The mostly vegetarian traditional Acholi diet can be described as sentimental with a strong sense of tradition and nostalgia; because of the passion, attitude, feelings and ideas that have been attached to it. At Te-kwaro education and preservation centre in Koc-Kweyo, Gulu district, traditional preparation procedures of two famous Acholi sauce dishes; boo and malakwang including the staple food, kwon cal (millet flour and water mixture – posho) where elaborately demonstrated to our team. Two complimentary foods; odii (peanut butter paste), opegu (pork) and gwana (cassava) were also prepared as it is customary to welcome visitors with variety of food so that they feel welcome.
Food in the Luo culture is harvested and prepared by the women and girls of every homestead and is a bond strengthening element for daughters and their parents. The mother, also head of the kitchen, gives direction on how and what is expected of the girl while her father, who would sit a few metres from the preparation area, plays the nangaa (a traditional musical instrument) while singing praises to her as she works with her mother. Preparation then begun at about 12:00 pm, a time that the Acholi people find most preferable because the early morning hours are occupied mostly by house chores. Noon is also considered good time to start food preparation because the food will most likely be ready by 3:00 pm which is the unofficial, but assigned lunch time for the Acholi people.
Stories of both veracity and mythical genres were told during preparation of the food. It was through the stories that we learned the myths behind the traditional foods and the meaning Acholi people attach to them. For example why malakwang is present on every traditional event minus weddings; why it is prepared for a woman who has just given birth, the bonding potential hidden in a meal and Luo table manners.
Malakwang sauce is made by boiling malakwang leaves to make a soup that is then pasted with odii. The sourness of the malakwang leaves is the reason why the Acholi people do not prepare it at wedding functions because they believe that the marriage should not begin on a sour note. Therefore all the dishes prepared at an Acholi wedding are fairly sweet and pasted with odii so that the marriage may be as sweet and smooth like the odii paste. The first blessing for any marriage is communicated none verbally through what is prepared and how it is prepared; it is therefore very important to consider the menu for the function. The Acholi people also prepare malakwang for a woman who has just conceived. This malakwang, however, is not pasted and served to her while it is still very hot as it is believed that it will facilitate milk production in her bosoms for her baby. By 3:00pm, the food being prepared was ready and another lecture on Luo table manners was delivered by the hosts. The head of the home, sits on a stool or any raised surface, is served first separately using his own utensils. The other males in the homestead also sit on stools or any raised surface next to the head of the home. The children of the home are then huddled together on a mukeka (mat) and the food is placed centrally so that they are able to share the platter. The last persons to get served are the women and girls, who like the children, are served on a platter placed at the centre of a large mat for all of them to share. Meal time is very paramount and is respected by observing silence while eating. This also eliminates chances of table accidents like choking.
A few minutes to sunset, after having the meal, everyone present for the meal thanks the head of the kitchen for the meal. The young boys of the home then proceed to make wang oo (bon fire) where issues of the home are discussed. Everyone around the wang oo would carry something to roast over the fire like maize, bananas or even meat that one may eat as the family meeting would happen. After the meeting and having the snack, one would leave at leisure to get ready for the next day.