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Diaspora, Food and Identity

Nigerian Migrants in Belgium


Maureen Duru

This book examines the connection between food and identity in the Nigerian diaspora community in Belgium. Encounters between people from different cultures do not lead to a simple adaptation of the diet, but usually give rise to some kind of fusion of new and indigenous food habits.

The author questions the relationship between what Nigerian migrants in the diaspora eat, their self-perception and how they engage with outsiders. Starting with a historical introduction about the country, this study examines what aspects of the Nigerian food culture is retained and what has changed. This is reflected by the dynamics in the Nigerian homes, especially the gender roles.

The new generation of Nigerians, who see Belgium as home, also hang on to a Nigerian diet that remains not only an important part of who they are, but is also used in the creation of cultural boundaries and group identities. However, the influence of the new environment is very present because each diaspora community, wherever and whenever, must adapt. Skills such as language and social norms are indeed necessary to survive in the new environment. Yet, food plays a prominent role: on the one hand, it contributes to the affirmation of Nigerian feelings, and on the other hand, food serves as a means of communication with the host country.

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Chapter Two Unity in Diversity Unity in diversity


Chapter Two

Unity in diversity

1. A Reflection of the Nigerian Food Culture

As shown in the previous introductory chapter, Nigeria is a vast nation densely populated by people with historically different political, religious, cultural and even economic backgrounds. However, the nation and its people have been able to draw from it indigenous beliefs and norms, the influences of colonialism and other encounters in its history to build a nation, despite the diverse origins of its people. This does not in any way deny the daily challenges of maintaining the unity of this nation. Yet, it is in examining the emergence of the modern Nigerian food culture, that one can see unity in diversity in its true form.

The attitude of the various people of Nigeria tend to be strongly ethnic, which is reflected in the food and evolution of Nigerian foodway. Jane Fajan’s statement about Brazilian food culture could be applicable to Nigeria as a very ethnically diverse country too. As she stated while describing Brazilian foodways,

(…) many of these differences can be traced in history, geography, climate and ethnicity. Particular ingredients and modes of preparation form a distinctive basis of regional foods and by association of identity of people who consume them. However there is more embedded in the regional cuisines than just ingredients and preparation. Ethnicity, race and class infuse all aspects of life including food (Fayans, 2008, p. 2).

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