25 Abisi and Food taboos

Cultural changes concern many aspects of life. Eating and drinking is usually seen as natural habits but it is also regulated by customs.

While in Abisi, I experienced many new foods I had never eaten. Abisi porridge made of millet or guinea-corn, macarwa eggs (Guinea Fowl), bush meat and Abisi wine or beer seasoned with hot peppers.

Sometimes, drinking mouth to mouth with a friend in the same calabash, I would try to slow down the ingestion of pepper while my partner would pull it in.

I was careful not to drink unpurified water, I would filter and treat it with chlorine pills. Except for the clear water of Abisi Hill sources.

“Canadian Tea” was appreciated by friends, a sweet mixture of hot water, sugar, powder milk and chocolate powder …

But, to the contrary, some Fulani men looking when I was whitewashing my house walls asked if I was using powdered milk!

They said that they had seen at the market cans of powdered milk sent to Nigeria by Canadians to help with the drought crises that swept the region at that time. Lacking rain many nomads lost their cattle and this powdered milk had made is way to nearby Karambana.

I used it when needed, it conserved well. I could not drink natural milk, not wanting to stop my work at the risk of possible sickness.

To these Fulani, this kind of milk was undrinkable, it really had nothing in common with the good taste of the milk they liked to drink. The only use for it would be to paint a wall!

At that time, I was shown the products said to be women’s hunting, a bowl of caterpillars.

Somebody said he was sure Canadians did not eat those and made everybody laugh.

Until, one day, I was observed eating spaghetti with canned shrimps that really looked like insect larvae.

That was quite another laugh because, finally, I did eat insects like Abisi! I found out that caterpillars also had a good taste when roasted.

Nobody eats rats in Canada but in Abisi, young boys would cook in a small fire, mouses, and rats I had caught with traps in my house.

Some African from Senegal living in Canada explained that he did the same when a young boy but that this meat comes from an animal living in the farms and eating good grains and not living in sewers in polluted Canadian cities.

Choice of food intake is not always made to satisfy nutritional needs: protein content in insects is known to be very high but people in Canada have a disdain for it and prohibit to eat insects.

Some people in Canada now claim that eating meat is cruel because animals are kin to humans. For them, this is a moral prohibition.

When such a prohibition is customary, it is called a taboo.

Such interdictions are usually sanctioned or punished if transgressed. It may be applied to food, objects, and behaviors.

Some objects or places are said to be sacred, meaning that people see it as outside the realm of ordinary humans and taboo for them.

The Mogagi house in Abisi for example is a kind of shrine because it exposes animal remains and is said to house their souls. It is prohibited for ordinary people to enter it, especially foreigners. It is taboo.

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When you travel around the world, it is easy to Google , it is possible to observe a wide variety of food taboos that others who do not share them, find difficult to understand.

Cow Taboo

In India, Hindus do not eat cows, they are said to be sacred but their buffalo cousin is not.

boy-buffalo

Some of the reasons are religious: cows became taboo when given by God the power to protect people just by being around them or by drinking their milk. It is said to cure illness, fight poison and provide people with basic needs.

This is explained by the purity they had obtained from Vishnu, a good deity who gives humans their food and fill their need. There are numerous Hindu websites about this taboo but these are not limited to religious explanation, others points to the material benefits of not eating cows in India.

One was easily demonstrated by agronomic science.

Eating meat costs a lot. Abisi knew about this when they used to see visitors come by horses such as colonial officers or Zaria administrators and see how many people could have been fed with the quantity of guinea-corn a big Hausa horse can eat in a day!

It is the same with cows but Hindu find much more uses to them, it gives some milk and only eats vegetable waste.

Using cow dung for fuel to make cooking fire is less costly than petrol or, in places without much bushes to gather firewood. Once dead, the cow skin can even be used for leather and its meat sold to cow eaters

The same principle of study can be applied to other food taboos, for example, the pig eating taboo.

Pig taboo

Pig taboo is widespread among Muslim who have taken the idea from the Jews who had many public speakers called prophets because what they said was believed and followed.

In the Jewish tradition, pig is not to be eaten because it is an animal without a proper place in God’s creation. Jews explain that every animal has a particular place in relation to others. In one of their books called Leviticus, animals are classified by comparing their ways of eating or their locomotion.

Thus cud-chewing animals with split hooves could be eaten. The cud is a partly digested food that ruminants chew a second time.They included cattle, sheep, goat, deer and gazelles.

The pig, although having cloven or split feet, do not chew a cud and is rejected as proper food, for this reason, They tough that their God, being a perfect being could not admit that his human creatures who are thought to be made in his image, could eat imperfect animals.

These are said to have been created to serve some purposes such as cleaning the land as do carry or pigs but not as food for humans. Muslim respect this food taboo but not Christians who have not sacrificed this food.

Not only pigs are eaten in Africa, Europe, Asia and in all Americas but they are one of their preferred foods.

When trying to discuss the material aspects of this taboo, some say that pigs get you sick because they are dirty but if this was right, all these nations would have disappeared during the thousands of years they have been eating pigs from nose to foot including its corkscrew tail. They say it’s a question of knowing how to cook it!

The taboo can also be explained in the context of Israel, the country where Jewish faith was discovered. In deserts, pigs cannot survive. They cannot sweat to refresh themselves so they need a lot of humidity which is hard to provide.

Pigs cannot follow herds on long distances and in nomadic cultural history with a major preference for milk products, pigs are somewhat sterile and do not give milk. For these nomads, pigs were useless and a luxury they could not afford to spend energy on. The taboo cost nothing since they already did not herd pigs.

But it became politically useful because other sedentary communities raised pigs in the Middle East and they were asked to stop doing it, if they wanted to belong to the Jewish tribes. The pig taboo became a good way to distinguish themselves from other people.

Muslim being near to the Jewish believes adopted the same taboo up to this day. It also became one of their major distinguishing traits. Abisi pig raisers know that they cannot have pigs on their farm near Muslim neighbors.

Alcool taboo

Another food taboo influencing Abisi is alcohol prohibition in Muslim customs. Anything sweet can ferment (honey, fruit or grains) and produce alcohol.

Alcoholic drinks when taken in great excess, can be seen to transform Man into Beast. Its deleterious effect on the behavior of people has been well observed since the origin of Man.

Where it is prohibited by law, illicit commerce abounds and other intoxicating substances take its place with the same results.

Abisi women know the recipes to ferment millet and make a sweet low alcohol drink or beer.

It is a food with high nutritional value. It also has a good exchange value, being distributed to pay workers or sold at markets.

It is also used in all kinds of ceremonies where it’s a means of communication between people and their spiritual beings like ancestors or in libation to the earth.

Encounters of different world views always have serious impacts on Cultural History of the people.

Respect for different beliefs is a key attitude in such circumstances.

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