Transatlantic beans

Another taster typed on my phone and posted while the internet gods are in a good mood. True to its name it brings you a snack straight from the streets of Bamako… or Lagos… or Accra… or even Salvador de Bahia:

Akara: the snack that conquered the Atlantic world

These little morsels made from black-eyed beans have travelled all over West Africa and beyond, to Brazil, where they are especially well known in Bahia.

And it’s not just the food that has traveled. Its name as well has come along. Said to originate in Yoruba, where the bean fritters are called àkàrá, they are called by the name akara in Ghana, Togo, Mali, Senegal, The Gambia… and as acarajé in Brazil.

So feasting on this snack in land-locked Bamako, hundreds of kilometres from the Atlantic, connects me with food stalls across the Atlantic world.

Diaspora dynamics and the creation of Yoruba

From a social point of view, languages come into being as a crystallisation of particular imaginations of identities linked to particular ways of speaking. Sometimes these ideas grow over long periods of times. In other cases, particular encounters, with people or ideas, act as catalysts for language movements that radically alter the status quo. In my first post, I looked at Sulemaana Kantè’s vision for West African Manding, a vision for the unity of this language that is gaining traction.

Today, I present another well-documented case of the birth of a language. The birth story of Yoruba is linked to Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c. 1809-1891). Crowther, originally from Lagos, had been captured by Fulani raiders to be sold into slavery as a child, but his slave ship had been captured and, as many freed slaves of the time, he had been brought to Sierra Leone by the British who intercepted his ship. In Freetown, became part of the growing Creole community of Sierra Leone, encountered missionaries of the Church Missionary Society and converted to Christianity. After a stay in England, he enrolled at Freetown’s newly founded Fourah Bay College, where he was the first student and later, teacher. Upon his return to Nigeria, he began charting the linguistic blueprint of what became Yoruba identity in 1843: the notion of a language based on a grammar, standard orthography and codified texts. This view, close to their own romantic language ideas, found the approval and support of British colonial actors and missionaries, which added to its spread.

Samuel Ajayi Crowther

Yoruba nationalism became an influential movement that was not just limited to Lagos or Nigeria but extended to Brazil, where it influenced the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. This change in turn had an impact on how this diaspora religion became linked to the newly established Yoruba identity. Rather than being vestiges of age-old languages and religions, standard Yoruba and Candomblé testify how, as J.L Matory put it, diasporas are not connected with homelands, but create homelands.

Read more on Yoruba genesis in this book:

Falola, Toyin & Ann Genova. 2006. Yorùbá identity and power politics (Rochester studies in African history and the diaspora, 1092-5228 [v. 22]). Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press; [Woodbridge : Boydell & Brewer]

You can find out more on Candomblé and its transatlantic entanglements here:

Matory, James L. 2005. Black Atlantic religion: Tradition, transnationalism, and matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. Princeton, N.J., Woodstock: Princeton University Press.