Documenting Endangered Foodway Heritage of the Baobab Tree Among the Mijikenda of Coastal Kenya

By Patrick Maundu, Pentti Turunen, Simone Grassi, and Hillary Mwatsuma | 10 November 2020

The baobab tree is surrounded by a rich foodway culture among the Mijikenda of coastal Kenya. The leaves are a vegetable and the edible, sour fruit pulp finds a lot of culinary uses. Besides these direct food uses, the baobab has a host of other food related uses – from being a habitat for edible mushrooms, a source of fibre for weaving baskets, a placement for barrel beehives, to a source of traps for edible rodents. Associated with these are rare skills and a rich knowledge for making tools and utensils, getting the food and processing it. Many of the baobab related foodways are at risk of getting lost. We aim to work with knowledgeable elders and custodians of the material culture to understand the associated material, knowledge, skills and practices, and document the endangered elements. Among these endangered foodway practices are the art of climbing the baobab tree and harvesting honey, fruit or vegetables, food processing, the tools used and the use of the baobab shells as utensils and rodent traps. The foodways around the baobab are linked with myths and ceremonies, songs and dance, that form part of the knowledge system to be documented. Through participatory video methodology, a variety of content will be generated, that will benefit the community, museums, and researchers. The material will be a vehicle to urge more recognition and respect for these endangered foodway elements including the baobab tree itself.

 

The main goal of the project is to:

• Identify and document endangered Mijikenda foodway material, knowledge, skills and practices associated with the baobab tree and preserve them for posterity and to empower the local communities to safeguard it.

Specific goals of the project are:

• Identify Mijikenda custodians of baobab foodway material, knowledge and skills and create rapport.
• Using participatory methodologies, establish the range (types) of Mijikenda foodways material culture and the associated knowledge, skills and practices with respect to the baobab and identify and prioritize endangered elements.
• Build the capacity of participating community and project team in Participatory Video documentation.
• Carry out documentation and manage content.
• Disseminate content (target: the community, museums, scholars, internet and social media users) through local exhibition in Rabai, Kinondo and Malindi Museums, social media and NMK platform, booklets and Baraza (public forum.)

This will be pioneer work – centred on endangered foodway practices, material and knowledge system relating to one of the most culturally and economically important indigenous trees in Africa – the baobab. This work will avail the most exhaustive documentation so far on the foodways related to the baobab and its use by the Mijikenda. The documents including video, photographs and the written stories will be useful to scholars in the country and the rest of the world. The work will also fill gaps in our knowledge of the use of the baobab and is likely to spur interest in documenting baobab-related foodway practices in other parts of Africa such as West Africa where the tree is even more important as a food source.

 

 

PI:
Patrick Maundu, Ethnobotanist, Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK), National Museums of Kenya

Collaborators:
Pentti Turunen, Documentary Filmmaker. Affiliated with the National Museums of Kenya
Simone Grassi, Filmmaker, Documentary Institute of Eastern Africa (DIEA), Kenya. Also affiliated with National Museums of Kenya
Hillary Mwatsuma, Kaya elder and chairman, Kilifi County Kaya Elders’ Council

Research assistants:

Faith Nguzo
Francisca Atieno
James Kioko

Location of Research:
Giriama, Digo, Kauma and Duruma areas in Kilifi and Kwale counties of Kenya

 

Top Banner Image: A baobab tree in Kitui county (Photo: Kimanzi Ndunda)