Food is central to many cultures and we Yorubas are no exception. From having our family meals at home, to eating out at parties, food is something we like to enjoy with others. And as a caring and polite people, it is customary in Yoruba land to invite others to eat with you whenever you are eating in front of someone who is not. The person without food could be a complete stranger but you will still ask them to come eat. You will say “E wa jeun.” (“Come and eat”). That person may actually start eating your food with you if they do care to join you and this is not considered rude at all but rather a joy to the ‘host’, or they could decline the offer by saying “A gba bi re.” (“May it go down well.”)
I was brought up on this culture and looking around me nowadays, I wonder if this practice is still ‘alive and well’ or dying a slow painful death. You see, I believe that our ancestors had good intentions with this gesture in Yoruba Land. Showing good hospitality towards our visitors and also (especially) strangers is a Yoruba man/woman’s hallmark.
I moved to the UK nearly 7 years ago. At first, I would invite my colleagues at work to join me when I ate my lunch but quickly noticed that it was lost on the Brits (i.e. they did not appreciate nor understand why I said so). However, my colleagues from other African countries understood (must be an African thing maybe?) and they even invited me to join them when they were eating their lunch. So now, I only say “Come and eat/E wa jeun” to fellow Africans/Nigerians and don’t even bother my head with core British people.
Interestingly, the Chinese have a casual greeting between friends and neighbours which translates in English as “Have you eaten yet?” and is used as casually as we say “how are you?” Supposedly then, this caring side to our culture is shared by the Asians.
Professor Sophie Oluwole once said that “There is no culture that is absolutely good, neither is there a culture that is absolutely bad. We must search our culture and cling to what is good therein while doing away with what is not, in order to bring about progress in the community” In this increasingly ‘westernised’ world which we live in, I sincerely hope that those excellent virtues of Yoruba life is upheld and more importantly, passed on to our children. Ire o!!!!!
Written by YorubaMum: Mojisola Wadsworth