What did people eat in Medieval Africa?
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Medieval African Food

African Cattle
African cattle

January 2017 - In South Africa, south of the rain forests, there is open grassland again. Here there were not so many people, and despite the gradual growth of the Kalahari desert the Khoikhoi did not begin farming, but they did get hold of cattle and they began cattle herding. So these people ate a lot of meat, and soon they began milking their cows too and drinking milk.


Around 800 BC, with the arrival of Greek and Phoenician invaders, the people of North Africa began to plant olive orchards and produce olive oil. They ate a lot of it, even though they also shipped a lot all over the Mediterranean and Europe. But olives wouldn't grow further south.

Olive orchard in Tunisia
Olive orchard in Tunisia

By around 800 AD, African people began to eat new foods as Indonesian settlers in Madagascar brought many new kinds of Asian foods to Africa.


These were bananas, plantains, coconuts, and sugar (from sugar-cane). There were also some new kinds of yams, and new kinds of rice. These foods came first to the east coast of Africa, but quickly spread with Islam to North Africa and West Africa too. Sometime before 1000 AD, soldiers in East Africa also began to eat coffee beans when they needed extra energy for fighting, and soon East African traders were selling coffee to Islamic traders from Yemen. Around the same time, people in North Africa began to make their millet into couscous, which replaced millet porridge (puls) as the basic staple food of North Africa from the Atlantic to Tunis. The adoption of rice in East and West Africa may have influenced the switch.

Bananas   Plantains Coconut
Bananas, plantains, and coconuts

By 1000 AD, most people in North Africa, West Africa, the Congo river basin, and East Africa were farmers. In south-east Africa most people were cattle herders. Only in the most dry desert areas, or in the wettest, thickest part of the rain forest, were people still hunting and gathering.

Learn by doing - African food project

Bibliography and further reading about African food:

Food and Recipes of Africa (Kids in the Kitchen.) by Theresa M. Beatty
The People of Africa and Their Food (Multicultural Cookbooks) by Ann Burckhardt
A Taste of West Africa (Food Around the World) by Colin Harris

Islamic Food
Ancient Africa
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 29 March, 2017