Written By Mohammed Rabiu Alhassan
Majority of Northern children grew up learning how to survive. We faced hunger as children and adopted so many mechanisms of coping, by adapting to situations as they were.
Fortunately, nature was so merciful to us, when we so much needed her benevolence to survive. Aside from roasted yam, cassava, groundnut and others we could get from the farms in lean seasons, we also used to rely heavily on nature’s mercy.
I still possess this teary recollection of us moving in the scorching sun, from one already-harvested groundnut farm to the other, dirtying our finger nails in search of groundnut to take and drink water.
In the suburbs and deep woods were fruits that we had to gather, in their respective seasons. Prominent of those was the Shea fruit. We’d gather as much as we could, eat and look for the nearest river or stream to top it up with water.
Sometimes, it would be mango, red berry, yellow berry, black berry, baobab fruit, etc; depending on which season it was, as I mentioned, ab initio.
We took our catapults along to hunt birds, reptiles, rodents and every small edible wildlife we could find. With us would be locally-made cooking pots or silver, corn flour, salt, pepper, dawadawa and some matchsticks to build fire to prepare a meal from the game.
Those who used to take cattle to the bush to graze would soak millet in gourds for a couple of hours and take it, especially, at midday, when they were far away from home and couldn’t have access to any food.
We occasionally had had to go to the dugout/dams, rivers and streams to harvest White Lotus (kul’chi), eat and drink plenty water to keep us going. During such, we took the opportunity to fish and catch frogs, using hooks and lines, with earthworms and floating broken pieces of calabash as baits.
The catch was at times roasted and eaten under trees near these waters or taken home for our mothers to smoke for soup (in the case of fish). It was also an opportunity to harvest tiger nuts around.
At home, we learned to prepare local delicacies like “yama” (a popular Northern delicacy made by mixing flour with boiled water, garnished with salt, pepper, dawadawa and Shea butter, and steering it very well for a couple of minutes). Boiled unpeeled yam with a mixture of pounded groundnut, pepper and salt was also enough, if that was the only thing available.
There were instances you’d have only leftover TZ (tuo zaafi) without soup. We needed just to improvise soup by pounding dawadawa, mix it with small water, add pepper and salt, then we’re good to go.
Today, the fat and plumby-looking cerelac-milo-cornflake-ideal milk-yogurt-Don Simon-drinking and butter bread-barbecue-indomie-fried rice-eating kids in our homes have nothing but their school assignments to do.
One “big man” once narrated how his children refused to take tea on one morning because the milk was a leftover one from the refrigerator. He said he was trying to explain to them that he should have bought milk the past night and actually forgot to do so but these children swore “chinchinaa” that they’d not take the tea if it didn’t come with fresh ideal milk.
He said he looked at them and nearly wept because they had no idea what he had to eat to survive as a child. I often feel we should on their school vacations, ‘bundle’ them to the village to live the whole vacation there so they learn some useful lessons.
In fact, I can say that there were times we would go many months without tea. We never knew something like ideal milk existed until we saw it in the books and on adverts in the television.
About milk, all we knew was cow milk, with which we mashed leftover TZ. We ate home-prepared meat on rare occasions and were made to believe that eating eggs would make us steal.
The positive outcome about this experience, no matter how tough, is, we’ve grown up learning to adapt to tough situations with profound existential innate sense of coping and resilience.
When there’s an opportunity to enjoy, we enjoy like no other does. When we must have to endure, we endure like no one else, because, we grew up learning to endure and survive. For almost every story of an adult or grown Northern Ghanaian, endurance features, as survival is all there’s.
Yet, in all, we say, “Alhamdulillah” (Thanks/praises are due God).