In Nigeria, as soon as you’re old enough to comprehend and communicate, you’re told that marriage is a thing that makes you complete. You’re groomed and prepped for it. Male children are taught that they have to work hard, earn enough money to be able to pay the bride price. Female children are also ingrained with values, which help to keep their worth high enough to justify a high bride price. Culturally, a woman is valued higher when she has the elements that influence the bride price index.
A large country with a wide and diverse population ratio, it is very difficult to say there’s something called a “Nigerian Culture”. Given the fact that it’s an amalgam of over 250 ethnic groups, attempting to fit them all under one umbrella is an effort in futility. However, one of the few things that run across different cultures (apart from corruption and inexplicable homophobia) is marriage.
The concept of bride price is central and standard – though the actual value varies from tribe to tribe. In some parts of Nigeria, the bride price is very small and often negligible but it is a fundamental element in the marriage rites. Sometimes, the price range from as low as ten Naira, to as high as one million Naira (From three Cents to Five Thousand US Dollars). Where the bride price is almost negligible, family members emphasize that they are not selling off their daughters; rather, they’re making you pay a token fee in appreciation of all the hard work that has been done to raise this fine specie of female.
The bride price is often evaluated and determined by a lot of factors: cultural requirements, level of education of the girl, class and status of the family, home training and domestication. A young woman who possesses all the elements of these boxes is adjudged to be a proper “Wife Material”. Young women are often asked, playfully, how many yards of “wife material” they have – especially because material is deemed as fabric – measured in yards.
Thus, in determining the yards of wife material, one must consider the most essential element that makes up a good wife – the ability to cook. What is a Nigerian woman if she cannot whip up a decent meal in the kitchen – the de-facto domicile of a woman in the house.
They say the way to a man’s heart is his stomach and with the exception of a few men, this is the norm. Nigerian men expect to be fed, and adequately so by their women. It is usual practice that a few weeks after marriage, friends tease the man when they notice he has added a few pounds around his girth. He is patted on the back and told – “you married well”.
Being able to cook automatically expedites your race to the marriage finish line. It is one of those things mothers struggle to ensure you learn against all odds. No mother wants to have to bear the looks of disdain from other mothers if word gets out that her daughter is unable to perform the basic duty of cooking. So you learn to cook because your mother makes a conscious effort to teach you.
From as young as thirteen, a Nigerian girl is expected to commence the understudy of her mother. The spectrum of talent ranges from being able to boil rice to being able to make exotic soups. In some parts of Nigeria, the ultimate test of cooking skill is being able to pound yam. Work those abs by pounding… yes! No greater way to get your heart rate soaring while you fly to marital nirvana.
In some parts of South West Nigeria, Pounded Yam is not just a delicacy but a test of a woman’s, strength and upbringing. Many men have been won over by the simple words “I know how to pound yam”. The issue of Pounded Yam became even more political with the advent of technology. Some smart tech wiz decided to ease the plight of Nigerian women and invented the Yam Pounder and the food processor. He is to be hailed as a savior to Nigerian women all over the world. However, we have found a way to make that clear distinction between women who know how to pound yam in the original mortar and pestle, and “lazy” women who resort to using the Yam Pounder. Again, the use of the electric Yam Pounder against the traditional style became an index of Wife Material.
Cooking as a measure of Wife Material with the Nigerian woman crosses the borders of countries. Even if you live in Australia, the culinary expectations are not abated. You may be pardoned for not being able to pound actual yam but there will be no excuses for not being able to make pots of soup with assorted meats. As a Nigerian woman, soup is not “soup”, as Westerners call it. Soup is a savoury combination of Okra, wild mango seeds or melon seeds with dry fish, palm oil as well as carefully ground peppers. Imagine your most exotic thought of spicy and savoury culinary delight. The ability to combine these elements in one pot, make them pleasurable to ingest and even get a burp of appreciation automatically puts you miles ahead of the person who only knows how to boil rice and spaghetti.
Because living outside Nigeria provides certain food flexibility; there’s the temptation to survive on salads, pizza and kebabs. As a Nigerian woman who is serious about earning points and increasing her yards of Wife Material, you must not fall prey to this temptation. There was a story once told about a woman who lived in Vancouver with her boyfriend. His mother came visiting from Nigeria with bags of stockfish, locust beans seeds and crayfish. The almost-mother-in-law watched in growing astonishment as days turned to weeks and her son’s girlfriend served her everything from sandwiches to pasta Cabonara; leaving her very precious traditional food to wilt and rot away on the kitchen counter.
She promptly called her son aside and warned him that the girl was an unsuitable match for him as she did not know how to cook. For how else could she explain the fact that she had not made vegetable soup within three days of the woman’s arrival? The son asked if Mama had been deprived of food since she arrived; to which she responded “No”. He asked her what the problem was then. She cried out in sorrow – “My son has been bewitched by a woman who can’t do even the basic thing – cook”.
With a potential Nigerian mother-in-law, food is not just food! It is Nigerian food, made with dexterity. Tests such as, being able to make a ‘simple’ dish like Semolina paste without lumps, and being able to make okro soup in the right consistency, are subtly conducted. Failing at any of these is an indication that your mother did not teach you right – too thick and surely you’re not ready for this long arduous road called marriage.
So when next you see an unmarried Nigerian woman who cannot cook, ask her how much she estimates her bride price will be valued at. Just try not to get slapped in the process!