Mar 192019

Today is the birthday (1844) of Minna Canth, born Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson, a Finnish writer and social activist. Canth began to write while managing her family draper’s shop and living as a widow raising seven children. Her work addresses issues of women’s rights, particularly in the context of a prevailing culture she considered antithetical to the expression and realization of women’s aspirations. Her play The Pastor’s Family is her best known, although none of her plays is known particularly well outside of Finland, and few are translated into English. In her lifetime she became a controversial figure because her views did not mesh with the prevailing ideology in Finland, but these days she is hailed as a pioneer, and her birthday is recognized as a Flag Day (the first Flag Day to honor a woman be officially recognized in Finland (2007) and is also designated as a day of social equality).

Canth was born in Tampere to Gustaf Vilhelm Johnsson (1816-1877) and his wife Ulrika (1811-1893). Her father worked at James Finlayson’s textile factory initially as a worker and later as a foreman. In 1853, when he was given charge of Finlayson’s textile shop in Kuopio, the entire family relocated there. Canth received an exceptionally thorough education for a working class woman of her time. Even before moving to Kuopio she had attended school at Finlayson’s factory which was intended for the workers’ children. In Kuopio she continued to go to various girls’ schools and, as a testament to her father’s success as a shopkeeper, she was even admitted into a school intended for upper class children. In 1863 she began her studies at the recently founded Jyväskylä Teacher Seminary, which was the first school in Finland to offer higher education for women.

In 1865 she married her natural sciences teacher, Johan Ferdinand Canth, and had to drop out of the Seminary. Between 1866 and 1880 she gave birth to seven children and began her writing career at the newspaper Keski-Suomi, where her husband worked as an editor. She wrote about women’s issues and advocated temperance. In 1876 the Canths were forced to leave the paper because Minna’s pieces had caused social friction. They were, however, both employed by the competing Päijänne the following year. Minna published her first works of fiction in Päijänne: various short stories, which were compiled in her first book, Novelleja ja kertomuksia, in 1878.

Canth stood up when there was public debate about women’s rights. In 1885 a bishop had argued that God’s order required that women were not to be emancipated. The writer Gustaf af Geijerstam then argued that men could only aspire to one day have the purity of women because they were fundamentally different, and this was the reason for prostitution and other immorality on their part. Canth objected strongly to this argument as it meant that men could defend their poor morals by reference to their implicit shortcomings, whereas any women involved in prostitution would lack the same defense.

Minna Canth’s most important works are the plays Työmiehen vaimo (The Worker’s Wife) from 1885 and Anna Liisa (1895). In Työmiehen vaimo, the main character Johanna is married to Risto, an alcoholic who wastes all his wife’s money. Johanna cannot prevent him – her money is legally his, not hers. The play’s premiere caused scandal, but a few months later, parliament enacted a new law about separation of property. Anna Liisa is a tragedy about a fifteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant without being married – she manages to hide her pregnancy, and when the child is born, she suffocates it in a fit of panic. Her boyfriend, Mikko, and his mother help her – she buries the baby in the woods, but a few years later, when Anna Liisa wants to marry her fiancé Johannes, she is blackmailed by Mikko and his mother. They threaten to reveal her dark secret if she does not agree to marry Mikko, but Anna Liisa refuses. In the end, she decides to confess what she has done. She is taken to prison, but is much relieved after owning up and seems to have found peace.

After she died in 1897, Canth’s works were either forgotten on trivialized in Finland, and remained so for most of the 20th century. It has only been in the 21st century that her plays and novels have been highlighted as pioneering works, and she has been granted the recognition that she lacked for a century.

I have mentioned Finnish recipes a number of times, and the subject of pies of various (strange) types keeps popping up. Here is a video on Karelian pastries, a rice pudding filled raised rye dough that is popular throughout Finland.

Jul 012015


Today is Keti Koti (Sranantongo for “the chains are cut”) Emancipation Day – the end of slavery – in Suriname. The day is also known as (Prisiri) Maspasi, meaning “Emancipation (Festival)”. Slavery was abolished by the Netherlands in Suriname and the Dutch Antilles in 1863. However, slaves in Suriname would not be fully free until 1873, after a mandatory 10 year transition period during which time they were required to work on the plantations for minimal pay but without the many formerly state sanctioned abuses. After 1873 many slaves left the plantations where they had suffered for several generations, in favor of the city of Paramaribo.


The first Europeans who came to Suriname were Dutch traders who visited the area along with other parts of South America’s ‘Wild Coast.’ The first attempts to settle the area by Europeans was in 1630, when English settlers led by Captain Marshall attempted to found a colony. They cultivated crops of tobacco, but the venture failed financially.

In 1650 Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados, fitted out a vessel to settle a colony in Suriname. At his own cost he equipped a ship of 20 guns, and two smaller vessels with things necessary for the support of the plantation. Major Anthony Rowse settled there in his name. Two years later he went in person, fortified and furnished it with things requisite for defense and trade. ‘Willoughbyland’ consisted of around 30,000 acres (120 km) and a fort. In 1663 most of the work on the 50 or so plantations was done by native Indians and 3,000 African slaves. There were around 1,000 Europeans there, joined by Brazilian Jews, attracted by religious freedom which was granted to all the settlers by the English.

The settlement was invaded by seven Dutch ships (from the Zeeland region), led by Abraham Crijnssen, on 26 February 1667. Fort Willoughby was captured the next day after a three-hour fight and renamed Fort Zeelandia. On 31 July 1667, the English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda, in which for the time being the status quo was respected: the Dutch could keep occupying Suriname and the British the formerly Dutch colony New Amsterdam (modern-day New York). Willoughbyland was renamed Suriname. This arrangement was made official in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674, after the British had regained and again lost Suriname in 1667. In 1683 the Society of Suriname was set up, modeled on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Colbert to profit from the management and defense of the Dutch Republic’s colony. It had three participants, with equal shares in the society’s responsibilities and profits—the city of Amsterdam, the family Van Aerssen van Sommelsdijck, and the Dutch West India Company. The Van Aerssen family sold its share in 1770 and the Society came to an end in 1795 when this kind of trade and business was abolished.


In South America, slavery was the norm, even though countries such as Argentina kept this part of their history under wraps for many generations (Buenos Aires was a major slave trading port). There were not enough indigenous people as workers and consequently the Atlantic slave trade supplied the workforce for the plantations. The plantations produced sugar, coffee, cocoa, and cotton, which were exported for the Amsterdam market. In 1713 for instance most of the work on the 200 plantations was done by 13,000 African slaves. Their treatment was terrible, and slaves periodically escaped to the jungle from the start. These so-called Maroons (also known as “Djukas” or “Bakabusi Nengre”) attacked the plantations in order to acquire things they needed that were in short supply. Notable leaders of the Surinam Maroons were Alabi, Boni, Joli-coeur and Broos (Captain Broos). In the 18th century, three of the Maroon people signed a peace treaty, similar to the peace treaty ending the First Maroon War in Jamaica, whereby they were recognized as free people and received a yearly tribute that provided them with the goods they used to “liberate” from the plantations. A contemporary description of the war between the Maroons and the plantation owners in Suriname can be found in Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam by John Gabriel Stedman.


Suriname was occupied by the British in 1799, after the Netherlands were incorporated by France, and was returned to the Dutch in 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon. The Dutch abolished slavery only in 1863, although the British had already abolished it during their short rule. The slaves were, however, not released until 1873. In the meantime, many more workers had been imported from the Dutch East Indies, mostly Chinese living there, creating a Chinese-Surinamese population. From 1873 to 1916, many laborers were imported from India, creating the Indo-Surinamese. After 1916, many laborers were again imported from the Dutch East Indies, especially Java, creating the Javanese-Surinamese.


Surinamese cuisine is extensive, given that the current population of Suriname originated in so many countries. Now Surinamese dishes include roti, nasi goreng, bakmi, pom, snesi foroe, moksi meti, and losi foroe, plus many more that originated overseas, but have been amalgamated and transformed. Basic foods include rice, tayer and cassava. Well known dishes are moksi-alesi (mixed boiled rice with salted meat, shrimp or fish, and any vegetable), rice and beans, and the original Javanese nasi goreng and mie goreng.

Within the Surinamese community, in both Surinam and The Netherlands, Pom is the most popular and best known festive dish. Within the Surinamese community Pom is frequently referred to as a dish of Creole and/or Jewish origin. It was introduced by the Portuguese-Jewish plantation owners as the Portuguese potato (“pomme de terre”) oven dish. Because the potato did not grow in Suriname and had to be imported it was soon replaced with the root of the tayer plant. Pom combines three main ingredients: chicken, citrus juice and pomtajer (Xanthosoma sagittifolium). Only the latter is indigenous, and although all plant parts are edible, only the underground part of the main stem is used as an ingredient in preparing Pom. The main stem or corm is most frequently designated as pomtajer or pongtaya (lit. the tajer/taya for Pom). Finding it will be your challenge. Without it you cannot make Pom.

The first published description of Pom comes from Encyclopedie van Nederlandsch West-Indië (1914–1917) which describes the dish as follows: ‘the big tajer, of which the stalk grows above the earth, is grated and treated with the juice of bitter oranges, afterwards with chicken or fish, made into a pie, which dish is known as ‘pom’.’


In a baking dish, put sautéed chicken pieces between two layers of raw, grated pomtajer which is mixed with citrus juice and a sauce made from oil, onions, tomatoes, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bake the dish in an oven for at least one hour or until the Pom becomes golden brown. Once baked, Pom is cut into pieces and either served hot with rice and vegetables or cooled and placed between slices of bread in a sandwich or bread-roll.

In Amsterdam alone there are over 120 establishments serving Surinamese food. Other Dutch cities such as Rotterdam and The Hague have a growing number of caterers, eateries and take-aways. Most establishments serve Pom, and often also “broodje pom” (pom on a bread-roll), a derivation of the national dish. In particular, “broodje pom” is rapidly gaining popularity and starting to appear on the Dutch menu. It can sometimes even be ordered in Dutch take-aways and for home-delivery. In recent years, more and more recipes for Pom have appeared in Dutch cookbooks, newspapers and on websites. In 2007, an exhibition about Pom was held at Imagine Identity and Culture, an Amsterdam-based centre for the representation of migration and cultures as seen from their own perspective.

Jun 042014


Emancipation Day or Independence Day, commemorates the abolition of serfdom in Tonga by King George Tupou in 1862, and the independence of Tonga from the British protectorate in 1970.

Tonga (Tongan: Pule?anga Fakatu?i ?o Tonga), officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago comprising 176 islands with a surface area of about 750 km2 (290 sq mi) scattered over 700,000 km2 (270,000 sq mi) of the southern Pacific Ocean, of which 52 are inhabited by its 103,000 people. Tonga stretches over about 800 km (500 mi) in a north-south line about a third of the distance from New Zealand to Hawaii. It is surrounded by Fiji and Wallis and Futuna (France) to the northwest, Samoa to the northeast, Niue to the east, Kermadec (part of New Zealand) to the southwest, and New Caledonia (France) and Vanuatu to the west.

Tonga became known as the Friendly Islands because of the congenial reception accorded to Captain James Cook on his first visit in 1773. He arrived at the time of the ?inasi festival, the yearly donation of the first fruits to the Tu?i Tonga (the islands’ paramount chief) and so received an invitation to the festivities. According to the writer William Mariner, the chiefs wanted to kill Cook during the gathering but could not agree on a plan.

The dates of the initial settlement of Tonga are still subject to debate, nonetheless one of the oldest occupied sites is found in the village of Pea on Tongatapu. Based on radiocarbon dating of a shell found at the site dates the occupation at 3180 ± 100 BP. Some of the oldest sites pertaining to the first occupants of the Tongan Islands are found on Tongatapu which is also where the first Lapita ceramics were found by WC McKern in 1921. Reaching the Tongan islands was a remarkable feat accomplished by the Lapita peoples. Not much is known about Tonga before European contact because of the lack of a writing system. There are, however, transcripts of oral histories told to the early European explorers. The first time the Tongan people encountered Europeans was in April 1616 when Jacob Le Maire and Willem Schouten made a short visit to the islands to trade.


Centuries before Westerners arrived, Tongans created large monumental stoneworks, most notably, the Ha?amonga ?a Maui and the Langi (terraced tombs). The Ha?amonga is 5 meters high and made of three coral-lime stones that weigh more than 40 tons each. The Langi are low, very flat, two or three tier pyramids that mark the graves of former kings.

By the 12th century, Tongans, and the Tongan kings, the Tu’i Tonga, were known across the Pacific, from Niu?, Samoa to Tikopia they ruled these nations for over 400 years, sparking some historians to refer to a “Tongan Empire,” although it was more of a network of interacting navigators, chiefs, and adventurers. It is unclear whether chiefs of the other islands actually came to Tonga regularly to acknowledge their sovereign. Distinctive pottery and Tapa cloth designs also show that the Tongans have traveled from the far reaches of Micronesia, all the way to Fiji and even Hawaii.


In the 15th century and again in the 17th, civil war erupted. Into this situation the first European explorers arrived, beginning in 1616 with the Dutch explorers Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire (who called on the northern island of Niuatoputapu), and in 1643 with Abel Tasman (who visited Tongatapu and Ha?apai).


Later noteworthy European visitors included James Cook (British Navy) in 1773, 1774, and 1777, Alessandro Malaspina (Spanish Navy) in 1793, the first London missionaries in 1797, and the Wesleyan Methodist Rev. Walter Lawry in 1822.


In 1845 the ambitious young warrior, strategist, and orator T?ufa??hau united Tonga into a kingdom. He held the chiefly title of Tu?i Kanokupolu, but had been baptized with the name Siaosi (“George”) in 1831. In 1875, with the help of missionary Shirley Waldemar Baker, he declared Tonga a constitutional monarchy; formally adopted the western royal style; emancipated the “serfs,” enshrined a code of law, land tenure, and freedom of the press; and limited the power of the chiefs.

Tonga became a protected state under a Treaty of Friendship with Britain on 18 May 1900, when European settlers and rival Tongan chiefs tried to oust the second king. The treaty posted no higher permanent representative on Tonga than a British Consul (1901–1970). Although under the protection of Britain, Tonga maintained its sovereignty, and remained the only Pacific nation never to have given up its monarchical government (as did Tahiti and Hawai?i). The Tongan monarchy follows an uninterrupted succession of hereditary rulers from one family.

The Treaty of Friendship and Tonga’s protection status ended in 1970 under arrangements established by Queen Salote Tupou III prior to her death in 1965. Tonga joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970 (atypically as an autochthonous monarchy, with its own local monarch rather than that of the United Kingdom—compare Malaysia, Lesotho, and Swaziland), and became a member of the United Nations in September 1999. While exposed to colonial pressures, Tonga has never lost indigenous governance, which makes it unique in the Pacific.


In former times, there was only one main meal, a midday meal cooked in an earth oven. Villagers would rise, eat some leftover food from the previous day’s meal, and set out to work in the fields, fishing, gathering shellfish, etc. The results of the morning’s work would be cooked by the men, and served to the assembled household. The remnants would be placed in a basket suspended from a tree. This food is served as an end-of-the-day snack as well as the next day’s breakfast. Food past its prime was given to the pigs.

The diet consisted mainly of taro, yams, bananas, coconuts, and fish baked in leaves; shellfish were usually served raw, as a relish. The liquid from the center of coconuts was commonly drunk, and the soft “spoon meat” of young coconuts much relished. Baked breadfruit was eaten in season. Pigs were killed and cooked only on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, feasts honoring a visiting chief, and the like. Tongans also ate chickens.

Food could be stored by feeding it to pigs. Pre-contact Tongans also built elevated storehouses for yams. Yams would keep only a few months. Hence a household’s main security was generous distribution of food to relatives and neighbors, who were thus put under an obligation to share in their turn – typical of traditional Polynesian cultures.

Topai (flour dumplings) in sweet coconut syrup are extremely popular on Tonga and very easy to make. The ones here are plain but you can add all manner of ingredients to enrich them; for example, breadfruit or mei (faikakai mei) a combination of taro leaves and flour (faikakai ngou’a), a combination of flour and ripe bananas (faikakai malimali), or manioke which is tapioca or casava (faikakai manioke tama). You can get raw sugar in health food stores. It is not the same as brown sugar, but brown sugar will work.


Faikakai Topai


Lolo (Syrup)

1 cup raw sugar
1 cup coconut cream

Topai (dumplings)

3 cups plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
3-4 pints water
1 cup cold water, extra


Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan and melt over gentle heat. Before the sugar boils, add the coconut cream and stir continuously until thick. Keep warm.

Boil the water in a large pot.

Sift the flour and baking powder together. Make a dough that just holds together by adding water slowly and mixing with your hands.

Drop tablespoonfuls of the dough into the boiling water and gently boil for a further 10 minutes or until cooked.

Place the dumplings in a bowl and pour the syrup over them.