Iwu is a special delicacy from cassava. As the name implies, it is a staple food eaten by the people of Isuochi in Umunneochi Local Government of Abia State; this particular product has over the years survived despite all odds. Today, Iwu is celebrated, accepted and adopted by all Igbo’s and other ethnic groups in Nigeria. Iwu is eaten at home and during ceremonies. It can either be eaten alone dried ‘’okpoiwu’’, soaked in water ‘’iwunguri’’ with coconut or palm-kernel. It can also be cooked as Iwu-Ayom (Onions), or Iwu-Akpaka and specially and traditionally as Iwu–Ncha which is our focus as this paper. IwuNcha is a special menu used as entertainment for visitors and most especially served during ceremonies such as marriage, burial and naming ceremonies. Every woman born or married in Isuochi as a matter of necessity needs to acquire the skills for its preparation as it is believed that the heart of every Isuochi man is in Iwu-Ncha; this buttresses the saying that, “the heart of every man is in his stomach”. It is mostly enjoyed when eaten with bare hand and served with special type of dried fishes such as “Azu-Nwakata”, “Ogbara-Isii”, “Sungu”, “Isi naolu”, “Kpukpubari” and “Nwoma”, etc. It is also eaten with some insects like “Omuru”, “Ikpurube”, “Ngwisi” (Cricket) and a Caterpillar known as “Aguu” and Nwaigu. Background of Isuochi town Isuochi is a town formally in Isuikwuato/Okigwe local government, presently under Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State, and is located at the Northern part of Okigwe and is about 25km from Okigwe town. Isuochi is surrounded by sister towns that came together to make up its Local Government, “Umunneochi”. These are Umuchieze, Nneato and then Isuochi. Isuochi covers an area of about nine hundred and fifty square kilometer (950sq-km) with a population of about three million people. It is bounded in the east by Lokpa in Okigwe Local Government of Imo State, Ugwueme, Awgunta, Achi and Awlaw in Enugu State. On the west boundary are Owerre–Ezukala in Anambra State, and Ihube (Okigwe L.G.A) situated on its boundary with Ibii stream as the border. The people of Isuochi are naturally tall and huge. The tallest man in Nigeria giant Alakuku happens to come from Isuochi. The people are hospitable, industrious and are predominantly peasant farmers; the men cultivate yam, while the women cultivate cassava and Akidi. They are mostly Christians while some very few are traditional worshippers called “Onyemegbule”.Isuochi is made up of nine villages which are as follows: Umuelem, Achara, Amuda, Lomara, Ndiawa, Ihie, Mbala, Ngodo, Umuaku. Purpose of this paper The purpose of this paper is to discuss the social significance of IwuNcha among the People of Isuochi. A detailed description of the processing of Iwu (Cassava Flakes) will also be made. The preparation of the popular sumptuous cassava meal (IwuNcha) will be described while not forgetting the nutritional value. Key words Food: Food is any substance, usually composed primarily of carbohydrates, fats, water and or proteins that can be eaten or drunk by an animal or human for nutrition or for pleasure and sustenance of life. Food may be sourced from plants, animals or other source such as fungus or fermented products like alcohol (Wikipedia,the free encyclopedia.2009). Food can be eaten raw, while some undergo some form of preparation for reasons of safety, palatability and flavor. It could involve washing, cutting, trimming and addition of other ingredients like spices. It could involve mixing, heating or cooling, pressure cooking, fermentation, or combination with other food. In homes, most food preparation takes place in a kitchen. Cooking is also part of food preparation which requires applying heat to the food thereby changing its flavor, texture, appearance and nutritional properties. Cooking require selection, measurement and combination of ingredients in an ordered procedure in an effort to achieve the desired result. Cooking equipment: There are many types of cooking equipment used for cooling. Tripod-stands are one type of cooking equipment which can be used for cooking and roasting of food. Oven is equipment mainly used for baking and grilling, oven may be wood-fire, coal-fire, and gas, electric and oil-fired. But for the purpose of this paper, I will like to look at coking equipment used for making Ihuu-Ncha, these are locally made utensils used by Isuochi people, some are clay, wooden and metal products, as case may be. There are “Oku”, “Eku”, “Ikwe’ and “Odu”. Cassava: C a s s a v a , Manihot Esculenta, as botanically called, is a perennial woody shrub with an edible starchy root, which grows in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Cassava has the ability to grow on marginal lands where cereals and other crops do not grow well, it can tolerate drought and can grow in low nutrient soils. Because cassava roots can be stored in ground for up to 24 months’ and some varieties for up to 36 months, harvest may be delayed until market, processing and other condition are favourable. Cassava is the basics of many products, such as Garri, Akpu (Fofo), and off course Ihuu or Abacha, (tapioca or Cassava Flakes). In Africa it is a major source of carbohydrates mostly used for human consumption, while in Asia and parts of Latin America it is also used commercially for the production of animal feed and starchy based products. Cassava also provides a basic daily source of dietary energy. Roots are processed into a wide variety of granules, pastes and flours or consumed freshly boiled or raw, the leaves are also consumed as a green vegetable, which provide protein and vitamins A and B. Cassava varieties are often categorized as either sweet or bitter, signifying the absence or presence of toxic levels of gynogenic glycosides. Cassava is generally eaten by soaking and cooking to avoid toxic which are dangerous to health. Cassava is harvested by hand by raising the lower part of the stem and pulling the roots out of the ground, then removing them from the base of the plant. The upper parts of the stems with the leaves are plucked off before harvest. Cassava is propagated by cutting the stem into sections of approximately 15cm, these being planted prior to the wet season. In Isuochi cassava is harvested after six months of planting, mainly with small hoe (Apa); the hoe is used to dig round the root of the cassava, then the biggest tuber is removed from the ground by using cutlass to detach it from the root. Thereafter, the entire root is buried back to the ground until another five to six months for the next harvest. This can be done thrice until the final harvest. Processing of ihuu (cassava flakes) Ighu iwu (cooking) Harvested cassava are selected and divided according to their sizes for cooking. The big sizes are cooked differently from the small sizes. The cooking only last for about five to ten minutes. The cooked cassava is allowed to stay over the night to allow it to cool properly and to become a bit strong. Ibee iwu (grating) The next morning, the peeling and grating commences, this can be done by one, two or more people depending on the quantity of cassava. The grating
is done with a unique type of grater specially made for that purpose only called “Mkwo”. This is done also by holding the peeled cassava on the left hand side while, holding the grater on the right hand. The technique is a unique skill which every woman in Isuochi is expected acquire. The grated cassava can be washed the next day called ‘Gbatashita’’, or can be spread to dry in a rafia basket tray called “Nmimi” on the roof of a house or on a built log “Ngidi” for few days. Nsacha iwu (washing) After drying comes another tedious processes which is the washing of cassava called “Isa iwu”or “Nsachaiwu”. Isa iwu is on daily basis usually done very early morning by group of people. Early in the morning, the group set off. Normally, washing is done in a flowing stream. The dry cassava is poured into a big rafia basket made for this purpose and another smaller one as a lid cover. These baskets are called “NkataIwu”. An enamel tray is placed under the big basket; this serves as drainage and a base for the basket. In the stream, the basket is lowered beneath the water with tray base and allowed to soak for ten to fifteen minutes for easy washing. When soaked, the cassava becomes softer and slimy due to its starchy content. The washing is done skillfully by massaging and turning the cassava up and down to remove the starchy content .This process lasts for about thirty minutes to one hour. As the starch is removed the Iwu becomes whiter, stronger, tasteless and edible. After washing, the cassava is carried out of the water. While on your way home, people you meet are invited to eat “Iwummiri”. Spreading/ drying of washed cassava (iwu) At home, the cassava is dried on a raffia tray (Nmimi), as mentioned earlier. But before spreading starts, cassava is also distributed to other family members, friends and neighbours to show love, unity and hospitality; people most times ask for their share as the case may be. The “Nmimi” is first smeared with oil to make it non stick-able, a large portion is poured and spread on the ‘’Nmimi’’ which is also carried or lifted to the roof or the built logs ‘’Mgidi’’ for drying. The drying can take a day during dry or harmattan season, and two to three days on other seasons. Packaging and storage (IkpoIwu) After drying, cassava is poured on a swept floor or mat, and gathered and packed into a basin, raffia basket, and jute bag or clay pot and stored in a cool dry place. Stored cassava can last for a long period of time. It can be transported from place to place either for sale or for keeps. Gender Issues: In Isuochi, the production of cassava from cultivation, processing and to the market is wholly seen as women business while the men cultivate yam. The women also determine the sale of cassava product in any part of Isuochi and its environs. RECIPEE FOR IWU NCHA Ingredients for preparing IwuNcha include the following: Iwu (Cassava flakes) NmanuNcha (Special palm oil) usually thick NchaIwu (Special Edible soap) Fried pepper Crayfish Water Akpaka (sliced oil bean) Ogiri (made from castor seed) Garnishing: Garden Egg leaves Akpaka Uziza leaves Akwaagba Onions (optional) Served With: AzuIwu (Fish) Kolanut
CHALLENGES THREATENING THE EXISTENCE OF IWU NCHA. Cassava is mostly grown on small farms, usually intercropped with vegetable, yam, melon, maize, cocoyam, or other legumes. The application of fertilizer remains limited among small scale farmers due to the high cost and lack of availability. This makes it difficult to produce large turn-over in order to meet the high market demand. There are also some constraints to cassava production, which are pests of cassava such as green mite, cassava mealy bug, grasshopper etc. The main diseases affecting cassava are cassava mosaic, cassava blight and root rot. All these affect production. There is also decrease in general production of cassava and processing of Iwu and its products due decrease in labour force, today many had gone to the city in search of white collar job thereby leaving farming to hands of few. However,IwuNcha has also been seen as a smelling food by some who dislike Ogiri and prefer to go for IwuAyom (onions) or IwuAkpaka (oil bean seed) CONCLUSION IwuNcha is special delicacy celebrated by the people of Isuochi and its environs. It is eaten every day at homes, meetings and at ceremonies. It is mandatory for every woman born and married in Isuochi to learn how to make it. IwuNcha has worn Isuochi its pride; many travel from far distances to Isuochi just to have a taste of it or buy Iwu and its ingredients like Ogiri, Ncha, NmanuNcha. It has built up and cemented relationships. Despite the challenges threatening the survival of this culture, Iwu will continue to thrive as long as the people of continue to exist.
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Ngwisi (Cricket) Omuru and Ikpurube (Insects) Aguu (Caterpillar) Garden Egg. palm wine water In contemporary times it is also served with kpomo and fried fish. Method of Preparation (IghoIwu) The preparation of IwuNcha is another processes that has different stages and steps. IgbariNchaIwu’: The local edible soap is dissolved with water, inside a bowel known as “UriaNcha”and kept aside to settle. Igbaze NmanuNcha: The special oil is also poured on a small pot or container placed on the fire for a minute to melt. Ide Iwu: The dry Iwu is soaked inside lukewarm waterfor a few seconds to soften it a little. All are set aside for another stage. IgbaNcha: Melted oil is gradually poured in a clay fired bowel ‘’Oku’’, then the edible local soap water form (Ncha) is also poured in to mix by turning with a wooden spoon called “Eku”. The mixture of the two forms a very thick yellowish mixture, known as Ncha or nguu, at this point, “Ogiri” is added to the mixture. “Ogiri” is a major ingredient as far as this delicacy is concerned. It is made from castor seed, as mentioned earlier. It is special due to its unique flavor and aroma, Fried grinded pepper, salt to taste, mashed crayfish, maggi (optional), Uziza seed or Ehuru (spices) are added . These ingredients are then mixed together to achieve a paste light in consistency known as Ncha. Finally, the soaked soft cassava flakes (Iwu) is poured into the mixture and stirred. This is done either with hand or “Eku”, (Wooden spoon). “Akpaka” and Garden Egg leaves are added to the “IwuNcha”. These are also optional. It is at this juncture that tasting starts; someone is called upon to taste. Now our special delicacy is ready to be served. It can be eaten from the “Oku” or dished out on a plate but most people prefer to eat from the Oku. THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF IWU NCHA The nutritional value of “IwuNcha” cannot be over emphasized. All the six classes of food are present in it. The Isuochi people also believe that it makes them stronger and also contributes to their unique stature of being predominately tall.
“Ncha”, the thick yellowish mixture can be given to women after delivery as a neutralizer to the womb. It can be eaten any time of the day without giving problem to the stomach; it is eaten by both children and adults. THE SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE OF IWU NCHA The social significance of IwuNcha can never be over emphasized among the people of Isuochi. IwuNcha is widely celebrated in Isuochi. It is is seen as a symbol of hospitality; visitors are welcomed and entertained with this delicacy. Every woman in Isuochi is always ready to prepare and serve IwuNcha any day, anytime and anywhere. Today IwuNcha is served in occasions and ceremonies by many other people and tribes. It has also featured in various food competitions, exhibitions and outlets in Nigeria and abroad. IwuNcha breeds peace and unity among the Isuochi people. For example Isuochiwomen groups often mandatorily contribute Iwu as a symbol of unity and donate same to every member that is hosting events such as burial, childbirth/naming and wedding ceremonies etc. As a major occupation among the women in Isuochi, Iwu trade fosters friendship. While women are transacting their Iwu business, they seize the opportunity to make new friends and also to socialize. The Iwu trade and business has assumed a leading role in the development and economic growth of Isuochi. The influx of people into Isuochi and wide acceptance of this product nationwide has immensely contributed positively to the high demand and consumption. Just like the men, the women also take glory and measure strength in their cassava farm and its product especially as concerned Iwu. Some have been nicknamed “APAMA”, “AGADAGBA” (some casava species) in recognition of their efforts and special talents in making IwuNcha.

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