Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa V

Another unique aspect of food culture in Igbo-Nigeria are the attitudes and conventions around large scale feasts. There are only feasts in Igbo-Nigeria, nothing like inviting ten for dinner that is an oyibo thing practiced only by the elite as part of their elitism. In the village a normal meal is usually for ten or even twenty depending on the size of your household.  The Igbo-Nigerian believes that anything worth celebrating deserves a feast and whether you invite them or not the whole village will come so plan to cook for several hundreds. A catering nightmare you might think, well the Igbo-Nigerian solved the problem long ago; communal gang labor.

I never quite understood all those people in Africa and in the West that romanticize communal life. It’s not as much fun as it sounds unless you are a child. Among other things it means that you have to get up at the crack of dawn, when you might just rather be sleeping, every time there is an event in your lineage that requires large scale cooking.  All married women of the lineage are required to attend. Mind you never the daughters of the lineage, they sit around on their fat asses waiting for you to finish cooking and serve them the best parts of the meat.

You might think this is good community relations and they’ll help you when you need to feed a multitude. You’re wrong, the amount of acrimony and conflict these cookouts generate is not worth whatever advantage the sociologists think come from communal living (not to mention the amount of sweat that streams straight into the food). As a matter of fact these enforced mass cookouts are a strain on human relations, a definite diplomatic failure. The same people in the village presently hyping the virtues of the traditional communal lifestyle hire caterers to cook their feasts as soon as they have enough money to behave like a ‘Big Man’.

I avoided being conscripted into these forced labor cookouts as tactfully as possible and  if I did go I behaved like I was completely incompetent, the oyibo that couldn’t peel an onion. It always worked. Before long some sucker would invariably come along, shoo me away and take over the chore assigned to me.  After a while sitting around doing nothing I’d be told I could go home. Did I mind? Of course not! I did not find it necessary to socialize with vulgar village women. Associating with them was an ordeal. They did not shave, they did not use deodorant or perfume, I was not always certain that they used soap.

And what could I possibly discuss with them? The arrival of the newest variety of disease resistant cassava cuttings? The proper way to balance ten pounds on my head on a 10 kilometer journey? How to make the Husband happy or how to wean a baby? How could an unwashed, smelly, hairy, illiterate village woman possibly give me advice about my husband or my baby? I was completely superficial. However my co-wives (because that is what they were called) enjoyed doing my chores because I would give whoever did my chores my small portion of the bar soap, snuff, white powder or meat we invariably shared after wards.

Abacha Ncha from http://www.dobbyssignature.com/
Abacha Ncha usually served at all Igbo-Nigerian feasts (from http://www.dobbyssignature.com/)
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