Could it really be?
In my research into our foods – where they came from, how we prepare and consume them – I came across some information that gave me an “ah ha” moment. The information was simply this – that black-eye peas are considered especially lucky by many cultures in Western Africa. That for the enslaved who were brought to the West Indies and Southern United States, the memory of the good fortune the peas is supposed to bring is still celebrated today when they make a one-pot dish of rice, black-eye peas and meat to eat on New Year’s Day.
Could it be that that is where we get the tradition of making black-eye peas Cook-up Rice every Old Year’s Night, to herald in the New Year, hopeful of luck and good fortune? Could it really be?
While we make a version of the dish called Cook-up Rice, in the Southern US, they make their own version known as Hoppin John and yet another version called Perloo (pilaf).
We have long thought of our Cook-up Rice as a peasant dish, and in our context it still is, but there is clearly more to Cook-up Rice than meets the eye, ahem, belly. I like that we have taken this good-fortune one-pot rice dish and made it into a weekly celebration. Just as it is made on the last day of the year to usher in a new one, so too do we make it on the last day of the week to usher in a new week. Totally makes sense, don’t you think?
I have often used Cook-up Rice as a metaphor to describe us – people of various ethnicities, cultural practices and walks of life – coming together in a singularly unique, creative and cohesive way to create a nation of people called Guyanese. Proud Guyanese. Just as a pot of Cook-up is made up of various ingredients, each with its own distinctive properties such as textures and flavours so too are we; we’re all different and each one of us brings something special to the table. Just as a pot of Cook-up with various “obstacles” needs to have the ingredients staggered in the cooking process, so too do we in getting people to come to see that in order to survive and live well with each other, that we need to come together. Just as a pot of Cook-up requires the knowledge of a skillful cook to marshal the diverse ingredients into a cohesive dish, one where each ingredient offers an inimitable contribution to the taste, so too do we need leaders to move our country forward while making all of us feel equally important to the process and the sharing of the benefits.
As we set about making our Cook-up Rice this weekend and this Old Year’s, let us acknowledge the tradition of our ancestors. And more importantly, as the New Year beckons, let’s
see how in our own way, we can find ways of coming together for the good of our community, our society, our nation, our country.