Obesity: A Sign of Wealth in 19th Century Africa

At home in Kisoona:

During their attempt to reach Lake Albert to the N.W. of what is today Uganda, Sir Baker and his wife Lady Florence were forced to spend a number of weeks at the large village of Kisoona until the chief of Unyoro, Kamrase, deemed it appropriate for them to proceed.

As usual, Sir Baker spent a good deal of this time learning about local ways – and especially about local foods, food preparation and eating.  In this entry, he comments on the practice of force-feeding wives of the chief until they are so fat they sometimes cannot walk.  This practice is also found further south, in rearing girls amongst cattle people, as well as in some areas of West Africa.   The obese results would only be possible in conditions where the family owned many cattle, for these local breeds did not (as today) give large quantities of milk.

Having wives so obese that they cannot possibly work is indeed a demonstration both of cattle wealth (for milk) and of wealth in general (being able to hire workers to carry out daily tasks).

The young girls of thirteen and fourteen that are the wives of the king are not appreciated unless extremely fat–they are subjected to a regular system of fattening in order to increase their charms; thus at an early age they are compelled to drink daily about a gallon of curdled milk, the swallowing of which is frequently enforced by the whip; the result is extreme obesity.

by Sir Samuel W. Baker, M.A., F.R.G.S.

Shillook Women Pounding Maize. Although the Shillook were north of Unyoro, the act of grain pounding was almost universal across Africa and if a woman was unable to do so, help had to be obtained. Source: Baker, in Heros of the Dark Continent

Today, here in Burundi and elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East, obesity can be found as a sign of wealth – a topic I take up in another post.

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-General, Colonialism, Explorers & exploration, Food, Health and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Obesity: A Sign of Wealth in 19th Century Africa

  1. Pingback: A Taste of 2012 – Top Posts Favor Colonial Era; Food; Ancient Egypt | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, the Middle East, Agriculture, History & Culture

  2. Pingback: Obesity: A Sign of Wealth in 19th Century Africa & Now « Dianabuja's Blog

  3. maria says:

    i lived in NZ where there were lots of pacific island immigrants – obesity was also a sign of wealth to them too


Leave a Reply to maria Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s