Creolising Caribbean foodways: Breadfruit from the mid-nineteenth century to the present
When breadfruit was introduced to the Caribbean in the late 18th century to feed enslaved people, it was not a success. Yet it has become embedded in the region’s cuisines. This project explores how and why breadfruit was adopted and adapted to Caribbean needs – how, in short, it was creolised.
The journey of the breadfruit tree (Artocarpus altilis) from Oceania to the Caribbean in the 1790s – featuring Captain Bligh and the mutiny on the Bounty – is a well-known story encompassing global scientific networks, economic botany, and an imperial project to feed enslaved populations. At first, breadfruit was not a success; enslaved people were said to reject its taste. Yet after slavery’s abolition in the British Caribbean in the 1830s, breadfruit became increasingly significant in local foodways. It is now an iconic food deeply embedded in regional cuisines. This project explores this little-known Caribbean history.
The adaption of breadfruit to local needs occurred against the backdrop of wider developments: the decline of the export-orientated plantation system; the establishment of local peasantries; efforts to modernise Caribbean agriculture; decolonisation. Other factors affecting the breadfruit’s adoption may include the presence of new populations arriving with indentureship, especially in Trinidad and British Guiana. Studying the history of breadfruit at different scales – via particular colonies, specific sites of cultivation, and different uses – reveals the routes, both elite and subaltern, through which it spread. Breadfruit now has a significant cultural presence, as an integral part of ‘national cuisines’ that emerged in the 20th century and an enduring symbol of the historical injustice of slavery. Breadfruit, in short, can tell us about the Caribbean’s past, its present, and perhaps its future.
This fully-funded PhD is open to UK and overseas applicants. The student will be supervised by David Lambert and Rebecca Earle at the University of Warwick’s History Department, and by Caroline Cornish and Mark Nesbitt at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Further details: https://www.midlands4cities.ac.uk/find-a-project/