Dukunu: Traditional Jamaican Food

“Dukunu” also known as “tie-a-leaf” or “blue drawers” as it is commonly known, is a popular traditional food in Jamaica.  This dish, well known among sections of Jamaican society, is also widely prepared and consumed in various parts of the world. In other cultures where it is found it has different names, but the preparation is similar; sometimes steamed or sometimes boiled. During the period of transatlantic slavery, persons who came by force from West Africa to the New World, found themselves on familiar ground in terms of at least one thing – a similar type of food to what they knew on the continent.  Over the years the terms they used to describe this culinary delight came to dominate the description of the dish in Jamaica. It is called “Kenkey” or “Komi” by the Akan, Ga, and Ewe societies in Ghana, as “Konoki” in other parts of the Caribbean and in Trinidad as “Pemi”.  The word “dukunu” is actually derived from a West African language; the Twi and Fanti word “dɔkono” means “boiled maize bread.” It is also called “tie-a-leaf” or blue drawers due to the blue, green and black colours of the leaf when cooked. In Jamaica the staple can be made from cassava, sweet potato, corn meal or a mixture of both, it is grated and made into a thick mixture with sugar and spices and then wrapped in a banana or plantain leaf and boiled.

In West Africa, ground corn (maize) is popularly used. The Kenkey requires much preparation, including two days for the dough to ferment. After the fermentation process, the Kenkey is wrapped in banana or plantain leaves and steamed.

Dukunu Preparation


2 lbs sweet potatoes

2 cups brown sugar

¼ cup flour

½ cup raisins

3 tablespoon nutmeg

½ tablespoon salt

1 1/2 cups coconut milk


  • Peel, wash and grate sweet potatoes.
  • Add sweet potatoes to flour and mix well.
  • Add spices, nutmeg, rosewater, almond, sugar and coconut milk and mix well.
  • Steam banana or plantain leaves over hot water to make it pliable, cut it into large squares.
  • Spoon or cup mixture on to leaf squares, fold sides to make a parcel.
  • Tie parcel with banana bark or cord and place in a pot of boiling water.
  • Boil for 30 to 35 mins.
  • Allow to cool and serve with ginger beer or any other refreshing drink.


Monteith, Kathleen E.A. and Glen Richards, eds. Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History,

Heritage and Culture.  Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2002.

Barrett, Leonard E. The Sun and the Drum: African Roots in Jamaican Folk Tradition. Kingston:

Sangster’s Book Stores Ltd., 1976.

Senior, Olive. The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. Kingston: Twin Guinep Publishers Ltd.,