Written by The Conversation.
“Yes the Senegalese invented Jollof Rice but Nigeria and Nigerians celebrated Jollof Rice and brought it to the global stage. Without Nigerians, Jollof Rice would have just remained a local delicacy in Senegal. Ghanaians are trying but it was Nigerians that turned Jollof Rice to a global player in the palace of world cuisine“. – Proudly Nigerian Bosede Akinbolusere (Gender Economist)
The authorship – and therefore origins – of jollof rice (called ceebu jën in Senegal according to the Wolof spelling) is the subject of a spicy debate between West African nations. In particular, Senegalese, Nigerians and Ghanaians claim ownership. And each believes their recipe surpasses all others.
In a bid to settle the issue we explored the subject in our book. In it we point out the “Senegality” of this dish. The word jollof refers to an ancient kingdom that was a part of Senegal between the 12th and the 13th centuries.
More broadly, we found that the origin of the dish is linked to a particular period in history – the entrenchment of colonial rule in West Africa. Between 1860 and 1940 the French colonisers replaced existing food crops with broken rice imported from Indochina.
In time, broken rice came to be much more prized by the Senegalese than whole rice grain.
This was followed by what we call le ceebu jën, un patrimoine bien sénégalais – the genius of the natives, especially the Saint-Louisians who set about creating something completely new. Ceebu jën consists of rice and fish, accompanied by vegetables and sometimes tomatoes.
As it happens in history, when an art reaches a certain fame or notoriety, its paternity becomes an object of controversy. This is what has indeed happened with jollof rice.
This article was written with the contribution of Alpha Amadou Sy, co-author of the book Ceebu jën, un patrimoine bien Sénégalais.