Cassava: A Mythological Super-Food Transcends Time with Health Benefits

Update: 3/19/2013

It's no understatement to say that Cassava (also known as Yuca, Tapioca, Manioc or Euphorbiaceous) is one of the world's most nutritious and highly wielded super foods.

As a crop plant, cassava, like sugar cane, provides the highest yield of food energy per cultivated area per day. It is the third most imperative source of calories in the tropics, after rice and maize.

Along with rubber and rice, cassava is one of the top essential cash crops as it is the main source of income for some of the world's poorest farmers.

Cassava's importance is well known as it is a popularly chosen vegetable for over 500 million people but what was its position amongst other foods in more ancient times? What is the relationship between cassava and the indigenous people in the Caribbean? We'll also explore the diverse and medicinal uses of the cassava plant.

Cassava/yucca was recognized as the staple food and principal crop of the Tainos (the indigenous tribe of the Caribbean). It was so important to their survival that the Tainos referred to their homes as "Yucayeques", meaning the place where yucca is grown.

The Tainos held the plant in such great esteem that the tribe, including the Chief (Cacique), shared and contributed to yucca's respectful cultivation. They would have large pots of boiling cassava juice where seasonal vegetables, meat and fish were added.

The resulting stew could be added to or consumed at any time. This procedure was the origin of the "pepper pot" which to this day is traditional food in many parts of the Caribbean.
The cassava plant appears in many ancient stories. In one mythology, the supreme deity of the Tainos is Yucahu, the lord/giver of the yucca and god of the sea.

Yucahu (Yucahuguama) is the highest god with only one god above him; this is his mother Atabey, the goddess of fresh water and human fertility. There's another Taino epic surrounding a hero named Deminan who, with his brothers, stole the cassava from the high god Yaya and brought it to the Tainos.

This story mirrors other mythologies where humans wrest their means of subsistence from supernatural beings. This myth was referenced and recreated when the Tainos buried stone carvings of Yucahu in agricultural fields.

The stones were triangular in shape and resembled a sprouting cassava tuber. The god image on the three-pointed stones often has an open mouth, which eats the soils to make room for the tubers to grow.
Today, cassava is more than just a food - it has many diverse and medicinal uses. It is used to treat various health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, stress, anxiety, diabetes, colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and nervous system disorders.

Indigenous tribes were the first to use cassava's compound extract, saponin, in soap. It is still being used today to produce soap as well as shampoo. Cassava is controversially used to fuel cars.

Currently there are projects for high levels of cassava plants to help with the hunger crisis in Africa. At one point, cassava production contributed to a population explosion in Africa.
There is so much to discover about Cassava. It has shaped the history of its people, changed and steered the way of life in societies and continents, and provided benefits that are well known and respected.

In learning about this food, one understands what the ancients have always known, that cassava truly is, and always has been, a gift and an impact to its people.
Source: - by: Duran Rivera
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