Food. A Blessing Or A Curse(Taboo)

I have been trying to figure out what to write for the new year. I’m surprised at how well I paced myself for this post.

It was supposed to be a recipe, but I decided to start on a high note.

First things first, Happy New year my people! Thank you for last year and the year before. I wouldn’t be here if you guys weren’t reading my posts or here with me. I’m hoping for a smoother ride this year with tremendously new things to bring us success this year.

Last year, I was still trying to find myself, in the sense that I was learning how to pace myself and do things according to the order of importance.

To kick off this year, I want to write about taboos.

I have been very fascinated about different foods and how they affect us especially when it comes to our tradition.

What are taboos? Taboos are pretty much a set of rules; religious or traditional; forbidding a certain group of people or a person’s association with anything.

Hence a food taboo is a practice in which certain foods cannot or may not be eaten. It could be for religious, traditional or for health purposes.

I am African. Nigerian to be precise. I come from the Igbo speaking tribe of Nigeria :)…The Igbo people are known to be “conk” traditionalists. We have so much culture and as much as it just drives me crazy at how rigid and restrictive our cultures can be, it can be one of the most beautiful things to ever experience. I guess sometimes, it’s just relative 🙂

I find culinary taboos interesting and I find it exasperating that a lot of us are not culturally aware. We don’t pay attention to tradition anymore. I found out two years ago that History as a subject was banned from Nigerian schools for reasons I cannot really explain.

When you ban history from schools, how else are the Nigerian students supposed to learn and know simple things like taboos? Our ancestors have all gone to the great beyond and the remaining preservers of our culture have all passed on, so how are we supposed to learn these things if the lines of history have now been banned from being taught in Nigerian schools?

Back to the subject of taboos.

I remember once my father brought home some turtles and had them prepared for some pepper soup. My sister was home from the university and as usual and as a foodie, she wanted some, but my father quietly told her and me “women cannot eat turtles. It’s an abomination.” He really didn’t give a reason for this abomination. Although the turtle pepper soup looked delicious, I was too scared to touch it. Besides, my daddy’s words were too precious to me :). My sister on the other hand…O chim! she sneaked a bowl of the soup and ate it with all excitement. I honestly thought she would die oh, but she didn’t…Ngwanu! Wehldone daddy! Wehldone sir!

Apart from taboos being respected by our African traditional religion, Christians have also added theirs to the mix.

Once I was told by my former house fellowship leader not to eat cat fish, I wondered why because if I ever thought of not eating cat fish, it would be because of it’s place in the food chain as a burrower and it’s slimy nature.

Well, my house fellowship leader gave his reasons to be that cat fish were caught and used for sacrifices and incisions made on them with certain juju before they were released back into the water from whence they were caught.

Another thing was snails. Someone once told me that if I ate snails, I would move slowly in life because snails moved slowly. Fadaghad!

I asked a question about culinary taboos on my Facebook page and here are some of the answers that my friends were able to give me concerning eating foods that are considered taboos within the different cultures in Nigeria.

“The Okpanam people are known to forbid Ogbono and Ugu leaves. You wouldn’t find it in the market back then but I think that tradition doesn’t stand any longer because people now sell Ogbono and ugu in the market.” Nnenna
“Then there are some families at Ileh-Ekpoma that don’t take honey. Their skin burns and they take ill if they do. Its very funny to me.” Emily
“My friend didn’t eat snails, they were taboo where she came from, unfortunately can’t remember where but it was somewhere in the then Imo State.
 
The ironical thing was the place had an abundance of snails.  So any trip to the village was a blessing for us her friends.  She came back with loads of snails.” Dupe
 “Isoko people forbid snails, ugu and twin plantain(Ozoro people in particular). Ibusa people forbid Sheep/Ram, Rabbit and Bush Rat. Asaba people forbid Ogbono.
 
As for the Ibusa people forbidding Sheep/Ram…the reason is because during the Nigerian Civil war, as the Hausa soldiers arrived Ibusa after the massacre in Asaba, the villagers ran into the Forest. The Soldiers kept tracing their footsteps. At some point a flock of Sheep appeared from no where, and muddled up the footsteps. The Army didn’t know this and where misled by the steps. They followed  the flock’s steps and got to the River Oboshi – a sacred River. They got drowned, the villagers survived and everyone was happy. “It must have been the gods” said the high priest. It was decreed by the High Priest that the flock of Sheep were sacred are never to be eaten.
Consequences: people who broke the laws and ate foods that were considered taboos due to starvation after the war were said to have had swollen faces, tongue mouth, eye and choked to death as though there were being strangled by the God’s
 
Anaphylaxis maybe? Who knows? But it’s true tales. I eat all though. Ram suya is bae. Lol. Lynda
I can attest to the isokos not eating snails and things like in fact if you didn’t know and was found cooking they will never use the pot again. They find it insulting. But as nwafo Ibo girl,  hubby has seen the light and eats all of it and more.  I remember as a kid back then, my dad would return from pattani warri with live alligator and we would kill it…. Our Benin neighbors and some part of deltans became our enemies.  They said we ate their gods and would never be forgiven…. Nne I would give anything now to have me some alligator Walahi…”  Tuskysgirl
 
“The Amiri people in IMO state do not eat duck. It is still deity related.
The worrisome side of these taboos is denying pregnant women nutritious foods like snail and grass cutter delicacies on the erroneous belief that they will affect the unborn child or labor negatively . My people sef, radio without battery, conclusions without researchNkoli
“I know in Zimbabwe and Uganda, people will not eat certain meats because they are the totems of their tribe. For example I have a Ugandan friend who does not eat lamb. Then there are Zimbabweans (Shona) known as dziwa which means pool or water. These people are traditionally not meant to eat anything that lives on or around water such as fish, frog, duck etc. Some follow it very strictly while others do not. It will be a similar concept to those who have lions or monkeys etc as totems. I honestly imagine this is good for things such as preservation of nature, as Africans we will collectively not deplete anything in the environment; but that is my assumption.” Freda
My mil is from Okpo (not sure if i got the spelling right now) in Delta. She ‘forbids’ (her words) snail. She said they are not allowed to eat it. She doesn’t belt on the why though. Her son (my hubby) no send her on that one; much to her annoyance. Most Igbo tribes don’t allow females to eat gizzard. Also the part they call ‘ike okuko’.(the fowl’s bottom) Does that count for this research? We no dey answer them again for that one Lol.” Ugochi
“Nice. I dont know if anyone has mentioned anything about eggs already, but we once went for a field work at school and we went to a particular village promoting nutritious food. We were told the children don’t eat eggs because it makes children steal…maybe because its ‘expensive’, there’s a myth that they will need to steal to get more eggs. I found it weird but again, we need to respect people’s culture and introduce the change by becoming part of them and convincing them gradually.” Aderonke
“Wow thanks, my maternal heritage is Umuegbe in Imo state and they don’t kill hawks there even though it kills the chickens because it’s a symbol of the town. I think it’s different now. The last time I went to the village you could hardly notice them anymore.  Joke
In Oleh, Delta, the people there don’t eat food prepared with Vegetable(Ugu) leaf. They say it’s their god. Emmanuel
“Donkey(anu jackie)i asked why,was told ‘cos it’s used to carry corpse and it’s a ‘sufferhead’ animal.Read about the nutritional values recently.its in Ebonyi.i go help dem eat am well.” Christie
“My husband says they don’t eat Duck in Benin because witches change into ducks. He won’t eat it till now if I make it.” Blanka

Me, I don’t have any known taboos that I abide by. I even have a recipe for lamb suya  on the blog.

These things, well most of these foods are now a major commodity in the open market place in Nigeria. They even tend to cost more than the so called “pure” or Kosher foods these days.

I’ld like to know what your culinary taboos are and if you still abide by the rules placed.

Images used on this post were provided  Ade Olumide and Zita of shapeupafrican.com

 

5 comments

  1. Oduaki says:

    I have no idea what we forbid from where i come from. I am from Etsako East, in Edo state though. I can eat anything. If poo was edible i would eat it. But i wont eat anything that slithers. They freak me out. So, i wouldn’t know what we forbid + bi never really asked.

  2. Sandra Ochai says:

    lol! wow! I have no stories o…. I eat everything. Once tried octopus :p …yum!!! It was so much fun though reading this post. All those rules sha, its well!

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