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Diaspora, Food and Identity

Nigerian Migrants in Belgium

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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 Five Recreating home in a new place

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Chapter Five

Recreating home in a new place

The aim of this section is to further examine and highlight the various trajectories through which Nigerians reflect their self and group identity by using food. It also focuses on how food is (or is not) a means of connection within families and across the community.

The family is the foundation of most communities and, to understand the methods through which food can be employed for identity sustenance, the family is a good place to start. The use of food and its social representations and interpretations in Nigerian homes in Belgium provide an opportunity to elucidate the complexities intrinsic in the diaspora foodways. It was only from the late 1990s that the Nigerian foodways became consolidated in Belgium. It became possible then for a Nigerian living in Belgium to eat almost exactly as he would if he was living in any of the Nigerian cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt or Owerri. As a Nigerian (who, like many other women, migrated to Belgium to join her husband in 1999), I witnessed the transformation in the Nigerian foodways in Belgium. Unlike previous years, from the mid-1990s my husband’s request from home no longer accorded priority to certain food items, because he could buy them in Brussels. Despite this, on my first trip to Belgium I felt that, as “the woman of the house”, I should leave nothing to chance, so it was frustrating to realise that I should...

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