OK. Here goes with a post that is nerdy beyond belief. I love nerdy.
Drying fish so that it lasts and lasts instead of going bad is one of the great accomplishments in food history. From no later than the Middle Ages on, and perhaps much before, Norsemen gutted cod and dried it in the wind. It dwindled to one fifth of its original weight and was hard as a board. Now the fish could be stored, traded and transported. At the end of the chain, the consumer could soak the fish, reconstituting it into something tasty and something that avoided many of the bad associations of fish.
In her excellent book, The Taste of Empire, Lizzie Collingham argues that it was the skills that Europeans acquired navigating to the Banks of North America and creating trade in dried fish that laid the foundations for the maritime spice trade. It has also impacted food customs in many parts of the world, including Mexico.
The lovely image of a Nigerian inspecting dried fish in a warehouse in Norway, probably in the 1960s I found when searching for an illustration for the last chapter of Cuisine and Empire that went beyond the the usual clichés of McDonaldization, supermarkets, and Anglo everything. Besides linking back to earlier chapters, it smuggled in a bit of my own life as I had eaten dried fish myself in Nigeria in the 1960s.
Then last week to my delight, Ozoz Sokoh, who blogs as Kitchen Butterfly, posted an infographic detailing the ups and downs of the modern trade in dried fish between Nigeria and Norway. (If you don’t know Kitchen Butterfly, check it out. It’s engaging, multi-faceted, and always eye-opening. I’ve quoted it before on horchata in Nigeria).
Even if the details of trade in dried fish between Nigeria and Norway seem a bit esoteric, this is worth storing away in your head as an example of the complexities of global food trade and the importance of foods relatively unknown in the US to the diets and economies of other countries.
Mapping Nigerian-Norwegian Relations through the ages and there is a lot of information on the interwebs with some digging. I’ve put it all together in a timeline because specific events were time-bound and mapped key events. This is one of my favourite research pieces because it connects so much – from the state of nations – both Nigeria and Norway, inter dependencies, how certain ingredients become mainstream and much more. Anyway, here’s what I discovered.
Wind-dried herring, known as stockfish, is a prized delicacy in Norway but with its small population (4 million) and massive fish stocks, the country produced far too much for its own consumption. Oddly enough, the only other people partial to stockfish were Nigerians (population 63 million). Because it was relatively cheap and the dried fish did not rot in West Africa’s hot, humid climate, there was a brisk trade between the two nations; Source – The Independent, Ireland
The connection began with the British…
And took root.
In the early 1900s, there were associations which governed trade and managed relations between Nigeria and Norway.
This was abandoned years later.1951 Abandonment of trade agreement between National Association of Norwegian Stockfish Exporters and Nigerian import merchants
In the ’80s, as part of austerity/ trade policy measures by General Ibrahim Babangida, the then Nigerian head of state, stockfish imports were banned.
Between 1980 and 1991, at least three countries lodged formal complaints against Nigeria with respect to import prohibitions: Norway submitted a complaint on Nigeria’s import ban on stockfish, Côte d’Ivoire on the import ban on textiles, and the United States on the import ban on wheat and rice. While both Norway and the United States cited violation of GATT rules in their complaints; Source
The ban led to many cases of middle men trying to bring stockfish into Nigeria, anywhere but from Norway, like the case of James “Danger” Beirne.
He must have executed one of the earliest 419 deals – Advance Fee Fraud in which he and a consortium agreed to buy ‘$21m worth of stockfish in three shipments. Essentially there would be no cash payment from the Irish until after the second consignment was at sea. But the commission, the 15 per cent of the value of the cargo, would be paid “up front” before each consignment left Tromso.’