Barbecue Is an American Tradition – of Enslaved Africans and Native Americans
The common cultural narrative of barbecue, however, exclusively assigns its origins to Native Americans and Europeans; the very etymology of the word is said to derive from both Carib through Spanish (barbacoa – to roast over hot coals on a wooden framework) or from western European sources (barbe-a-queue in French – “head to tail” – which fits nicely with contemporary ideas of no-waste eating and consuming offal). Some American barbecue masters have taken to attributing the innovation of barbecue to their German and Czech ancestors.
If anything, both in etymology and culinary technique, barbecue is as African as it is Native American and European, though enslaved Africans have largely been erased from the modern story of American barbecue. At best, our ancestors are seen as mindless cooking machines who prepared the meat under strict white supervision, if at all; at worst, barbecue was something done “for” the enslaved, as if they were being introduced to a novel treat. In reality, they shaped the culture of New World barbecuing traditions, from jerking in Jamaica to anticuchos in Peru to cooking traditions in the colonial Pampas. And the word barbecue also has roots in West Africa among the Hausa, who used the term “babbake” to describe a complex of words referring to grilling, toasting, building a large fire, singeing hair or feathers and cooking food over a long period of time over an extravagant fire.