Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

4855278325_090702a614_z

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!

***

 

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.]

***********

Image by Tanveer Badal Photography via Flickr.

Tags: , , , ,

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 October 28, 2015 at 4:09 pm #

    I love, love, love Yemisi…

  2. Celestine Chimmumunefenwuanya Victorson October 29, 2015 at 11:28 am #

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

  3. Madina November 1, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

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

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

15 Pieces to Guide Your Understanding of Xenophobia in (South) Africa

xenophobia in south africa - photo by guillerme sartori for agence france press and getty images

Once again, this September, xenophobic violence was unleashed on other Africans, mostly Nigerians, in South Africa: businesses were closed, shops […]

Johary Ravaloson’s Return to the Enchanted Island Is the Second Novel from Madagascar to Be Translated into English

johary ravaloson - winds from elsewhere - graph (1)

In May 2018, we brought news of the first novel by a writer from Madagascar to be translated into English: […]

Sundays at Saint Steven’s | Davina Philomena Kawuma | Poetry

unsplash3

when god runs out of money (how, no one says) once a week, these days, we come to where the […]

Read the First Excerpt from Petina Gappah’s New Novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light

petina gappah - out of darkness, shining light - graph

Petina Gappah‘s new novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light was released on 10 September by Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner. […]

We Need To Talk | Muriel Adhiambo | Fiction

unsplash4

IT WAS A warm, humid night in the lakeside city of Kisumu. Under a starless sky, the women, seated on […]

For World Diabetes Day, Miss BloodSugar Calls for Entries to Competition & Anthology Sponsored by Bella Naija

mbs final edit

Press release: What’s your diabetes story? Are you diabetic? Have you been impacted by the experiences of a family/friend/patient with […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.