Bibi's Eightieth

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
No two days are the same in Africa, and this celebration was very different!

Submitted: October 16, 2016

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Submitted: October 16, 2016



Emanuel called in early one morning to invite me to the traditional celebration of his mother’s eightieth birthday. He told me the celebration would take the whole day and that he would call by to pick me up at 10:00am. I was politely instructed that this was to be a male celebration.

We had visited Bibi from time to time, she was a fine, upright and proud Maasai woman. Her eyes were clouded with cataracts and I recall she went to witness the visiting evangelist, Boke, or was it Bonkie? He was an American evangelist-guy who attracted huge crowds throughout Africa, to perform mass faith healings. Poor old Bibi was convinced she was cured, but only for a week! Bibi lived just across the ridge from us with her youngest son and his family.

Tanzanians are seldom on time, and Emanuel was habitually later than most, so I was not surprised when he called just after eleven o’clock. I presumed that we were going to Bibi’s house for the celebration, but no, instead we walked around the house and across the grass to where there was an animal being spit-roasted over a wood fire. I didn’t see Bibi at all that day!

Emanuel told me that they had slaughtered the ram earlier that morning and the eighty-year-old Bibi received the best parts – the fatty tail and the neck. I have butchered many a sheep in my time and the best parts are not the tail or the neck! The only participants in this celebration were: Emanuel, his brother, me and another guy I hadn’t seen before. He was the cook! His job was to not only cook the meat, but also to feed us each and every mouthful! The three of us were going to spend all day eating this very large ram! The other guy did not contribute to the consumption of the beast, other than having a nibble here and there. As well, there was a crate of Safari Lager to wash the fatty meat down. The urban myth [or truth] was that Safari Lager contained formaldehyde as a preservative! I too had previously experienced the mandatory headache after two bottles!

I was the guest so I was offered the first bit, a rib and the others waited and watched to see me strip the skin off the inside of the chop. They were impressed that I knew to do that, it seemed a sort of a rite of passage for the uninitiated, but I do it at home, have done so since childhood! So on we went also partaking in a beer here and there. First, it was cleaning out the animal’s head: brain, tongue, and cheeks. They didn’t know, but I had eaten all that before, after all I was raised as a carnivore! They did not eat the eyeballs so the question didn’t arise if I was game or not.

I had never eaten lungs before, actually I didn’t expect that anyone would! It was like chewing on polystyrene. I was careful to look for cysts because I have seen them before and whole carcasses can be condemned because of them! My modest drinking compared to their full-blown imbibing, which allowed me to avoid too much of the lung stuff, they were becoming talkative and were not so alert. The cook guy may not have been eating, but was drinking bottle for bottle with the other two and while they were off urinating, I made sure the water bucket was full! Eating with fingers requires a measure of hygiene and I tried to be fussy.

The heart, kidneys, liver and stomach were next and none of those things were new to me. A cow’s stomach is of course tripe, and I’m partial to tripe. NZ tripe though has been acid cleaned, while this stuff was still stained green and tasted like grass! Later I bought it more regularly, cow’s that is, for kids we had taken under our wing, but even with scrubbing, the green and taste were still there!

I was dubious about this whole celebration being traditional, more like Emanuel’s version of a traditional! Even so I accepted it all at face value and remain grateful for the welcome and respect that I was given.

Out in the Maasai villages, and elsewhere I have seen plenty of cattle being slaughtered and the women take the entrails away to clean and prepare them for eating. The men are always left with the meat. I guess that’s why the intestines were not included on this menu, probably Mama Baraka had taken them and she would stew them for the family. Such stews really are tasty!

The bone pile beside us grew and more beer arrived! I had no intention of keeping up with the others, I have had a lot of practice of sitting on one bottle for several hours. When the carcass had finally been consumed at about 9:00 pm, the huge amount consumed had taken its toll, but there was still just one thing left! Actually two, the testicles! By now the fire had died down to red-hot embers, and the cook tossed the skinned testicles in. We all watched, transfixed! The large, white lumps sat there sizzling, sizzling, sizzling and suddenly, poof! They popped just like popcorn! Similar-looking puffy white stuff it was too! The cook dipped his fork in, and I knew my mouth was the target!

That wonderful Swahili phrase: Nimeshiba – I am satisfied!

I raised my hands in polite refusal and said, ‘Nimeshiba!’


Tailing lambs means docking, and neutering the ram lambs. There are a variety of methods of doing both tasks. One way is to sear off the tail with a hot blade and docking/castrating by splitting the purse and removing the testicles, often with the operator’s teeth. After the day’s work, there is usually a fry-up of the testicles and tails. The testicles are colloquially called mountain oysters. But I have never seen them pop like that ram’s did!






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