Posted by: mhirdyounger | April 24, 2014

Pounded Yam

A little story from a visit to a friend’s family in Ibadan, Nigeria. One of my favourite memories from the visit is his mom pounding yam, a lesson on how, even in a patrilineal society, the woman is the strongest person in the house.

One day we had pounded yam for lunch and I was called outside to see the preparation. If you have ever read Achebe, you know how important yam is in Nigerian society.  Three mid-twenties girls stood around, close to the mortar. One held a wooden pestle shaft with a thicker end used to pound. In the center, the mommy was using two arms and her whole body to pound down and stir the yam in the mortar. It was a big thick white dough and looking at the woman you could see all her power and strength in that work. In her tank top and wrap, no wig, she looked almost manly with the force of the pounding. But then I thought, no, not manly, but a powerful matriarch. These boys are not strong enough to do this. These girls are not strong enough, her husband is not strong enough. She is the only one strong enough in the house to pound yam.

Two neighbour women come around the corner of the house. One steps up to take the large pestle from the mom. As the matriarch of the next house she’s also strong enough to pound yam. The other starts teasing her, eh, this is how she pounds? The one pounding says something in Yoruba and everyone laughs. My friend translates to me, she says that if that woman said that, she’ll take  the pestle and use it to break all her teeth. I am shocked by the brutality of the reaction but only for a second. Because everyone is laughing and really enjoying preparing food together. Seeing my reaction my friend explains that, in Ibadan, we are known for our insults. I guess there are insults and there are insults.

His mom takes the wooden pestle shaft back and finishes the work. No sweat on her brow.

We talk about women’s empowerment and women’s triple role, but this woman, she is the matriarch of this patriarchal family. She has the power and is the center of this family. With pounding yam, mothering, preparing food, the house revolves around her presence and her routine.

Pounding yam



  1. I think that raises an interesting perspective on hierarchy and family. On a scale from egalitarian to hierarchical, where should the ideal family sit? For the African context I think it is skewed too heavily towards being hierarchical. It’s also too patrichal, but shifting power from men to women isn’t really a solution is it? Not just in relation to issues of equality but to how authority is unquestionable and the problems that can lead to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: