Food in Daily Life. The sharing of cooked food is one of the major ways to cement social relationships and express the high value placed on human company. Sharing food and drink demonstrates hospitality and trust. Social support networks among kin and friends, particularly between country folk and their urban relatives, are held together symbolically with gifts of cooked and uncooked
An initiation ritual of a Bwiti cult in Cameroon. The ritual involves the use of the psychotropic drug iboga, and represents a journey to the land of the dead.
food. Sacks of beans, maize, or peanuts “from home” can be seen on the roofs of bush taxis traveling between the countryside and urban centers.
Meals consist of a cooked cereal or root staple accompanied by a sauce or stew. In the southern areas, the major staples are root crops such as cassava and cocoyams, and plantains; in the moist savanna and Grassfields, maize and plantains; and in the arid north, sorghum and millet. Rice and pasta have become popular. Staples may be boiled, pounded, or fried; most commonly they are made into a thick porridge shaped into oblong balls. Sauces usually have a base of palm oil and ground peanuts. Vegetables such as greens, okra, and squashes are common. Hot peppers, onions, ginger, and tomatoes are popular condiments. Dried or fresh fish or meat may be included in the sauce. Uncooked fruits such as bananas, mangoes, papayas, oranges, and avocados are popular snacks and desserts; they are not considered part of meals.
In many regions, men and guests eat before women and children. Hand washing is part of the etiquette of meals. Whether from a separate dish or a common pot, a small ball of porridge is formed by three fingers of the right hand and then dipped in sauce. Westernization has led families to eat together around a common table, using separate place settings and cutlery.
Food taboos vary by ethnic group. The Bassa of the Littoral province serve a gourmet dish of viper steaks in black sauce, but only the oldest males among the Ewondo (Beti) of the Center province may eat viper. Totems of specific clans, healers, or royal dynasties are taboo to certain members of some ethnic groups.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. At the visit of an honored guest, a wedding, or a funeral, a chicken, goat, sheep, or steer is served to guests. Special drinks, such as palm wine and millet beer as well as bottled carbonated drinks, beer, and wine are served at these occasions. Among the Bamiléké, as part of coronation festivities, the newly installed paramount chief ceremoniously serves each subject a handful of beans mixed with palm oil to symbolize the chief’s ability to ensure food and fertility in his realm.