The Baka Pygmies…
Deep in the Cameroon rainforests, an ancient people survive. With an average height of around 5ft (1.5 Meters), the Baka pygmies are the oldest known group of people on the planet. They are a relic from an ancient past, and another piece of evidence on the vastness and isolation of the rainforests that take up much of the country’s southern plateau. But their way of life is being threatened as we speak by widespread destruction of their habitat by timber companies who wish to exploit the rainforest. Having lived mostly off the land for thousands of years, the Baka are now forced to take jobs with the only people hiring; the loggers. The irony of it all being that in order to survive, they are forced to work in the one profession which is literally destroying their way of life.
this is a 10 minute preview of a documentary by Journeyman Pictures on the Baka pygmies of Cameroon called “Short on Land”.
A Very Short History:
Cameroon is located on the Western Coast of Africa just where the continent starts to curve outwards to the Pacific Ocean. It was also inhabited for a long period (along with the Baka pygmies) by the Sao civilization which dominated most of the area now known as Chad and Cameroon. Cameroon is the 53rd largest country by land size, and is also one of its most ecologically and geographically diverse. It is sometimes known as “Africa Miniature” for this very reason.
Prior to the First World War, Cameroon was a German colony (from 1884). After WWI, the colony was split between the French and the British. The colony was known thereafter as two distinct areas, French and British Cameroon. This rule would continue well into the 20th century, until 1955, when a move by France to outlaw a particular political party in French Cameroon sparked a guerrilla war for independence from French rule. After a long fought battle, sometimes literally and sometimes metaphorically, Cameroon would gain it’s independence from France in 1960. The next year, British Cameroon merged with the newly independent French Cameroon to form 1 nation; The Federal Republic of Cameroon. This title and system of government would only last until 1972, when it was replaced with a new name; The United Republic of Cameroon.
Despite years of economic crisis in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Cameroon is now one of the more profitable and successful economies in Africa. French interests still dominate many aspects of the economy, and even the culture, with the official languages still being French and English. They are still considered a major trade partner with Cameroon, and also the driving force behind the logging industry which has destroyed much of the rainforest.
Today we are going to making rather interesting dish, known in Cameroon as Poulet DG. The DG stands for: le Directeur Général, the reason being that it was a favorite dish among the more affluent members of business and politics (the story being that they would have been the only ones at the time who could afford such a delicacy). This dish contains a few very unique ingredients, along with many things you would find in any kitchen. One of those such items is Red Palm Oil, which has a distinct odor and flavor to match its striking red color. (It actually comes out a bit more orange once it’s heated). You can find Red Palm Oil at any International Supermarket, and In Sydney i found mine at Fiji Market on South King Street in Newtown. There are two other slightly weird ingredients, plantains and Maggi seasoning. Maggi is a brand of crayfish seasoning cubes (or liquid). It is much like chicken stock cubes, and can be found in the same supermarket as the Red Palm Oil. It is used in many west African dishes as well as internationally. Plantains are a type of banana that is less sweet and used in many African, Asian and Pacific Islander dishes as a substitute for a western ingredient such as potatoes. You can find plantains at any Asian grocery, many local grocery stores and international supermarkets. OK, so now that we got that out of the way….let’s get cooking!
- 600g – 700g Chicken Breast (1 1/2 lbs)
- 4 Green Plantains
- 4 Tomatoes
- 1 large Onion
- 2 Leeks
- 3 Capsicum (1 Green, 1 Yellow, 1 Red if possible)
- 2 Leeks
- 3 Carrots
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 1 Inch piece of fresh Ginger
- 1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley
- Palm Oil
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 Maggi Cubes
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 stalks of Celery (optional)
The very first thing to do is to chop all of your vegetables. This will take a little while to accomplish. Peel the carrots and the ginger before chopping them. Slice everything else into medium sized chunks and set aside.
Chop up the chicken into 1 inch cubes and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat up about 2 tablespoons of palm oil in a large frying pan. once it is very hot, add the chicken and then brown on all sides. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan, and add another tablespoon or two of oil if needed. Once that has been heated, add the chopped plantains to the pan and fry until they are golden brown and then remove those as well.
Once the plantains are removed from the pan, add the Leeks, Onions and Capsicum to the oil and fry for about 1-2 minutes.
While these are frying, measure 1 cup of boiling water and dissolve the Maggi cubes into it.
Now, In a large pot, combine all of the chopped vegetables: Carrots, Leeks, garlic, ginger, onion, capsicum. (except the tomatoes, parsley and the plantains) with the chicken. Pour in the water/Maggi mixture and cook on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until some of the water has evaporated. After about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes and the chopped parsley to the pan.
About 2 minutes before serving, stir back in the plantains to heat them again, and then serve into a bowl or plate piping hot! ENJOY!
Mt. Cameroon Race:
If you are interested in something just a bit different and truly unique, you might want to check out this video about the Mt. Cameroon Race, an amazing sprint up a live volcano!
And as always, I am a fan of cheesy travel videos, so here is a special one just for you :)
Credits And Info:
For more information about the Baka pygmies and their struggle to survive, go to www.pygmies.info.
For this recipe we used many different recipes to guide us through, but the one we used the most was this one from a Recipe Wiki page.
Also I should probably thank the Fiji Market in Newtown for helping me find these unique ingredients, as well as providing me with a future shopping location for my cooking endeavors!