Guinea-Fowl

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

guinea-fowl birds of four or five species, all in the family Numididae and all indigenous to Africa. Most of them have the speckled or pearl-like plumage which can readily be identified in ancient representations of the bird, and very noticeably and beautifully in a painting by Pisanello (or one of his associates) which is often reproduced. The most important species by far, Numidia meleagris, is the bird there depicted.

In Africa the various species of the guinea-fowl have ranges which collectively extend over the greater part of the continent south of the Sahara. They occupy a wide range of environment from the edges of the desert to savannah lands (favoured by N. meleagris) and high forests. They have always had a reputation as crop robbers and this habit, bringing them into close contact, albeit of a competitive kind, with humans, may have contributed to their domestication. This probably took place in Africa and is likely to have been associated with the introduction of keeping the domestic hen. Diffusion to Europe first took place from E. Africa, but there was subsequently a strong connection in this respect between Guinea in W. Africa and Portugal, which had a noticeable effect on the vernacular names given to the guinea-fowl in various languages. The Italian faraona is one of the few linguistic vestiges of the old connection with Egypt.