers sought to supply the demand by constant war against their neighbors, resulting in fresh captives.  This practice over the following centuries would debilitate the region's economy and population.  The lucrative slave trade also encouraged the formation of empires such as the Ashanti Empire, Bambara Empire and Dahomey, whose economic activities included, but were not limited to, exchanging slaves for European firearms.

Britain and British seafarers—including Sir Francis Drake, John Hawkins, Frobisher and Captain Brown—played a major role in the transatlantic trade in captured Africans between 1530 and 1810.  Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which ended the Spanish War of Succession (1701–1714), had an additional clause (the Asiento) that granted Britain (among other things) the exclusive rights over the shipment of captured Africans across the Atlantic.

Over 10 million captured Africans were shipped to the Caribbean Islands and the Americas and many more died during the raids, the long marches to the coast and on the infamous middle passage due to the inhumane conditions in slave ships.  Britain outlawed the slave trade on 29 March 1807 with the Slave Trade Act 1807 and later the British Navy operating from Freetown took active measures to stop the Atlantic slave trade.

Other European and American governments passed legislation prohibiting the Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century, though slavery in the Americas persisted in some capacity through the century; the last country to abolish the institution was Brazil in 1888.  Today, descendants of West Africans make up large and important segments of the population in Brazil, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States.

Ghana Empire
(830–1235 CE)

Centered in what is today Senegal, southeastern Mauritania and western Mali, the Ghana Empire grew rich from the trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt.  Imports probably included products such as textiles, ornaments and other materials.  Many of the hand-crafted leather goods found in old Morocco may also had their origins in the empire.  When Ghana collapsed in the face of invasion from the Almoravids, the Mali Empire rose to dominate the region.

Mali Empire
(1230–1600 CE)

Located on the Niger River to the west of Ghana in what is today Niger and Mali, the Mali Empire reached its peak in the 1350s, but had lost control of a number of vassal states by 1400, the most powerful of these states was the Songhai Empire.  The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa I.  The Mali Empire had many profound cultural influences on West Africa, allowing the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River.

The Mali Empire flourished because of trade above all else.  It contained three immense gold mines within its borders unlike the Ghana Empire, which was only a transit point for gold.  The empire taxed every ounce of gold or salt that entered its borders.  By the beginning of the 14th century, Mali was the source of almost half the Old World's gold.  The Sahelian and Saharan towns of the Mali Empire were organized as both staging posts in the long-distance caravan trade and trading centers for the various West African products.

The Mali Empire consistently record its army at 100,000 with 10,000 of that number being made up of cavalry.  With the help of the river clans, this army could be deployed throughout the realm on short notice.

The legendary city of Timbuktu flourished from the trade in salt, gold, ivory and slaves in the 13th and 14th century.  The Sankore University established Timbuktu as a scholarly centre in Africa and drew numerous Islamic scholars leading up to the city’s Golden Age in the 15th and 16th centuries, which proved fertile ground for scholarship of religions, arts and science.  An active trade in books between Timbuktu and other parts of the Islamic world and emperor Askia Mohammed’s strong support led to the writing of thousands of manuscripts.

Songhai Empire
(1340–1591 CE)

The Songhai Empire expanded rapidly beginning with king Sonni Ali in the 1460s.  By 1500, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb, the largest state in African history.  With his control of critical trade routes and cities such as Timbuktu, Sonni Ali brought great wealth to the Songhai Empire, which at its height would surpass the wealth of Mali.

Upon ascending to the throne, Emperor Askia the Great strengthened his country and made it the largest country in West Africa's history.  His policies resulted in a rapid expansion of trade with Europe and Asia, the creation of many schools, and made Islam an integral part of the empire.  Due to his efforts, Mali experienced a cultural revival it had never witnessed before, and the whole land flourished as a center of all things valuable in learning and trade.  From the early 15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was also one of the largest Islamic empires in history.

A civil war of succession weakened the Empire, leading the Saadi Dynasty of Morocco to dispatch an invasion force in 1591.  Governing so vast an empire proved too much for the Saadi Dynasty, however, and they soon relinquished control of the region , letting it splinter into dozens of smaller kingdoms.

Wolof Empire
(1350–1549 CE)

The Wolof Empire (or Jolof Empire) ruled parts of Senegal. Although the population were predominantly Wolof people, the rulers were Serers.  The Portuguese arrived in the Jolof Empire between 1444 and 1510, leaving detailed accounts of a very advanced political system.  Despite internal feuds, the Wolof Empire remained a force to reckon with in the region.  In the early 16th century, it was capable of fielding 100,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry.

Coastal trade had brought extra wealth to the empire.  But the rulers of the vassal states on the coast got the lion's share of the benefits, which eventually allowed them to eclipse and undermine the power of the emperor.  In 1549, the coastal kingdom of Kayor successfully broke from the Wolof Empire, and began forming an empire of its own.  This caused a ripple effect resulting in other states leaving the empire.  By 1600, the Djolof Empire was effectively over.

Oyo Empire
(1400–1895 CE)

The Oyo Empire was located in what is today western Nigeria.  The empire was established by the Yoruba in the 15th century and grew to become one of the largest West African states.  It rose to preeminence through wealth gained from trade and its possession of a powerful cavalry.

The Oyo Empire was the most politically important state in the region from the mid-17th to the late 18th century, holding sway not only over other Yoruba states, but also over the Fon kingdom of Dahomey (located in the state now known as the Republic of Benin).  Toward the end of the 18th century, the Oyo Empire acted as middlemen for both the Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Torn by internal struggle, Oyo could not defend itself against the Fulani Empire in 1835, and the Oyo Empire collapsed in 1836.  It became a protectorate of Great Britain in 1888 before further fragmenting into warring factions.  The Oyo state ceased to exist as any sort of power 1896.

Benin Empire
(1440–1897 CE)

The Benin Empire was a large pre-colonial African state, founded by the Edo people, in what is now modern Nigeria.  The state developed an advanced artistic culture, especially in its famous artifacts of bronze, iron and ivory.

The first European travelers to reach Benin were Portuguese explorers in about 1485.  A strong mercantile relationship developed.  The first English expedition to Benin was in 1553, and significant trading developed between England and Benin based on the export of ivory, palm oil and pepper.

Fortifications were important in the region and numerous military campaigns fought by Benin's soldiers revolved around sieges.  Benin's military earthworks are the largest of such structures in the world.  The city and empire of Benin declined after 1700.  By this time, European activity in the area, most notably through the Trans-Atlantic slave-trade, resulted in major disruptive repercussions.  However, Benin's power was revived in the 19th century with the development of the trade in palm oil and textiles.

The British razed and burned the city, destroying much of the country's treasured art and dispersing nearly all that remained.  The stolen portrait figures, busts, and groups created in iron, carved ivory, and especially in brass (conventionally called the "Benin Bronzes") are now displayed in museums around the world.

Kaabu Empire
(1537-1867 CE)

The Kaabu Empire was a Mandinka Kingdom of Senegambia that rose to prominence in the region thanks to its origins as a former province of the Mali Empire.  After the decline of the Mali Empire, Kaabu became an independent kingdom.  Kaabu carried on the legacy of the Mali Empire much in the same way the Byzantine Empire preserved the culture and social structure of the Roman Empire.  The Kaabu controlled the increasingly valuable slave trade with Europeans.  They specifically traded with the Portuguese, supplying many slaves to the Cape Verde Islands and the Americas.

The power of Kaabu began to wane as the heavily Islamic and militant Fula rallied against non-Muslim states in the region.  This culminated in a regional jihad led by the Kingdom of Futa Tooro.  The remains of the kingdom were under Fula control until the Portuguese suppression of the kingdom around the turn of the 20th century.

Kénédugu Empire
(1650–1898 CE)

The Kénédugu Empire was a pre-colonial West African state established in the southern portion of present-day MaliNanka Traoré became Kénédugu's first ruler and began the Traoré dynasty, which would last into the late 19th century.

Kénédugu would become one of the last major hold-out against French ambitions in West Africa.  The larger states were falling like dominoes to either Samori's Wassulu Empire or the French.  From 1887 to 1888, the French besieged the Empire's capital city of Sikasso but met with defeat.  In light of these threats, King Tieba ordered the construction of a fortified wall around the city in 1890, parts of which have become one of present-day Sikasso's major tourist attractions.

The French launched an artillery assault against Sikasso in April 1898, and the city fell on May 1.  The empire was soon assimilated into the colony of French Sudan, and later into the country of Mali.

Ashanti Empire
(1701–1896 CE)

The Ashanti are a major ethnic group, and were a powerful, militaristic and highly disciplined people of West Africa. Their military power, which came from effective strategy and an early adoption of European rifles, created an empire that stretched from central Ghana to present day Togo and Cote d'Ivoire.  Due to the empire's military prowess, sophisticated hierarchy, social stratification and culture, the Ashanti Empire had one of the largest historiographies of any indigenous sub-Saharan African political entity.

The Ashanti exploited their military predominance to bring slaves to coastal forts established first by Portugal after 1480, and then soon afterwards by the Dutch, Danish, and English.  Far less known than its Zulu contemporaries, Ashanti was one of the few African states to decisively defeat the British Empire in not only a battle but a war.  During the War of the Golden Stool, the British was unsuccessful in capturing the Golden Stool—the throne and a symbol of Ashanti sovereignty.  The Ashanti consider it the very embodiment of the Ashanti state, and the symbol of the Ashanti peoples—living, dead, and yet to be born.

Today, the Ashanti monarchy continues as one of the constitutionally protected, sub-national traditional states within the Republic of Ghana.

Kong Empire
(1710-1895 CE)

The Kong Empire, also known as the Wattara Empire or Ouattara Empire for its founder, was a pre-colonial African Muslim state centered in north eastern Cote d'Ivoire that also encompassed much of present-day Burkina Faso.  The empire included large numbers of different Islamic and non-Islamic ethnic groups.  Kong was not only a commercial center but also a center of Islamic study, attracting Islamic scholars from all over the sahel.

In 1895, Samory Touré invaded and destroyed the city of Kong after its rulers resisted his rule and refused to aid him in his campaign against the French.  After Samory's defeat, Kong regained its independence for a brief period then fell under French colonial rule in 1898.  Kong was divided between two colonies - Côte d'Ivoire and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).

Fulani Empire
(1810–1903 CE)

In 1810 the Fulani Empire, also known as the Sokoto Caliphate, rose and conquered the Hausa, creating a more centralized state.  An Islamic empire in Nigeria, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar, the Fulani Empire was founded during the Fulani Jihad in the early 19th century.  It was one of the most powerful empires in sub-Saharan Africa prior to European conquest and colonization.

It continued to exist until the arrival of Europeans, when it fell and the region was divided between France and Great Britain.  The caliphate remained extant through the colonial period and afterwards, though with reduced power.

Massina Empire
(1820–1862 CE)

The Fulas of the region had for centuries been the vassals of larger states, including the Mali Empire (13th-14th centuries), the Songhai Empire (15th century), and the Bambara Empire at Ségou (17th century).  Inspired by the recent Muslim uprisings in nearby Hausaland, preacher and social reformer Seku Amadu led a Fula army in jihad against the Bambara Empire in 1818.

The newly founded Massina Empire, also known as the Caliphate of Hamdullahi, expanded rapidly.  Seku Amadu ordered the construction of six hundred madrasas to further the spread of Islam.  Alcohol, tobacco, music and dancing were banned in accordance with Islamic law, while a social welfare system provided for widows and orphans.  After a series of bloody battles, the Massina Empire destroyed by the Toucouleur conqueror El Hadj Umar Tall in 1862.

Wassoulou Empire
(1878–1898 CE)

The newly-founded Wassoulou Empire, sometimes referred to as the Mandinka Empire, was a short-lived Islamic empire built from the conquests of Dyula ruler Samori Ture and destroyed by the French colonial army.  At the height of its power, Samory could field 30,000 to 35,000 infantry and about 3,000 cavalry.

Samori's ambition was opposed by the expansion of the French.  He entered into combat with the colonial army, defeating them on several occasions in the face of French heavy artillery.  But the fall of other resistance armies, the Kénédugu Empire in particular, permitted the colonial army to launch a concentrated assault against his forces.  On the twenty-ninth of September, 1898, he was captured by the French and exiled to Gabon, marking the end of the Wassoulou Empire.

In addition to the above empires, there were smaller kingdoms, most notably the Sahelian kingdoms—a series of medieval empires centered on the sahel, the area of grasslands south of the Sahara.  The wealth of the states came from controlling the trade routes across the desert.  Their power came from having large pack animals like camels and horses that were fast enough to keep a large empire under central control and were also useful in battle.  All of these empires were also quite decentralized with member cities having a great deal of autonomy.

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European Colonization:

The Europeans started to travel into the interior of Africa to trade and explore.  Mungo Park (1771–1806) made the first serious expedition into the region's interior, tracing the Niger as far as Timbuktu.  French armies followed not long after.

In the Scramble for Africa in the 1880s, the Europeans started to colonize the inland of West Africa, subjugating kingdom after kingdom.  They had previously mostly controlled trading ports along the coasts and rivers.  With the fall of Samory Ture's new-founded Wassoulou Empire in 1898 and the Ashanti queen Yaa Asantewaa in 1902, most West African military resistance to colonial rule came to an effective end.

Britain controlled The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria throughout the colonial era, while France unified Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cote d'Ivoire and Niger into French West AfricaPortugal founded the colony of Guinea-Bissau, while Germany claimed Togoland, but was forced to divide it between France and Britain following the First World War due to the Treaty of Versailles.  Only Liberia retained its independence, at the price of major territorial concessions.

Liberia is one of only two modern countries in Sub-Saharan Africa without roots in the European Scramble for Africa.  Beginning in 1820, the region was colonized by freed American slaves with the help of the American Colonization Society, a private organization that believed ex-slaves would have greater freedom and equality in Africa.  Slaves freed from slave ships were also sent there instead of being repatriated to their countries of origin.  In 1847, these colonists founded the Republic of Liberia, establishing a government modeled on that of the United States and naming the capital city Monrovia after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States and a prominent supporter of the colonization.  The colonists, known as Americo-Liberians, monopolized the political and economic sectors of the country despite comprising only a small percentage of the largely indigenous population.  Elijah Johnson and Joseph Jenkins Roberts are considered the African American founding fathers of the nation.

In 1787, a plan was established to settle some of London's "Black Poor" in Sierra Leone in what was called the "Province of Freedom".  A number of "Black Poor" arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone on 15 May 1787, accompanied by some English tradesmen.  This was organized by the London-based Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, composed of British philanthropists who preferred it as a solution to continuing to financially support them in London.  Many of the "Black Poor" were African Americans, who had been given their freedom after fighting for the British Army during the American Revolution, but also included other West Indian, African and Bengali inhabitants of London.  After establishing Granville Town, disease and hostility from the indigenous people eliminated the first group of colonists and destroyed their settlement.  A second Granville Town was established by 64 remaining colonists.

Through the impetus of Thomas Peters, the Sierra Leone Company was established to relocate 1,196 black Americans, most of whom had also escaped enslavement in the United States by fighting for the British Army during the American Revolution.  They had been given land in Nova ScotiaThomas Peters, along with David George, Moses Wilkinson, Cato Perkins, and Joseph Leonard, were influential blacks who recruited African settlers in Nova Scotia for colonization of Sierra Leone.  These colonists built the second (and only permanent) Colony of Sierra Leone and the settlement of Freetown on March 11, 1792.  In the 1790s, under the governorship of John Clarkson, the Settlers voted for the first time in free election decades before the it came to Britain or America.  Here, too, were the first women to caste a vote for any thing, any where in the world.

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Modern West Africa:

Following World War II, protests against European rule sprung up across West Africa, most notably in Ghana under the Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972).  Ghana became the first country of sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence in 1957, with others soon to follow.  After a decade of protests, riots and clashes, French West Africa voted for autonomy in a 1958 referendum, dividing into the states of today; the British colonies gained autonomy the following decade.  In 1973, Guinea-Bissau proclaimed its independence from Portugal, and was internationally recognized following the 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal.

West Africa includes the following 16 independent countries and population:

Since independence, West Africa has suffered from the same problems as much of the African continent, particularly dictatorships, political corruption and military coups.  Inter-country conflicts have been few, with Mali and Burkina Faso's nearly bloodless Agacher Strip War being a rare exception.  The region has, however, seen a number of bloody civil wars, including the Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970), two civil wars in Liberia in 1989 and 1999, a decade of fighting in Sierra Leone from 1991–2002, a Tuareg Rebellion in Niger and Mali in the early 1990s, and an ongoing conflict in Côte d'Ivoire that began in 2002.

In the 1990s, AIDS became a significant problem for the region, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, and NigeriaFamine has been an occasional but serious problem in northern Mali and Niger, particularly during the Sahel drought of the 1970s and 80s.  Niger is currently undergoing another food crisis that could develop into another major famine.

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Economy and Geopolitics:

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), founded by the 1975 Treaty of Lagos, is an organization of West African states which aims to promote the region's economy.  The West African Monetary Union (or UEMOA from its name in French, Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine) is limited to the eight, mostly Francophone countries that employ the CFA franc as their common currency.  The Liptako-Gourma Authority of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso seeks to jointly develop the contiguous areas of the three countries.

Since the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000, women have been engaged in rebuilding war-torn Africa.  Starting with the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace and Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), the peace movement has grown to include women across West Africa.  Established on May 8, 2006, Women Peace and Security Network - Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), is a women-focused, women-led Pan-African non-governmental organization based in Ghana.  The organization has a presence in Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  Regional leaders of nonviolent resistance include Leymah Gbowee, Comfort Freeman, and Aya Virginie Toure.

Culture and Religion:

Islam, mixed with traditional beliefs in some places, is the predominant historical religion of the West African interior and the far west coast of the continent; Christianity, a relative newcomer, has become the predominant religion in the central and southern part of Nigeria, and the coastal regions stretching from southern Ghana to coastal parts of Sierra Leone; and elements of indigenous religions are practiced throughout.  African traditional religion is also prevalent.  Along with historic migrations, these religions have culturally linked the peoples of Northern Africa more than those in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Traditionally, musical and oral history as conveyed over generations by Griots are typical of West African culture.

The game oware is quite popular in many parts of West Africa.  Soccer is also a pastime enjoyed by many, either spectating or playing.  The national teams of some West African nations, especially Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast, regularly qualify for the World CupMbalax, Highlife, Fuji and Afrobeat are all modern musical genres which listeners enjoy in this region.

A typical formal attire worn in West Africa are the knee to ankle-length flowing Boubou robe, Dashiki and Senegalese Kaftan (also known as Agbada and Babariga), which has its origins in the clothing of nobility of various West African empires in the 12th century. 

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Tourism in West Africa:

For many people a vacation to Africa is a once in a lifetime experience.  West Africa is a good place to start, and it's a place where tourism is on the upswing for a variety of reasons.  You can find endless adventures in this truly unique part of the world.

Ghana featrues 16 national parks and conservation areas where community-based ecotourism.  With such a wide range of animal species and terrain, you will be able to see much of what the region has to offer in one visit.  You'll see monkeys, elephants, crocodiles and a huge assortment of tropical birds.  Tour the northern Savannah, climb to the top of magnificent peaks or explore the forests, filled with spectacular waterfalls and animal life you won't see elsewhere.

Try a cruise along the Niger River with a visit to Niger.  You can book passage on a sailing boat that will allow you a hands-on experience in river navigation and it will also stop in specific ports where you will be able to step on land and intermingle with the culture of the area.  Float past communities of African birds, hippos and other river animals, and get an up close view of functioning rural villages that have been in existence for centuries.  Stop in famed destinations along the river such as Timbuktu and Mopti.

Surfing tourism in West Africa has not always been on the radar of wave riding adventure travelers, but it certainly is today.  Great breaks along the coast of Senegal, Liberia and Ghana have spawned the creation of a surfing culture in these areas that caters to visitors from around the world.  West Africa's white, pristine beaches are definitely attractive to sun worshippers who want to visit a tropical paradise, but the surf here is also ideal because of big waves, crystal clear water and temperature.

Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, is a bustling city on the Cap-Vert Peninsula.  Heavy traffic, crowds of people, endless music, dancing, casino action, world class hotels and plenty of water sports along the coast are all reasons to visit this colorful city.

In addition to the many unique cultural and historical sites each country has to offer, there are a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered throughout West Africa.  An UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance.  While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.

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Wind & Weather

Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa (HOA) is a peninsula in East Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden.  It is the easternmost projection of the African continent.  Referred to in medieval times as Bilad al Barbar ("Land of the Berbers"), the Horn of Africa denotes the region containing the countries of Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia.

It is inhabited by about roughly 100 million people (Ethiopia:  85 million, Somalia:  9.3 million, Eritrea:  5.2 million, and Djibouti:  0.86 million).

It consists chiefly of mountains uplifted through the formation of the Great Rift Valley, a fissure in the Earth's crust extending from Turkey to Mozambique and marking the separation of the African and Arabian tectonic plates.  Most of the region is mountainous which arose through faults resulting from the Rift Valley, with the highest peaks in the Semien Mountains of northwestern Ethiopia.


Shell middens 125,000 years old have been found in Eritrea, indicating the diet of early humans included seafood obtained by beachcombing.

According to both genetic and fossil evidence, archaic Homo sapiens evolved to anatomically modern humans solely in Africa between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, with members of one branch leaving Africa by 60,000 years ago and over time replacing earlier human populations such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus.  The recent single origin of modern humans in East Africa is the near-consensus position held within the scientific community.

Today at the Bab-el-Mandeb straits the Red Sea is about 12 miles (20 kilometres) wide, but 50,000 years ago it was much narrower and sea levels were 70 meters lower.  Though the straits were never completely closed, there may have been islands in between which could be reached using simple rafts.

It has been estimated that from a population of 2,000 to 5,000 individuals in Africa, only a small group of possibly as little as 150 to 1,000 people crossed the Red Sea.  Of all the lineages present in Africa, only the female descendants of one lineage, mtDNA haplogroup L3, are found outside Africa.  Had there been several migrations, one would expect descendants of more than one lineage to be found outside Africa.  L3's female descendants, the M and N haplogroup lineages, are found in very low frequencies in Africa (although haplogroup M1 is very ancient and diversified in North Africa and on the Horn of Africa) and appear to be recent arrivals.

Other scientists have proposed a Multiple Dispersal Model, in which there were two migrations out of Africa, one across the Red Sea travelling along the coastal regions to India (the Coastal Route), which would be represented by Haplogroup M.  Another group of migrants with Haplogroup N followed the Nile from East Africa, heading northwards and crossing into Asia through the Sinai.  This group then branched in several directions, some moving into Europe and others heading east into Asia.  This hypothesis attempts to explain why Haplogroup N is predominant in Europe and why Haplogroup M is absent in Europe.

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Ancient Cultures

In ancient times, several kingdoms dominated the region and established important and prosperous trading routes.

The Land of Punt:

The region consisting of modern day northern Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and the Red Sea coast of Sudan is considered the most likely location of the Land of Punt.  The Land of Punt, also called Pwenet, was a trading partner known for producing and exporting gold, incense, African blackwood, ebony, ivory, slaves, animal skins, short-horned cattle and wild animals.  

The earliest recorded Egyptian trading expedition to Punt was organized by Pharaoh Sahure of the Fifth Dynasty (25th century BC) although gold from Punt is recorded as having been in Egypt in the time of king Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty of Egypt.  Subsequently, there were more expeditions to Punt in the Sixth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Eighteenth dynasties of Egypt, whose first mention by ancient Egyptians dates to the 25th century BCE.

Ancient Somalis domesticated the camel somewhere between the third millennium and second millennium BCE from where it spread to Ancient Egypt and North Africa.  In antiquity, Somali sailors and merchants were the main suppliers of frankincense, myrrh and spices, items which were considered valuable luxuries by the Ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Mycenaeans and Babylonians.  

During the classical era, several city states such as Mossylon, Opone, Malao, Mundus and Tabae in Somalia competed with the Sabaeans, Parthians and Axumites for the wealthy Indo-Greco-Roman trade.  They used the ancient Somali maritime vessel known as the beden to transport their cargo.  Somali sailors were aware of the region's monsoons, and used them to link themselves with the port cities of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

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Aksumite Empire:

The Aksumite Empire or Axumite Empire (sometimes called the Kingdom of Aksum or Axum) was an important trading nation located in the north of modern-day Ethiopia and parts of Eritrea that thrived between the 1st and 7th centuries.  The capital city of the empire, Aksum, now in northern Ethiopia, was once a bustling metropolis, cultural and economic center.  It is also the alleged resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and the home of the biblical Queen of Sheba.

The Aksumite Empire established its hegemony over the declining Kingdom of Kush and regularly entered the politics of the kingdoms on the Arabian peninsula, eventually extending its rule over the region with the conquest of the Himyarite Kingdom.  At its height, the Aksumite Empire extended across most of present-day Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti, Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia.  It was declared by Mani as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and China.

The Aksumite Empire was heavily involved in the trade network between India and Rome (and later Byzantium).  Aksum's access to both the Red Sea and the Upper Nile enabled its strong navy to profit in trade between various African (Nubia), Arabian (Yemen), and Indian states.  Adulis soon became the main port for the export of African goods, such as ivory, incense, gold, emeralds, slaves, and exotic animals, and importing silk and spices.  They traded with Roman traders as well as with Egyptian and Persian merchants.

The Aksumite Empire also benefited from a major transformation of the maritime trading system that linked the Roman Empire and India.  Starting around 100 BCE, a route from Egypt to India was established, making use of the Red Sea and using monsoon winds to cross the Arabian Sea directly to southern India.  By about 100 CE, Roman demand for goods from southern India increased dramatically, resulting in greater number of large ships sailing down the Red Sea from Roman rule in Egypt to the Arabian Sea and India.  The Aksumite dominated maritime trade soon eclipsed the older Roman trade with India through the overland caravan routes via Anatolia and Persia.

The main exports of Aksum were agricultural products, and their principal crops were grains such as wheat and barley.  The people of Aksum also raised cattle, sheep, and camels.  Wild animals were also hunted for things such as ivory and rhinoceros horns.  The empire was also rich with gold and iron deposits.  These metals were valuable to trade, as was salt, which was richly abundant in Aksum.

Under Ezana, Aksum became the first major empire to convert to Christianity in place of its former polytheistic and Judaic religions around 325 CE.  However, the birth of Islam opposite the Horn's Red Sea coast meant that local merchants and sailors living on the Arabian Peninsula gradually came under the influence of the new religion through their converted Arab Muslim trading partners.

In the 7th century CE, the Muslims sought refuge from Quraysh persecution by travelling to Aksum, which is known in Islamic history as the First Hijra.  With the migration of Muslim families from the Islamic world, and the peaceful conversion of the local population by Muslim scholars in the following centuries, the ancient city-states eventually transformed into Islamic Mogadishu, Berbera, Zeila, Barawa and Merka.  The city of Mogadishu came to be known as the "City of Islam" and controlled the East African gold trade for several centuries.

Trading flourished with both the Western Roman Empire, or the barbarians who supplanted it, and the Byzantine Empire until the Muslim conquest of Egypt 640 CE cut the Aksumite Empire off from European markets.  Eventually, the Islamic Empire took control of the Red Sea and most of the Nile, forcing Aksum into economic isolation.  The empire began to decline, eventually ceasing its production of coins in the early 7th century.  Around this same time, the Aksumite population was forced to go farther inland to the highlands for protection.  Around 960 CE, Queen Gudit destroyed the remnants of the Aksumite Empire.

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Middle Ages & Early Modern

During the Middle Ages, several powerful empires dominated the regional trade, including the Sultanate of Adal, the Ajuuraan State, the Warsangali Sultanate, the Zagwe dynasty, and the Gobroon Dynasty.

Adal Sultanate:

The Sultanate of Adal or the Kingdom of Adal (1415–1555) was a medieval multi-ethnic muslim state located in the Horn of Africa that had relations and trade with countries in Africa, the Near East, Europe and Asia.  Many of the historic cities in the Horn of Africa such as Maduna, Abasa, Berbera, Zeila and Harar flourished with courtyard houses, mosques, shrines, walled enclosures, and cisterns during the kingdom's Golden Age.

At the turn of the 16th century, Adal organized an effective army led by Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi that invaded the Ethiopian Empire.  This campaign is historically known as the Conquest of Abyssinia or Futuh al Habash, in which Ahmed pioneered the use of cannons supplied by the Ottoman Empire in Horn African warfare against Solomonic forces and the Portuguese army led by Cristóvão da Gama.  At its height, the state controlled large parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea.

After the death of Sa'ad ad-Din II, it succeeded the Kingdom of Ifat, and Adalite armies under the leadership of illustrative rulers such as Sabr ad-Din II, Mansur ad-Din, Jamal ad-Din II, Shams ad-Din and general Mahfuz continued the struggle against the Solomonic Christian Empire.

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Ajuuraan State:

The Ajuuraan State (14th–17th century) was a Somali Muslim sultanate, whose royal family, the House of Gareen, expanded its territories and established its hegemonic rule through a skillful combination of warfare, trade linkages and alliances.  Through a strong centralized administration and an aggressive military stance towards invaders, the Ajuuraan State successfully resisted an Oromo invasion from the west and a Portuguese incursion from the east during the Gaal Madow and the Ajuuraan-Portuguese wars.

Trading routes dating from the ancient and early medieval periods of Somali maritime enterprise were strengthened or re-established, and foreign trade and commerce in the coastal provinces flourished with ships sailing to and coming from from Arabia, India, Venetia, Persia, Egypt, Portugal and as far away as China.

The empire left an extensive architectural legacy, being the major medieval Somali power engaged in castle and fortress building, with many of the hundreds of ruined fortifications dotting the landscapes of Somalia today attributed to Ajuuraan engineers, and includes many of the pillar tomb fields, necropolises and ruined cities built in that era.  The Ajuuraan State monopolized the water resources of the Shabelle and Jubba rivers.  Through hydraulic engineering, it also constructed many of the limestone wells and cisterns of the state that are still operative and in use today.

During the Ajuuraan period many regions and peoples in East Africa converted to Islam because of the theocratic nature of the government.  The tyrannical rule of the later Ajuuraan rulers caused multiple rebellions to break out in the empire, and at the end of the 17th century, the Ajuuraan state disintegrated into several successor kingdoms and states, the most prominent being the Gobroon Dynasty.

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Ethiopian Empire:

The Ethiopian Empire (1137–1974), also known as Abyssinia, covered a geographical area that the present-day northern half of Ethiopia and Eritrea covers.  After the conquest of Aksum by Queen Gudit in 960 CE, a period began which some scholars refer to as the Ethiopian Dark Ages.  The last of Queen Yodit's successors were overthrown by the Zagwe dynasty in 1137.  The Zagwe continued the Christianity of Aksum and constructed many magnificent churches, such as those at Lalibela.

In 1270, the Zagwe dynasty was overthrown by a king claiming lineage with the Aksumite emperors and thus that of Solomon (hence the Solomonid Dynasty).  It is under this dynasty that most of Ethiopia's modern history is formed.  During this time, the Ethiopian Empire conquered and incorporated virtually all the peoples within modern Ethiopia and some south part of Eritrea.  They successfully fought off Italian, Arab and Turkish Ottoman Empire armies, and made fruitful contacts with some European powers, especially the Portuguese, with whom they allied in battle against Arab and Turkish invaders.

The Ethiopian Empire existed until 1974 when the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d'etat.  It was the only native African nation to successfully resist the Scramble for Africa by the colonial powers during the 19th century.

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Modern Horn of Africa:

In the period following the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, when European powers scrambled for territory in Africa and tried to establish coaling stations for their ships, Italy invaded and occupied Eritrea.  The boundaries of modern Eritrea and the entire region were established during the European colonial period between Italian, British and French colonialists as well as the lone landlocked African Empire of Abyssinia which found itself surrounded and its boundaries defined by said colonial powers.

On January 1, 1890, Eritrea officially became a colony of Italy.  In 1896 further Italian incursion into the horn was decisively halted by Ethiopian forces.  By 1936, however, Eritrea became a province of Italian East Africa, along with Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland.  By 1941, Eritrea had about 760,000 inhabitants, including 70,000 Italians.  The Commonwealth armed forces, along with the Ethiopian patriotic resistance, expelled those of Italy in 1941, and took over the area's administration.  

The lack of regard for the Eritrean population led to the formation of an independence movement in 1961, which erupted into a 30-year war against successive Ethiopian governments that ended in 1991.  Following a UN-supervised referendum in Eritrea (dubbed UNOVER) in which the Eritrean people overwhelmingly voted for independence, Eritrea declared its independence and gained international recognition in 1993.  In 1998 a border dispute with Ethiopia led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War.  The war resulted in the death of as many as 100,000 Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers.

In 1974, the dynasty led by Haile Selassie was overthrown as civil war in Ethiopia intensified.  Since then, Ethiopia has seen a variety of governmental systems.

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Economy and Geopolitics:

Today, Eritrea, officially the State of Eritrea, is a single-party state, run by the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, in which national legislative elections have been repeatedly postponed.  The capital is Asmara.

Ethiopia, officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), G-77 and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).  Ethiopia's capital is Addis Ababa, and is the headquarters of the African Union, the Pan African Chamber of Commerce (PACCI) and UNECA.  The country has one of the most powerful militaries in Africa and Addis Ababa is the headquarter of the continental African Standby Force (ASF).

States of the region depend largely on a few key exports:  coffee 80% of total in Ethiopia, while bananas and livestock over 50% of total exports in Somalia.  Over 95% of cross-border trade within the region is unofficial and undocumented, carried out by pastoralists trading livestock.  The unofficial trade of live cattle, camels, sheep and goats from Ethiopia sold to other countries in the Horn and the wider Eastern Africa region, including Somalia and Djibouti, generates an estimated total value of between US$250 and US$300 million annually.

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Eritrea has an estimated population of 6 million.  The Tigrinya people make up about 60% and Tigre people make up about 30% of the population.  These form the bulk of the country's predominantly Semitic-speaking population.  Ethiopia is the second-most populous nation in Africa, with over 82 million people.  

Besides sharing similar geographic endowments, the countries of the Horn of Africa are, for the most part, linguistically and ethnically linked together.  Among the major ethno-linguistic groups of the region are:

Most residents in the Horn of Africa practice one of the three major Abrahamic faiths, religions that have an ancient presence in the region.  Judaism has a long presence in the region, most notably in the form of the Beta Israel community.  Ethiopian history described in the Kebra Negast, or "Book of the Glory of Kings," relates that Ethiopians are descendants of Israelite tribes who came to Ethiopia with Menelik I, alleged to be the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (or Makeda, in the legend).  The legend relates that Menelik, as an adult, returned to his father in Jerusalem, and then resettled in Ethiopia, and that he took with him the Ark of the Covenant.

Axum became one of the earliest states to adopt Christianity following the conversion of King Ezana II in the 4th Century C.E.  Islam's relationship with the region began when Bilal ibn Rabah, an Ethiopian, was chosen by the Islamic prophet Muhammad to be the first muezzin.  Early on, a band of persecuted Muslims had, at the Muhammad's urging, fled across the Red Sea into the Horn of Africa.  There, the Muslims were granted protection by the Ethiopian king.  Islam may thus have been introduced into the Horn of Africa well before the faith even took root in its place of origin.

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Regional Culture:

The countries of the Horn of Africa have been the birthplace of many ancient, as well as modern, cultural achievements in several fields including agriculture, architecture, art, cuisine, education, literature, music, technology and theology to name but a few.  Ethiopian agriculture established the earliest known use of the seed grass Teff (Poa abyssinica) between 4000-1000 BCE.  Teff is used to make the flat bread injera/taita.  Coffee also originates in Ethiopia and has since spread to become a worldwide beverage.

Ethiopia has the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa.  They include:

Ethiopian art is renowned for the ancient tradition of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian iconography stretching back to the wall paintings of the 7th-Century C.E.  Ethiopia is also renowned for its ancient churches, such as at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Lalibela.  In the field of technology, the Great Stele of Axum, at over 100 feet (30 m) long, was the largest single stone ever quarried in the ancient world.

Somali architecture includes the Fakr ad-Din Mosque, which was built in 1269 C.E. by the first Sultan of Mogadishu.  

Effy Jewelers

African Cuisine


Africa cuisine is a generalized term collectively referring to the cuisines of Africa. The continent of Africa is the second largest landmass on Earth, and is home to hundreds of different cultural and ethnic groups. This diversity is also reflected in the many local culinary traditions in terms of choice of ingredients, style of preparation and cooking techniques.

Traditionally, the various cuisines of Africa use a combination of locally available fruits, cereal grains and vegetables, as well as milk and meat products. In some parts of the continent, the traditional diet features a preponderance of milk, curd and whey products. In much of Tropical Africa, however, cow's milk is rare and cannot be produced locally (owing to various diseases that affect livestock).

Depending on the region, there are also sometimes quite significant differences in the eating and drinking habits and proclivities throughout the continent's many populations, each have their own distinctive dishes, preparation techniques, and consumption mores.

Wherever you are in Africa, no meal is complete without a starchy porridge known as ugali, pap, iwisa, sadza or mealie meal , depending where you’re from.  In fact African people say they don’t feel full unless they’ve had their fufu (or equivalent).

West African Cuisine:

West African cuisine is heavy with starchy items, meat, hot spices and flavors.  A wide array of staples are eaten across the region, including those of fufu, kenkey, couscous, and garri which are served alongside soups and stews.  Fufu is often made from starchy root vegetables such as yams, cocoyams, or cassava, but also from cereal grains like millet, sorghum or plantains.  The best way to eat it is to have a mound of fufu served alongside a sauce (commonly containing okra, fish, tomato or cassava leaves).  The diner pinches off a small ball of fufu with the right hand and makes an indentation with the thumb.  This reservoir is then filled with sauce, and the ball is eaten.

The staple grain or starch varies region to region and ethnic group to ethnic group, although corn has gained significant ground as it is cheap, swells to greater volumes and creates a beautiful white final product that is greatly desired.  Rice-dishes are also widely eaten in the region, especially in the dry Sahel belt inland.  Examples of these include Benachin from the Gambia and Jollof rice, a pan-West African rice dish with its origins from Ghana.

Seeds of Guinea pepper, a native West African plant, were used as a spice and even reached Europe, through North African middlemen, during the Middle Ages.  Centuries before the influence of Europeans, West African people were trading with the Arab world and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and mint were not unknown and became part of the local flavorings.  Centuries later, European explorers introduced the American Chile, or chili, to Africa sometime soon after Columbus sailed to America, and both chillies and tomatoes have become ubiquitous components of West African cuisines.

The local cuisine and recipes of West Africa continue to remain deeply entrenched in the local customs and traditions, with ingredients like African rice (oryza glaberrima), rice, fonio, millet, sorghum, Bambara and Hausa groundnuts, black-eyed beans, brown beans, and root vegetables such as yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, and cassava.  Cooking is done in multiple ways:  roasting, baking, boiling, frying, mashing, and spicing.  A range of sweets and savories are also prepared.

Cooking techniques of West Africa are changing.  In the past people ate much less meat and used native oils (palm oil on the coast and shea butter in sahelian regions).  Baobab leaf and numerous local greens were every day staples during certain times of the year.  Today, diet is much heavier in meats, salt, and fats.  Many dishes combine fish and meat, including dried and fermented fish.  Flaked and dried fish is often fried in oil, and sometimes cooked in sauce made up with hot peppers, onions and tomatoes various spices (such as soumbala) and water to prepare a highly flavored stew.  In some areas, beef and mutton are preferred, and goat meat is the dominant red meat.  Suya, a popular grilled spicy meat kebab flavored with peanuts and other spices, is sold by street vendors as a tasty snack or evening meal and is typically made with beef or chicken.  It is common to have a preponderance of seafood and the seafood, as earlier stated, is sometimes also mixed with other meat products.  Guinea fowl eggs, eggs and chicken are also preferred.

As far as beverages, water has a very strong ritual significance in many West African nations (particularly in dry areas) and water is often the first thing an African host will offer his/her guest.  Palm wine is also a common beverage made from the fermented sap of various types of palm trees and is usually sold in sweet (less-fermented, retaining more of the sap's sugar) or sour (fermented longer, making it stronger and less sweet) varieties.  Millet beer is another common beverage.

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Horn of Africa Cuisine:

Most Westerners know nothing of the fabulous culinary traditions of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia cuisines.  In this region, the wonderfully spongy, fermented bread called injera is a staple.  Almost every meal is served atop the large, round flatbread that resembles a spongy, slightly sour pancake.  It is made out of teff flour which only grows in Africa. 

When eating, diners generally share food from a large tray placed in the center of a low dining table.  Numerous injera are layered on this tray and topped with various spicy stews.  Diners then break into the section of injera in front of them, tearing off pieces and dipping them into the stews.  One does not eat with utensils, but instead uses injera to scoop up the entrées and side dishes.  The injera also serves as an edible plate, absorbing every last drop of delicious juice.

The main traditional dishes in Eritrean cuisine are tsebhis (stews) served with injera and hilbet (paste made from legumes, mainly lentil, faba beans).  Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine (especially in the northern half) are very similar, given the shared history of the two countries.

Eritrean food habits vary regionally.  In the highlands, injera is the staple diet and is eaten daily among the Tigrinya.  In the lowlands, the main dish is akelet, a porridge-like dish made from wheat flour dough.  A ladle is used to scoop out the top, which is filled with berbere and butter sauce and surrounded by milk or yogurt.  A small piece of dough is broken and then used to scoop up the sauce.

The best known Ethiopian cuisine consists of various vegetable or meat side dishes and entrées, usually a wat, or thick stew, served atop injera.  Tihlo prepared from roasted barley flour is very popular in Amhara, Agame, and Tigrai.  Traditional Ethiopian cuisine employs no pork or shellfish of any kind, as they are forbidden in the Islamic, Jewish, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian faiths.  It is also very common to eat from the same dish in the center of the table with a group of people.

Somali cuisine varies from region to region and consists of an exotic mixture of diverse culinary influences.  It is the product of Somalia's rich tradition of trade and commerce.  Despite the variety, there remains one thing that unites the various regional cuisines: all food is served halal.  There are therefore no pork dishes, alcohol is not served, nothing that died on its own is eaten, and no blood is incorporated.  Qaddo or lunch is often elaborate.

Varieties of bariis (rice), the most popular probably being basmati, usually serve as the main dish.  Spices like cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and sage are used to aromatize these different rice dishes.  Somalis serve dinner as late as 9 pm. 

Xalwo or halva is a popular confection served during special occasions such as Eid celebrations or wedding receptions.  It is made from sugar, cornstarch, cardamom powder, nutmeg powder, and ghee.  Peanuts are also sometimes added to enhance texture and flavor.  After meals, homes are traditionally perfumed using frankincense or incense, which is prepared inside an incense burner referred to as a dabqaad.

Tej is a potent honey wine, similar to mead, that is frequently served in bars.  Tella is a home-brewed beer served in bars.  Coffee originates from Ethiopia, where it is a critical component of the economy and is a central part of Ethiopian beverages.  Equally important is the ceremony which accompanies the serving of the coffee.  Each bean is treated with great respect during the roasting and grinding process and the resulting taste is a deliciously soft brew which sometimes has spices added including kibbled ginger.

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Swahili Coast Cuisine:

The cuisine of East Africa varies from area to area.  In the inland savannah, the traditional cuisine of cattle-keeping peoples is distinctive in that meat products are generally absent.  Cattle, sheep and goats were regarded as a form of currency and a store of wealth, and are not generally consumed as food.  In some areas, traditional peoples consume the milk and blood of cattle, but rarely the meat.

Elsewhere, other peoples are farmers who grow a variety of grains and vegetables.  Maize (corn) is the basis of ugali, the East African version of West Africa's fufu. Ugali is a starch dish eaten with meats or stews.  In Uganda, steamed, green bananas called matoke provide the starch filler of many meals.

Around 1000 years ago, the Arabs settled in the coastal areas of East Africa, commonly known as the "Swahili Coast" of Kenya and Tanzania, and Arabic influences are especially reflected in the Swahili cuisine of the coast—steamed cooked rice with spices in Persian style, use of saffron, cloves, cinnamon and several other spices, and pomegranate juice.

Several centuries later, the British and the Indians came, and both brought with them their foods, like Indian spiced vegetable curries, lentil soups, chapattis and a variety of pickles.  Just before the British and the Indians, the Portuguese had introduced techniques of roasting and marinating, as also use of spices turning the bland diet into aromatic stewed dishes.  Portuguese also brought from their Asian colonies fruits like the orange, lemon and lime.  From their colonies in the New World, Portuguese also brought exotic items like chilies, peppers, maize, tomatoes, pineapple, bananas, and the domestic pig—now, all these are common elements of East African food.


BRAZILIAN:  An exuberant, colorful mix of Portuguese, African and native foods including some from the Amazon.

CHINESE:  Two thirds of households own a wok and use it regularly, but not everyone knows how to use it properly.

EGYPTIAN:  Beans are used extensively and creatively as a source of protein, fibre, and comfort.

ENGLISH:  "Meat & three veg" originated in the UK with dishes like roast beef, steak and kidney pie, and many more.

FRENCH: The French have elevated food into an art form. Nowhere else is so much attention paid to what people are going to eat and how.

HUNGARIAN:  A fusion of simple peasant food & the elegant, highly developed cuisine from the days of the Austro Hungarian Empire.

INDIAN:  A vibrant, intensely colorful cuisine. Each region of India has its own style of cooking and distinct flavors.

INDONESIAN:  One of the most vibrant and colorful cuisines in the world, full of intense flavor and varied textures.

ITALIAN:  An long-awaited introduction to the kitchens and restaurants of Australia’s top Italian chefs and home cooks.

JAPANESE:  Refined and elegant, its preparation and presentation honed over the centuries so its flavors are pure and delicate.

JEWISH:  While flavors of the Jewish palate are influenced by geography, the constant for Jews all over the world are the Kosher laws.

KOREAN:  Some of the healthiest food on earth, with a near obsession with the fermented vegetable kimchi.

LEBANESE:  Lebanese cuisine is generous and abundant, and this is some of the most exquisite food in the world.

MALTESE:  The rocky island of Malta is home to some beautiful rustic recipes that sing of Mediterranean flavor and freshness.

MEXICAN:  Authentic Mexican food is vibrant, spicy, delicious and fun. It varies according to which region its from.

MOROCCAN:  One of the most cleverly balanced cuisines on earth; spices are used to enhance the flavor of dishes.

PAKISTANI:  Full of marvelous and diverse dishes, it incorporates elements from its neighbors India, Afghanistan and Iran.

PERSIAN:  From simple dips to hearty stews, food preparation is taken very seriously in Iran and is often a labor of love.

SOUTH AMERICAN:  A fantastic fusion of culinary traditions from indigenous Indians, imported Africans, and the Spanish and Portuguese colonist.

SRI LANKAN:  This beautiful spice island is a rich melting pot of every nationality that has visited and traded with it over the years.

SYRIAN:  One of the highlights of Syrian food is mezza, a generous spread of small dishes and the prelude to even more food!

TURKISH:  Nestled between Asia and Europe, Turkish food is an unique and exotic fusion with influences from many countries.


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