Identity, Change and the Making of the Mission Agent
Chapter 2 An Unpromising Beginning
Out of the black earthen pot comes the white corn porridge. — A Yoruba anecdote The white corn porridge, ẹkọ, either in its hot f luid form or in its cold, jelly- like form,1 is a popular meal among Ọyọ Yoruba. As a popular food, the apparent contradiction between the product and its preparation matrix has found a place in their anecdotes. For the porridge is often prepared in an earthen vessel, which, if not stained black during pottering, eventually acquires its colouring from accumulated soot that accompanies repeated use on the local firewood stove. This contrast between the white colour of the porridge and the black matrix in which it is cooked provides the Yoruba the verbal articulation of the paradox of life. This paradox exemplifies the contrast between the man Samuel Johnson and the social environment from which he emerged in the mid-nineteenth century. If Adrian Hastings’ characterization of mediaeval Africa may be extended to the first half of the nineteenth century, it is clear that at this period also ‘the balance of life, physical, social, spiritual, was well con- structed in principle but easily disturbed in practice’. Hastings adds that: It was not a golden world in which generations passed without undue pain, crisis, or history. The rains failed. Children died unexpectedly. Men fought over women and murdered one another in anger. More powerful neighbours seized one’s cattle 1 Both the hot porridge form eaten as a breakfast cereal and the cold, jelly-like prepa- ration are called...
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