This past Saturday marked the first day of the Muslim calendar. On the eve, the holiday of Tamxarit was celebrated in this West African country. This was my second Tamxarit (though my first with the Mangane family). This year I was determined to pay close attention to the millet preparation, as it’s a routine process in this culture but a fairly involved one that I have yet to fully understand! Since a rich meal of millet is a central component of this particular holiday’s celebration, it was a good opportunity for me to watch the process from start to finish!
Day 1: The millet prep began on Wednesday, when my host mother took the millet she’d bought to the local millet-grinder (many people still do this step by hand, especially in rural areas where there aren’t machines). The nutritious staple grain is ground to a fine powder. (Millet is enjoyed in a great variety of forms here. The particular form that is prepared for Tamxarit is a fine-medium grain called cere.)
Day 2: The millet prep continued on Thursday afternoon with an extended sifting and mooñ-ing session. (I have no idea how one would translate mooñ into English but it’s basically the action of adding water to the millet powder and agitating it with your hand until it starts to clump.)
And of course, Yacine Ndiaye had to get in on the action — here I am trying my hand at mooñ-ing as my host mother looks on and laughs! I made sure to give the calabash back quickly to my oldest host sister Ndeye, before I’d ruin the Tamxarit millet!
After the mooñ-ing, the millet is re-sifted, using the sieve that goes with the cere grain size (the various forms of millet come in different sized-grain and each has its corresponding sieve).
The next step is pre-steaming the cere, above, done over a coal-burning stove. Once pre-steamed, the cere is broken up by hand to remove the large clumps (below).
As night falls Thursday, a final round of sifting is done to the cere.
Above, my host sister Mati takes her cere back to her house Thursday night, while our household’s batch is tucked in for the night.
Day 3: On Friday, the millet fun continues! This is where the laalo gets added. The cere is steamed again, and then the laalo, derived from the sap of the mbéb tree or from baobab leaves, is poured and stirred into it. This is done to give cere a fluffier, lighter texture.
Meanwhile, the sauce is prepared to accompany the cere for the Tamxarit dish cere bassi salete. Below far left, as tradition calls for, the sheep legs from Tabaski are prepared to go into the sauce. Chicken may also be cooked, along with a variety of vegetables; it all gets stewed together. Below far right is the separate sweet-savory, tomato-based sauce that makes the dish famous, this one with white beans, small meatballs, onions, and sugar, among other things.
Friday evening, three days after the preparation began… the Tamxarit meal is ready to serve! Kayleen nu reer! (“Come let’s eat dinner”) Again as tradition calls for, milk is often served with this meal to pour over the cere and eat with it.
Cura (with me above) made sure I was taking photos of all the steps and the finished product so I could show all my folks back home how Tamxarit is celebrated over here. And she said that when they ask me who the people are with me in these photos, I should tell them, “These are my West African family members.”
Happy New Year from all of us in the Mangane family!