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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 Four The Nigerian foodways in Belgium


Chapter Four

The Nigerian foodways in Belgium

1. Is it like home? Seeking familiar food in Belgium

Other African migrant communities existed in Belgium prior to the migration of Nigerians to Belgium. Among the existing migrant communities were North Africans from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, and East Africans, mainly from the Congo. Each of these groups has its foodways (which sometimes may be similar), but also partake of the host community’s foodways. Hence, North Africans, especially from Morocco have a close culinary affinity with other Muslim and Arab migrant communities in Belgium. The Africans from sub-Saharan Africa share some similarities in their food, especially with regard to food items and spices, but not necessarily the way it is cooked.

For the Nigerian students, who were among the first group of migrants of Nigerian origin, it was to the Congolese that they turned as they negotiated and established social networks. These early contacts enabled them to lay the foundation for a group identity, needed to sustain their foodway in Belgium.

Firstly, they shared similar food and accessed desired food items through members of other communities. This is in line with Fox’s (2006) assertion that “when various ethnic groups are forcibly thrown together, there is both an intensifying of food identity and a growing mishmash” (Fox, 2006). Despite the nostalgia and cultural conditioning, for migrants, availability, accessibility and affordability of familiar food are the key components necessary to transcend from “borrowing the...

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