Barbecue and Oroonoko

Today, we helped a student who was doing research on Aphra Behn’s 1688 text, Oroonoko, for a literature class. This work is notable for the following:

  1. It is an early form of the novel, which was a new form of writing at that time.
  2. It is one work from that time about an African slave (and slave revolt) written by a women.
  3. It has a pretty gruesome scene where a slave is pretty much barbecued over a fire.  (See page 208 of the text)

This got us looking at the use of the word barbecue.  We discovered that the way we (in 21st century America) think about barbecue is different than they way the word was thought about in the past.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the term is originally from the Spanish word barbacoa which is derived from the Haitian word barbacòa.  This refers to “a framework of sticks set upon posts.”  There is also evidence that this was related to the French term babracot, which came from the Indians of Guyana.  If you want to know more, take a look at the OED.

Anyway, the word Barbecue actually refers to the physical cooking structure and not to the style of cooking or to a particular sauce.

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