Food and the World – Grandmother’s Kitchen – Jikoni and the Fire That Never Burns Out – by Jane Kariuki. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Food and the World – Grandmother’s Kitchen – Jikoni and the Fire That Never Burns Out – by Jane Kariuki. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

[https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/b50add53-d5e7-422f-bf9d-49dbf908fa55 ]

Jikoni loosely translates to ‘kitchen’ but to my family is more than a place of cooking and eating. My grandmother’s Jikoni has come to be defined by the food, the people, the stories, traditions, and the ongoing fire. My grandmother’s household is situated in a rural area of Cherang’anyi hills. Surrounded by trees, her compound consists of two buildings; the main house, and a small Jikoni to the side. Historically kitchens in Africa, have always been a separate building on the outside. Although, migration to bigger cities has resulted in the kitchen being reconstructed in the same space as the main house. My grandmother’s Jikoni contains two rooms; the main kitchen and a storage area for firewood and dry foods. On the corner of the main kitchen sits the meko, a clay made stove/oven. Above the meko, rests a firewood shelf, which holds firewood, and other materials used for cooking. Since my childhood, sources of the fire has never ran out, even in drought seasons, my grandma has always found a way to make sure the fire burns each day. My grandmother’s Jikoni has acted as a foundation element of my family, specifically space where women and children were free to be themselves.

Jikono means various things to various people in my family, but for me, it has been a space I grew up in. If I did something my family was proud of, I would get called into to jikoni and asked what special meal I would like to be prepared. If I was in trouble, the lecturing and punishment took place in jikoni. Multiple lessons taught to my siblings by our mothers took place in jikoni. Family talks or small gossips happened in jikoni. While I listened and learned from my elders, they made sure I was contributing to prepare a meal, either by cutting onions, carrots or kneading the dough. So life lessons came with non-verbal cooking instruction.

My recent visit to Kenya was welcomed by neighbors, various food, songs, and dance. We were then directed from the gate to the main room, and since this was my third visit to the country since we migrated, I was familiar with the welcoming process. After a few moments in the main room, I snuck out and went to jikoni, where I knew was the stage of everything. The small Jikoni was flooded by women and small children. It is common for neighboring women to help with food preparation whenever there is a local event/celebration. I looked around and saw familiar faces, but also new ones which I knew I would soon found out. I asked to sit close to the meko, not only to feel its warmth but to smell whatever was still cooking. A few seconds after I sat down, my mother and my siblings made their way to Jikoni where they welcomed with ululating and offered a seat across for me. I looked around me and was surprised to see the number of people squeezed into such a small space. I was also happy because that moment defined my childhood, being in one space that felt like home with my siblings [1], neighbors, and the most important people that defined the space; my mothers [2] and grandmother. I stretched out my hands towards the meko, reaching for its warmth.

[https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/47639ccc-6c55-49b6-9459-c43f2c1be3b1 ]

The meko in my grandmother’s jikoni is always burning, during the recent visit I never saw the fire started, for there’s always something cooking. After our large celebratory supper, tea and coffee were prepared, these drinks act like snacks before bedtime. My siblings took a thermos of tea and coffee to the main house for the older males [3]. While in the kitchen, I was offered a drink, and I knew not to refuse for I have been down that road multiple times. At the time, Jikoni was left with only family members, the females and children of the household. This was my favorite time, for it meant storytime featuring my grandmother. Her stories varied each time, she would tell stories about her childhood, my mother’s childhood, myths or simply keep my side of the family updated on the happenings in Kenya. After the stories, we would then escort ourselves to sleep. The last person to leave would scatter the charcoal in the meko making sure there would be enough fire to prepare breakfast the next day.

Janes serves as an editor for The NSR. From Professor Liang’s Fall 2019 Politics of Globalization class, Jane is a Peace and Justice, GCL, and Women and Gender Studies student.

1. Siblings include immediate siblings and cousins since that is typically how I would refer to them.
2. Mothers, covers my mother, her sisters, and sisters-in-law, it is respectable that you call an elder woman ‘Ma’/‘Mama’.
3. Males mentions my father, grandfather and older uncles, and they would typically be the ones in the main room.


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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

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21 Comments

Filed under Global Studies, Jane Kariuki, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Professor Liang's Classes

21 responses to “Food and the World – Grandmother’s Kitchen – Jikoni and the Fire That Never Burns Out – by Jane Kariuki. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Rylee Whitney

      Hey Jane,
      While reading your article, it was very easy to picture the warm and inviting environment of Jikoni. It really is beautiful that this spot is so foundational to you and your family. In my family, whenever we gather for holidays or special events, it is always at my grandmother’s former house, which my uncle owns now. This big, old, blue house is where we have celebrated since before I can even remember. And when we are all there together, often times we are all gathered in the kitchen together. My grandma visits with her children and grandchildren, we reminisce my grandpa and other family members we have lost, and we eat. It is so fulfilling to sit amongst the people you love the most and share a good meal with even better stories. I am sure that some pretty amazing dishes come out of your grandmother’s Meko and I’m sure she has some astounding stories to tell also. I am glad you got to go home to Kenya and have this beautiful experience! Thank you so much for sharing.
      Best wishes,
      Rylee Whitney

    • Levi Scott

      Hi Jane,
      This article emphasizes the importance of a collective living. Food is often more than just a source of nutrition. It is where culture and memories are stemmed. Although there are different terms or places, the idea remains consistent. While Kenya has the Jikoni, I have always had a kitchen. With only superficial differences, they are more alike than different. It is observed worldwide that food generates bonds, within the family and outside as well. This is because the act of eating puts people in a state of vulnerability. When done among others, a bond will sometimes form. These bonds keep families and societies together and it is vital we cherish these moments.

    • Jake Swanson

      Hello Jane,
      The “Fire That Never Burns Out”, caught my eye a drew me in. I am pretty sure you talked about this in class the other day and it was interesting to me. That was because I have never heard of a kitchen being out side the house. I think it si super cool because it makes that space special. FOr me the kitchen was just that threw my childhood but not with yours, the kitchen was a special area where you learned and shared stories. This is just so awesome because you give it meaning to make food and I think more people would benefit if they thought of cooking this way. THank you for sharing your experience this is very cool.

    • Katrina Lund

      Jane,
      Thank you for this story. This recurring image of an ever burning fire, stoked and maintained by your grandmother is really powerful. Almost like a symbol of familial and ancestral connections, as long as the fire burns it provides a warmth that you can feel even while you’re far. I imagine you must miss your grandmother immensely while you’re away from Kenya, does the thought of the fire burning when you think of her bring you comfort?

  1. Megan Gonrowski

    Jane,
    This article is beautiful and I couldn’t help but smile while I read it and re-read it. Not only can I imagine the warmth of the fire that never burns out, but I can image the warmth of love and family that fills that room. I am fascinated by the way you describe the fire that never has to be restarted because it is always burning and the memories that are attach to this important place and many of the women in your life. It makes me wonder, is there is specific place in my life that connects me to those I hold dear through fond memories and shared experiences? I love this article and if I don’t already have a place like your grandma’s jikoni, then I wish to one day have a place filled with warmth and love like the place you have described.

  2. Angela Pecarina

    Jane, thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading your article and liked when you mentioned how the fire never burns out. So with that, neither do the memories. You will always have those and all the good times you had within your kitchen with your family. To the lessons you learned there or the praises you have gotten; your kitchen holds all of that. How special!

  3. Itzayan

    Jane,

    I loved reading this NSR essay. It is like watching a scene from a moment in your life through your eyes. It is an experience of family and warmth. It reminds me of my family and my grandma. In Mexico, when my grandma was alive, she would always have a pot with water and cinnamon heating at all times so that guests could be offered coffee the moment they walked through the door. It’s a strong sweet scent that filled the house so much that at some point we’d get used to it. Not anymore. My grandma’s passing has made everything that used to be even more special, and I absorb any opportunity that my day to day life provides for me to remember her. In this case its been your writing, and for that, I am so very grateful. It is beautiful to see so many cultures be different yet similar at the same time.

    Itzy

  4. Emily Knoer

    Hello Jane!
    I really enjoyed reading your article! You illustrated Jikoni in a way that I could practically feel the memories and emotions you have in relation to it. In my family, meals were not always as big of a celebration as it seems yours are, but I always remember my grandma and mom cooking meals together for Christmas and Thanksgiving and I always had to contribute to the preparations for it. However, I never minded because the kitchen was always where the gossip was. Also, I love the idea that the fire is constantly burning because your family’s connections and feelings to your grandma’s Jikoni are always alive like the fire. It would be interesting to compare your family’s relationship with the Jikoni to other culture’s relationship with the kitchen. Thank you for sharing this story!
    – Emily

  5. Jake Foster

    Jane,
    This article was a lot of fun for me. Preparing my meals and cooking are some of my favorite moments of the day. They allow me to focus on one thing at a time and engage in a creative process. It’s really heart-warming for me to read about how it is also a valued time for socialization between your family and yourself. I don’t get to see my extended family too often, especially now that I’m in college, so it’s nice to reflect on experiences like your’s. It reminds me that although the times change, we get to come home to fun family traditions.

  6. Ben Burner

    Jane,

    Thank you for sharing. This was very interesting to learn about a new culture. It sounds like the kitchen is the place to be. The Jikoni sounds pretty special and a good place to be. I think that the kitchen is special to me too. I spent a lot of my child either having conversations, cooking, eating or doing homework growing up. I have many memories of sitting in the kitchen and my parents talking to me. I would get scolded in the kitchen or praised. I think it is special that you get your own meal of choice after you do something good. My parents do the same for me. Thanks again for sharing this was an interesting article.

    Ben

  7. Shelby Olson

    Jane
    I really enjoyed reading your article! It’s incredible to hear how much significance the Jikoni has for you and your family. I find it unique to hear about how the Jikoni is used for more than just cooking. The fact that it is also a space where you are praised, scolded, and just in general are taught by family makes the space sounds very special. I can’t think of a place in my own home where all of these aspects are reflected. In the United States have you found a space similar to the Jikoni or is it something unique to Kenya? Thank you for sharing!

  8. Elijah Ortega

    Jane,
    Thank you for sharing this part of your family’s culture. To have a place where you feel comfortable and relaxed in with the people you care about is something very special. Growing up every time we visited our family my grandma would always prefer to do the most of the cooking on her own, as we would just slow her down, so its quite interesting to get to see the converse of this. Thank you for this read and teaching me about the Jikoni and its way of bringing people together.
    Elijah Ortega-Trimble

  9. Sebrin Ahmed

    Just like you, a lot of my great childhood memories were made in those kitchens we used to call “Kushina” or “Mitad Bet.” I didn’t really understand the importance of it up until coming coming the states and smelling like onions and spices whenever I stepped out the house after cooking. The ceramic construction, natural ventilation system and the easy access to the outside of those kitchens made it the best place space. Although we had an indoor kitchen in the main house, it was almost seen as a decor. It was also a place where I would go running to since there was always food being made in those kitchens.

  10. Gabrielle Trelstad

    Jane,

    This is such a warm and wonderful story. Through your writing it is apparent how special your grandmother’s jikoni is to you and your family.

    While reading your story I was reminded of my own family’s gatherings. Many of us congregate in the kitchen at our gatherings too, especially on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    -Gabrielle

  11. Madina Tall

    Hi Jane!
    Thank you for sharing this amazing piece. It brings so much nostalgia for me and the times I absorbed my Cameroonian heritage the most. Similarly, my family’s kitchen in northern Cameroon is outside of the main house. Growing up, over the summers my cousins from all over came to unite at my grandma’s house. At dinner time, it was a time of connection between us as family members and the food as a means of celebrating our gathering and culture. We would chant to the outside kitchen “please bring food to coumba (my little sister) she is hungry!” because that was our way of demanding the food to be brought out. To this day we all talk about the chant and the food when we get together so your piece just brought so much nostalgia.

  12. Katie Peterson

    Jane,
    I really enjoyed reading this piece, I feel like I learned so much and reading it really made me smile! I never knew that kitchens were usually a separate building in Kenya. The woman gathering in the Jikoni reminded me of how the women of my family do this at my aunt’s house during holidays–we help set out dishes and prepare for the meal while talking and catching up, while the kids play and the guys usually hang around the edges of the kitchen. When you visit Kenya, how long do you usually stay? Thank you for sharing!

  13. Tamer Mische-Richter

    Jane,
    I love that the Jikoni is the place for everything. I think it adds immense value to what you eat because there is a story generated continually. It reminds me of my family during holidays, but only during holidays. Everyone is in the kitchen, those who are not are usually sitting in the living room chatting away with small talk. The spirit of the holidays is gathered through the kitchen and the food, not the small talk.

  14. Lili Tapper

    Jane,
    I loved this article! It is interesting to think of the different set up of houses, and why the Jikoni was a separate room from the main house. I think you can learn a lot about a culture by looking at the organization of the dwellings of that culture. It appears that you had many important moments in the Jikoni, which even further highlights its importance. Thanks for sharing!

    Lili Tapper

  15. Hannah Desmond

    Jane,
    It’s amazing how you can embrace your culture and how beautifully family based it is. I love hearing about family getting together and being there for each other. When you mentioned that you would contribute to the meal preparation. This reminded me of when I was younger my older brothers and I would sit by the fire out side and husk corn for our family dinner. This time in my life is most memorable for me and my brothers because it was one of the only times we all worked together. I feel like meal preparing is a great way for family to bond!
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  16. Mykaila Peters

    Jane,
    What a beautiful article. I enjoyed reading about the memories you share in the kitchen. I find it interesting how relatable gathering in a kitchen is to people. I know for me it is especially most common during the holidays that we all squeeze into the kitchen to help out and talk of memories and news. The concept of the meko and I loved your last sentence. Are there certain dishes that are best made in the meko that are not the same made in a conventional oven?

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