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Yemisi Aribisala’s post about pepper…yes pepper!…is a dream. It was the social-media hit of the weekend, and here is why.

Food, as you know, is that happy place where necessity meets pleasure. We eat to live and to titillate our senses.

But like some things in life–sex, for example—the desire for food or the pleasure of eating is not always easy to translate to writing. In fact, in the long history of African literature, there has not been a whole lot of memorable food moments, except in novels like Chris Abani’s Graceland and Calixthe Beyala’s How to Cook Your Husband the African Way .

Maybe that’s why social media has been abuzz with Yemisi Aribisala’s homage to pepper. The essay is titled “For the Love of Peppers,” and in it pepper is this enigmatic condiment that gives life to food. What is pepper? Why does it hold us under its spell? How do we experience various types of peppers differently? These are no easy questions. And her answers are beautiful. But they are also so fleshy, so sensual .

At some point she writes: “Pepper educates the spirit. It intoxicates the sweat glands and the emotions, it sharpens the senses.” Beautiful, right?

The essay is a joy to read. It will make you smile and perk up your spirits.

Aribisala is clearly a woman who thinks about her world deeply and knows how to translate it using the richest language possible.

We hear her book, Longthroat Memoirs, is set for a 2016 release by Cassava Republic.

We can’t wait!

Here is an excerpt. Enjoy!

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The Yoruba have some disdainful words for those who don’t eat pepper, those who can’t eat it, and there is a categorical declaration of where the pepper goes when it is eaten, all the spheres that it touches especially the spirit.

“Emi to o je ata, emi yepere ni.”

The spirit that doesn’t eat pepper is a feeble one.

Pepper educates the spirit. It intoxicates the sweat glands and the emotions, it sharpens the senses.

The disparagement of the pepperless personality extends to the Oyinbo and there is a timeless ditty that every Nigerian child knows and sings. Oyinbo cannot eat pepper, neither can he conceal the fact:

“Oyinbo pepper, if e eatee pepper, e go yellow more more!”

Read her description of Uziza, Nigerian pepper corn.

I have brought my uziza with me. I cannot cook peppersoup without the zing of uziza. There is something about the way that an Uziza peppercorn behaves that makes it irreplaceable with “black peppercorns” The former swells in soup until it is twice its size. It has a hint of ginger, a quick zing of heat. It must be a different genre. More importantly the soil in which peppers grow determine their aroma. Just as cameroonian peppers smell different from Nigerian ones, the uziza is a different personality from some Capetonian peppercorn. The black peppercorn is truculent and doesn’t grow an inch in boiling soup. It just stays at the bottom of the pot and sulks. If you dig in a pot of soup left to cool overnight on the hob, at the bottom you will find swollen Uziza that you can fish out and chew on. For a diminutive peppercorn, it outclasses the blackpepper by more than a continent.

I brought my alligators (ata-re, ose-oji, grains of paradise) with me: I love to see them in the room but it isn’t only about aesthetics. I want my pot of chicken nsala asap and you can’t cook Nsala without alligator peppers. You can’t make a peppery cup of coffee without them. Who doesn’t love a story to accompany the wielding of a condiment? There is the story of the King who wanted a son and placed just one alligator pepper in all the food served to his wives seated around the table. The wife who eats that one grain of paradise becomes pregnant with a son.

[Read more here.]

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Image by Tanveer Badal Photography via Flickr.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

3 Responses to “Why Yemisi Aribisala’s Essay About Pepper Has Everyone Talking” Subscribe

  1. Hannah 2015/10/28 at 16:09 #

    I love, love, love Yemisi…

  2. Celestine Chimmumunefenwuanya Victorson 2015/10/29 at 11:28 #

    Hannah u are everywhere.Kuffor is livid and bestial.he go skin you oh..

  3. Madina 2015/11/01 at 19:37 #

    Savored every word. A great book in that vein: Mets et Merveilles, by Guadeloupean author Maryse Condé.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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