In previous letters I have described the diet of the people here, the kind of mud brick and thatch roofed tukals (4 x 4 meter huts) that make up the typical family compound or yard and 1community life? There is enough to be said that I have divided this subject into two letters.
Let me begin by describing in greater detail what the local diet consists, how it is prepared and Zande eating customs. The so called “greens,“ that are a staple, are simply the cut up leaves of various plants. The leaves are mixed with water, salt and sometimes with ground peanuts and vigorously boiled for some time. A bean, peanut or sesame seed sauce or the broth of a meat soup is frequently poured over rice or over a glutinous paste made of corn, millet or Casava flour. The meals do not have a great deal of variety. They do not eat with utensils but with their fingers. One simply takes a bit of one of the flour pastes in two or three fingers, tip it into the greens, sauce or soup broth and then take it to your mouth. Because their fingers are their utensils they are very careful to wash their hands before eating as well as after. There is always a basin, soap and a container of water outside any public eating area. In a home someone will come around a room of guests to give them the opportunity to clean their hands. This meal ritual always starts with the person of highest rank and the guests. Food is placed on a small low table in the middle of the room and each person, again according to their social ranking, goes to the table, serves themselves and returns to eat their meal at their seat and without a table. Tea, water or juice is served before or after the meal. Fruit (papya, pinnapple, bananas , mangoes, oranges) are most often served as snacks during the day rather that at meals Tea is the most common hot beverage and is typically served with lots of sugar and some milk powder. The actual cooking of the food typically takes place on the ground over an open fire or in a completely open sided kitchen tukal. Because of these conditions food is frequently salted with wind blown grit.
Pork, lamb and hamburger are virtually unknown. Chicken, smoked fish and wild game (antelope mostly) are quite expensive. Very tough beef (often with bits of bone attached) or goat are the typical meats of choice if meat is served. Meat is boiled vigorously in order to kill any germs. Ground nuts or peanuts are one of the chief sources of protein. They have virtually no deserts of any type except for a short bread like cookie that has little sugar. Most vegetables are unavailable (lettuce, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, etc.) except for tomatoes, onions, a Sudanese type of sweet potatoe and pumpkin. Western grown fruits like apples, grapes, grapefruit, cherries, artichokes, etc. are never seen in local markets.
The eating of fried termites is a local specialty. Recently we had our first real rain storm after three months of very dry weather. The evening after the storm our dining area was filled with flying insects which turned out, much to our surprise, to be termites. They very quickly lose their wings after hatching and fall to the ground. They are collected, cleaned (their wings are taken off), washed and then fried in palm oil. They look a little like wild rice and are crunchy. Their taste is hard to describe. Soda pop is available but expensive and includes, of all things, lots of Red Bull. African beers and liguor of a variety of types is available everywhere but both clergy and laity are urged not to partake in order to set an example in a place with far too much alcoholism. Prescription drug, marijuana and other illicit drug use is rare.
Each person knows what tribe, clan and family of which they are a part. The sense of being an integral part of a large extended family is very important to the Sudanese and great efforts are made to maintain family ties. I went with the bishop to visit one of his uncles on one occasion. He told me an old Zande proverb: “you do not need to ask what road your uncle lives on if he has died.” When we got to the uncles home we saw that he had made sure that his whole family was there to greet us. He had a meal ready for us to eat. We were the only ones to eat.
Zande men or women cannot marry within their own clan. Children are given a Christian name that is typically from the bible, a traditional name that is determined by a family leader and the name of their father. Women, after they are married, take their husbands first name as their second name (ie. Mary David or Grace Mobutu). The payment of a dowry by the groom to the bride’s family is still common. The choice of one’s marriage partner is a mixture of customs that involves both free choice and arrangements by one’s family. Very large families in which there are 6 to 8 children are typical. Bishop Samuel comes from a family of 18 children. Children are highly prized! Symbols of this can are apparent in the names sometimes given the young such as “Gifted,“ or “Tambua” (thanks). Most families seem to have children who are who has died, or simply an orphan.