Couscous 'à la sahélienne' (Sénégal, Mali, Mauritanie)

Abstract : We too often forget that couscous has been consumed in the western Sahel for several centuries for everyday meals or celebrations, as a snack or during trips. The diversity of its names in Senegambia and neighbouring regions from the coast to the Niger Bend clearly reflects that it has a long history, even though its origins are controversial and hard to elucidate. The first evidence of couscous south of the Sahara comes from Ibn Battûta in the mid-14th century and two Portuguese texts from the mid-15th and early 16th centuries. French texts did not mention couscous till the first half of the 17th century. European sources from the 17th till the 19th century can be used to analyse these authors' words for talking about couscous and the cereals used to make it (millet, sorghum and maize in Senegambia, and these plus wheat and rice in the Niger Bend) and to describe certain technical aspects (preparing and cooking the cereal, storing couscous, fermenting it and adding mucilage). European sources also mention a relation between couscous and religious (Islamic or pre-Islamic) practices. Certain descriptions provide historical and social information about the work of slave women as cooks, the adoption of couscous for the evening meal by Europeans in Senegal (as in local society), etc. Despite their interest in couscous, European travellers did not pay close attention to its varieties. Fieldwork among the Soninke has provided information about the diversity of recipes and of the forms of consumption of couscous. Thus comes to a light a literal " civilization of couscous " in the Sahel, not to mention the " couscous " consumed in times of famine or related steamed preparations of whole-grain fonio or sorghum semolina. Less consumed nowadays owing to competition from other dishes and changing lifestyles, couscous is part of the " traditional cuisine " and, in certain circles, still serves as a value attesting the group's identity.
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Monique Chastanet. Couscous 'à la sahélienne' (Sénégal, Mali, Mauritanie). Franconie Hélène, Chastanet Monique et Sigaut François. Couscous, boulgour et polenta. Transformer et consommer les céréales dans le monde, Karthala, p. 149-187, 2010. ⟨halshs-00601393v2⟩

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