Gizzards symbolize honour in Cameroon-Africa

  A Gizzard according to answer.com is a  modified muscular pouch behind the stomach in the alimentary canal of birds, having a thick lining and often containing ingested grit that aids in the breakdown of seeds before digestion. 

In one of the renowned tribes in Cameroon Nso the debate on the importance of the Gizzard and why it is consumed only by men has been a called for concern not only amongst the indigenes but also some anthropologists like Sally Chilver. This has instigated local researchers like Rev Fr Tatah Humphery Mbuy to challenge his tribesmen and women to come up with concrete reasons why the Gizzards hold too much weight than the liver. It should be worth nothing the two words when used in its local language “Lamnso” gives more meaning to them than in English.

According to Fr TatahThe  "Gizzard" or "Saiy" in lamnso', technically  referred to as the ventriculus, gastric mill, and gigerium, is an organ found in the digestive tract of some animals, including birds, reptiles, and some fish. This specialized stomach constructed of thick, muscular walls is used for grinding up food; often rocks are also instrumental in this process.
                                                         Chicken Gizzards

In most of the Bamenda Grassland and in fact, over all of Cameroon, the gizzard is the reserve of the most elderly and titled holders of the land. Women are not allowed to eat it. If you walk into a supermarket in any European city, you can buy the stuff in a container! But the Nso' people will argue that those are not real gizzards because "whiteman fowl is an artificial product". So the real gizzard belongs to the "country fowl" referring to the Organic chicken.

Another example of the importance of the gizzard is shared by an encounter with a European priest who was so fascinated by the culture so much so that he was always looking forward to the Gizzard when chicken was prepared. Here is an encounter with his cook as he came home one day from his missionary journey and met a delicious Chicken meal at table. He was so happy to start eating but after opening the dish and not seeing the gizzard, he called in his cook, and asked "Valentine. which part the fowl did you serve?" He searched into the pan again and said that the fowl was missing. The priest took time to explain to the cook that what makes the fowl is the absent part, that small thing. He further told him never to eat that part again because that could cost him his job.
A week later, the cook  prepared a chicken meal according to the house menu. When the priest opened the dish at table, to his amazement, he saw only the gizzard and nothing else. He called in the cook again and asked for the fowl to which the cook answered, "I ate the other parts since you told me that only the Gizzard made the chicken". Was the cook wrong?

Why the gizzard (Saiy) and not the liver( baiy) or the heart (tim)? What is so peculiar about the gizzard?
 

To avoid anyone going over familiar territory, In the Nso culture, it is known that the chicken is/was a sacrificial animal and women did not eat it until recently. But why the importance given to this "sand sack"? And many quarrels and fights (some mortal) have taken place over ownership of the gizzard.  Why the fuss over the gizzard, not the heart of the chicken?

                                                                         Chicken  Heart or Liver

Bongyong Fanso' a native of Nso Living in the UK  offered some kind of explanation that possibly since the gizzard tastes different from every other part of the chicken, the men wanted to have an exclusive right over this part of the bird. Dr. Edwin Lukong another native of Nso also  backed Bongyong's hypothesis and added that since the fowl was a bird for "ntangri" (sacrifice), and women were not active participants, they were even excluded from eating chicken. In fact, it is only in the recent past that women were allowed to eat the bird. In very traditional settings, even today, the elderly women of the compound, will refuse to eat fowl meat.


Fried Gizzards

  Sally Chilver gives a more thorough explanation to the treatment of the chicken gizzard: According to her, across the Cameroon Grassfields and beyond, it is taboo for a woman to eat a gizzard. In ordinary parlance it is a 'male thing' and, hence, it symbolizes honour. So when a woman slaughters a chicken, if the husband does not see the gizzard in his dish, he will reject the meal. The man can even beat his wife without sanction from society. If a woman is single, a widow or separated, she is supposed to give the gizzard to a man irrespective of the latter's age. But he must be a close relative or somebody she admires and respects. One of the beliefs which surround this practice is that any woman who eats a gizzard may lose her fertility. Men still uphold this cultural prohibition, even in the towns. 

 
Grassfield chief and sally Chilver.

Women often complained about this practice. One described it as 'an old-fashioned practice meant to subordinate us'. Men always replied that 'we cannot break the tradition'. On one occasion at a meeting of a rotating credit association in Yaoundé one of the women present retorted 'nowadays there are even packs of frozen gizzards in the supermarkets. If I bought some and prepared them for myself, how will my husband know what had been going on in the kitchen, since it is women who do the cooking of the family meals?' All the other women burst into laughter and applauded her for this remark, but all the men (including this author) turned to look at each other with expressions of utter surprise and disgust at her boldness on their faces. The fact of the matter is that she had made a pertinent point which challenged this aspect of the patriarchal system.


 It is therefore amazing to see how something considered to be of less important in one culture could have a great impact on another. 
By Shey Tatah (Wo Scandy)

15 comments:

  1. more on Gizzards and male status in The grassfields region is found on http://lucy.ukc.ac.uk/Chilver/Paideuma/paideuma-Gizzard.html
    Thanks to Fr Mbuy Tatah

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  2. As people need to sign up with a google account, i have the pleasure to share some of their comments from Facebook here:
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    Nardine Tah skrev en kommentar til dit link.

    Nardine skrev: From UK
    "That article appear to be biased.It is ridiculous as mentioned above that even in today's tradition the elderly woman will refuse to eat fowl meat in the so call name of tradition. According to the bible in 1 Corinthians 11:3 Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
    Right, the man being the head of the woman suggests that he has to sacrifice everything with love, including the so called gizzard to the woman even as Christ(who is head of every man) sacrificed himself on the cross. Yes, as a man you are being respected by a woman because of the responsibilities that you carry for the good of the household.In simple terms, women have to respect their men because it is the right thing to do, not the other way round i.e. taking away privileges.

    Men performing such acts, don't love their wives , they treat them as commodities. There is a greater need of sensitization regarding this torture of women that has been existing for ages. For this to produce an immense effect, men will have to stop this act by doing the sensitization themselves.
    Any man that feels he is actually a loving man,give the gizzard to your wife with love and explain that it OK to eat it. Men love your wives and the women will respect you more. Respect doesn't come from inhuman treatment, selfishness, pride, ego or enjoying immunities to the disadvantages of the women."

    its quite good for u ppl its gizzard for my hubby is chicken ass lol.
    The same story too women were not allowed to eat fowl but due to their own selfish ways even eggs were forbidden. Elizabeth Wanjiru from Sweden

    good piece of work
    sand from the gizzard is also used by traditional healers to do evil..inject illness into people: Emmanuel verdzeka from cameroon

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    Coral Theberge from USA
    Tradition can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, it can keep a group of people together so they don't lose their cultural identity. But tradition can also be used to keep people from having equal rights. "Whites only" drinking fountions, sc...hools that don't permit girls, country clubs with "No Jews allowed" etc. often use the excuse of "tradition" to keep out those they don't want. Why can't there be traditions that are inclusive and respectful for all people? As far as who can or cannot eat gizzards, I don't have an opinion because I don't like guts. I do like how some women are doing what they want to do!"Whites only" drinking fountions, sc...hools that don't permit girls, country clubs with "No Jews allowed" etc. often use the excuse of "tradition" to keep out those they don't want. Why can't there be traditions that are inclusive and respectful for all people? As far as who can or cannot eat gizzards, I don't have an opinion because I don't like guts. I do like how some women are doing what they want to do!
    for 28 timer siden ·
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  3. Soh Roland from Nigeria
    U have spoken well. Remember it started from creation,man and woman,black and white. "men are born equal but some are more equal than other" what a unique culture we have.
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    Kila Ngambong This is amizing. Its reminds me of my culture, tradition and the authority men in our society (Nso) had in the past and now. The best culture ever.I suggest that this article be publishe on Time and and local News paper.
    for 24 timer siden • Synes godt omFjern tilkendegivelse af, at du synes godt om dette
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    Fonyuy Brenda
    Can we say that our fore fathers' who made dis a custom[tat is 4 a woman not to eat gizzard]did proper anotomy study?can then say that their study made them to conclude that it's an abomination for a woman to eat something that looks more or less like a part of their body which men can't do without?men just like all the juicy things.
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    Kerla Ethel from Douala
    I really cannot understand why our forefathers felt that woment were not entitled to share the gizzards with them. If I could forward two hypothesis, I'd say it was
    1) Because that particular part was different in the chicken and therefore ...considered special, so they felt their women were to low to eat something special.
    2) Otherwise, they were rather embarassed to have a woman handle such a part which might lead them to have images of a woman fondling their own balls. Being men, it was an image they couldn't publicly admit to, but which they enjoyed inprivate, so they tried to mystify something so small.

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  4. Madlen Marquardt From Germany 18. oktober kl. 15:57 Anmeld
    pls dont be angry ok but that is my mind about all that what i have read.
    and it is not an insuld ok. i was born in a farm, i grow on a farm, my grandmother and grandfather has a farm, and i learn it also to cut a chicken and to remove all thinks clean and many other things.
    but what i see first is always the same the Woman is always under the Men, well you guys have never learn in School even biologie, womans have more brain, think more things in the same minute as a men!!!!!!!!!
    And in africa is it general like that, i´m very sorry, for all womans, and thanks god i stay in europe where woman can also be the president like Angela Merkel, take it as an example to africa or cameroon that the mens can see it well.
    So now about the chicken, nice topic, the heart and the gizzard the two of them a muscle like also in a human body the heart is also a muscle then, when the person who bring that traditional has a little bit since then normal he have to know that the heart have more more vitamin and protein as the gizzard, funny very intelligant men who bring that tradtion lololololololololol
    in real the two of them have in real no diffrent only the heart have a little bit more vitamin and more protein.
    Then how the african people can talk that the whitemen have only chemical chicken what is that that don´t know the cheap one they buy is also a normal chicken only that they get cheap food and little bit chemical?????- the BIO chicken (that is the name we take in german when is no chemical is the same like african!!!!!!!
    One day come i make it for you but sorry the gizzard i eat lolololololol
    I told my Family hat story
    sorry i want to tell you what they said ok
    and really sorry
    This african people take a little bit of to much sun that the brain can not work well!!!!!
    and sorry my dear its true, i was not knowing that tradtion like that is in africa, i think the people forget that we stay in the year 2010 and not 10 before jesus came, that is the same story with moslem people some guy came and talk that he know what is inside the koran but in real he can not read like the other people, so they make them history alone, africans.

    Is not an insuld pls do not missunderstand it but such things i will never accept or understand cos i look always the side what i have learn at what is true, what professor´s and teacher test and wrote it on a book that all people who can read learn it!!!!!

    for 55 minutter siden •

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  5. From Feh Victor: Ishøj

    Hi Shey,
    The article is amazing and worth reading as it explains vividly a symbol that is highly respected. Wish you the best in the publication. Just to say the heading is too universal as the body is too particular. Difficult to change the head but will suggest that you narrow the heading to suit the body.
    Kind regards
    Feh

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  6. Well this is a common practice in my country too. The western part of Kenya do the same only that this time both the gizzard and the chickens ass is normally left for the head of the house or for a very very important guest. The rest is eaten by the kids, women too were forbidden to fowl although they now know it was just men being selfish. How can the women prepare the chicken and not even taste it?

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  7. From Sunjo Lenny Cameroon -Douala
    growing up i always learnt gizzard as culture demanded were meant for the men such that when our parents hosted meetings ordawise known as ngwa in lamnso the men demanded to see the gizzards failure to produce was tantamount to the dish being rejected.to me i found that to be a myth because my dad often gave me his p...iece but as u ll know that was hiddenly.anyways it is archaic for tradition to prohibit women from consuming gizzards for i see we all been made up of the same substance and also considering that nothing changes in our structures even when women consume it.instead of giving it that sacred image i ll like to propose that if we give the men that honor it should be out of respect and not dominion

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    From Soh Roland Nigeria
    Gizard oh. It is a superticious belief that. It should be eaten by men only- it gives energy to men perform well sexually. That it is a taboo for a woman to eat what is seen as the secret to men,s source of strength on bed. These are hypothesis yet to have scientific back ups. What ever the case men in this case are selfish in a way.

    From Hortance Manjo Yaounde cameroon
    As a child growing up, the gizzard was dad's; i used to wonder.
    But was told its for men.
    When i grew up and could afford a whole chicken, i had lost interest in the gizzard.
    It truly taste different from all other parts but personally, I wou...ld not choose a gizzard over another chicken part.
    It is a sign of respect for men; when you serve a man with the gizzard
    he feels honoured, why shouldn't we give them that satisfaction, it costs next to nothing.
    That does not mean if a woman should not eat it, a woman should if she wants.
    At the same time, I am sure if any woman knows that, giving her man or dad the gizzard will make them feel honoured she would; but its not an obligation.

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  9. Emmanuel Verdzeka Cameroon
    Even as i believe that reserving the gizzard for men alone is biased to women...such a practice is simple playing delay tactics and may sooner or later be history. Then, will there be celebration within the womenfolk or among crusaders of w omen's emancipation? Not quite.....certainly not even for women, who will like to accept and uphold the values of their own culture. Of course most men do 'Crack' the head of Johnny two. Tell me, which woman will like to do same? Nothing is hidden in the gizzard.....buy ur chicken, prepare it and eat the gizzard. Nobody will pull it ur throat and nothing is gonna happen to you

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  10. By Professor Verkijika Fanso
    I also found out,that the gizzard issue is linked to the "ntangri" ritual that is performed by the men. But it is not exclusively a patriarchal matter. Even in matriarchal societies, the gizzard is still eaten by men. It should also be noted that women who have reached their menopause can eat the gizzard in some Bamenda Grassfields societies.

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  11. By Shey Emmanuel Berinyuy (Wo Landen)
    The article about the gizzard is as pertinent as the culture which promotes this concept.

    I think, going beyond the social assumptions linked to the gizzard and its role in the Nso culture, we can also equally make some anthropological analysis of it.

    The heirarchical political structure of the Nso Fondom, just like in many other places in Africa, Latin America and some pacific Islands, bestow more powers to men than women. This however does not minimise the position and role of the women or meant to consciously place them in any inferior category in these very power structures, as the western optique may deem it.

    Power in many societies is used as an instrument of control. Power within and between groups is socially and historically constructed, supported and maintained to advance the position of some members over the of others.

    Equally sign and symbolism in the African context, are both very intricate aspects in denoting power. Some of these power dynamics could be derived or influenced by certain factors ranging from environmental as well as cosmological. Certain edible and none edible factors equally play a certain role which can, depending on how we look at it arouse the “why” questions . The gizzard of the chicken happens to be one of these “sacred” edible things that denote power.

    Why the notion of power in this case?: In ancient Nso tradition, only the cock(masculinity) could be used for most sacrifices. These sacrifices themselves were performed by cult members led by the shamans or head of the cults; very powerful men who were considered to have the strength and courage to face, invoke and appease the spirits in times of need. Masculinity in this case was tied or equated to courage, the forceful sun, thunder, night etc. etc and only men could face theses as compared to the women who appositionally are considered feminine, tender, timid, soft, day, moon, rain, earth) etc etc. (there are more cosmological or environmental oppositions which refer to man and women in Nso)

    After these sacrifices were made, the flesh of the slaughtered cock would be roasted or cooked and eaten by the male members of the cult. The gizzard, being one of the “strongest” tissues of the chicken capable of digesting even “stones” and other hard cereals, was given or eaten by the “head” of the shamans or eldest in the group of men in the cult as portrayal of his powers. One who was capable of crushing the evil that befalls the society. This also dialogically implied that not all men in the cult could eat the gizzard at the same time because of the “internal” hierarchy (power) within the same cult.

    Some of these processes gained widespread influence in many households where eating chicken, in the first place was luxury(also good to note that chicken was not an early domesticated bird in the early history of Nso) The idea of early domestication started presumably at about 13-15century AD (personal assumption). The scarcity of chicken created an unprecedented value such that the mere fact of eating chicken was considered luxury. Then, eating the “saaiy”(gizzard) was indicative of extra command, force and dominance in a family or societal setting.

    However nowadays, a chunky part of these practices have been greatly challenged by modern values, economy and social (power) competition and internal power struggles within the cults and in within households(most between the men, women, and sometimes eldest sons.)

    Hence, this cultural aspect should be looked at from the angle of assigning cultural meaning to behaviors, customs and the environment. In this case the cultural context practiced should not be overridden by or juxtaposed with western egalitarian, rights or democratic norms as we see.

    That is my personal opinion

    Shey Emmanuel Berinyuy(Wo Landen)

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  12. Gizzards could well be a great research topic for a social anthropologist, ethnographist, .....I had the pleasure to host a Haitian friend to whom I served turkey just after Christmas. After thanking and settling to eat, he asked for the gizzard .....? gizzard? what for? then he goes, a chicken without a gizzard isn't complete. Hmm, I said, so you maintained that culture over four hundred years having left west Africa? Waow it is really true that we are cousins, I told him.
    I started telling myself that the gizzard can be a life wire to work back and forth and link a lot of cultures and gain a deeper understanding of these cultures.

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  13. We are Africans and do not share the same culture and values with the West. The Tradition that forbids women from eating gizzards didn't forbid them from eating other bigger part of chicken.

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  14. The photograph is from the early 1960s and depicts H.H. the Fon of Bum, John Yai together with Sally Chilver.
    Sally Chilver does not really explain the significance of the gizzard rather she describes it in terms of its importance so that it is reserved for important people. This is a circular argument.
    I have little more to offer other than to point out that while people and fowl all have hearts, intestines, livers, etc only the fowl has a gizzard. This makes the gizzard special.
    I would also hazard a guess that in the past the contents of the gizzard may have been used for divination.
    Ian Fowler

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