I was in the process of sorting out details for my Kariosha anniversary and I got to think that most of my work tomorrow revolves around food. Food is central to most Lukumí gatherings and ceremonies, although sometimes we do not really stop to analyze its importance. Breaking bread reminds us of our human condition, of the needs of the body, and it is also a reminder of the needs if the spirit. The proper foods become a bridge to the spiritual world beckoning the orisha to be birthed into fed stones, shells and the ultimate stone – the skull.
There is one theme in common in the house of all of my godparents— the one that crowned me, José B. (Omí Oké); the one that adopted me, José M. (Yeguedé); and Oluwo Jorge P., (Iwori Chigdí) who gave my Ikofá— hospitality at the table. I have never gone to any of their houses and come out hungry or thirsty. You may think, well that is because they are polite. No, it goes beyond politeness.
Whereas godfather José B. loved to talk over a good cortadito (Cuban coffee with a touch of milk), godfather Jorge always insisted I would eat a bit before leaving, for him breaking bread is sharing the blessings earned with his own hands, “Mira mi hija cuando uno comparte el pan comparte la buena suerte. No dejes que nadie se vaya de casa con hambre,” is one of his favorite expressions which means sharing bread is sharing good luck and one should not allow anyone to leave one’s house hungry. Not that he really cooks, but either his apetebí and wife María Luisa or I would roll up our sleeves and gladly cook for all of us. For me it was more than food for the body, it was food for the soul to have a bit of godfather all to myself for a few more minutes. How much I wish I was still living near them, not because I miss their food, but because I miss the intimacy of sharing a meal and listening to their stories.
With godfather José M. food is a grand affair. He is sharp about what is being cooked and how things are made and served in his kitchen. He is meticulous, superbly clean and organized. He even has a separate kitchen built only to cook for orisha events. I will never forget how thoughtful he was to prepare my husband and me a beautiful dinner to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. It was his idea and I thought it was the sweetest thing to do. It was not an orisha affair, but the orishas were the ones who brought me to his life and thus, to his table.
Now talking about traditional affairs where food is paramount, I had the opportunity to run the show in my godfather Yeguede’s kitchen for one Kariosha and boy it is just as intensive as an Iron Chef competition that lasts a good 8 hours and goes on for 7 days. The person running the kitchen has to develop a full menu for 7 days and have a really good grasp of prepping, planning and keeping things in order and within budget without sacrificing quality and quantity.
The cook must not only prepare three main meals (breakfast at 7 am, lunch and dinner) on the day of the Kariosha, but also have a mid morning coffee break and a light snack prepared for the afternoon. The cook will also be in charge of preparing the asheses (special parts of the sacrificed animals that are cooked in a very particular way for each orisha) for the orisha and of preparing a special restorative soup for the iyawó. As if that was not enough, as the slaughtered animals are dressed, the different meats and fowl start to pour in the kitchen and the cook must season them, seal them in separate identified containers and let them marinate in the refrigerator until the next day.
And the next day will come all too fast for the tired back, legs and hands of the cook. This is the Middle Day, when a communal feast is prepared in honor of the iyawó and the orishas. The feast is not only important because of the rituals and ceremonies involved that day, but also because in areas of great need and poverty, it is an opportunity to share the bountiful table with not only the oloshas participating in the ceremony but also with the community at large.
There are plenty of intricacies to the role of the cook, and it is one I intend to talk about soon. The Middle Day is crucial for a cook in more ways than one. If the foods are not up to standard, it will be very hard to be invited to perform the same function at another Kariosha.
If you love food, the Lukumí circles will be just your cup of tea. Take another example, kariosha anniversaries. In Puerto Rico you can literally find an anniversary happening every single weekend. This means, you guessed it, food!
I am going to dig into that bowl in my next article. This cook needs a bit of sleep and rest for tomorrow.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá