UNESCO declares Senegal Inventor of Jollof Rice Over Ghana, Nigeria
The authorship – and therefore origins – of jollof rice (called ceebu jën in Senegal according to the Wolof spelling) is the subject of a spicy debate between West African nations. In particular, Senegalese, Nigerians and Ghanaians claim ownership. And each believes their recipe surpasses all others.
In a bid to settle the issue we explored the subject in our book. In it we point out the “Senegality” of this dish. The word jollof refers to an ancient kingdom that was a part of Senegal between the 12th and the 13th centuries.
More broadly, we found that the origin of the dish is linked to a particular period in history – the entrenchment of colonial rule in West Africa. Between 1860 and 1940 the French colonisers replaced existing food crops with broken rice imported from Indochina.
In time, broken rice came to be much more prized by the Senegalese than whole rice grain.
The dish has become a source of pride and cultural identity for the Senegalese and has been recognised as an intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. This certification is expected to positively impact the economy, particularly in tourism, agriculture, fishing and catering.
In addition to its cultural significance, Jollof rice is also closely linked to a particular way of life and the consumption of the dish is strongly linked to ceremonial events and the aesthetics of presentation and service. The women of Saint Louis, a port city in northern Senegal, are known for their remarkable know-how in this area and have been credited with adding finesse and elegance to the dish.
The Senegalese version of Jollof rice, Ceebu jën, is now officially recognised by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of humanity, putting an end to the ongoing debate over its origins and solidifying Senegal’s claim as the true home of Jollof rice.
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