OROKO Delicacies

Food is any substance (usually of plant or animal origin) that can be metabolized to produce energy, enhance body processes and build tissues. Cameroon is a country characterized by its over 200 tribes and its traditional food diversity. With the Oroko Clan as a significant part of this diversity, this article attempts to list some of the major Oroko traditional dishes, their composition, how they are prepared and served, and what others say about the Oroko people in relation to their food.

  Some of the major Oroko traditional dishes include Ekwang, Mekere Na Erembi, Bende Na Erembi, Mekere Na Ndondi Na Ebonge, Boranga Na Itoko, Mekere Na Ndonga Na Maso, Bekube, and Mekere Na Ndoh. Although these dishes are typical of the Oroko Clan, some such as Ekwang and Mekere are widely prepared and consumed in Cameroon. Ekwang is made from cocoyams (Xanthosoma sagittifolia) or cassava (Manihot esculenta), cocoyam leaves or leaves of a certain herb that is moderately bitter (bitter-leaf), red hot paper (Capsicum sp.), palm oil (Elaeis guineensis), special spices [Sore (smoked leaves of a forest plant with special flavor), Ngakanga (nut-like), Ebobe (small seed-like or berry-like)] and some smoked or sun-dried fish/crayfish. After peeling off the outer surfaces, the cocoyams and cassavas are grated to form a paste. Salt, pepper and the spices (Ngakanga and Ebobe) are then added to the paste and stirred to form a homogenous mixture. Portions of the mixture are placed on the leaves of the cocoyam or the bitter herb, folded to form cylindrical shapes, and placed into a cooking pot. Palm oil, spices, smoked fish and some boiled water are then added. The food is allowed on fire for about 20-25 minutes. Generally, Ekwang is served while still very hot and traditionally, it is eaten using fingers.

    "Mekere" commonly known as plantains (Musa sp.), is one the major staple foods in most Cameroonian households. However, it is typical to the Oroko Clan (e.g. the Ebanga variety). Boiled Mekere can be eaten with pepper (Mekere Na Ndonga), with fish (Mekere Na Ndondi), with the bitter herbs (Mekere Na Ndoh). The Mekere can also be pounded or grated to form fine powder, which can also be used to prepare other dishes. Mekere Na Ndonga consists of boiled plantains and a pepper paste containing some spices. Occasionally, and especially during the rainy season, boiled plum fruits (Prunus africana) are also added to the dish. Mekere Na Ndondi Na Ebonge consists of boiled plantains, boiled fresh fish (Ndondi) and the broad leaves (Ebonge) of a certain plant commonly found in the forest and in Palm Oil plantations. The Ebonge and the spices are added to the fresh water fish or to some species of fresh water frogs (Bekube), wrapped on plantain leaves and boiled. Mekere Na Ndoh consists of boiled plantains with leaves of the bitter herbs (bitter leaf). The leaves are mixed with pepper and some spices, and steamed for about 5 minutes. Lastly, Mekere Na Erembi consists of boiled plantains eaten with pounded cocoyam leaves (Erembi). The pounded leaves are mixed with pepper, spices and palm oil and boiled before being served. Sometimes, in place of Mekere, special boiled cocoyam cultivars (Bende) are used (Bende Na Erembi).

     Traditional dishes like the Ekwang and Mekere have become very important such that they serve as essential components of certain traditional occasions even outside the Oroko Clan. For example, in Born Houses (celebrating the birth of a new borne baby), death or JuJu initiation ceremonies, traditional dance ceremonies and marriages, many people will regard these ceremonies as successful if and only if these special dishes are present, accompanied with some beer or wine.

      It is noteworthy that most Oroko traditional dishes have certain peculiarities. Firstly, they consist of a variety of spices and hot pepper that play an important role as stimulants as well as medicinal significance. Secondly, preparation and serving of the Oroko dishes involve the use of plant leaves. These leaves are either added directly as part of the food to be consumed, used for packaging before cooking or as biodegradable plates.

   The above description, peculiarities and physically powerful nature of the Oroko people have made many other Clans and tribes to raise questions or comments on the physical structure of the Oroko people in relation to their food, which I think warrants some investigation. Some people attribute the physical structure of the Orokos to their food e.g. that many of them are physically very strong and some short because they eat too much Mekere Na Ndonga while others say the food make the Oroko people very energetic and powerful. Some say certain spices from the Oroko land, when added to food, enable the people to withstand any form of food poisoning. Others too say certain leaves added to the Oroko foods make the women to be very charming and attractive.

(By: Nambangi Justin Okolle )