The delicious fragrance of a simmering pot of black-eyed peas cook-up will soon waft through our homes on Old Year’s night as Guyanese continue their comforting compulsory ritual for promised prosperity.
Yet we are still stunned, wherever we now reside, by the private threats to world peace, from watching the videos of our potty-tongued and partisan Parliamentarians forgetting their ‘peas and qs’ and audibly dropping “f” and other stink bombs on camera in the hallowed House after the biggest, historic shock vote in the country’s “peastime.” The quest for good, stable and accountable governance remains as elusive as decking the halls with decorum and dignity, consuming peas without a tell-tale stench projectile, and as discouragingly distant as a clean, clear-headed coalition, a non-corrupt, opportunistic Opposition, and national unity.
Following hours of publicly speaking their “peas,” most of the elected Members must have thought that the expected defeat of the no-confidence motion would have been the usual “peas of cake” but the Berbician representative Charrandas Persaud (CP) proved a real “peas of work” despite the insidious threats, audible abuse, and sharp elbows by those fearing a “cook-up conspiracy” turning the session into a compelling showing of “Masterpeas Theatre.” There were deadly black looks indeed, but no physical black eyes thankfully.
Mr. Persaud, a Hugh Wooding-trained lawyer upset the “peas cart” in his spoken quest for “inner peas” and “personal peas of mind,” while denying that he had been paid with any piece of the precious pie as he struggled to clear his conscience given the insomniac inability to “rest in peas” as “a yes man.” In the end CP took off from the airport at Ogle on a LIAT flight headed to Barbados on his way to the top peas’ producer, Canada, defending his actions in a bleary-eyed Facebook video post as necessary for democratic reform and “out of concern for the people of Guyana.”
New parties and personalities are preparing to rush in and capitalise on the dream of power sharing and constitutional reform, where only but the brave fear to tread, seeking to attract the volumes of weary and disillusioned voters put off by chronically amnesiac and amoral politicians perceived as all “peas in a pod.” The mere mortals continue to bitterly debate whether CP is an emerging hero or a trenchant traitor even as the incumbent Government considers if to pursue legal war and risk threatening an uneasy peas. Maybe there should be a regular research conference to determine how to reconcile the two major racial groups and restart the “peas process,” along the lines of the international cowpea caucus, named after the bovine preference for the nutritious leaves and stalks that serve as healthy fodder for ruminants.
Hailed as “a long-neglected crop with the potential to halt hunger for millions in Africa, sustain the livestock revolution underway in developing countries, rejuvenate nutrient-sapped soils, and even feed astronauts on extended space missions,” the humble bean is one of mankind’s oldest cultivated “perfect” plants, having nourished us for over six millennia.
Grown around the world, the common commercial variety we favour for our tasty coconut-laced one pot-rice dish is called the California Blackeye for its pale colour and prominent black spot. Originally termed “mogette” the “black eye” reminded some of a nun’s head attire. With many varieties including heirloom beauties, the pea varies in size and colour, with the characteristic “eye” ranging from black, brown, purple and green, to red and pink.
Closely associated with the ancient African farming of sorghum and pearl millet, the cow or black-eyed pea is related to the mung bean and is believed to have originated in two candidate areas of prehistoric East and Western Africa, with India as a sub-domestication region of the cultivated version. Supporting studies by scientists in a 2016 paper published in the scientific journal PLoS One reveal three well-differentiated genetic populations or clusters, from 768 world-wide samples. They found “a very short genetic distance between India and Central East Africa, which implies the movement via human migration…” with this import and domestication occurring for a long time. Cowpea grown in such vast areas in the regions must have adapted to complex environmental conditions in terms of temperatures, water availability, elevations and soil types which may be the reason why India is now recognised as the secondary centre of cowpea diversity, the experts said. They theorise that as the cowpea moved farther east and encountered more humid environments with less sunshine, unsuitable for drying pods and grains, it forced people to consume the immature pods as a vegetable in Asia.
The ancient Greeks and Romans even preferred them to chickpeas. Known as “lobia”/”lobya” in the Middle East and Northern India, black eyed peas are cooked countless ways, with seasonings like onions, garlic, curry and tomato juice, and served with rice, while in Ghana, the ubiquitous Akan dish of the north, “Waakye” (pronounced waa-chi) is most similar to our “cook-up,” Trinidadian “pelau” and Jamaican rice and peas, flavoured with spices, herbs and black-eyed peas or kidney beans, and served with stewed meat or fried fish and ripe plantain. Across in Brazil’s city of Salvador, black-eyed peas are used in crisp cakes, a street snack of Nigerian origin called “akara,” like the West Indian “accra.”
In Portugal, black-eyed peas are served with boiled cod and potatoes. Leading African American agricultural scientist George Washington Carver promoted growing them to replenish soil nutrients. In the United States, black-eyed peas features in favoured African-American soul food, like “Hoppin’ John” also made with the peas, rice, and pork; and “Texas caviar” composed of the peas marinated in vinaigrette-style dressing and chopped garlic. There is the New Year custom, too, of eating black-eyed peas, said to symbolise coins, and hog jowl for good luck, along with cabbage or collard greens on the side, to ensure a steady supply of “greenbacks” or “foldin’ or paper money.” Cornbread represents pocket money stemming from the auspicious “golden” colour of the baked product. Brought aboard European-manned ships ferrying African slaves across the Atlantic Ocean, and used since as a staple in the region, black eyed peas were accompanied by traditional continental crops like rice, peanuts, yams, ochroes, tannia, kidney and lima beans.
The American South’s association with peas and prosperity dates to the Civil War, when Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union Army was raiding the food supplies of the Confederates. Legend states that they took everything except the black-eyed or field peas, corn, and salted pork because of the belief that these were unclean and not fit for human consumption. Southern forces considered themselves lucky to be left with something to help them survive the harsh winter, and black-eyed peas consequently evolved into a noted symbol of luck, according to the site littlerock.about.com
Another explanation claims the Southern slaves only had peas to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation on the first day of January 1863, and from then these were always eaten on the New Year. Some indulge right after midnight, while others make it the main course of dinner. It is believed that at least 365 peas must be eaten to ensure good luck for each day of the year, while others will leave a single pea on their plate to bring glad tidings to their neighbours!
ID looks forward to her Old Year’s “cook-up” minus the pig face and hopes that the culinary power of cultural “therapeas” will translate into a potent political force for positive Guyanese change, “Greenpeas.”