Jamaica’s Ackee and Saltfish – The humble beginning!
First of all let’s take a look at the ackee. Many of us may think that the tree is native to Jamaica. On the contrary!
The name ackee comes from the West African Ghanaian tribe Akan akye fufo. The plant was introduced to Jamaica before 1778, probably on a slave ship.
In 1793 when Captain Bligh left Jamaica he took hundreds of plants back to England for the botanist Joseph Banks at Kew Botanical Gardens. In honour of him, they named the plant Blighia sapida.
Ackee trees are found across the island of Jamaica but the main producing areas are located in Clarendon and St Elizabeth.
Why saltfish in Jamaica?
Let’s take a look at some historic back drops.
During the years 1793 to 1815 there were a lot of unrest amongst the european countries, including Britain fighting against France and the United States.
During these periods Newfoundland was at the helm of the fishing industry, with saltfish (cod) high on the agenda.
Newfoundland’s Salt Fish Markets in the 1850s.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the Newfoundland fishery enjoyed a near monopoly on the salt fish trade. By the 1850s, Newfoundland was competing with salt fish producers in Canada, the United States, Iceland, Norway, France and Portugal.
Nevertheless, Newfoundland was still producing large amounts of salt fish, and exported an annual average of over 920,000 quintals in the 1820s.
This number dropped to about 800,000 during the 1830s, but recovered to about 970,000 in the 1840s. The 1850s were even more productive, with an average 959,000 quintals produced per year from 1851-1855 and 1,237,000 from 1856-1860.
Newfoundland’s salt fish was now going to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, and the British West Indies. One of the reasons for Newfoundland’s presence in many different markets was that its fishery produced many different grades of salt fish and could therefore supply markets with different requirements.
Spain and Portugal demanded higher quality fish, for example, while the British West Indies preferred poorer quality (and therefore cheaper) varieties and cures.
All of these regions needed cheap and well-preserved sources of protein, and produced goods that could finance the purchase of salt fish, such as fruit, wine, nuts, oils, and sugar.
Heading into the second half of the nineteenth century, Newfoundland had a well-developed network of markets for its staple product. (Excerpt from 19th Century Salt Fish Markets, 1793-1850s)
I will conclude here by saying..”Every adversity brings with it a greater seed of benefit”.
From food of slaves to national and international stage.. Jamaican ACKEE AND SALTFISH!