On Barbados’s Independence Day, flags fly high, festive lights glimmer in the streets, and Bajans proudly sport blue and gold across the island. When it comes time to feast, no food is more representative of the November 30 holiday than the conkie.
This celebratory cake is made from corn flour, grated pumpkin, spices, sugar, coconut, and sometimes raisins or dried cherries. Bajan women wrap and steam the mixture in a crisp banana leaf, serving the warm pastry as a meal or snack.
Ghanaians prepare a similar cornmeal dish called kenkey, which is thought to be the predecessor to the Caribbean conkie. In the early 17th century, the British enslaved thousands of people from present-day Ghana for plantation labor on Barbados, which England ruled for more than 300 years. Colonists brought traditions such as the observance of Guy Fawkes Day on November 5, and Bajans initially made conkies to mark this date.
Bajans didn’t do away with conkies when the nation regained independence in 1966. Gleeful islanders began steaming, selling, and savoring the cake throughout the entire month of November. Guyanese people, also once ruled by England, began making conkies in honor of independence, as well. What began as a humble steamed cake in West Africa is now an enduring symbol of freedom in the Caribbean.
Need to Know
Throughout November, conkies are sold in supermarkets and restaurants across the island.