Having become a visitor to the town I grew up in, I decided on my mother’s burial to satiate my culinary longing for bush meat.
And so she died. On Wednesday, July 11, 2018, about 13.30 hours, my mother, Josephine Titi Ugbechie, breathed her last, hours after she was led to Christ by a battery of pastors, three of whom are children from her womb. She was buried on September 21 in a blaze of glory.
In my town, Ubulu-Uku, Delta State, September is not particularly a good time to hold outdoor events especially burials because of rain. This year has been exceptional as earlier predicted by the weatherman. It has been a year of unusual rain and floods across the country. Delta, being a littoral state, got its fair share. But to our surprise, God in His infinite mercy granted us fair weather, first during the Service of Songs on Thursday and during the internment on Friday. As soon as the body was lowered to earth, the rain broke through the fragile heavenly ligament and descended on earth with fury.
But that’s not the story here. The gist is about the culinary dexterity of the average Nigerian. It is about our diversity as a people, as a nation yet closely knit with fine linen strands in our ability to explore the vast cultures of one another.
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My town, as the name suggests, is the biggest among the Ubulu clan. The others are Ubulu-Okiti and Ubulu-Unor, all sharing same ancestry. Ubulu-Uku sits majestically on a hilly topography. Little wonder, it plays host to many towers from radio towers to telecom. Its undulating terrain marks it out for erosion, from sheet to gully. From the hilly grounds floods stalk the lower grounds with menacing swagger, eating up the red earth and making deep craters along their paths. The good fortune, however, is that the floods disappear minutes after the rains.
But flood does not define this beautiful town. Our food does. Yes, Ubulu-Uku is famed for its natural, untainted palm wine and assortment of bush meat. It is home to the very best of wild animals. From the ferocious feline to the daring dear, from the cunning fox to the gregarious grasscutter and even the lazy, languid anteater, the town has got them all. This explains the ubiquity of bush meat pepper soup joints in the sleepy, serene community. Add to this, the folksy disposition of the natives. A typical Ubulu man is friendly, humane and always willing to share. It is a rare kindred spirit that makes them share their risks, liabilities and pains just to lighten the burden on one and all.
Having become a visitor to the town I grew up in, starting and completing primary and secondary education, before joining the horde of hustlers to Lagos, I decided on my mother’s burial to satiate my culinary longing for bush meat. The grasscutter, the king of bush meat, was my prime choice. I arranged a potful of fresh grasscutter pepper soup for my guests. I had also arranged choice sparkling non-alcoholic wines which in my innocent presumption was the best brew to transport the bush meat down the alimentary system. But I was wrong. A colleague and friend, Felix Ofou, had conspired with another friend, Pius Mordi, himself a proud son of Ubulu-Uku to arrange fresh palm wine. Popularly known as Palmmy, palm wine is one of the richest sources of antioxidant (Vitamin C) which, according to science, helps to maintain clear vision. It is rich in Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) which helps to denature cancer-causing agents in the body.
Heavy traces of Vitamin B Complex and iron have been found in palm wine. Add to this list, the presence of potassium in palm wine, making it a buffer against heart-related ailments. Scientists have a long list of health benefits of this magic drink which in its natural state, without saccharine and without fermentation, is friendly to the taste bud and does not intoxicate as should any alcohol. But what scientists have yet to discover is the nexus between bush meat and palm wine, especially Ubulu-Uku bush meat and Ubulu-Uku palm wine. It gets even more satiating if the bush meat is fresh grasscutter pepper soup cooked with carefully and locally sourced spices, the types my dear mother, a great chef of legendary dominion and class in soup-making, used to make thick white soup for the family in the days of yore. My late mother was a great cook. She never needed any exotic seasoning to make you salivate. Her recipe was greatly sought after in the community and she was always willing and ready to offer gastronomic counsel to young maidens and women who desired to win over their husband’s heart with good food. It was only fitting that on her burial, the family should spoil their guests a little with great soups including the much-talked about bush meat pepper soup. And we did. My colleagues at the Nigerian Guild of Editors Exco: Mustapha Isa, Steve Nwosu, Ray Echebiri and Victoria Ibanga, among other guests not forgetting my friend, Reuben Muoka, who led a three-man delegation of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to the burial have not stopped talking about it.
Every gourmet who has ever crossed the path of Ubulu-Uku knows the power of the palm wine and its cousin, bush meat pepper soup. The diversity of the pepper soup is a reflection of the biodiversity of the town and by extension, the nation. Nigeria has so much to offer the world in terms of food. The grasscutter, for instance, is a veritable foreign exchange earner. In contemporary society where people eat smart to stay healthy, the grasscutter is top on the list of white meat (as opposed to red meat) which is considered the best meat in human quest to eat healthy and stay healthy. The grasscutter, now being reared in commercial quantities, is native to tropical Africa particularly West Africa. Because of its low fat, low cholesterol content, it is the preferred meat by dieticians. And it’s not just the grasscutter, Nigeria is home to a vast assortment of bush meat with many facing extinction. Our scientists should find new ways to culture these animals to improve their yield and sustain their regeneration. We need not wait for the white man to come here, take them away and package them as imported meat for us to buy usually at exorbitant price.
All said, my siblings and I gave our mother a befitting burial. For a woman who lived for 83 years, served the church and community with unhinged devotion, and played the role of a caring mother hen over many, nothing was too small. Yet, our greatest joy was that she died in the Lord, painlessly after confessing Jesus as her Lord and saviour.