More Jollof in Literature: Purple Hibiscus

I’ve always said it – food is more than eating. It is a good lens, canvas for exploration of human behaviour and shared experience.

I also like how diverse the perspectives and memories are. What do we remember about books that have touched us in some way. When I shared Jollof in Literature, I got lots of comments back on Twitter – people sharing books that also had specific Jollof experiences.

From Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – which I’ve read but couldn’t recall the Jollof references to…

To references in novels from the 60s and 80s; and

The Potter’s Wheel by Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike which I have’t read ‘where Obuechina & his fellow househelps try to steal from the pot of jollof [sic] rice’

I’d really like to thank Tobi for sharing her memorable Jollof moments from Purple Hibiscus

In Purple Hibiscus, Jollof Rice is a constant and it seems to travel and coexist with every important and life changing moment. In both the good and bad times, Jollof Rice is present. This is similar to the existence of Jollof Rice in Nigerian Society. Jollof is eaten at birthdays, naming ceremonies, burials, graduations and other occasions, unlike other meals that may be deemed or labelled happy or sad, Jollof seems to coexist in all spaces and at all times – there is never a bad time to eat Jollof.  

Jollof Rice as a sign of thoughtfulness

In the first appearance of “Jollof Rice” in Purple Hibiscus, Mama or Sister Beatrice serves it to the women from church. Here, “Jollof Rice” serves one of its most prominent and common purposes – to entertain. The playful resistance and mock rejection of the meal shows the benevolence of Mama and the thought associated with the preparation of the meal. A certain amount of thoughtfulness goes into the preparation. In a sense, to cook Jollof is to show care.

“When Sisi started to bring in the platters of moi-moi and Jollof rice and fried chicken, the women would gently chastise Mama. “Sister Beatrice, what is it? Why have you done this? Are we not content with the anara we are offered in other sisters’ homes? You shouldn’t have, really.”

 Jollof Rice mimicking normalcy

Mama reluctantly agrees to see Father Benedict after Papa shows disregard for her feelings. Moments after this meal, Mama loses her baby. One would expect the family to have eaten a simpler or less complicated meal because of the events of the day but keeping with the overarching appearance of Jollof as a norm and staple, the meal is eaten, albeit in silence.

“Lunch was Jollof rice, fist-size chunks of azu fried until the bones were crisp, and ngwo-ngwo.”

 Jollof Rice, Christmas and Family

No event is complete without Jollof Rice and of course Christmas lunch with the family is not complete without Jollof Rice. Again, there is a certain uneasiness in the room. The tension between Kambili and Amaka, Eugene and Ifeoma are all made apparent while the family eats together. Amaka’s pilling of various kinds of food on the plate is reminiscent of the buffet culture at Nigerian parties when people pile up various types of food as if tomorrow will never come. 

 Amaka piled almost everything on her dish— Jollof rice, fufu and two different soups, fried chicken and beef, salad and cream— like someone who would not have an opportunity to eat again soon. 

 Jollof Rice does not have social class – it is above/ beyond class

Its neither a meal of the elite or the poor. Aunty Ifeoma’s social status does not prevent her from cooking a meal of Jollof rice for her nephew and niece. Even though the house is overtaken by the smell or kerosene. Jollof Rice symbolizes care and thoughtfulness and must be used as a welcome meal despite poverty.

 “Let me see if my Jollof rice is burning!” Aunty Ifeoma dashed into the kitchen. 

 Although Jollof rice is classless, the accompaniments of Jollof rice can be a marker of social status. In contrast to the moi moi, and fist- size chunks of azu [fish] in Kambili’s home, aunty Ifeoma’s financial status only allows for miserly pieces of meat. But Jollof is Jollof right?

I looked down at the Jollof rice, fried plantains, and half of a drumstick on my plate and tried to concentrate, tried to get the food down.

Even Prison cannot stop Jollof Rice

Here, Jaja is in prison, Papa is dead and the family is thrown in disarray. Yet, Mama brings Jollof Rice. Here Jollof Rice represents normalcy and is a reminder of home and family. It also serves as a celebratory meal as Jaja receives the good news of his forthcoming release.

“Did we bring the knives?” Mama asks. Her voice is loud. She is setting out the cylindrical food flask full of jollof rice and chicken. She places a pretty china plate down, as if she were setting a fancy table, the kind Sisi used to set.

Thank you, Tobi. I loved reading the different context Jollof appears in, in Purple Hibiscus. My only gripe is how they spell Jollof, with a small j. Aaaargh but I fixed it :).

People, I hope with these few points of ours, we’ve been able to convince you of the essentialness of Jollof rice to Nigerian life and living. The end.

It is beautiful how present Jollof rice is, how its absence spells a kind of loss, something missing. We love you, J!

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