As I slam my pestle into the unlucky pieces of yam lying helplessly in the mortar, my heart pounds rhythmically against my chest. I feel the seismic vibration. It complements the pestle-pummelling-mortar sound nicely. The harmony of both pounding sounds is however not as synchronized as the one that comes out of Mama Shade’s kitchen. But that’s only because she can afford to have two people pound in the same mortar. The first pounder goes, Po. The second follows, Pa. Believe me, the Po-Pa-Po-Pa melody is enthralling enough to attract people like me to her joint. Mama Shade runs the buka close to my office. And I happen to be her favourite customer.
I take a peek into the mortar and my heart fills with joy. The sight of my Poundee (as I love to call it) finally taking shape comes with a familiar feeling of fulfilment. I have worked hard enough to reform the boiled pieces, mashing each one with its neighbour to form a whole new entity. I have done that carefully too, to avoid those mischievous little pebbles we call koko that tend to spoil the fun. I would forget the beads of sweat and the aching muscles as soon as I settle down to the eating part, I’m sure.
Ah! I love pounded yam o!
Where I come from, everyone has a thing for the food. Infact, I get the feeling that an average Odo-Ere man would pick a poisoned morsel over a harmless pot of rice. I remember stories of adventures bordering on the love for pounded yam. Dad told us quite a lot of them. Back in the village, whenever the yam season came around, all they ever did was pound, pound and pound. I still wonder how they managed to escape the kwashiokors of this world inspite of the fact that they subsisted largely on this starchy food. The new Yam festivals, Dad says, were his favourite. They would make pounded yam into large mounds. The heaps were so large that someone eating on the one side was unable to see whoever was sitting opposite him. I was so intrigued by these tales that I sometimes wished I lived in that era. According to Dad, hunting expeditions also afforded the opportunity to splurge with yams. They would go hunting and gather game of different sizes, shapes and colour- from grasscutters to bush fowls or even antelopes. Then they would make all kinds of soups. But whether it was egusi(melon), Efo riro(vegetable)or Gbegiri(beans ) soup they made, Poundee remained the very permanent fixture. Meanwhile, while Dad busied himself inundating us with these stories, I racked my brain ever so often, trying to find an answer to the very puzzling riddle. I wonder if you have ever thought of it. How did it all begin? I mean the pounding business. Was it intended or did it arise from someone’s mistake? I still don’t have an answer despite the many years of brainstorming.
Back in the city where we lived, things were a lot different from the rural setting Dad was coming from. We had no farms or barnyards. But Dad had his white collar job to provide the buying power and Mum’s store, the stocking capacity. Dad and Uncle Olu also provided the muscles until I was old enough to take up the pestle. I learnt from the best. I learnt by watching them. They certainly belonged to the premier league of pounders. And with the high frequency of our eating came my constant practice. I became an expert in no time. At some point, we kept pounding until the love diminished. It all became a mechanical process. Basically, just keeping tradition the way we knew how. Year after year, New yam after new yam, the cycle continued. It was nice sitting around the table, every man to his bowl, pushing down morsels and relishing the taste of the spicy soup. This happened on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays… and every other day- as long as we had yams in store, the party never ceased.
I’m all grown now, taking on the world on my own, in the best way I can, yet I have not forgotten our tradition. Not even the sudden phobia everyone’s developing for all these starch-related ailments is scary enough to sway me. Come to think of it, my forefathers who ate the meal three times a day for the entire duration of the yam season didn’t come down with any of those, why then would it start with me? I don’t even take it as often as they did. Mama Shade only supplies me my daily dose (only once a day, I should emphasise), while I get to prepare it myself during the weekends.
I know a lot of people tend to see my sticking to this age-long tradition as misplaced, old-fashioned and anti-jet age. But sentiments be damned! what’s important here is that I continue to keep the tradition of my father and the fathers that were before him.