By Lakhram Bhagirat
Several years ago, I was introduced to “tuma pot” and my initial reaction was why you are serving me boiled fish when I would prefer a good pepperpot to pair with my cassava bread. However, what I did not know was that I would enjoy every last bit of it and secretly ask for some more.
I distinctly remember being at St Cuthbert’s Mission’s Heritage Day in 2017 and being forced to try tuma put and I would forever be grateful to my peers who introduced me to the indigenous delicacy. Initially, my ignorance of the dish led me to believe that it could only be made with fish since that was the type I tried. However, I later learnt that tuma pot is not the actual pot rather it is a variety of meat in a pot.
It is prepared using the cassava water as opposed to cassareep. Very similar to the pepperpot, the tuma pot also includes a variety of meat that is used mainly by the Macushi, Wapishana, Patamonas and the other groups indigenous to Guyana. On the other hand, the pepperpot is used mainly by the Arawak people of the Lokono nation.
Not many people are aware of tuma pot because it is not as popular as the pepperpot and every Amerindian village you visit would have its version of the dish but the taste almost remains the same. I have had the opportunity to try tuma pot from four Indigenous villages within Guyana.
The word tuma refers to the meat or fish cooked in kada (cassava water). The kada sauce, as it is referred to, is less viscous than that of cassareep as well as the colour is much lighter. However, it was explained to me that they both serve the same purpose of preserving the food.
Legend has it that the longer the tuma pot sits, the more intense the flavour is. However, I am yet to experience that since the limited amount of tuma pot I have had was never over a day old. One of the things that I have learnt is not everyone is capable of preparing the dish since it utilizes the cassava water, which is as deadly as cyanide.
A few years ago, Michael Patterson opened the first Indigenous Restaurant, Tuma Sàlà, in Georgetown and the house special was tuma pot. He would have explained the process involved in making a tasty batch of tuma pot.
“To prepare the cassava water, one must follow and carry out the process of extraction in detail in order to have a refined product. After grating the cassava, it is then placed into the matapi to extract the poison – the same process of making the cassareep. The extracted juice, cassava, is potent at this stage and should be treated with all care as it relates to storage, as animals can pass by the kitchen area and sip/drink the liquid. They were many cases where animals – mostly cattle – were found dead after drinking the cassava water. After the water is extracted, it is then placed into a container and allowed to ‘settle’, eventually forming starch after a while. The settled water is now cooked – refining the sauce for consumption. While cooking, a broth is formed at the top of the boiling water. That portion is scooped off and placed into another container as the kada sauce. This process can be done to accumulate adequate sauce for the tuma pot. The remaining cassava water is further processed under heat to produce cassareep. This process takes time with fire modulation – meaning not having more or less heat than expected,” Patterson had explained.
Tuma is usually served with cassava bread or farine, depending on the preferences of various indigenous tribes. The Arawaks will use cassava bread, while the Macushi and Wapishana people will use farine. The Warrau will use the fresh cassava bread referred to as “arasuka”. Fresh cassava juice or “belltarie” will be used as the beverage. Other freshly made juices are also served with the tuma including fly, piwari, and parakari – just to name a few.
For me, I had my first tuma pot with the ever-popular fly and cassava bread. Now that it is Indigenous Heritage Month again, you would surely be seeing me getting my tuma pot. I would also encourage you all to try it and thank me later.