Friday, 11 December 2009


Last Saturday I went for my colleague’s wedding. I am still trying to make the best of my Luganda by speaking it as much as I can. On our way back from the weddo, I wanted to say how good I thought it was, so I asked my other colleagues for the Luganda word for ‘wedding’. Somebody said ‘Embaga’, which could also translate into ‘Party’. Thought that was cool. Didn’t realize there is no difference between’ wedding’ and ‘marriage’ in Kikuyu (uhiki), though older people refer to it as 'home'. Not home as in house, but home as in family e.g. the home of PKW’s parents is nice/difficult. I take that to mean marriage is all inclusive, not just between 2 people. Not so cool. The Kikuyu word for a (married) woman is Mutumia. Directly translated, it means ‘the one who shuts up’. A (married) man is called a Muthuuri, from the verb guthuura (to choose). I once thought that was cool because it meant the man had chosen the woman. But I can’t tell you how many weddings I have attended in the village and hear this advice: Muthuuri etagwo muthuuri ni guthurania maundu, nake mutumia etwagwo mutumia ni gutumiria maundu (Loosely: a man is called a man because he chooses between different things, and woman is so called because she shuts things up within herself when issues arise). Not cool at all.

Oh, there is one more phenomenon as far as weddings go over here. People have what is called a kiwani wedding. A fake wedding. As, in ome people do actually fake weddings when they want to raise money, not get married. Look what happened to Straka, a local TV presenter.

On the other hand, marriage is called Obufumbo in Luganda. Directly translated to English by me, that comes to something like ‘the cookery’, or ‘the place of cooking’. I’ll stick with the first since the names of most places or to be more specific, regions, start with Bu e.g. Buganda for the Baganda people, Busoga, Bunyoro, Bukonzo and (as learnt on Tuesday) Buddu,etc. A Buddu post might see the light of day someday.

The verb that Obufumbo comes from is okufumba ; to cook. Small wonder there is such variety when it comes to food over here. On a regular day, for lunch, I have the following choices: matooke, posho/kaunga (ugali), ebinjanjaro (beans), binyebwa (groundnut paste), mucheele (rice), olumonde (ngwaci), Irish potatoes, kyenyanja (fish), kaawo (I probably made that up-cow peas), enyama y’e mbuzi/nte/enkoko (goat/cow/chicken meat), juni (arrow root), nsuju (pumpkin), muwogo (cassava) and assorted greens and fruits. Depending on the area, that costs between UGX 2500 (Ksh 100-USD 1.5) and UGX 8,500. A lot of the time I pack my lunch.
Did I mention earlier that chips and chicken is not food, but a snack? Try walking into a restaurant one fine Sunday afternoon and ordering what’s on the menu. Chances are you’ll be told “we don’t cook food on Sundays, we have snacks only”. On further inquiry, you realize the said snacks are chips and chicken. I think that’s food enough for a regular Nairobian to eat Monday to Friday. And you wonder why the Kenyan man goes on and on about the beauty of the Ugandan woman. One told me that beauty is a package.

Onto okufumba. You may know that matooke is the staple food in Uganda, which probably explains why they are the only net exporter of maize in the region. Maize is not even grown with much zeal. Making matooke is not as straightforward as I thought: peeling bananas, putting them into water, bringing to a boil and mashing with a cooking stick once soft. No, that would make the matooke whitish, and it would also harden when you get it off the fire. Instead you do it as follows:
1) Peel the bananas, leaving them whole
2) Look for a piece of banana stem, cut it into pieces small enough to fit into a sauce pan (if a town dweller, you won’t get access to banana stems, but are likely to buy a bunch of matooke. Use the middle part, where the bananas get attached)
3) Pour water into the sauce pan
4) Put two large pieces of banana fibre (if in town, buy) onto the banana stems, making a cross.
5) Put banana leaves(have to buy if town dweller) onto the banana fibre
6) Carefully arrange the peeled bananas into the banana leaves, making them into a round shape
7) Steam for the appropriate time (~45 minutes). If you need more water, make space between the sauce pan and the banana fibre and pour it, using a cooking stick to ensure it does not come into direct contact with the bananas.
8) When cooked, knead with your bare hands.
9) Once ready, serve (along with rice/muwogo, juni etc) with groundnut paste, and/or meat beans, fish etc greens. Kneel when serving your husband.

I thought you may need to be leaving work at 3pm if you have to cook matooke like that everyday. Some people make Ugali in a similar manner, taking up a couple hours to make it properly. Apparently, if you have a big sauce pan, you could make all the different dishes in separate bundles of banana leaf wrappings and bring them all out at the same time.I mean, matooke, meat/fish, rice etc in one sufuria without mixing them. Meat made in banana leaves is called Luwoombo. It’s an art, I tell you. How does a Kenyan mama compete in such a market when your expertise is making ugali in 15-30 minutes and pushing the week? Doesn’t that also make it unviable to commercially produce matooke flour? At least for the Ugandans, it does. Kisiis, the Kenyan matooke experts, would probably buy it.


Mrembo said...

lol at this post.. chips being a snack is soo true. Used to irritate me when, having gotten home with Dad he would ask for "food" even after we had eaten chips and chicken, I would be like.. "ala... si we have just eaten".

Took me time to learn the difference between food and snacks.. Ugandan style.

As for Ugali, imagine in my father's house, all the years I lived there, we never ever once cooked Ugali and served it for dinner.

PKW said...

Mrembo: "ala, si we have just eaten?" To think that would be my fate if I ended up with a Ugandan man! Someone told me they hate Ugali juu they ate enough of it in school. And ati the other place you'll commonly find is prisons, so they associate it with punishment. Only in Uganda. I know people in Kenya who won't have eaten if they haven't eaten Ugali.

In Kenya, that phrase 'Food Security' is synonymous with the availability of Maize (and beans, for us us people from 'Bukikuyu'- you've definitely heard of githeri).

Cee said...

PKW, I haven't laughed that much in such a long time....woooiiii...Nakwambia Kenyan mamaz have no chance with such compe...ati how to prepare matooke, ur last tip, kneel while serving Aki sio kwa ubaya but man, I hate kneeling not unless niko church...
Haya mambo ya chips not being food??? Niko na same view na Mrembo....hahahaha...
U've made my

Bomseh said...

I must see this uganda for myself. These stories are too much for me.

Anonymous said...

A fair account, I'd say, but less than accurate, as the description of the preparation missed the all-important 'ebyaayi' (banana fibre) used to securely tie the peeled matooke into the banana leaves in a neat pack before cooking. Also, in another blog I will tell you some of the weird rituals attached to the preparation of matooke.

My mother, originally from Nyeri, married my Muganda father in 1952, aged 19. They moved to Uganda in 1963 and my father died in 1993. Mum, now 77, occasionally visits her family in Kenya (where she is called 'Mama Mganda' by neighbours) but, having taken to the Kiganda culture like a fish to water, never once consdered returning to the land of her ancestors to live there. When we were growing up, she personally taught us the intricacies of preparing and serving matooke as eloquently described by Proud Kikuyu Woman, having mustered all the customs and rituals to a T herself.

On occasion, she would make us ugali or chapati with skuma wiiki - which we considered a rare treat. However, Irio and Githeri were only available when we visited our grandparents in Nanyuki. I feel so blessed to have been the product of these two great cultures - ie Ganda and Gikuyu, though I never consciously think of myself as anything but a humble, kneel-before-husband, Muganda lady. Thank you Proud Kikuyu Woman for reminding me of this.

PKW said...

Naye, why did you comment as anonymous? Link to your blog?