‘Gursha’: The East African Ceremony of Feeding One Another
The East African ceremony of Gursha is the practice of feeding another by placing, with one’s hand, a bite of sumptuous, spicy food–wrapped in the East African bread called injera–gently in the mouth of another. It is an intimate act of friendship or of love practiced in Eritrea and Ethiopia, East Africa. The practice is a bit of a culture shock for Westerners accustomed to eating from separate plates with sterile forks and spoons. The ceremony defies every social norm in the West around personal space, eating with one’s hands, and much more, placing food in the mouth of another—touching both the food and the one being served.
The practice of Gursha—in defying Western conventions around sharing a meal—speaks to a different way of engaging with the food we eat, engaging with each other around shared meals. It is instructive of a different way of being in relationship. It enhances the notion of relational presence as a way of bringing the sacred into ordinary life and ceremony as a rich exemplifier of relational being (Gergen, 2009).
If you have ever dined in an Eritrean or Ethiopian restaurant or been blessed to have shared a meal in the home of a family from one of these countries, you likely will have observed the ceremony. It is strikingly different from western conventions, first, because the food is shared and eaten from a common dish. A proverb from this part of the world states that “those who eat from the same plate will not betray each other.”
There is a story told of heaven that, it is a place of banquets of food where participants in the heavenly feast feed the person seated next to them. There is a divine aspect to feeding one another. It is also an intimate act. What is more intimate than the picture of a mother breastfeeding a newborn infant?
What would it mean if we were to practice the act of Gursha in our relational life? Ken Gergen articulates beautifully the sacredness of being relational beings. He notes that what we hold as most precious cannot be owned or possessed. But, perhaps it can be touched in the act of feeding one another—nurturing the relationships that not only make life rich, but are what constitutes life. My take-away from the notion of relational being is the practice of relational presence. Relational presence is about really showing up to the relationships we hold most dear. It is about feeding these relationships, valuing these relationships above personal agenda and nurturing these relationships in love and intimacy.
Do you remember a time when you have experienced great intimacy in a shared meal? Perhaps it was around a communion table where communicants place bread and wine on each other’s lips affirming unity as one body. Perhaps it was around a shared meal. In my home or in the East African community I work with in Seattle, Washington, it is often around a shared platter of habesha food—the food of the peoples of the Horn of Africa. How do you nurture and feed the relationships in your own life?
I think of the many global peace conversations that have evolved around a shared meal. How might sharing a meal together be an act of peacemaking and conflict transformation? Let’s explore breaking bread together as a way of deepening and restoring relationships!
Thank you to my Oromo friend Waco and my Eritrean friend Amanuel for reflecting with me on the ceremony of Gursha. Thank you to all who have shared injera with me and held our relationships in tenderness and love.