In Thanda Maria, we love many things. Of course, the one thing we love the most is hydrating our tonsils with all manner of throat wetting fluids of the intoxicating variety; that is already well established. Most of these fluids are barely palatable and push the limits of what can technically and legally be considered as beverages, but we love them unconditionally. We love to attend to the demands of our arid throats as frequently as our pockets will allow; preferably with as little regard for our own personal safety as is humanly possible.
We also have many other things that we love, though not with the same level of commitment and intensity as those fluids. One of those things is pork. In the hierarchy of the things that are adored around here, it may come a distant second, but we have very strong feelings for it all the same. As a delicacy, ngùrwe has no peers in Thanda Maria.
Pigs have always been reared in many homes here. One of the primary reasons for this was pigs were so low maintenance and required such a low standard of care that they wove beautifully into the fabric of chronic poverty that was pervasive in the streets of Thanda Maria in years past. They ate whatever you threw at them, provided it was chewable. If it wasn’t chewable, they would still make a very good attempt at chewing it. “Ngùrwe no Cuuma ítaríyaga,” the experts in many things would claim, to justify feeding their swines anything under the sun short of galvanized, high-yield, industrial steel.
If you threw at them raw bananas, they ate them. If you threw ripe bananas, they ate them. If you threw last month’s leftovers, they ate them. If you threw raw maize, they ate it. If you threw maize cobs, they ate them. If you threw leaves, they ate them. As a matter of fact, they were prodigious cannibals; if you slaughtered and cooked one of them for commercial purposes, they would eat the bones on general principle. Calcium was calcium irrespective of whether it came from its favourite cousin or not.
What they never ate though, were any of the approved animal feeds from reputable animal feed milling companies. Animal feeds were like mermaids and unicorns, figments of their imagination. In a word, commercial feeds to them were ng’ano cia marimù; ogre stories. What Exe chapatis from Unga were to us, pollard from Unga Feeds was to them. We were all on a tight budget.
In short, you had to work outstandingly hard to starve a pig and this made them prized possessions amongst a collection of fiscally challenged ninjas with permanently arid pockets.
When the owner of a pig could no longer bear the attendant hazards of insufficient liquidity, which was most often the case; the pig would be slaughtered, regardless of whether it had come of age or not. If you wanted your pig slaughtered, you looked for the ninjas that were well versed with the complexities, the nuances, and the subtleties of taking swine life.
There were about 5 approved killers of swine in the village approved by no one but themselves. I do not know what criteria outside of sheer mercilessness was employed to qualify one as a certified killer of swine; if there was, it was kept secret. They were like James Bond, they had the license to kill.
There was the loud and obnoxious, Kijojo. Other than being skilled at killing swine, he was and still is, very well versed with the art of hurling expletives and issuing insults at random people. There was the soot-black ninja, Waithaka, who went by the nom-de-guerre, Mùnzù. There was the physically imposing Gítaù wa Baùra (Paula), better known as Gítaù Mashoka on account of his massive muscles. Of course, I take a lot of liberties with the phrase ‘massive muscles’; because in a sea of emaciated Ninjas, he was basically a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. And the one eye had early-onset glaucoma.
There was Kang’ethe wa Rùríciana (Lawrenciana), a ninja that had never heard of, or met in person, a skirt he did not like. Finally, there was Wawerù Jembe, a small-scale manufacturer of the illicit and highly intoxicating beverage Matinga, and a regular guest of the state at the Mùrang’a GoK prison. Again, I use the term beverage there with extreme restraint and caution.
Of the five, only two are still on active duty; Kang’ethe and Jembe. In a recent conversation with Gítaù Mashoka, he informed me that the reason they had to abandon the trade was because of a trade war between them and the two. Jembe and Kang’ethe routinely employed guerrilla tactics of massive price undercutting that drove their competitors out of the sector. In the case of Jembe, there was a well-established tendency of going below the industry approved minimum. The extent of this tendency was dictated by the dryness of his larynx. Jembe was a thirsty man; the drier his larynx was, the lower he was willing to go and he made no apologies for it.
I have slaughtered many pigs myself through the services of either Kang’ethe or Jembe. Slaughtering is usually done very early on Saturday mornings at your home. The killer you have settled on usually comes during the week to assess the size of the animal for purposes of collecting orders from interested consumers.
Before the advent of mobile telephony, it was a jungle out here. The sending out of information to would-be consumers that you intended to kill a pig on a certain future date was a problematic undertaking. The most popular form of publicity was purchasing a 32-page ruled exercise book for the killer who would now play publicist. On it, he would write out a public announcement notice with a pen. It would read;
NGURWE! NGURWE! NGURWE!
MÙTHENYA WA JUMA.
MWERI *insert date*.
MÙCIÍ KWA *insert owner*
Verbatim, it read.
PIG! PIG! PIG!
DATE: *insert date*
AT *insert name* HOME.
He would then spend an entire day sticking these notices on electricity and telephone poles throughout the village. This was an illegal act, but one borne out of necessity. The whitish liquid from the Mùtarù tree would be used as adhesive and collecting it was dangerous and troublesome. At times, in its place, a paste made of wheat flour and water would be used. Wheat flour was worth its weight in gold, so it was used sparingly. Needless to say, glue was elitist and out of reach.
The actual slaughtering usually takes place at 4 a.m. on Saturday morning. The process of slaughtering a pig was and still is, unnecessarily dramatic and needlessly cruel. It is not for the faint of heart. It comprises of hitting the animal repeatedly on the head with a steel mallet or axe to immobilize it. Sometimes the animal is immobilized with the first blow, sometimes it takes 10. Sometimes it breaks free and runs away after the first blow. There is no script, it can go well, or it can go south incredibly fast, it depends on the day. It also depends sometimes on how wet Jembe’s throat is. It always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Once it has been immobilized and decapitated, it is skinned. A government health official who knows many things passes by at daybreak and inspects the meat. If it passes inspection, it is stamped and readied for sale. If it fails inspection, he douses it in kerosene purchased at your own cost after you have paid him. The customers will usually come to your home after daybreak.
No flesh is wasted. It is not an exaggeration; it is truly a jungle out here. The skin is cut into strips and boiled. It is a famed delicacy here known as míkonde and has gone for 10 shillings a piece for as long as I can remember. Boiled liver or mani is the first to go. It is usually a free-for-all for the mani as many ninjas who went to bed with nothing but alcoholic beverages in their stomach battle hard for a piece, which is usually priced at a pocket friendly 20 shillings. I have seen it fished from the sufuria and eaten nearly raw in a feat of pure desperation.
The lungs, intestines, stomach, and abdominal organs are boiled together in one sufuria usually with one onion and tomato for decency. They are the most popular of the delicacies going for 20 bob for a highly subjective standard serving. Out here, we call them ndaguos. Ndaguos, like caviar, is gourmet cuisine around here.
The fat is cut off the skin and flesh and boiled with a little water to make something called ngarango which goes for 10 bob per serving and is for industry experts with experienced digestive systems. It is also loved by people with no regard for their well being. You have too much of it and you become intimately acquainted with dramatic diarrhoea.
The ears or headphones are adored. A single ear goes for 30 bob. They taste like disease and they are an acquired taste. The rims or feet are just barely palatable, and they are usually the last to go. The tail, or mùting’oe, is a delicacy and it sometimes comes attached to a part of the exhaust system of the animal which according to the local experts that know many things, enhances flavour. It is eaten by a ninja by the name Ngundo; who prefers to pre-order.
The boiled head or helmet has many choice cuts, the most sought after being the tongue, rùrímí, which fetches a premium 50 shillings. The actual meat is sold in kilos to passers- buy and the rest is sent out to customers who had pre-ordered.
All this leads me to an unfortunate series of events on a day more than a decade ago. A lady by the name of Wadogo, once had a prized pig. She is a sister to a very unscrupulous gentleman by the name Hungry Tiger, a man who possesses the third or fourth most arid throat in the village depending on who you ask. After nurturing the swine through biting poverty for months, a sudden need for funds meant that the pig had to be slaughtered. She contracted a contract killer, Kang’ethe wa Rùríci, who happened to be his cousin, to do the job. After all the systems had been put in place, Saturday morning and a promise of much-needed cash came quickly.
As they made their way to Wadogo’s make-shift pigsty a little before 4am. They were met with deathly silent at the sty. The pig had disappeared in the dead of the night.
All evidence pointed out to the Hungry Tiger, who was asleep in a very old mud house next to the sty. Kang’ethe threatened to break down his door with an axe and slaughter him in place of the swine. Things were about to get very thick, very fast and set in motion a very unlikely chain of events.
Stay tuned and learn what happened next.