BY FRANCIS PELEKELO
Zambia has over 70 tribes with different beliefs and cultures they practice. These differences in cultures include the cloth and food they eat. For example those from Eastern province of Zambia as the Tumbuka, Senga, Chewa, Ngoni, and the Nsenga are known for eating their delicious relish the mice locally known as mbeba, those from Northern Province are known for eating monkey locally known as Kolwe, for the lozis of BAROTSELAND they are known for their delicious relish the monitor lizard locally known as Hopani. The meat of monitor lizards is eaten by some tribes in India, Thailand, Australia and in West Africa as a supplemental meat source. it is only the lozi people who are known to eat this delicious relish and they are often laughed at by other tribes from other parts of the country, just like they do to others who eat other species.
The monitor lizards are large lizards in the genus Varanus. They are native to Africa, Asia, and Oceania, but are now found also in the Americas as an invasive species. Currently, 79 species are recognized. Monitor lizards have long necks, powerful tails and claws, and well-developed limbs. The adult length of extant species ranges from 20 cm (7.9 in) in some species, to over 3 m (10 ft) in the case of the Komodo dragon, though the extinct varanid known as Megalania (Varanus priscus) may have been capable of reaching lengths more than 7 m (23 ft). Most monitor species are terrestrial, but arboreal and semiaquatic monitors are also known. While most monitor lizards are carnivorous, eating eggs, smaller reptiles, fish, birds, and small mammals, some also eat fruit and vegetation, depending on where they live.
The word Hopani (Hokai) is believed to have come from Austronesia among the Solomon Islands community where varanids (monitor lizards) are common, they are known under a large number of local names. They are usually known as biawak (Malay and Indonesian), bayawak (Filipino), binjawak or minjawak (Javanese), or variations thereof. Other names include hokai (Solomon Islands), bwo or puo (Maluku), halo (Cebu). In English, the hopani are known as “monitors” or “monitor lizards”. The earlier term “monitory lizard” became rare by about 1920. The name may have been suggested by the occasional habit of varanids to stand on their two hind legs and to appear to “monitor”, or perhaps from their supposed habit of “warning persons of the approach of venomous animals”. Savannah monitors which are common in BAROTSELAND are stoutly built, with relatively short limbs and toes, and skulls and dentition adapted to feed on hard-shelled prey. They are robust creatures, with powerful limbs for digging, powerful jaws and blunt, peglike teeth. Maximum size is rarely more than 100 cm. Their diet is much more restricted than that of other African monitor lizards, consisting mainly of snails, millipedes, orthopterans, beetles, and other invertebrates.
But according to the lozis there are a lot of does and don’ts with regards the way this delicious relish is prepared and later eaten. It is told that this relish cannot be prepared by women but men only. No matter how a man loves his wife he cannot allow her to prepare it for him, worse more women are not allowed to eat this relish, for fear that they may be barren. In short it is a men’s relish.
In rare cases only those women who have reached meno pose. The second don’t is that no one should bite the bone of the monitor lizard (monitor) especially the back bone (mongola) part of it, as doing so will make one became flail (loose wait) and eventually die. It is not just people who are not allowed, but even dogs that help to catch it are forbidden from eating such bones. For this reason after cooking, the bones are removed and bunt so that no one will have access to them.
The Hopani is usually prepared by removing the inside parts such as the intestines, liver and all other parts found in the abdomen. Only the fats are kept aside for frying purposes. Once that is done, the scales are removed by placing it on fire for 5 to 10 minutes, thereafter, using a knife to remove the scales from all the body parts completely. Thereafter, the head, feet and part of the tail are removed as they are believed to have some medicinal purposes. The rest of the body is cut into some sizeable pieces and put them in the pot for boiling for about 4-6 hours. After this long hour cooking process, the pieces are removed from the pot and put on a separate dish for further processing while the soup remains in the pot. Now follows the process of removing the meat from the bones. This process is carefully done to ensure that no bone is left to the meat.
Once this process is complete the hopani now goes into the final stage of cooking where the pot or source pan is placed on fire, after few minutes of heating, the fats which were removed from hopani are placed on it to melt. Once the melting process is done, the soft meat that was separated from the bones is placed in the hot fats for less than an hour. If the fats are not enough cooking oil can be used to fry it. Later on the soup that remained from the boiling pot is poured in the pan and make the dish mix evenly. With modern life tomatoes and onion can be added to the dish.
Once you rich this stage, it is now a time which any lozi man would not want to miss. You need enough nshima because the relish is very delicious. Usually only boys who had graduated from eating with women could qualify to test this relish, and once tested they would never want to miss it again.
In fact others argue that the theory of removing women from preparing it and later on eat, was a well-planned strategy to ensure that only men can eat since the relish is usually not big enough to cater for everyone. Although Mr. Maswabi a lozi traditionalist does not agree with this opinion, according to him, women were removed from eating it because of a lot of traditional beliefs among the people in the olden days. He continues to argue that the aspect of allowing men to prepare it, was to give men chance to be in a secret place where they could strategize about the enemies and other hunting plans since it took more time to prepare it. He is of the view that people were also thinking of conversing nature since these creatures are not in abundance. It is usually eaten in a day.
They are usually hunted during the rainy season when the vegetation is green and there are a lot of food for them. Especially few hours after it has rained, because they like coming out of their hiding places to follow the sunshine outside. In fact having grown up in the village sometime in 2002 we attempted to eat the whole hopani without giving the elder men in the village, on that we where punished for what the elders termed as indiscipline behavior. I feel this is what other tribes such as the Tongas are missing.