Category Archives: food

German East Africa Import Substitutions

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 3843-3870:

The British blockade of German East Africa—challenged briefly by Königsberg before she hightailed it up the Rufiji—was nearly a complete success. Shortages of basic necessities made themselves painfully felt everywhere. The colonists soon lacked adequate supplies of soap, toothpaste, candles, fuel, beer, booze, rubber, cloth, chocolate, castor oil, and, most important, quinine, without which life in the tropics became impossible for Europeans. One or two blockade runners reached the Swahili Coast after many ha[r]dships—notably the Krönborg-Rubens and the Marie von Stettin—but these were heroic exceptions. The aim of any blockade—complete starvation of the enemy—seemed within reach of the British Royal Navy for the first few months of 1915.

Then, with the begrudging help of Governor Schnee, still stewing away at Morogoro, von Lettow organized the colony to produce some of the most needed items. German East Africa, rich in natural resources, mostly lacked the necessary infrastructure—factories, refineries, laboratories, warehouses—to turn these resources into commercial goods. But presently, the colonists took it upon themselves to manufacture a variety of products for both civilians and Schutztruppe—now reaching its peak popularity as patriotic enthusiasm, fueled by the victory at Tanga, swept the colony.

Planters’ wives revived the neglected art of spinning using native cotton; African women, given scratch-built looms, wove bolts of cloth. Between them, they more than made up for the lack of imported fabric. Leather torn from the backs of native buffalo herds and tanned using chemicals extracted from the colony’s plentiful mangrove trees got cobbled into the boots so critical for the Schutztruppe—soon to march unimaginable distances over rough landscapes, much of which could not be traversed barefoot. Candles materialized from tallow; rubber from tapped trees: carefully dripped along rope, the raw, milky stuff was then hand-kneaded into tires for GEA’s few automobiles, including von Lettow’s staff car. A kind of primitive, homemade gasoline called trebol powered these vehicles—it was a by-product of distillates of copra, which also yielded benzene and paraffin. Soap came from a combination of animal fat and coconut oil. Planters and small businessmen eventually produced 10,000 pounds of chocolate and cocoa and 3,000 bottles of castor oil. Meanwhile, new factories sprang up in Dar es Salaam to make nails and other metal goods, including some ammunition. Rope woven from pineapple fiber proved both durable and less susceptible to rot than hempen rope from Germany; cigars and cigarettes rolled from native-grown tobacco made their way into every soldier’s kit. At Morogoro and elsewhere, home brewers distilled schnapps and moonshine. The latter, at 98 proof and optimistically labeled “whiskey,” was issued to the troops as part of their basic rations.

All this ingenuity, however, would be rendered useless without quinine. Before the war, the colony had gotten its supply from distributors in the Dutch East Indies, now cut off by the blockade. Dwindling supplies meant European populations of the colony would have no defense against their greatest enemy—not the British or rebellious natives but the malaria-bearing anopheles mosquito. At von Lettow’s urging, the famous biological research center at Amani turned its chemists to developing a quinine substitute in their laboratories. The chemists researched furiously, tried formulations of this and that, and at last came up with an effective type of liquid quinine distilled from cinchona bark. Called “von Lettow schnapps” by his men, this foul-tasting, much-reviled elixir nevertheless met most of the army’s needs for the next year or so.

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Filed under Britain, economics, food, Germany, industry, Kenya, malaria, migration, military, nationalism, Tanzania, war

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Atrocities

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Mr. Higa got the job as U.S. pavilion bartender, or “lounge captain” thru an employment agency and a friend he had in it who thought this might be a possible part-time job until the organic chemistry prof. began teaching at RYUUKYUU University next year. Mixology was more than likely the foundation stone of the chemical sciences anyway, and goes back a long, long way in history. Having studied abroad at Ohio State and the University of Hawaii for some eight dedicated years, he is now in his mid-thirties, and so has rather vivid childhood memories of the dreadful, bloody, blitzkrieg invasion of Okinawa that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, a majority of which were Okinawan civilians, over a few short months.

When his house was burned by the U.S. troops in their clean-up operation of Japanese troop hideouts, his family went in afterwards and ate all of the cooked, garlic that had been stored on the shelves for seeding the next crop. The mountains were a refuge in those days, and most of the people of his village, KATSUYAMA [勝山], spent the daylight hours hidden in their cover, slipping down to their homes at nights to dig out SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes from the fields. Sometimes they would find rice and hard crackers in the quickly deserted camps of Japanese troops who had long since fled those posts. Everyone was desperate for grub, and he can remember dirty army deserters who came to their house fully armed and demanded food at the point of a gun. Not every Japanese soldier committed suicide in the face of defeat.

One day, before the clean-up burnings, a few U.S soldiers came to the HIGA home and sat on the front porch. The family was home and they all raised their hands in surrender and waited. The soldiers offered the children candy, but the parents told the youngsters in their tongue that they were not to eat it. Seeing the fear, the squad took the candy and bit off bits of it to show the locals that it was safe. Mr. Higa and his brothers then ate the goods quickly, altho Higa-san claims that he can’t remember if “it was good or not.” The youngest brother, still quite unaware of the whole situation, tried to play with the rifle of one soldier. The man took out the ammunition cartridge and gave the child the weapon to fiddle with.

Since Mr. Higa’s father was the KUCHOU [区長] ‘village head’, their house had been chosen as the temporary living quarters of WATANABE, the commander of a camp of Japanese soldiers who were setting up tents and settling in caves in the area before the invasion. This was an honor of a sort for the HIGA family, and when the commander’s private servant didn’t cook for him, the HIGA family included him in their humble meals. The village was expected to give provisions to the small Japanese post there in the foothills, most of whose men were from the Japanese mainland.

Altho the Okinawan people had been under Japanese gov’t for long enough to feel part of “the nation,” the mainlanders treated them like inferiors at times, even in the midst of a “united” war effort.

When Mr. Higa saw the negative press coverage that Japanese news media gave the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, he said that the big headlines seem to indicate they had “forgotten their own” atrocities. He mentioned the “massacres” at KUMEJIMA [久米島], and KERAMA [慶良間] of Okinawan civilians who were shot because they tried to surrender, or were given hand grenades to carry into the enemy lines and to blow up their families with. One supposedly responsible Japanese commander by the name of AKAMATSU is reputed to be living in Kobe, Japan, today and is a businessman. Some years ago, he came back to Okinawa and the papers got wind of it and the whole devilish drama was unburied though he denied guilt or responsibility.

One thing that surprised many of the mountain refugees was how little they came in contact with the poisonous HABU [波布] viper which loves the rocky mountains. Only two cases are recalled by Mr. Higa, one being a lovely young girl who was bitten in the arm, the other being a boy a few years younger than young HIGA, who was bitten in the face. The girl’s arm festered and swole up, and was later amputated by the American medical team who treated her area. She is now living in Brazil, one of the many Japanese immigrants. The boy still has an ugly scar on his face, but survived.

When the war finally finished, and families came out of the hills, the U.S. troops relocated them in camps, the villagers of KATSUYAMA [勝山] being assigned to HANEJI [羽地] in the flatlands south of there. Some food was supplied by the Occupation forces but many of the families dug up all the SATSUMA [sweet] potatoes that they could find in their fields, and carried them on their backs to the shoreline shacks. It was there that young HIGA started school, in April, one year after the invasion began.

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Filed under food, Japan, military, U.S., Vietnam, war

Okinawa Diary, 1975: Birds

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

Today was Thanksgiving and so the paper was full of bird stories. One Mr. Stovall opened his freezer to get ice for a drink and out flew a drake that he had shot the day before in the neck and wing before wrapping it in tinfoil and sealing it with tape to put it in the icebox. A Houdini trick if I’ve ever heard of one. The Stovalls took the bird to a man who raises ducks, impressed by his “will to live.”

Billy, a friend of mine here, was talking about the kinds of pigeons here in Okinawa. There are JUNPAKU [純白] ‘pure white’, KUROTEN [黒点] ‘black-specked (only the wings), CEMEN [セメン] ‘cement-colored’ (an interesting long-term foreign loanword), CHAIRO [茶色] ‘tea-colored’ (brown), and ZANPAN [残飯] ‘leftovers’ (from a meal, also ‘pig feed’ or ‘mixed slosh’). What Billy really said was janpan(g) or chanpan(g), which is the local Okinawan word following the rule that Z often goes to CH or J. This ZAN morpheme is a nice and handy one used in combinations like ZANZOO [残像] ‘after-image’, ZANSHOU [残照] ‘after-glow’, ZANGYOU [残業] ‘overtime (extra) work’, and ZANNEN [残念] ‘after-sense (regret)’. But his ZANPAN pigeon is the most expensive, being a mix, or cross-bred species, ‘pigfeed’ being similar in that it is a cross-breed of supper slop but different in that it is cheap.

So what did Billy have to do with pigeons, or HATO [鳩], which in Japanese take the place of ‘cuckoo’ in ‘pigeon clock’, HATODOKEI [鳩時計]. He had a HATOKOYA [鳩小屋] ‘pigeon hut (dovecote)’. At first pulling their feathers off starting at the wing-tip, he would do so until he got down toward the wing-pit area that had more blood and was pulpier. When he began to draw blood defeathering his doves then he stopped, any further being harmful. Letting them out of the cage at a time that they were hungry and unable to fly, he taught them stay close to home, to become homing pigeons. At first he would shove them one by one back into the cage thru a BATAN [バタン] as he called it, which is one of those doors used on fish and animal traps a lot that opens as you push your way in but shuts after you, never to let you leave by the same way. No one else that I asked knew what this BATAN was, but it’s interesting that BATAN is the ‘bang’ with which a door shuts in such expressions as BATAN TO DOA O SHIMERU [バタンとドアを閉める], or backwards literally, ‘shut the door with a bang’. I can well imagine that the spring-held door to the HATOKOYA does just that as the pigeons push thru it to get to their food, as they have been taught they could by Billy.

Billy is also a birdcatcher and birdcaller. He does a one-man turkey-shoot demonstration complete with horrified turkey-talk. One bird he likes to catch is the Zosterops japonica, Japanese white eye, which he says is a lot like a little yellow parakeet. You have to have one for bait to start with, putting it in a cage on a tree in the mountains where it will sing-a-ling until another comes down to land on the end-shaven bamboo branch which has got TORIMOCHI [鳥黐] ‘birdlime’ on it. Just like the tar-baby, he lands and is yours for the trouble of caging him. The only thing to watch for is those good-for-nothing birds that go down to the ground, or the bottom of the cage. Billy says they are worthless, stupid, and to throw them away. A MEJIRO [目白] ‘white eye’, doesn’t scavenge like a sparrow.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Robatayaki

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

About a quarter of an hour before the pavilion closed the other day, I suddenly decided to join Mike and his date, Lily “Lips” Liao, for supper, and I invited a friend myself. The restaurant is a ROBATAYAKI [炉端焼き], which Mike insists on calling the “RUBBER DUCKY,” as it is his habit to corrupt the Japanese tongue to his own irreverent idiolect. So we caught a cab from South Gate and began to order before we got there. I wanted frog legs, which were severed at the waist and served in an immodest pornographic posture, but my date would have none of that. She agreed with me on squid, bean-curd, and soup, always dished with rice and tea. As the orders grilled above the open fire, a light aperitif smoke drifted this way and that in the draft-ridden room. A man came in and sat by the door, then having ordered and received a cold bottled beer, he suddenly took off his watch, left it as collateral, and ran out the entrance as my date, Carol, laughed and said that the old fellow must have forgotten something. It was funny, because she and I had just been admiring the psychedelic face of the watch which we felt would make it hard to tell the time. Meanwhile our grub got well cooked, and was handed to us on large wooden paddles straight from the barbecue pit onto specially suited pottery plates and bowls which were then stacked neatly in front of your place as you finished off the individually priced items, the accumulation of assorted price-significant clay dishes being your final tab. Even the sake wine that I ordered was served in pottery flasks that were counted by the waitresses in tallying your bill. When Lily Liao lent me her plate so that I could try some of her delicious barbecued fish, she was careful to retrieve the glazed clay fish dish from me and stack it with her other 400¥ orders which came on the same kind.

The man with the remarkable watch came back and begin to make up for lost time, or drink his brew before it got lukewarm. I was playing the part of a Japanese husband who was having his wife or geisha pour him body-warm SAKE as he gulped it down from tiny thumb cups, making it necessary for Carol to interrupt her meal abruptly to refill my clay, white-glazed cuppet as fast as I emptied it with quick, short swallows. She modestly accepted one fill herself, but ended up not drinking half of even that little portion.

Then, quite to our surprise, the wristwatch man eased up and slipped out the door from his convenient position. The girls were busy, and no one seemed to notice but Carol, who seemed to be paying this sly fox more attention than her own dashing date. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and poured out the last of the rice-wine. In the silence that ensued, I noticed the optically illusive BASF type blue inwardly spiraling curl in the bottom of my SAKE cup. I began to daydream.

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Okinawa Diary, 1975: Knives

My late brother worked as a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the Ocean Expo in Okinawa in 1975. While there he typed up many pages of observations about people, places, and words of interest there. I scanned and edited the pages, added Japanese kanji for some of the words, and publish them here as a series.

On the way home I asked the driver to drop me off at a KANAMONOYA [金物屋], or hardware store, to let me see if they had some switchblade knives in stock. My sister’s husband is a collector of knives and had specifically requested a Japanese switchblade, if possible. The KANAMONOYA did not carry them seeing as how the police do not encourage their sale, and only ruffians and gangsters have or make any use for them. But I did notice some unusual knives and bought a few which I thought he would not have even in his extensive collection.

One was a KAWAHAGI [皮剥ぎ], or skinning knife: KAWA = skin, and the verb HAGU meaning ‘tear off, peel off, rip off, strip off, skin, flay and disrobe’, definitely a transitive verb. It is the intransitive form HAGERU ‘come off, fade, discolor’ that has been used so unmercifully on me to describe my deeply receding hairline and thinned bush on top. The KANJI for this deprived concept is also read SUKI in the popular Japanese beef meal, SUKIYAKI, and in the case of a ‘meat or fish slicer’ SUKIMI [剝き身], which brings us back to blades. The KAWAHAGI has a curved blade like a Persian dagger that fans out a bit toward the end before coming to a gradual point.

A KAWAMUKI [皮剥き] is ‘paring-knife, a barker, or a (potato) peeler’. The MUKI of this knife and the HAGI of the above are the same KANJI.

Another knife I bought was a YASAIGIRI [野菜切り], or vegetable cutter. It has an almost rectangular blade with only the hint of a point at one corner and a slow-rounding curve at the bottom forward blade-edge that is always rocking back and forth on the cutting board when this HOOCHOO is in action. HOOCHOO [包丁] means a ‘kitchen knife or cleaver’, and. is extended in usage to mean the cooking or cuisine of a restaurant. ANO RYOORIYA WA HOOCHOO GA YOI, or literally, ‘That restaurant (+topic marking particle) carving knife is good’.

A digression on the suffix CHOO of HOOCHOO might be fun. CHOO [丁] is one of the many Japanese counters of seemingly unrelated objects: in this case, ‘guns, tools, leaves, or cakes of something’ and is also a symbol for ‘even number’. I suppose a knife is a kitchen (HOO) tool (CHOO), tending toward a weapon at times, and shaped like a leaf often enough. As for the meaning of ‘even number’, it comes up in ‘dice game’, ‘gambling’, i.e. CHOOHAN [丁半] (‘even-odd’).

Lastly, it should be mentioned that this CHOO is the second KANJI in Nelson’s dictionary, being only of two simple strokes, like a T with a curl at the bottom. So we have TEIJI [丁字] ‘the letter T’, TEIJIKEI [丁字形] ‘T-shaped’, TEIKEI JOOGI [丁形定規] ‘the T-square’, all of which use the TEI reading of this KANJI, which is, after all, closer to our own Tee.

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Filed under family, food, Japan, language, U.S.

Ghana’s Breadfruit Revolution

I only recently heard about this story of a drought-resistant food revolution in Ghana. Modern Ghana reported on 2 August 2012 that “The African Breadfruit Revolution has begun! And it began in Ghana!” Here are a few excerpts.

The Ghana Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition (HAG) announced to Samoan and Fijian news agencies October, 2011 that 870 Samoan variety breadfruit trees, each about 250 mm tall, had arrived to Ghana from a mass propagation facility outside of Frankfurt, Germany.

Not since the decades after the mutiny on the Bounty has such a large shipment of the Pacific Islands breadfruit arrived to Africa.

HAG made no announcement in Ghana about the project or to where the little trees went for nursery care – the Bunso Agricultural Research Station near Kade – as it was meant to be a bit of a secret until the little trees grew up to field planting size….

The trees are of the Ma’afala and Ulu Fiti varieties of Samoa in the Pacific Islands which produce up to 500 kg of fruit per tree per year and, in Samoa, have complementary fruiting seasons resulting in shorter hungry months. The present Ghanaian breadfruit produces perhaps 250 or 300 kg per year….

You can have your ecoforest and eat it, too!

No other tree holds the promise of carbohydrate security that breadfruit does….

The Bunso shipment is believed to be the first large, new variety breadfruit shipment reaching West Africa’s shores since the 1840s when missionaries brought at least one Tahitian variety from the Caribbean to Ghana and beyond. This was just a few decades after the legendary voyages involving the mutiny on the Bounty when other such breadfruit-dedicated voyages brought Tahitian and other Pacific Island breadfruit varieties to the Caribbean.

 

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Filed under Caribbean, economics, food, Germany, Ghana, Pacific

China’s Agricultural Revolutionaries

From Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century, by Christian Caryl (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 5314-5338:

The transformation of agriculture in 1978 and 1979 proceeded with little instigation from the top. The peasants sensed the opportunities provided by the loosening of the party’s political control and pushed ahead. It was a process marked by wide regional variation; there seem to have been as many different names for agricultural reform experiments during this period as there are counties in China. It was also very much a matter of trial and error. When the politicians learned what the peasants were up to, they usually waited for evidence of success before they committed themselves unambiguously. Wan Li and Zhao Ziyang could claim credit for letting the farmers do what came naturally. When the experiments of the peasants bore fruit, Deng publicized their success, recognizing a good thing when he saw it. But he certainly could not take credit for giving farmers the idea.

The irony, as American anthropologist Stephen Mosher realized, was that Western scholars at the time regarded the Chinese as incorrigible collectivists. “Group thinking” was considered an indelible part of traditional culture that predisposed the Chinese to Communist ways. As a result, Mosher had come to the countryside expecting to discover evidence that the peasants were fundamentally satisfied with the stability and predictability furnished by the regime. According to scholarly reasoning, the Communist Party had taken power in 1949 largely due to the support of the country dwellers. It had promised to improve the lot of the peasantry, and in this it had surely succeeded. After all, hadn’t the Communists brought schools and basic health care to even some of the most remote villages? Hadn’t they eliminated the corruption and tyranny of the old landlords? Upon his arrival, Mosher carefully noted all the characteristics of a traditional society that skewed visibly to collective ways of doing things.

The rampant cynicism and apathy that he encountered in China’s real-existing countryside thus came as something of a shock, and his account provides a fascinating chronicle of how a preconceived view can disintegrate upon contact with reality. But amid the ruins of Mao’s utopian edifice, Mosher also discovered intriguing evidence of a powerful source of transformative energy: individual initiative. Though they were far from the places where the most important experiments were under way, the people in Mosher’s remote Guangdong village had already picked up on the spread of the household-responsibility system, and he succeeded in capturing a nice snapshot of the spirit that, once unleashed, would soon lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. The old entrepreneurial mind-set of the Chinese “flared anew once opportunity presented itself,” Mosher noted. When one woman heard that the party might soon allow a return to household farming, she immediately began making plans to start cultivating her own mulberry patch, planting the bushes between the rows of trees on the farm. “You can’t do that now because people are careless when they work,” she explained to the American. “They would step on them when they are spreading mud [as fertilizer] or picking mulberry leaves. But I’ll be careful because they’ll be mine.”

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