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In Africa, bushmeat or viande de brousse are the words most often used to refer to wild game, that is, meat of wild animals. It might seem as if nearly every species of African wildlife -- birds, fish, insects, mammals (including primates), reptiles -- is hunted and eaten somewhere in Africa by one people or another, though individual ethnic groups each have their own customs of what is edible and what is not.
It would be nonsense for The Congo Cookbook to include recipes which call for the meat of animals that are rare, endangered, or found only in Africa, so recipes like these call for "Beef" and "Stew Meat". Nonetheless, accuracy demands that we realize that many of these recipes were developed to cook African bushmeat, not beef, and the consumption of wild game is significant in both historical and contemporary Africa. The recipes can be made with beef (adapting recipes to what's at hand is a hallmark of African cuisine). But if you can obtain any wild game, using it would give your African dinner a more interesting flavor and make it more authentic.
Note: In many countries, importing, transporting, selling, or even possessing the meat, skin, or other parts of endangered animal species can lead to criminal prosecution and punishment. The information presented here is meant to document traditional African culinary practices, not promote the consumption of endangered wildlife.
The threat to wildlife posed by the commercial hunting and sale of bushmeat in Africa has led to the formation of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, a collaborative effort of individuals and organizations established to address the problems and solutions of this crisis for wildlife and humans.
Richard F. Burton, the great 19th century traveler, writer, and translator, described this in his Wanderings in West Africa (New York: Dover Publications, Inc, 1991 "Two Volumes bound as One"; originally published by Tinsley Brothers, London, 1863).
All families have some forbidden meat,--which Captain Owen and Dr. Livingstone call motupo and Boleo ki bo,--such as fowl or fresh beef. The race, however, is carnivorous, eating, when wealthy, fish, poultry, goats, deer, elephant, tortoise and crocodile, the latter of which are said to be not unlike turtle.
(Volume II, Chapter X, Bonny River to Fernando Po)
William T. Close, who worked as a medical doctor in the Belgian Congo/Zaire, describes the re-emergence of a taste for bushmeat among the Zairean elite as part of the government's Autenticité campaign, which called on Zaireans to abandon European customs in favor of African traditions. This quotation is from A Doctor's Life: Unique Stories (Marbleton, Wyoming: Meadowlark Springs Productions, 2001).
Food in Kinshasa, and certainly at the presidency, had been good, if heavy, Belgian cuisine. But in 1971, after the Congo was renamed Zaire and the statues of King Leopold II and Stanley had been removed from their places of honor to a dump outside the city, European food had been replaced, especially at the presidency, by authentic African dishes. Autenticité had become the order of the day. Goat, porcupine, huge river catfish, and monkey meat--called by the Zairians, but only by the Zairians, cousin--had replaced filet mignon.
In many Bantu languages the words for "eat", "meat", and "animal" all come from the same root word. Obviously, Africans on much of the continent hunted for meat. The variety of meats consumed in Africa is attested to by these quotations from American missionary Robert Hamill Nassau's My Ogowe: Being a Narrative of Daily Incidents During Sixteen Years in Equatorial West Africa (The Neale Publishing Company, New York, 1914).
Quite a variety of meats would from time to time be brought. Besides domestic fowls, sheep and goat, and wild birds, there would come a leg of wild hog or antelope. Crocodile meat really looked attractive, but the thought of it was offensive; elephant was coarse; monkey was impossible. (XVIII On the Kangwe Hill-Side -- October, 1877 - January, 1880)
Most delicious meat is that of the manatee. A man had killed one, gave me a piece, and allowed me to witness one of their superstitious ceremonies for future success, in their manatee-hunting. A piece of the flesh was cooked (not in a foreign iron-pot, but, in native earthenware). It was then carefully covered by plantain leaf; no women or children were allowed to be present. Then, the men gathered around the pot, with a variety of incantations, and ate the meat. When it was consumed, they simultaneously jumped and shouted. "My belly is not full!" This was said, even if their appetite had been satisfied, as a sort of prayer to the spirit of the feast, that they wanted more at a future day. When, then, the fisherman shall go again manatee-hunting, he puts a small pot of boiled leaves and barks, as a sacrifice to the spirit, in the bow of the canoe; and, it is then expected it will attract the animal to its death. The man gave me a piece of the uncooked meat, conditioning, however, that I should boil it, and not have it cooked in my preferred mode of jomba. I yielded to this condition.
(III - Prospecting)
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