“Instant Butter” from Hausaland
By “Awake!” correspondent in Nigeria
“GA NUNU de mai shanu.” (“Here is soured milk and butter.”) That cry of a Fulani girl went echoing down dusty streets of the village. At the sound of her voice, a dog that was sprawled in the road, panting lazily in the sun’s fierce heat, gave a halfhearted “woof” and, accompanied by a halo of flies, departed behind a nearby house.
A group of ragged, partly naked children stopped in midplay, only momentarily, to acknowledge the girl’s presence. An older woman, wooden ladle in hand, leaned out from the smoke-blackened entrance of her mud-walled and thatched little kitchen and called, “Kawo” (“Bring it”).
“Woni iri abu ka na so ka siya?” (“Which do you wish to buy?”) the girl asked, as she turned in past the round dwelling hut that was made of mud and had a straw roof, like all other dwellings in the village.
“Mai shanu ni ke so” (“Butter is what I want”), replied the woman. And so a bargaining for price began, followed by the process of making “instant butter” at the kitchen door.
The Fulani People
The girl was dressed in a short blouse that left most of her midriff exposed, and a skirt that was not a skirt at all. It was a colorful length of cloth wrapped firmly around her waist and hips, overlapping on one side and covering her to about three inches (8 cm) below the knees. The girl’s silky hair, tightly braided in slender plaits that were gathered and intertwined at the back of her head, was covered with a simple head tie. She carried a pad on her head, and on this was delicately balanced a large container of milk.
Her dress was typical of the nomadic Fulani people. Her language was Hausa. The color of her skin was copper brown, and her slender and agile body moved with pleasing poise and grace.
It has not been determined historically when the Fulanis migrated southward across the Sahara. However, they were already in the land when the Hausa people arrived about 1,000 years ago. Both peoples had accepted the Moslem religion by the 14th century C.E. But the Hausas dominated and built up a powerful Negro kingdom north of the junction of the Niger and Benue Rivers. So it came about that they were the ones who gave the land its name and language.
By the start of the 19th century, Islam among the Hausas had waned considerably. In a campaign to arrest this decline, the Fulanis, under Usman dan Fodio, began preaching religious revival. By 1802 this developed into war with the other tribes and resulted in a Fulani conquest throughout Hausaland and into Yorubaland as far south as the cities of Ilorin and Offa.
With these conquests, the Fulani empire was established and many of the Fulanis settled in cities as rulers of the empire. They became known as the “Town Fulanis.” The majority continued as nomadic herders, or established themselves in scattered villages, where the fields could support their herds. They came to be called the “Cow Fulanis.” These are the ones who produce “instant butter” in Hausaland.
The girl selling milk and butter was passing through a Hausa village not far from where the men of her clan were tending their herd of fine, strong zebu cattle—animals that are remarkable for having a fatty hump on their backs, just over the shoulders, and long, symmetrically curved horns. Their docility makes milking easy. This is never done by the men, who confine themselves to tending herds in the fields. The women both milk the cows and sell milk and butter in towns and villages.
At the house where butter was requested, the girl lifted the container from her head and began skimming off the floating fatty part of the milk.
Earlier, along the road, she had been asked if butter is made as soon as the cows are milked. She replied, “Ba haka ba, sai ya kwana” (“Not so, until the next day”). The milk must first be soured. The Fulanis’ preference is to store it in a large calabash, which is an enormous gourd from which the pulp has been removed. The gourd’s hard shell is free from mineral impurities and also gives excellent insulation against the sun’s heat.
During the next day, the milk may be poured into a smaller gourd and shaken vigorously to induce separation of the fat globules. It is then poured into a wide-mouthed gourd and left to settle so that the fat globules will separate completely and rise to the surface. Now it can be sold in villages and towns.
What if the woman had asked for milk, that is, sour milk? The girl would simply have poured off the liquid part of what her beautifully polished and decorated gourd contained. Instead, in order to produce butter, she put the fatty cream that had been skimmed off into another container and proceeded to “wash” it in cold water. This removed any milk that was still clinging to it. Next she put the fat through a final process of vigorous, rhythmic shaking to churn it into the consistency of butter. When the right consistency was achieved, the butter was rolled into a desired shape and sold.
As is the case with many families in Hausaland, this woman chose to process the butter further and use it as cooking oil. To accomplish this, she put a portion of the butter into a cooking pot, added slices of onion, and cooked it for several minutes over the fire in her kitchen. The onion-flavored oil was later stored in a bottle to be used in cooking her family’s favorite soups. Some people prefer this oil to the widely available groundnut and palm oils, and it can be used for several weeks. Meanwhile, the Fulani girl continued to bring “instant butter” to other homes and villages.