NIGERIA ON A PLATE | Omípidán Teslim Opemipo

Welcome; shall I serve you this great nation
on a plate of words and culinary diction
and tell you of damsels with deft fingers
whose delicacies ended a full blown war?

Shall I tell you of Adetoun and Igbayilola
who mould hills of amala, eba and iyan funfun
and summon sweetness into ewedu and efo elegusi
for they know the one with the food owns the man?

Shall I tell you of Ifeoma who was tagged a witch
for charming a royal heart with a bowl of akpu
doused with ofe nsala and fresh mmanya nkwu?
Do they not know that throat leads to the heart?

Shall I tell you of Itohan and Osayemwenre
whose dainty feet endlessly roam Oregbeni market
in search of bitter leaf, efirin (ebe – alimokho) and well smoked fish
to prepare mouth-watering omu-ebe soup?

Shall I tell you of the northern bred Mansurah
whose nose line points straightly like kulikuli?
She knows the secrets of dawa and tuwo shinkafa
served with hot miyan kuka and pumpkin soup.

Shall I tell you how we pass nights along the Benue
with Ihotukum’s rhythmical slams of the pestle
and Ehi’s stirs of the mesmerizing okoho soup?
In this land, it is healthy to eat and laugh.

Shall I tell Ekeate to come with boiled yam,
a bowl of afang and a calabash of rainwater?
Won’t you burst like a balloon overfilled with air
if I should serve you Nigeria on a plate?

* Adetoun, Igbayilola – Yoruba female names
* Amala, eba, iyan funfun – Yoruba swallow foods
* Ewedu, efo elegusi – Yoruba soups
* Ifeoma – Igbo female name
* Akpu – A kind of swallow food made from cassava
* Ofe nsala – Soup from Eastern Nigeria
* Mmanya nkwu – Palm wine
* Itohan, Osayemwenre – Edo female names
* Efirin ((ebe – alimokho)- Leaf used in the preparation of Omu-ebe, a popular soup of the Edo
* Mansurah – Hausa female name
* Kulikuli – A snack from Northern Nigeria made from groundnut
* Dawa – Snack from Northern Nigeria
* Tuwo shinkafa – Hausa food made from mashed rice
* Miyan kuka – Hausa soup
* Ihotukum, Ehi – Idoma female names
* Okoho – A popular Idoma soup also called black soup
* Ekeate – A female name of the Ibibio tribe from Southern Nigeria
* Afang – A type of Ibibio soup

Omípidán Teslim Opemipo in his poem “Nigeria on a Plate” takes you on a food tour of the length and breadth of Nigeria. The Poet’s intention is stated in lines 3-4 of the first paragraph to
“tell you of damsels with deft fingers/whose delicacies ended a full-blown war”. This resonates with Odukoya Adeniyi’s theme that food ends war in his “Food is Peace”.

Just as “fingers” are used for war, the damsels; Adedotun, Igbayilola, Ifeoma, Itohan, Osayemwenre, Mansurah, Ihotukum, Ehi and Ekeate cleverly use their “deft fingers” to produce culinary magics. Little wonder Ifeoma from the South East of Nigeria is accused of witchcraft. Her Igbo name “Ifeoma” means “good thing”. Having found her, the Biblical assertion that “he that finds a wife finds a good thing” must have resonated with her husband. Knowing her husband inside out and treating him well, (thus winning over his heart and senses), she is accused of possessing his mind with witchcraft. This is not surprising, as the Igbos would say “ezi nwaanyi ma obi di ya, ndi nmadu n’ekwu na oji ogwu jide di ya” loosely interpreted as “when a good woman knows/rules/controls the heart of her husband, people often say that she has bewitched him.” How did Ifeoma do this? The poet tells us that it is by:

charming a royal heart
with a bowl of akpu
doused with ofe nsala
and fresh mmanya nkwu?
Do they not know that throat
leads to the heart?

The ” throat leads to the heart”. Does that remind you of the saying that the way to a man’s heart is through the stomach? Of course it does, as the throat leads to both the heart and to the stomach. Adedotun and Igbayilola in stanza two of the poem realize this, as such they “mould hills of amala, eba and iyan funfun” and make sweet delicacies of “ewedu and efo elegusi” to go down with it. For these women, there is “no dulling” as we say in Nigerian parlance. They have to “wise up” and be on top of their game as “the one with the food owns the man.”

Were you taught not to talk while eating, Opemipo has a word for you, if you have ever passed the night in Benue, you have listened to the rhythm from Ihotukun’s pestle and tasted the mesmerizing okoho soup of the Idoma people, you would know that “in this land, it is healthy to eat and laugh.” I mean, you can’t help it.

The beauty of Opemipo’s poem also lies in its beautifully crafted repetitions “Shall I?/shall I tell you?/shall I serve you?”. These repetitions give the poem a musical allure and retain the reader’s attention throughout, with rhetorical questions. There are nine question marks in the seven-stanza poem, prompting our curiosity, sometimes revealing secrets and sometimes producing humour. For example, the last stanza of the last stanza is quite humorous:

“Won’t you burst like a balloon overfilled with air
if I should serve you Nigeria on a plate?”

The use of native terms indigenous to the diverse people of Nigeria equally makes the poem outstanding, revealing the deep Nigerianess of the poet. Opemipo uses about 26 native names of people, places, food, ingredients and drinks to present us “Nigeria on a Plate”. Virtually every part of the country is represented; the West with their efo, elegusi and amala; the East with their akpu (fufu), ofe nsala, mmaya nkwu (palm/ raffia wine); kulikuli, tuwo kinfacha, miyan kuka and dawa from the North; Okoho soup of the Idoma people of the Middle Belt region of Nigeria; afang soup and omu-ebe soup of the Ibibio and Edo people respectively of the South-South region.
“Nigeria on a Plate” could indeed pass for a sort of food directory or map of the people of Nigeria. As a map or directory does, the poem has the ability of guiding a visitor to any of these places on what to expect. He/she could personally ask to be served any of these meals presented in Opemipo’s menu. As for me, I hope to be in Calabar soon, and I can’t wait to ravish the sumptuous afang soup and drink a “calabash of rain water”. What bliss! What sumptuous tale it would be!

Ebubechukwu Bruno Nwagbo

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