Geophagia to Château-Rouge

Giovanna Pessoa, ” The taste of the clay. The geophagia of african women in the district of Château Rouge (survey) “, Land and work, n°9, 2005/2

Kaolin is a substance made of clay, white in color, which occupies a special place in the grocery store. It is the strangeness that surrounds him, that has attracted Giovanna Pessoa, then an after-noon of January 2004, in a food store african located in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, a client buys a small white powder, row in spices, that it cannot identify. Questioning the seller, he is embarrassed when he explains that he is kaolin.

Kaolin is a substance that is edible as the other, you ask ? From two series of interviews, a part of the thirteen vendors men in the grocery stores of the Château Rouge area, selling bags of kaolin, and the other fifteen women from West Africa who are sometimes vendors, and sometimes clients of these stores, the author reflects on the qualifications of the kaolin as a substance that is edible.

It appears that the kaolin is always disposed in a manner that makes it imperceptible to customers who did not know the uses, the kaolin occupies a singular place in the space of the grocery store. Singular among the goods, it is also in its consumption. It is, in effect, not considered a food or a spice, it is described as a ” little nothing “. The ambiguous nature of the kaolin, in fact, a substance marginal, ranked between the edible and the inedible.

It should be noted that the kaolin occupies in some countries in West Africa and central Africa, a specific place, which is used in rituals of marriage and funerals, or for cosmetics, in rituals of fertility and maternity. It is thus closely associated with the populations originating in these countries to motherhood, to women’s sexuality, to the ” vital forces female “. In fact, women who eat kaolin are in special circumstances : in private, in areas not typically devoted to food, since it is ingested in the bathroom or the bedroom. The ingestion of kaolin, is often solitary, and when it is collective, not practice between women.

The ingestion of kaolin is considered shameful by the men, unless the woman is pregnant, and by some women, while those who consume, speak as a word, addictive.

“As long as the kaolin is eaten by the women during their pregnancy and as long as they expect benefits that are socially recognized as legitimate, this consumption does not raise any criticism or sanctions. But if women ingest kaolin only for their pleasure, this practice is strongly condemned. The geophagia then becomes a subversive political practice because it is a sign of the strength of women with respect to the control of men over their fertility. The practice géophagique, at the same time it manifests the power of the feminine, isolates women and excludes them from the community, his body was simultaneously perceived as a container exposed to the dirt. If the norms which surround the consumption of kaolin are also important, and if the mere designation of the mineral is so difficult for people is that this practice directly affects the question of the control by men of the feminine power of reproduction “

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