ABOUT THE FILM
How to Make Afang Soup is an adaptation of Girl, a short story by Jamaica Kincaid. In the story, a mother instructs her daughter on the proper behavior, dress, and bearing of a young woman, placing a heavy emphasis on cooking, grooming, and upkeep of the house.
WATCH THE FILM
In life, as in film, food is a rich metaphor for love, family, and home. It is how we identify ourselves, how we nurture others, and an important part of our cultural and social upbringing. In How to Make Afang Soup, the lessons that the young mother teaches ultimately shape her daughter into the grown woman she becomes. And as the aged mother nears death, these lessons become even more important.
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How to Make Afang Soup is an adaptation of “Girl,” a short story by Jamaica Kincaid in which a mother instructs her daughter on the proper bearing of a young woman. She writes, “This is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this is how to make pepper pot.” Reading Kincaid’s story brought back childhood memories of standing next to my mom in the kitchen as she taught me how to cook.
Growing up in Albany, New York, food was one of the major signifiers of my cultural differences from my peers. What I knew of my parents’ native Nigeria I learned in brief spurts as a child, visiting relatives and attending school back home. But the more important lessons—about who I was—were learned in the kitchen by my mother’s side as she rubbed ground peas between her fingers, removing the black-eyed skins for akara, deep-frying tablespoons of the mush in oil till they puffed out into fritters.
How to Make Afang Soup is a story about how knowledge is passed down from an Ibibio mother to her American-born daughter, Imeh. This transmission is symbolized by the making of afang soup, a traditional Ibibio dish made of meat, stockfish, and ground afang leaves served with a plate of fufu.
In Ibibio culture, young girls are taught to cook so that they may properly nourish their own families when they grow up. In Imeh’s case, however, learning how to make afang soup has an even greater importance given that her mother battles a terminal illness.
As a young child, Imeh is always underfoot in the kitchen, following her mother from the fridge to the cupboard to the stove and back again. She gradually learns how to make afang soup, her mother demonstrating how to grind the leaves in a blender and clean dried fish with salt and a bristle brush. The teenage years are rocky, however, with Imeh rebelling against cooking with her mother to hang out with friends.
As an adult, Imeh becomes the primary breadwinner for the family. She makes time to visit when she can, but her job leaves little free time to spend with her ailing mother, who is unhappy about her daughter’s inattention. Their relationship is strained, though Imeh still nurtures their bond by making afang soup, one of her mother’s favorite dishes, as often as she can.
While her mother rests in bed, Imeh prepares the meal alone. She cuts the meat and onion, washes the stockfish and grinds fresh pepper. When she finishes cooking, she brings a bowl of soup and fufu to her mother’s bedside.
“Mommy, food is ready,” she says, setting the tray down on the nightstand. Her mother lies still and does not respond. She calls again and again, shaking her mother’s arm. With the realization that her mother is gone, Imeh falls to her knees, shattered.
Imeh’s veil of self-sufficiency falls away exposing self-doubt over her ability to carry on in her mother’s absence. But just as she learned how to make afang soup, she gradually realizes that she has amassed a toolbox of all the life lessons taught by her mother. Imeh musters a strength she never knew she had from a place deep inside of her. Removing the rosary beads from her mother’s lifeless hands, she wraps them around her wrist, kneels, and begins to pray.
I wrote How to Make Afang Soup to explore how culture and traditions are passed from one generation to another through the medium of food, and also to address the impact of loss on the mother-daughter bond, spurred by the death of my own mother to cancer.