Feasts seem to be as cross-cultural as the human need to eat. The people, entrees, and purposes for celebration vary from country to country, or even family to family, but there are two similarities that I have found between an American Thanksgiving and a Ghanaian farewell dinner. Eat more than you thought possible, and do it in the company of people you have grown to love.
A feast, or serving a meal for someone you care about, is a common event in Wiamoase, Ghana. The meals are typically just one entrée (some kind of a starch with a spicy red sauce or soup), but the celebrations range from having new guests, opening the world cup, celebrating a birth, a wedding, the end of school, a holiday, to saying goodbye a bunch of obruni’s headed back to America.
To me, the most important feast I attended was our groundnut soup farewell dinner with Boakye, the first counselor of the Latter-day Saint branch we attended in Asamong. Some of our group members arrived early, but being guests they were not allowed to help prepare the food. We were allowed to purchase the chicken, the most expensive part of the meal that is never supposed to go wasted, and that was the only way we could contribute.
As soon as the Branch President showed up in his highlighter yellow t-shirt and offered a blessing in broken English (with a striking resemblance to the sacrament meeting prayer), we were able to eat. Two mortar bowls were situated on the outdoor table between the eight of us. To eat, we used our right hands to form bowls with our pinkies, cupping the soup and bringing it to our mouths. I have not yet mastered the etiquette of not dripping soup all over your foot, but with communal eating you are bound to have some causalities. It was the best, or “sweetest” as they would say, groundnut soup and fufu I had the whole summer. Fufu, a dough made out of mashed plantain and cassava, is the signature traditional meal in Ghana. It is also one of the most unique starches as well. You do not chew fufu. You just swallow it.
I thought it was interesting that Boakye’s wife and children did not eat with us at the table, even though they prepared and cleaned it up. That is the traditional way meals are eaten here though. It is just different than what we are used to.
After the meal we sat in a circle and conversed about some of the plants surrounding us. I could not help but admire the mud and stick hut to my right. There was such a strong feeling of home at this place. Children running around, the family together, etc. Thirteen newborn baby ducklings were meandering through our feet, completely unafraid and untouched by a civilized world where we must live in separate spheres. Boakye’s wife brought us out a stick of sugar cane that was cut into pieces for each of us to chew on. That is some kind of desert if you ask me.
The sun was setting into that hour when the air is golden, the shadows are long, and everything is gilded in a yellow halo. It was one of the best feelings I had my entire stay in Ghana, and I was sorry to say goodbye.
(Field Notes 38.16, 86.8-13)