Most Nigerians enjoy to eat Norwegian stockfish, popularly known as panla, but are unaware of its association with one of the darkest periods in West-African history – the Transatlantic slave trade.
According to a Norwegian historian, Frank Jensen, the process of drying it means that stockfish can last for years – and that made it perfect to be used as food for the West African people enslaved and sent on long sea voyages to the Americas.
Mr. Jensen went on to talk about how Norway exported several tons of stockfish to Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War:
In the course of three bloody years, more than a million people died – mostly from hunger. It was a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale, and churches and relief agencies from all over the world joined together to fly in emergency supplies.
Norway’s contribution was stockfish.
It doesn’t need refrigeration, and it is full of protein and vitamins – perfect to combat kwashiorkor, the malnutrition that characterised the Biafran war.
“The single weapon against kwashiorkor was stockfish,” says Edwin Mofefe, who was five years old when the war broke out. “It was our medicine.”
For years Mr Mofefe couldn’t eat stockfish because it brought back too many harrowing memories of the war.
Now, finally, he can not only stomach it, he has come to adore it for the depth of flavouring it brings to his favourite egusi or melon seed soup.
Fifty years on, stockfish has turned from an emergency, life-saving ration into a staple food – and a key part of Nigerian culinary identity.
Most Nigerians may not be aware that Norwegian people were active particeps ciminis in the brutal transportation of West African slaves to the Americas.
The center of the Danish-Norwegian slave trade, according to Fredrik Hyrum Svensli at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, was on the Gold Coast (Ghana) in Africa.
According to a 2014 report in a Norwegian publication, www.newsinenglish.no, Norwegians made up around 10 percent of the total crew serving on slave ships at any one time, wrote Svensli in newspaper Aftenposten recently. Hyrum Svensli’s PhD project explores the slave trade rivalry between Denmark-Norway, England and the Netherlands in Ghana in the 1600s and 1700s. That’s when Norwegians took part in what’s been called the “triangle of trade” on Norwegian and Danish ships like the Fredensborg, found wrecked off Arendal in 1974. Norwegians staffed slave forts on the African coast, sailed on the slave ships and carried goods produced by slaves back to Norway and the rest of Europe. The “triangle” went mostly from Norway and Denmark to Ghana, then to Caribbean ports such as St Croix and St Thomas and back to Scandinavia.
Those Norwegians who served at the slave posts on the Gold Coast came from various backgrounds such as soldiers, gunsmiths, artisans and even clergymen. They shared one thing in common in that they were for the most part “incompetent and reckless adventurers,” Hyrum Svensli told Aftenposten.