Immersed in West African ritual: a Brooklyn club samples the cuisine of Senegal to enrich its reading of a Senegalese novelist.
"Reading the book brought back powerful memories," says Harunah, whose ex-husband came from Ghana in West Africa. "I knew this was going to be interesting reading because I could reflect on my past experience of being married to a West African man."
Dressing The Part
Harunah arrived at her book club meeting wearing a headdress and traditional African attire. "I wanted the members to get a sense of the culture through a hands-on approach," says Harunah.
Harunah also presented the group with the outfit her sou wore during his African naming ceremony almost 25 years ago. During this "outdooring" ceremony, Harunah's son was introduced to the world and given the name Ants, which means leader.
"The outfits were beautiful," says dub co-founder Phyllis Ceruti. "Jeannette looked regal in her vibrant, flowing caftan."
Harunah turned to Keur N' Deye, a Senegalese restaurant in Brooklyn, to cater a traditional West African meal of Tiebou Dieun, which is a combination of fish and rice with vegetables, and Yassa Guinaar, a lemon chicken dish with rice and vegetables. The women compared their meal to the one depicted in this passage where mourners gather following Modou Fall's death:
The smell of the 'lakh' [Senegalese food prepared from roughly kneaded millet flour, which is cooked in water and eaten with curds] cooling in the calabashes pervades the air. Also passed around are large bowls of red or white rice, cooked here or in neighboring houses. Iced fruit juices, water and curds are served in plastic cups.
"Food is such an integral part of our book dub experience," says Ceruti. "It was wonderful sampling cuisine from another culture."
To provide information on West African funerals, Harunah wrote a letter to her ex-husband and read this typed response to her impressed group members:
Dear Jeannette: Funerals play such a big part in Ghanaian life because it is our way of paying our last respects to our loved ones. There is a feeling that is considered shameful if you do not give a father, brother, mother or sister a good burial. This is the one occasion where you are supposed to put on a lavish show as a mark of great respect for the deceased. This "extra care" for the dead makes funerals very expensive. There's much more attention given to providing an elaborate funeral than an elaborate wedding. Most ethnic groups make big efforts at funerals, but Ashanti funerals are the most elaborate and expensive.
Ashanti funerals are normally held on Saturdays when most people do not go to work and last for three days. It is a social event where people go to find potential mates. Young ladies go to meet future husbands and vice verso. Mourners adorn themselves in black and red adinkra cloths. Adinkra means "saying good-bye to one another...." The funeral begins with the viewing of the deceased by friends and relatives early in the morning, before sunrise.
As day breaks, drumming, dancing and heavy drinking begins. Mourners begin to stream in with donations to the family of the deceased to defray the cost of the funeral. As each person makes a donation, his or her name is announced. Offerings to the spirits of the ancestors are made; women and young girls perform dances that are live and sometimes erotic in nature. The women also perform the traditional handkerchief dances. The celebration continues through Sunday when the crowd begins to thin out. There are usually smaller crowds at the burials than there are at the viewing."
"Jeannette did a wonderful job of immersing our group in the culture of this book," says Ceruti.
Harunah's reply is simple. "I wanted the group to have a total cultural experience. I wanted to bring this book to life."
The Club: Ebony Book Club Location: Brooklyn, New York
Book Preferences: Serious fiction, literary fiction, classics, biographies, mysteries and social commentary
How Often They Meet: The 3rd Saturday of each month
Last Book Read: So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, Heinemann (reprint edition), $10.96, ISBN 0-435-90555-4
Group Reaction: Extremely favorable
Next Book: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, Vintage Books $5.95, ISBN 0-679-75533-0
How They Choose Books: Club founders choose two books per year: remaining selections are chosen quarterly by group members.
Pat Houser is a contributing editor at BIBK If you'd like to have your book dub mentioned, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||books & clubs|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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