Ntsambu, the Foul Smell of Home: Food, Commensality and Identity in the Comoros and in the Diaspora Iain Walker

Introduction

Commensality and foodstuffs are important markers of identity and belonging on the Comorian island of Ngazidja and among Comorians in diaspora, creating pathways for inclusion and exclusion. In Ngazidja, where food differences are minimal, commensality creates cohesion; in the diaspora, food differences are more important and it is the foodstuffs themselves that are invoked to mark identities. In this article I explore how foods and commensality create and sustain Comorian identities in France and in Zanzibar as well as in Ngazidja, and how both sharing and the denial of the opportunity of sharing creates and transcends boundaries between Comorians and their neighbours and between Comorians in diaspora and Comorians at home. I conclude with a discussion of a uniquely Ngazidja foodstuff, ntsambu, which paradoxically is often too Comorian to be eaten by Comorians in diaspora, creating a rupture within a wider “Comorian” identity.

Walker, I. (2012) ‘Ntsambu, the Foul Smell of Home: Food, Commensality and Identity in the Comoros and in the Diaspora’, Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment, 20(3-4): 187-210