Experiencing the Rich Food Tradition of the Quapaw Tribe

Historic Arkansas Museum - Thursday, February 22, 2018

Caption: Wooden bowl from Benton County, @AD 1200-1600, Courtesy of the University of Arkansas Museum Collections.

Tonight, HAM will host the first dinner in the “History is Served: Arkansas Foodways Dinner Series,” which celebrates the cuisine and culture of the Quapaw Tribe. The dinner, part of the Arkansas Foodways Initiative, is the first of four history-inspired dinners, which all focus on a unique food tradition in Arkansas history.

The dinner will be prepared by 42 bar and table’s Executive Chef Gilbert Alaquinez and Chef Michael Selig, who are preparing four courses. Though the seasoned pair had fun creating the evening’s menu, it did present some challenges - an obvious one is how a chef goes about preparing a modern interpretation of a meal while keeping an authenticity that reflects the Quapaw of that time period.

Some of the information the museum has on the foodways of the Quapaw was orally passed down through generations. There is also a lot of insight from the recorded accounts of the European colonists in Arkansas. One such person was Jean Bernard Bossu, a French naval captain and adventurer who made multiple trips to the area of what is today known as Arkansas. His retrospective of the Downstream People is but one of a handful written by French and Spanish colonists who encountered each other in 18th century Arkansas.

In 1771, after his third and final voyage to the New World, Bossu wrote that he had “great regret” leaving Arkansas, as he had developed a kinship with various tribes. This included the Quapaw, who adopted him into the tribe and even gave him a thigh tattoo of a roebuck to mark this event.

Bossu’s lively recollections of his time spent with the Quapaw Tribe were captured in three publications. While focused on the war traditions of the Quapaw, he also shines some light on their food. This excerpt comes from "Travels Through that Part of North America Formerly Called Louisiana,” reprinted in The London Chronicle:

The country of the Akanzas is one of the finest in the world; the soil of it is so fertile, that it produces, without any culture, European wheat, all kinds of food, and good fruit, unknown in France: game of all kinds is plentiful there; wild oxen, stags, roebucks, bears, tygers, leopards, foxes, wild cats, rabbits, turkies, grous, pheasants, partridges, quails, turtles, wood-pigeons, fwans [fawns], geese, bustards, ducks of all kinds, seals, divers, snipes, waterhens, golden plovers, flares, thrushes and other birds which are not known in Europe.

A typical European’s perspective on the Quapaw’s foodways, Bossu ascribes more importance to the crop of wheat than corn, a staple so important to the Quapaw that at least three varieties were grown year round. He also notes that each Quapaw warrior, on the way to battle, would have “a little bage of flour of Indian corn or maize, toasted as we do coffee, and when he is hungry he takes a spoonful of water in which some of this flour or meal is diluted…."

Though the dinner is sold-out, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about the Quapaw Tribe, including HAM’s permanent exhibit: “We Walk in Two Worlds: The Caddo, Osage & Quapaw in Arkansas.”