Day 52: In the Sahel

Today’s journey brought us to Nigeria, the largest country in Africa by population. We stopped by Suya Hut to try their namesake dish, Suya, a popular dish from the Northern Nigeria originating with the largest people group, the Hausa. Suya is a kebab-style dish that is seasoned with a spicy, peanut-based sauce and spice rub that is reminiscent of Satay. It is typically enjoyed as a street food.

Suya is supposed to be a spicy dish. We eat a lot of spicy food for the blog and have grown up with it. Usually when people see us coming, they feel compelled to give us a warning about spice level. These warnings, though often exaggerated, are undoubtedly based in prior experience with the American palette. We customarily wave off such warnings with affirmations of our spicy food pedigree “born cajun, eats everything, etc.”

Haroun introduces us to norther Nigerian food.

As we gave our typical answer of “how would this be served in your home?” to the question “how hot do you want it?” a helpful restaurant regular offered the kind warning: “Brother, you don’t understand, this is a different kind of spice.” Words unheeded. In our experience, it is rare that warnings of spicy food are warranted, but lets just say that suya came as advertised. This dish ranks among the spiciest food we have eaten in a restaurant, but for our less spicy driven adventurers they do offer a mild version.

Suya is a spicy, peanut-based kebab of the Hausa people.

Scattered Africans

Nigeria is a diverse country with about 500 distinct ethnic and language groups. The largest ethnic group are the Hausa (one in four Nigerians are from this group) who live predominantly in the north, although they are scattered across several neighboring West African countries, and are typically Muslim. The Hausa are largely connected with the Fulani people who are the world’s largest nomadic group, although not all Fulani are nomads.

Nigeria is home to Christians, Muslims and a number of African Traditional Religions. Christianity in Africa is on the rise, and contrary to popular belief that colonial missionaries brought christianity there, the church in Africa has 2,000 years of contiguous history. As a point of reference, in 1900, 83% if Christians lived in North America and Europe. Today, 60% of all christians live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and by 2050 40% of all churches will be in Africa. Houston is home to many Nigerians and there are many Nigerians in American churches. There is also a North American branch of CAPRO, a Nigerian-led mission agency, with many members in Houston.

In similar fashion, Africa was the first place outside of the Arabian Peninsula where the Salaat (The five daily prayers in Islam) were said. Islam is also growing in Africa and this is particularly evident in a few countries that border the predominant Christian nations such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Nigeria. Houston is home to the Nigerian Muslim Association of Greater Houston.

Nigeria is also known for one of the traditional religions which was transmitted to the Caribbean through the slave trade where it syncretized with Latin American traditional religions and now rests in many places on the gulf coast. Houston has several dozen Yerberias that sell all manner of water, oils, herbs, and statues to serve a number of eclectic (nondenominational) and animistic religions.

The Africans who are migrating around the world have captured the attention of sociologists. Houston is home to the largest group of Nigerians in the world outside of Nigeria. All of the major Nigerian groups and religions are represented locally. Seven of the thirty-six fastest growing urban centers in the world are located in Africa. This growth of urbanization and christianization has led to a growing influence that is unfolding in new ways religiously as many western-based, mainline denominations that have auxiliaries in Africa are now finding themselves out of sync with the more traditional forms of Christianity that they perviously exported.

Nigerian culture is rich in tradition and is centered on respect and humility. You will experience this when you try the food at Suya Hut.