Why do we eat crabs for Easter ?

You have certainly wondered or if not too impatient to devour these little creatures, you only thought of the delicious taste that you had on your palate while tasting them. AZ Martinique, brings you the answer concerning the history of the traditional matoutou.

Land crab in a cageCrab was once a meat consumed by the Arawaks and then the Caribbean. They prepared the crabs in a hot sauce made from peppers and manioc juice called taumali or taumalin. When the settlers arrived, they suffered cruelly from malnutrition. Many died of malnutrition not knowing the local food offered to them by their Caribbean hosts. They preferred to wait for the boats coming from Santo Domingo which carried out the food supply coming from Europe in the American colonies.

Gradually however, faced with the slowness of the delivery and the insufficiency of rations for all the settlers established on the island, they must resolve to take an interest in tropical plantations and food crops. They thus get closer to the Caribbean to learn about their agricultural techniques and their eating habits. Despite this, the crab and its exotic taste do not appeal to settlers who prefer fish or other crustaceans such as lobster.

Lean meat reserved for slaves ...

During slavery, the colonists hardly consume it. The meats of farm animals (beef, mutton, chicken) are seen as more noble and are present on the tables of the Grand'Case. They relegate the crab to “food for slaves”.

Once the slaves arrived in Martinique, they were forced to convert to Christianity and were baptized. In keeping with the Lent tradition which forbade the consumption of "fatty" meats, slaves were entrusted to feed themselves with a large quantity of crabs considered to be lean meat. Fat meats were bovine meats and poultry while lean meats were fish and shellfish.

Thus, the slaves consumed crabs throughout Lent. On Easter Sunday, the last day of the 40-day fast, they met in the Rue Cases-Nègres (street between the house of the slaves) to finish the large stock knowing that they could again consume all kinds of meat. The abundance of the stock of crabs, the fact that they were seen only as lean meat and eaten only by slaves, made crab at the time an ordinary food with little reputation.

... became a delicacy

At the end of slavery, the new freedmen wish to break with their painful past. The tradition of crabs on Easter Sunday will also go through this. The new freedmen want to get as close as possible to the habits and customs of the elites of the time, the colonists who killed rooster or sheep for the feast they organized, consumed them between people of the same social level. It is therefore the local rooster or the sheep that will be found on the tables of the new free for this last day of Lent. Crabs are relegated to Easter Monday. This day which commemorates the resurrection of Christ will become a public holiday in 1884.

Matoutou, Easter traditional meal in MartiniqueThis tradition has since been preserved. In a policy of promoting the heritage, history and culture of Martinique, crabs were no longer perceived as an "overflow" that had to be finished but as a quality dish that would bring all the families together around this great Christian feast. Rice was added to crabs for a dish that has become “matoutou”. The word "matoutou" dates back to the Amerindian period of Martinique.

It was a small table woven of rushes, latanier or arouman 20 to 30 cm high, "the size or a little more than a cassava." On this table, the Arawaks placed the coui of taumalin (mixture of chilli and cassava juice prepared by the Caribbean) and crab. This term preserved by the collective memory was then attributed to the traditional Easter dish made from rice and crabs.

Today, matoutou can be eaten on Easter Monday as well as on Pentecost Monday. Local families prepare it at dawn to then go to the edge of the beaches and meet up with family. Several culinary competitions are organized (Pince d'Or, Patte d'Or, Crabe d'Or) and tend to enhance this meal steeped in history ...