Mrs. Kate Ebenye Idowu née Steane is known by family, friends, colleagues, pupils and in fact, everybody, as Aunty Kate.
She is one of the daughters of Charles Nako and Djara Steane, both of blessed memory,and is resident in Clerks Quarters, Buea, Fako Division. She was born in September 1919 in Victoria (now Limbe) and is still going strong at the ripe age of 89 years.
Who is Aunty Kate?
Aunty Kate had her primary education in the then Victoria and Kumba, and later went to the Kudeti Training Centre in Ibadan, Nigeria. She obtained the Diploma in Home Economics in the University of Durham (England) and the University of Oregon (USA). When Home Economics was included in the Cameroon GCE ordinary level subjects, Mrs. Idowu attended a short course on setting and marking the questions at the University of London. She then set up and trained the teams of Home Economics teachers who were in charge of Home Economics as one of the GCE subjects.
Aunty Kate taught Domestic Science or Home Economics in Centres for school girls and women in Victoria (Limbe), Buea and Bamenda. She has trained many teachers, caterers and housewives formally and informally. Everyone who lived in her house learnt to cook and bake – both boys and girls.
For some time, Home Economics was not considered an important subject and was not included in final school exams because only the girls in primary schools studied it. Later on, it was taught in secondary schools and even though included among the GCE subjects sat and passed, it did not count for entry into higher education or the civil service. Hence the students did not take the course seriously and the performance of the few who sat for the examination was low. Even though it was an official subject, a pass in Home Economics was not considered for admission into higher institutions or the public service professional examinations.
For many years Aunty Kate catered for official and private parties, made cakes for special occasions and was always in charge of or in committees responsible for feeding special groups during national and provincial celebrations. Most of her services were offered free of charge. Catering is now a very lucrative business because Cameroonians love good food!
Cooking was not her only skill. She made different types of household decorations by knitting, crochet, tie-dye, macramé… “you name it, she could make it”. She also taught these skills to women’s groups (cultural, religious, community etc.) as well as the host of young people who grew up in her home. She was never idle – if not cooking or baking, her hands were always busy making something useful from cloth, wool, thread, ropes… She was an ardent farmer, growing vegetables, yam and fruits in her back garden and flowers around her house.
Now that she is a senior citizen and cannot do much herself, she still instructs those around her on how to prepare special delicacies like rice bread. She loves to help out in the kitchen. She makes attempts at knitting, baking and even tries to wrap cocoyam for ekwancoco and then looks at her hands, turns them around, sighs and everybody
laughs at those superskilled hands, now weak!
She has always made her faith in God a priority and organized daily night prayers in her home. The cook book has prayers on several pages. As a member of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Great Soppo, she was active in the women’s group and insisted on being accompanied to church. Now that she is not very mobile, she is visited by her pastor and the women of the church recently gave her recognition for her activities.
Mrs. Kate Idowu, Aunty Kate, is a great Cameroonian woman who has trained many young girls and boys, women, to be house proud, economically viable and take good care of their families. This training has continued down the line from mothers to children and teachers to pupils. Cameroon has put special emphasis on girls’ education and trying to motivate more of them to study the sciences. Mrs. Idowu’s captivating smile, soft spoken immaculate English and her achievements went a long way to motivate girls to take their education seriously. If a woman born in 1919 can achieve so much, why cannot girls and young women in this modern age, with all the modern facilities achieve greater heights in all works of life? In Aunty Kate’s Cookery Book (page 9) she writes:
“Do you know that education is given not for the purpose of earning a living, but rather of learning what to do with that living after earning it? Whenever I’m in doubt, I mutter – eggs and fish, marge and butter, fruit, potatoes, carrots, greens give you all your vitamins”
Despite all that is written about African “tribalism”, in Cameroon our integration is such that specific traditional dishes have become national dishes and are prepared and consumed regularly in households of different tribes (eru, foofoo, achu, ekwancoco, ndole, etc).
“Aunty Kate’s Cookery Book” is a well known and widely used cook book not only for Cameroonian recipes but also for popular and well loved dishes eaten in West and Central Africa. It celebrates the many, varied and tantalising tastes that Cameroonian and African foods offer to the connoisseur. For those who know it, it is not just a cookery book but a textbook on the science, culture and art of food and nutrition.
As she states in the introduction:
“This … book aims to be more than a mere collection of recipes. For teachers and students of Home Economics, it is intended to be a full, reliable textbook of cookery and nutrition. For the housewife and caterer, who may or may not have had the advantage of specialist training, it is a complete education in its subject”.
The book is cited on the internet and excerpts are used in numerous publications, often without reference to either the author or the book.
“Aunty Kate’s Cookery Book” contains sections on nutrition, food groups with common, generic and local names for the different foods; recipes and menus, seasonal variations in food availability during the year, examples of traditional utensils, kitchen prayers, rules, relevant proverbs etc. Terms and processes are defined and explained in very
simple style for people to follow. Some “senior service” men - who bought the book for their wives - claimed that they could themselves really cook some dishes with the help of the book!
Aunty Kate at a glance
Mrs Kate Ebenye Idowu – Aunty Kate
Diploma in Home Economics, University of Durham, UK
Diploma in Home Economics, University of Portland, Oregon. USA
Retired Home Economics Teacher and Examiner