FOOD! Food! Food! Everybody wants food. I am hungry I want food, I want food, they cry. But of course, there are times when you want food when you are not hungry, certain kinds of food, I mean.
We all know that all human beings, as well as all living things need food in order to survive, otherwise you starve to death.
This may sound obvious, but taken seriously, millions of people in the world have died because of food shortage. It is a shame that while there are serious shortages of food in some parts of the world, other parts have so much of it in abundance that they allow it to go to waste .
It is a fact that farmers in some countries harvest much more than their market can consume and in frustration they dump millions of their produce into the sea!
In some years there are countries that experience severe droughts so much that they are unable to produce any food for themselves and their livestock.
In some cases nature is kind enough to provide them with animals and insects which give them food. They survive as food gatherers.
People can eat anything that their environment provides. While some people who live near the sea eat fish and other sea food, those who live in the desert eat insects including locusts, lizards, tortoises, black ants (impolompolo) and so on.
The difference between man and beast is that a man is selective when it comes to the kind of food he eats.
Many animals survive on raw vegetation. Those that survive on the flesh of other creatures also eat it raw. The major difference between man and beast is that man prepares his food by cooking it and processing it in various ways.
Traditionally the choice of food is determined by the environment. You do not eat impala meat if you live at a place where impalas do not exist.
But even then, man does not just eat anything and everything in his environment. As a general rule the Nguni people do not eat carnivores (flesh eating animals like lions, jackals , hyenas, cats, dogs, etc).
This is their cultural choice. To some people, some of these creatures are a delicacy. Some people are known to eat lizards, frogs, snakes, crabs and the rest of what the Ndebele people regard as obnoxious.
And of course, it is cannibals only who eat human flesh. At times the food eaten by a community or by a tribe or country is dictated by their religion and a set of given beliefs.
The Moslems do not eat pigs and this has grown into a religious and cultural taboo. From a liberal perspective, religion can be both misleading and restrictive.
In the Christian Bible, Peter was rebuked by God himself when he refused to eat any of the creatures that were provided for him.
It is interesting that some Christian organisations still resist God’s call to eat freely of his natural provisions and perhaps it is their infer-legal dispensation which negates the freedom that was inaugurated by Christ.
In the same vein there are many Ndebele people, mostly of the passing generation, who do not touch sheep meat (lamb) and they give a religious explanation that sheep are not clean because they are possessed by spirits (ancestral). That is why sheep are so few among the Ndebele. They prefer goat meat.
The religious beliefs restrict them even from eating meat of particular bulls, sometimes cows also) which are believed to have spirits indwelling them. It has already been implied that the main kinds of food are both regional and national. They are cultural to certain national groups. Rice for example, is associated with the Eastern people of India, Thailand, Burma, China and so on.
It is their traditional food. Potatoes are associated with the Western world while maize is the traditional food of Southern Africa and South America.
But some foods like milk and meat are universal. However some beliefs restrict or prohibit the eating of meat, as in the case in most of India.
Nowadays , that the world has become a global village most kinds of food are shared the world over.
It is not uncommon to find such tropical fruits as mangoes on the shelves of supermarkets in Europe or Asia. That is why many people in Southern Africa eat rice, potatoes and wheat products.
The Ndebele people are part of these international developments.
However, our next article will focus specifically on the cultural food of the Ndebele: How they prepare food, process it and eat it.