|Culture, Environment, and Food to Prevent Vitamin A Deficiency (International Nutrition Foundation for Developing Countries - INFDC, 1997, 208 pages)|
|Part III. Assessing natural food sources of Vitamin A in the community|
|5. Community assessment of natural food sources of Vitamin A in Niger: The hausas of Filingué|
Nigerians typically eat two large meals during the day and, depending on the family, may also consume a light breakfast. The most important meal is served at noon and generally consists of hura or sauce and tuwo, baobab or okra sauce poured over millet or sorghum paste. Rice with a sauce made of meat, pumpkin, and a green leafy vegetable is eaten daily by civil servants and prosperous merchants and may be served on a bi-weekly basis in more typical compounds. Two to three times a week, during the midday meal, Filingués try to include small servings of meat in the sauce. Informants viewed sauce without meat as lacking substance or "use for the body." Other sauce ingredients typically include peanut oil, tomato paste, an indigenous green leafy vegetable, onions, salt, and seasoning. The dinner meal is frequently corn paste with okra or baobab leaf sauce. Breakfast is the least substantial meal often consisting of leftovers from the night before, locally made fried donuts, or koko, a semiliquid millet porridge that is slightly fermented and spiced, and eaten hot.
Cooked midday and evening meals are served on large communal plates and shared among children according to gender and age. Although young boys and girls may eat from a dish with their mother, when children reach the age of seven or eight, the boys and girls are separated and meals are taken with other children of the same sex. Separate plates may be given to older children (also according to gender) depending on how many people are in the household. In Niger, the male head of household is served his own plate which includes a more generous portion of meat and other sought after foods.
Although women of reproductive age typically consume large quantities of hura both at mealtime or as between meal snacks, during pregnancy women indicated that they reduce their intake of this rich staple because "tana a sa nowi cikin ciki" (it puts too much weight in the stomach). Their consumption of millet, corn, and sorghum paste is also reduced for similar reasons. Mother-respondents indicated that they avoid gaining too much weight during pregnancy since they believe the food they consume goes to the fetus, so too many heavy foods will cause the fetus to grow too large leading to a difficult delivery.
Women suggested that their nutritional needs are greater when they are pregnant, and that they seek out both tasty and nutritious or special foods including snacks of meat, grilled liver, and green leaves. In particular, informants mentioned that during pregnancy women crave kupto which they try to eat in large quantities. They also indicated that they choose to eat rice and beans rather than millet or maize paste and desire fresh garden vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage, which they consume in season. Baobab leaf sauce is thought to be a blood enhancer and a food good during pregnancy.
Koko is the food most consumed during the immediate postpartum period and both koko and duca, millet bran mixed with water, are supposed to increase breastmilk and facilitate lactation. A primary goal during the forty-day period of seclusion following delivery is to increase pounds, which they indicated will strengthen the body and help restore health. Therefore, women strive to eat foods that are heavy and facilitate weight gain. Women drink large quantities of koko, hura, duca, or miyai (an uncooked version of hura) and may consume the equivalent of two buckets during the course of a day. The desire to fatten-up is so great that women interrupt their sleep to consume these liquids during the night. They also try to eat meat and liver to return the blood lost during the delivery and prefer a richer, tasty sauce made with leafy condiments and larger portions of meat that make millet or maize paste more appetizing and thus increases intake. Other foods that lactating women try to consume in large quantities are rice and beans, dambo and kupto. Eggs are widely restricted during lactation and are believed to give women kodai, a craving for too many good things.
Women indicated that they strive to gain weight and eat good foods during the postpartum period to restore their own health and to benefit the breastfeeding child. They believe that the nutritional value of food they consume is passed directly on to the child. One informant said, "We believe if the women benefits from these good foods, such as liver and kupto, so will the child." Another respondent said, "We think that it is much more important to eat lots of food when you are lactating than when you are pregnant. Furthermore, we believe that if we eat good foods, foods rich in vitamins, the breastfeeding child will also get the same foods from the breastmilk. Because of this we want to eat foods that are good for them, foods that are rich in vitamins." In addition, blood-rich foods, believed to increase circulation, energize the body, and restore health, are highly sought after.
Following delivery it is paramount that tsoho jini or the old blood be extracted from the body and replaced by new blood. During the forty-day postpartum period a bathing ritual called wanka biki is practiced in the early morning and afternoon. Women dip the branch of a local tree into boiling water swatting their bodies, particularly their backside, with the leaves dripping with scalding water. This action cleanses the body by extracting the old blood. In addition, the abdomen is massaged on a regular basis in an effort to encourage the blood to leave the body. The goal is to bude ciki or open the stomach to increase the appetite and allow the woman to gain weight, restoring health and strength.
In Filingué the infant is fed sugar water before the colostrum is offered. Although colostrum is generally given the day of delivery, there is a waiting period when the woman squeezes the initial colostrum called the baki-baki, that refers to the old milk, from the breast. Women believe the milk has been sitting in the breast for too long a period (between the time the last child was weaned and this birth) and therefore this very first milk is not good for the newborn. Once this milk has been extracted the woman washes her breasts thoroughly, fixing her body, and starts to give the colostrum.
Female respondents generally recognized that colostrum is beneficial to the health of the infant. For example, when inquiring about colostrum one women said, "The child will not be well if he does not get this milk. We think this is very good for the child."
In more rural areas traditional practices can delay or prohibit the use of colostrum. In a village surveyed just five kilometers outside of Filingué where six respondents were interviewed, a postnatal ceremony is followed that may prevent its introduction. The following conversation with one of the key-informants describes this tradition.
"After giving birth we give the baby water and sugar. We don't give the breastmilk at first if the milk (colostrum) is no good." The respondent was asked how they know whether the breastmilk is good and she replied, "We empty the colostrum into a calabash. We then put ants in the colostrum. If the ants can crawl out of the milk the colostrum is good. If the ants die in the colostrum the milk is no good, it will give the children kai-kai" (an affliction that causes severe itching followed by lesions). The informant was then asked what is done if the ants die in the colostrum. She said, "We give her medicine if the ants die in the colostrum, the pounded wood that I showed you earlier. We boil the wood in water and then she drinks it. This will fix her milk and make the milk good." When asked what is given to the baby if the milk is no good she answered, "We give sugar water, juice made with oranges, water, and sugar, and cows' milk." Finally the interviewer inquired when they give breastmilk if the initial milk is no good. She answered, "We can give the milk after the mother drinks the medicine and the milk becomes white."
Sugar water is given to infants throughout the first week and is mixed with orange juice starting in the second week and fed until porridge is introduced. Women perceive the juice as the initiation of the gradual weaning process. The liquid is additionally used as a purgative.
Infants spend all of their time either on their mother's back or by their mother's side and are breastfed on demand, and mother's milk is considered a critical source of nourishment. Unless the breastmilk is insufficient or the child is an orphan no other forms of milk are fed to the child. Whole milk obtained from animals is believed to give infants and children diarrhea.
When the mother becomes pregnant again the child is abruptly taken off the breast. The breastmilk is no longer considered good for this child and will give the child diarrhea and lead to poor health. If the mother does not get pregnant during the second year the child is generally removed from the breast between twenty-four and thirty months. Women indicated that household economics may dictate their decision when to wean, as it is financially advantageous for the child to breastfeed.
Supplementary foods are introduced to the infant's diet anywhere from three to eight months, generally depending on whether the woman has attended baby weighing in the health center. (Women frequenting weighing are instructed to begin feeding infants a porridge at four months). At about eight months infants are introduced to millet paste and sauce, that the mother feeds to the infant with her fingers, and for many children the leaves in the sauce may be their first exposure to foods rich in vitamin A. Also at eight to twelve months women begin to introduce the infant to kupto, perhaps a teaspoon at a time. Meat is first given to infants at eight to ten months and may include beef that the mother has chewed or pounded pieces of liver.
Children are weaned from mother's milk anywhere from seventeen to thirty months. Between the age of one and two years children start to eat like adults, following the family eating schedule. Children generally consume two main meals, one at lunchtime and the evening meal. As indicated earlier breakfast is less substantial, consisting of the evening meal leftovers, two to three bean cakes, fried donuts, hura or koko.
Mothers do not encourage young children to eat. They wait for them to indicate when they are hungry or allow them to feed themselves. Before the child develops wuyo, which literally means cleverness and occurs around age two to three, the child is at a disadvantage since he does not have the ability to verbalize his needs and, as one informant pointed out, may not be able to assess or identify the feeling of hunger as well as older children. His only option is to follow the family meal schedule. Furthermore, at this pre-wuyo stage he is not as mobile as his older siblings who are able to obtain street foods or forage for foods, nor has the small child mastered the ability to solicit small gifts of pocket money from adults.
As children get older and develop wuyo they leave the compound and seek snacks. Snack foods constitute an important part of children's diets and range from treats they buy on the street with pocket money given to them by their parents or visitors, to foods that are foraged in the area. These between meal foods may include wild fruits, oranges, mangoes, liver, carrots, dates, peanuts, fried bean cakes, cookies, candy, or a green leafy vegetable boiled and mixed with peanut extract. Older children also venture out to the surrounding bush to gather wild leaves that they consume fresh. Not only are these foods often nutritious but between meal snacks provide an opportunity for a child to eat on his/her own without having to share with siblings in this society where both gift-giving and sharing of consumable items are implicit tenets. In a group setting social norms compel people of all ages to share food.
There do not seem to any be feeding differences between boys and girls. Portion sizes are simply divided according to the ages of the children eating from the communal plate.