Printer Friendly

Immersed in West African ritual: a Brooklyn club samples the cuisine of Senegal to enrich its reading of a Senegalese novelist.

Dear Aissatou: I have received your letter. By way of reply, I am beginning this diary, my prop in my distress. After reading these opening lines translated from its original French from Mariama Ba's poignant Senegalese novel So Long A later (Heinemann, June 1989), Jeannette Harunah felt an emotional connection. A selection of her monthly reading group, the Ebony Book Club, the novel is in the form of correspondence between Senegalese school-teacher Ramatoulaye and her old friend Aissatou written during the mourning period following the death of Ramatoulaye's husband, Modou Fall.

"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
COPYRIGHT 2004 Cox, Matthews & Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:books & clubs
Author:Houser, Pat
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Previous Article:Facing up to HIV/AIDS: authors lift the veil on complex issues surrounding pandemic in Africa and black America.
Next Article:Twice the magic: how two novelists write as one--from dreaming the creative vision to sitting shoulder to shoulder in front of the keyboard.

Related Articles
Reading for support: a sister circle turns to book discussions as both an anchor and to uplift one another.
Model readers: a 37-year-old book club establishes a community platform for literacy and longevity.
Readers & writers, ink: contributors to an anthology create an alliance.
The mother of all black Book Clubs: after 13 years, Go on Girl! has become a national presence with more than 300 members in 12 states.
Kenyan women reject 'sex cleanser'.
Don't tell anyone it's fun: Georgia children discover the joy of reading and building thinking skills.
Have books, will travel: events that bring authors and readers together are a new front in the evolution of the black book market.
E-clubs: an update on online book clubs that unite eager readers and authors.
The flex plan: clubs for those who don't have time for clubs.
Sisterfriends' first decade: a North New Jersey reading club shares literature and lots of love.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters