Aug 12, 2017

How Grilled Meat Became Suya

suya


In Nigerian Pidgin English, suya is meat that has been cut into thin sheets, spiced and roasted on a grill. The word crossed from Hausa, a tongue predominantly spoken in the north of the country, to Pidgin English. 

Pidgin English is a medley of English words (wrung until they have a Nigerian feel) and words from the three super languages in Nigeria: Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. 

Each time a word crosses from Hausa to Pidgin English, its actual meaning is often lost. For instance, the pidgin word, “wahala”, is a migrant from Hausa. In Hausa, it means suffering. In Pidgin English, however, it means a problem. So, when we say, “no wahala,” we mean, “no problem.”  It is the same with the word, “suya.” In Hausa, suya means frying.  It could also mean something that has been fried. But, from the way it is used in pidgin today, it takes the form of a metaphor. This is because the meat it refers to is actually grilled not fried. 

In the 1980s, there used to be a TV show that was known as the New Masquerade. It was aired once in a week, on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). The main characters were Chief Zeburdaya, who invented a distorted English style that formed the basis of his comedy. On the show, he had two house boys, Clarus (now blind) and Gregory.  In one of the episodes, Chief sent the two house servants on an errand. They returned with a wrap of grilled meat and were eating it when he realized it.  He was surprised, as he didn’t expect them to have the money to buy the roasted meat. So, he sat them down and started asking them questions. The question he kept repeating was, “Gregory and Clarus, who are give you money to go to be purchase suya?”It was the first time grilled meat was referred to as suya. Before then, it was just roasted meat. And since the TV show was aired nationally, the whole nation heard it. Since then, grilled meat has come to be referred to as suya.

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