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Seine Bight Village Cassava
The Poison in Cassava is Cyanide
- by: Ben Palacio

Cassava, Manihot esculenta Crantz, is a perennial woody shrub with an edible root, which grows in tropical and subtropical areas including Seine Bight Village in Belize. It is also called yuca, manioc, and mandioca. Cassava has the ability to grow on marginal lands where cereals and other crops do not grow well; it can tolerate drought and can grow in low-nutrient soils. Because cassava roots can be stored in the ground for up to 24 months, and some varieties for up to 36 months, harvest may bedelayed until processing, or other conditions are favorable. In Seine Bight it begins as a process called (Aminahani).


Cassava is the basis of many products, including food. In Seine Bight Village, George Town Village and other Garifuna habitations including Africa cassava is mostly used for human consumption, while in Asia and parts of Latin America it is also used commercially for the production of animal feed and starch-based products.

In Africa, cassava provides a basic daily source of dietary energy. Roots are processed into a wide variety of granules, pastes, flours, etc., or consumed freshly boiled or raw. In most of the cassava-growing countries in Africa the leaves are also consumed as a green vegetable, which provides protein and vitamins A and B.

In Latin America, cassava has taken on an economic role. Cassava starch is used as a binding agent, in the production of paper and textiles, and as monosodium glutamate, an important flavoring agent in Asian cooking. In Seine Bight, George Town Village, cassava is beginning to be used as a substitute for wheat flour.

How cassava is grown

Marcelina Palacio of Seine Bight Ben Casava Plant Trees
Typical Cassava plant found in Cocal, Seine Bight Village (once upon a time)

In Seine Bight and George Town, cassava is mostly grown on small farms, usually intercropped with vegetables, plantation crops (such as coconut,), yam, sweet potato, melon, and corn. The application of fertilizer remains limited among small-scale farmers due to the high cost and lack of availability. Roots can be harvested between 6 months and 3 years after planting.

Cassava Production

The major pests of cassava are the cassava green mite, the cassava mealybug, and the variegated grasshopper known in Seine Bight as (Cha-ga-gown) . The main diseases affecting cassava are cassava mosaic disease, cassava bacterial blight, cassava anthracnose disease, and root rot. Pests and diseases, together with poor cultural practices, combine to cause yield losses that may be as high as 50%. .

The production of cassava is dependent on a supply of good quality stem cuttings. The multiplication rate of these vegetative planting materials is very low compared to grain crops, which are propagated by true seeds. In addition, cassava stem cuttings are bulky, and highly perishable as they dry up within a few days.

As a root crop, cassava requires considerable labor to harvest. Because they are highly perishable, roots must be processed into a storable form soon after harvest.

Many cassava varieties contain cyanogenic glucosides, and inadequate processing can lead to chronic toxicity. Various processing methods, such as grating, sun drying, and fermenting, are used to reduce the cyanide content.

Cassava is the most important tropical root crop. It’s starchy roots are a major source of dietary energy for more than million of people worldwide. It is known to be the highest producer of carbohydrates among staple crops. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization ´cassava ranks fourth of food crops in the developing countries after rice, maize and wheat. The leaves are relatively rich on protein and can be consumed. Cassava can be stored in the ground for several seasons, thereby serve as a reserve food when other crops fail. Cassava is also increasingly used for animal feed and in different industrial processes and products. A problem with cassava is the poisonous cyanides which have to be disarmed before consumption. Cassava is called "Manioc" in Francophone areas and Tapioca in Latin America. Portuguese name it "Mandioca" and Spanish "Yucca".

Adherence to an appropriate and efficient processing method for cassava roots is the essential measures to avoid toxic effects. If the root is eaten without processing it to remove all the cyanoglucosides than chronic cyanide poisoning, and even paralysis may result.

Seine Bight, Hopkins & George Town Villages Process Yuca -to- Cassava
for food uses - Benjamin E. Palacio

Marcelina Palacio of Seine Bight Cassava root

Once harvested, yuca decomposes fairly quickly, such that it must be eaten or prepared straight away. Although many varieties can be eaten raw or cooked like potatoes, many types contain high levels of cyanotic sugars that must be eliminated before the yuca is digestible. Customarily the toxins are eliminated from these bitter varieties through a process of first pealing and grating the root to obtain a pulp. The pulp is left to ferment slightly before being squeezed dry and toasted. This toasted bread, called casava, is prepared without yeast.

A nutritional analysis shows that casaba EREBA is a very healthy product and can be served as a base for any diet. Since it has a low percentage of fat, casaba is an excellent accompaniment for all types of food and can be used as a substitute for potatoes, rice, tortillas and plantains.

making cassava bread

Since it is recognized that the Garifuna are meshed together with influences from many different cultures; it is also possibly in some degree to begin to separate parts of their culture to determine their roots.  One example of this is their Amerindian influences of the Arawaks and Caribs collectively known as the Island Caribs. When the African slaves intermixed with the Island Caribs they brought into the culture many African based influences that have been previously discussed. However, in order to better understand whom the Garifuna are it becomes necessary to relate other adopted characteristics of their culture to they're other major ancestral influence, the Island Caribs. This Island Carib culture was one that was founded on yucca and cassava farming as well as hunting and fishing sometime before 1000AD(Garinagu Early History, 1).  It is quite amazing then that the Garifuna women are still widely known for their tradition of making cassava bread (Palacio 1993,1-3).  In addition, the Garifuna men have always been known for their maritime skills since they were mainly away hunting and fishing from various islands throughout the Caribbean and Central America (Global Neighbors: Garifuna History, 1). It is not hard to understand then why the Garifuna are both a matrilocal.

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