UNESCO has officially recognised Senegal as the origin of Jollof rice, also known as Ceebu jën in Senegal, settling a long-standing debate between West African nations Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.
Each of the three countries has, over the years, claimed title to the popular dish, leading to uncertainty regarding its origins. Thanks to UNESCO, Ghanaians and Nigerians can now rest as Senegal has been crowned the true originator of the famous West African delicacy.
The Senegalese version of Jollof rice, Ceebu jën, is now officially recognised by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of humanity, putting an end to the ongoing debate over its origins and solidifying Senegal’s claim as the true home of Jollof rice.
The dish, which is a staple in West African cuisine, is made of rice and fish, accompanied by vegetables and sometimes tomatoes. In Nigeria and Ghana, the dish can also be served with chicken.
According to research by The Conversation Africa, the origins of Jollof rice can be traced back to the entrenchment of colonial rule in West Africa between 1860 and 1940. During this period, French colonizers replaced food crops with broken rice imported from Indochina. Over time, broken rice became more prized by the Senegalese than whole rice grain and the dish known as Ceebu jën was born.
In the historical books, the origins of Jollof rice can be traced to the Senegambian region that was ruled by the Wolof or Jolof Empire in the 14th century, spanning parts of today’s Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania, where rice was grown. The dish has its roots in a traditional dish called thieboudienne, containing rice, fish, shellfish and vegetables.
The dish has become a source of pride and cultural identity for the Senegalese and has been recognised as an intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. This certification is expected to positively impact the economy, particularly in tourism, agriculture, fishing and catering.
In addition to its cultural significance, Jollof rice is also closely linked to a particular way of life and the consumption of the dish is strongly linked to ceremonial events and the aesthetics of presentation and service. The women of Saint Louis, a port city in northern Senegal, are known for their remarkable know-how in this area and have been credited with adding finesse and elegance to the dish.
If you are from either of the three countries that led in the Jollof rice debate, let us have your comments on this recent development.