Ayamatanga is a fictional word coined to describe a demonic spirit. If I call you Ayamatanga, you should be angry, very angry, as it implies that your mother is a demon, your father is the devil, and both gave birth to Satan. The most popular Christian film ministry in Nigeria, Mount Zion Faith Ministries International, tapping into Nollywood culture, actually named a character Ayamatanga in the movie Agbára Ńlá, depicting the ultimate demon. Ayamatanga is a beast.
Yes, I am looking for a word to describe your heavy stomach, the beast that lodges oríṣiríṣi in it. I can see cow tail, liver, pancreas, intestines, poll, ribs, pin bone, muzzle, and pastern. All the representatives of the màálù are inside you, from the caudal to the cranial. The ears and eyes of the cow’s head, the meaty part of the neck, and cuts from the limbs. Wait a minute! What is the snout of a pig doing in your stomach, along with the lips of the goat and the thorax of the ram? So, you can consume an entire cow within a few months! Is it true that you use the grilled head of a cow to go along with your garri? The Ayamatanga has turned you into a heavy reckless eater whose mouth will lead to your death. Wòǹbílíkí Wònbìà! Your father died on the Lagos – Ibadan road, a careful man killed by a truck carrying cows from Kano to Lagos. Even if only out of sympathy for your father, should you not see a cow and get angry?
I saw this man at a wedding party, one of those elaborate ones at a hall that had about 2,000 guests. One of the casts in The Wedding Party was there. I saw her–Sola Sobowale is her name. Our eyes met, but she looked away, realizing I was not rich enough—but not as broke as her husband in the movie. Sola, Oba in King of Boys, “Carry go jor!” Sitting next to me was this gentleman, soft-spoken, actually silent. I wanted to engage in a usual Nigeria conversation where a man with six cars parked inside his compound tells me that he is managing. Everyone in Nigeria is a manager of some sort—the manager of poverty and the manager of wealth- remarkable representatives of the politicians who govern them.
This man could not talk to me. He was not hard of hearing because as he sat down, he was dancing to the music in his chair, using his big legs and heavy shoulders to match the beats. But he could not talk as he must consume the starters. You know what they call “refreshment” in Nigeria is a full meal: meat pie, chin-chin, egg rolls, fried meat, fried chicken, grilled gizzard, fried dodo, and fried fish and shrimp, now served with garri, cold water, ice cubes, sugar, and even milk and groundnuts! The main course is yet to follow! Even the Oyinbo who eat a three-course meal do it in small portions.
I did not ask for his name. I gave him one in my mind, “Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn” as he consumed anything that touched his mouth with lightning speed. “Ikùn” in Yorùbá means the stomach, and “bẹ́” is blowing up, tearing, imploding, and exploding. Since I did not know whether his stomach would implode or explode, I combined both into an elegant name, Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn, aka “Throat is the passage to heaven!”
Four bottles of Gulder—the high-class beer that wears a golden damask— Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn liquidated within the hour. One chair was empty, but refreshment was on the table. Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn finished his own and grabbed the one without an owner. Gone! I bet he would have eaten the plate if it was “mistakenly” edible.
I told Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn that he could take mine as I was drinking my Star beer, admiring all the colours and shades of colours that people wore. A lady behind me wore an àsáró yellow blouse and wrapper with an èsúrú colour and afternoon sky yellow gèlè. The woman beside her wore an onion purple combined with a fresh corn green dress and a pair of shoes in lime green. A group of four women wore the aṣo-ẹbí for the party—Ibadan roof brown, on top of Warri oil brown, with shoes whose colours include Niger Delta oil spillage brown and Ekpoma soil.
Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn was looking down, consuming his food. He asked for red wine, and I noticed the bottle opener in Zamfara Gold. A lady in Pepper Dem Red, carrying garri and shrimps, passed by. Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn asked for it, and he was blessed. Consumed in no time, he tossed aside the bowl and the wrapper.
Nigeria may not be efficient in governance, but not when it comes to party service. The men and women moving the trays around were obviously trained and super-efficient. The options were many: rice in three colours —white, lemon, and red. Rice is an equal opportunity food—one grain is not bigger than another on a plate. How you can be so generous to serve three colours of rice on one plate is not a surprise, but how you could put chicken, beef, and fish along with it.
Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn collected the plate of rice, the bowl of àmàlà, the pounded yam and ẹ̀fọ́ rírò, ìkọ́kọrẹ́ with croaker fish, goat meat pepper soup, and àsáró elépo yẹ́ríyẹ́rí. His stomach must be as large as where Nigerian politicians store looted funds because he could still devour two seafood platters, filet mignon and Chinese rice with lamb chops. He made sure to taste every liquid at the event and topped it all with dessert, which was cake, ice cream and fruit parfait. Was he expecting his friends, reserving food for them? No! He consumed each at a time. Did I mention that he had a black poly bag where he threw in a piece of chicken, three fried chunks of beef and two large-sized peppered turkey, four pieces of fried goat meat, òfadà rice, moinmoin, barbecue, three cans of Maltina, and one Heineken?
Ayamatanga! Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn has converted God’s creation to a soak-away. The man had become the big beast. The ultimate power was now the food, consuming him. The enjoyment was gone, replaced by the demon that entered through the mouth. Everything moved smoothly down from his large mouth to his protruding tummy. No break, no jam!
Bẹ́kùnbẹ́kùn is a food addict. He eats a lot! He is obsessed with food; food gives him joy, not energy. He blesses the day food was made! Many of you are like Bọ̀dáa BB, but you hate to admit that you consume food inappropriately and excessively. It is not hunger; it is called gluttony. Abólóúnjẹkú (one who can die for food). Let us call a spade a spade and not a cutlass.
Godwin, you have to be sincere to yourself: your eating habit is bad and very unhealthy. Mr. Salvation, you call yourself a foodie because it sounds better and fancier with a Gen-Z vibe than a glutton. Calling yourself a foodie makes you feel good about a bad habit. But then, as you read this, I hope you realize that you are a glutton! I will not sugarcoat it; you are an Ayamatanga. You probably have been possessed by the spirit of gluttony, and you need deliverance!
Do not go to Dr Daniel Olukoya’s Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries yet; no man of God has to lay hands on you to deliver you from your excessive eating habit. You must deliver yourself because habits are formed, and habits can be broken. You have to come to terms with the hard truth that healing is a miracle, but long life is wisdom! If you want to live long, you will not just fast, pray and eat anyhow; you will love your body and eat well and healthily. It is not just about survival; it is about healthy living. In any case, if you go to the Mountain of Fire, remember to be violent with your prayer: “God, kill all the farmers, the cooks, and the food vendors in Africa!”. But you can bet with me the angels will take turns to knock you instead.
Many people are excessive eaters, but you do not have to eat everything (not even in the present situation of my dear Wazobia). You only need to eat the right things, in the right proportion, at the right time. The idea that the quantity of food you consume is of great importance than the quality is a lie you have told yourself. The average person’s diet in Nigeria today is such that they eat about seven big slices of yam in the morning, a large portion of rice in the afternoon, and about five to six wraps of their preferred swallow at night. That is even for someone who can afford a three-square meal. Others who cannot, especially in this Jagaban àgbàdọ and cassava era, will probably eat ẹ̀bà in the morning, drink garri in the afternoon, and finish the left-over ẹ̀bà at night.
Food is good, really good, and that is why people eat for pleasure rather than out of hunger. You so much enjoy the pleasure of eating that you neglect the nutrients you take in; as long as the aroma is nice and the taste is good, you do not care about anything else. Many people have “fake hunger syndrome,” an eating trigger that happens mostly after a person has already eaten a meal but still feels the need to pleasure the mouth and taste buds. You just want to munch on something, not because you are hungry but because you “feel” like eating. Then you start feeding on junk and comfort food. You know what a healthy meal is, and you do not want to be unhealthy, fat, or obese; however, you find it difficult to discipline yourself when it comes to food. Many of you know this truth, but it is yet to set you free.
As Rome was not built in a day, the path to being an Ayamatanga, as I have called this habit of excessive eating, starts with adding an extra spoonful to your portion of food, a handful of junk, and bite by bite until you become uncomfortably full. Still, constipation never stops you from binge eating in the next few hours. You can never be caught without Andrew Liver Salt, the sure remedy if your stomach protests with indigestion or constipation.
Interestingly, very few people who have become intentional about their eating habits did so because they wanted to. Most people on a diet who exercise regularly and have made it their life’s business not to eat some kinds of food did that because of a doctor’s report. Perhaps, they or some people close to them were diagnosed with an illness at a point in their lives, and a doctor instructed them to cut down on their food intake or completely desist from some food and start to eat healthily. Otherwise, the average man would not just wake up one day and decide to take his eating habit seriously.
Processed and packaged foods are effective in beguiling you into gluttony. The availability of fast food makes it easy to overeat because it leaves you hungrier, luring you into wanting more. Most fast food contain high sugar, high cholesterol, high calorie, fat, and salt, which have been scientifically proven to harm the body. Comfort foods should be replaced with healthier foods like fruits, vegetables, and the like. Overeating has consistently been proven to increase disease risk. Many chronic disease people face today would have been prevented if people ate appropriately as they should.
Healthy and proper eating is not difficult. What is easy to do is to fall into the trap of overeating, which results in poor health. Portion control is a way of curbing the Ayamatanga syndrome. People diagnosed with this syndrome are mostly eaters; they eat in heaps. A good way to start your deliverance is to reduce the portion of food you eat. Reduce the mountains of food you eat. Simply put, allow yourself to breathe, do not suffocate yourself. Yes, you get that, right?
Ironically, some people eat to kill boredom and depression, yet excessive eating causes depression. Health experts have shown a correlation between depression and overeating, especially when people eat for emotional relief, compulsively eat more than enough or what they need to, and never feel satisfied after eating.
The hard truth is that people who have no control over their appetite and eating habit will barely have control over their life. This is because they are not disciplined even in their spending habit. Compulsive buying is an effect of gluttony on a person’s finance. A compulsive eater will be a compulsive spender, too—spending without thinking of the future and other priorities. A Yoruba adage says, “Má fi ọwọ́ méwéẹ̀wà jeun,” loosely interpreted as, “Do not eat with all ten fingers.” This means do not consume resources, food or money excessively and inappropriately. Unfortunately, most people eat with twenty fingers, all in the name of enjoyment. A typical Yorùbá man will enter Ìya Risi’s buka and order seven wraps of pounded yam with ẹ̀fọ́ rírọ̀, elevated with pònmọ́, shaki, bush meat, assorted, insides and intestines, all in one meal. May we not eat our future today! (how about a resounding Àmín)
Stomach protrusion, plumpness, and obesity are signs of Ayamatanga syndrome. Not to shock you, many food addicts are of normal weight, while some obese people are not gluttons; however, we can easily suspect a person’s potbelly to be a result of their eating habits. We used to identify rich men in Africa by their belly size, but sadly, potbelly is no sign of good living or wealth; in fact, a big man should be wise enough to eat wisely.
Ayamatanga is a demonic spirit, and so is gluttony. You will eat and drink responsibly if you love your life and body. After reading this piece, go to the Camp to confess that the devil has turned you into a pig. Tell your Pastor that you are a guzzler and gormandizer, drink holy water to remove the cormorant in your system, and declare a month-long fasting to bid farewell to your world as a feaster. If this does not work, take a knife to remove your two eyes so that, hopefully, if you don’t see àmàlà, ewédú and gbègìrì, you will not be thinking about oríṣiríṣi. (I kukuma don talk my own).
Toyin Falola, a professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at The University of Texas at Austin, is the Bobapitan of Ibadanland.
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