Encounters Between Cultures – Oyibo in Africa VI

The other side of cooking for a multitude was eating like a multitude. An African feast is the closest thing to an all-you-can-eat buffet that you can find in rural Africa. Each person that came for a feast was just another mouth and stomach. The idea was to eat so much collectively that afterwards you and your kin could brag that the hosts were open handed and cooked so much that you and the rest of the guests couldn’t finish the food or to yap that they were stingy and did not cook enough. Everyone expected to take a doggy bag home, women came with big bags. Mine was the biggest, I actually had dogs, and most of the time the food was only fit for dogs anyway, delicately flavored with eau de perspiration.

Sharing the food to the collective generated a lot of commotion, the eldest got food before the youngest and if you let someone younger than you take food or drink before you, you would quickly lose respect so you had to make a big fuss if such a gross breach of protocol occurred. The age of co-wives was determined by date of marriage not date of birth.  Sometimes I gave my share to one of my co-wives, one in particular who was big, bad and mean. This ensured her allegiance and if anyone attacked me in the village (including the Three Witches) she would immediately leap to defend my skinny ass for which I am eternally grateful. My evolutionary reaction is flight not fight, I’m complete chicken shit when it comes to getting violently physical.

The size of the food box used to bring food to your group and the amount of drinks you got is a measure of your status and respect so if someone thought that what they received as a group was not commensurate to their status there were very vocal complaints, threats and no consumption until more was provided. If no more was forth coming the group would quietly eat what they got and then yap the hosts for the next year or so at every given opportunity. “Humph, there’s Beatrice trying to look important. Don’t mind her, do you know that when we went for her daughter’s wedding last year she couldn’t even feed us.”

My efforts at staying slim were mostly scorned. I used to get seriously berated for not eating enough! “Eat more girl you have to help us finish all the food.” Fat was good because it meant your husband provided well. Such logic survived the fact that one of the fattest wives in my kin group was married to one of my poorest ‘husbands’. They had six or seven children, I stopped counting. My attempts to talk to them about the virtues of contraception were dismissed with a casual “That is oyibo thing”. Children are an investment; you can never tell what they will be tomorrow. Nowadays they spend most their time moaning about how nobody wants to help send their children to school.

Feasting in Igbo Nigeria Copyright Lesley Agams
Feasting in Igbo Nigeria Copyright Lesley Agams

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