The Borana people are pastoralists who live in the arid region stretching from southern Ethiopia to northern Kenya. They have a profound knowledge of their livestock and local environment. Livestock products such as milk and meat are particularly important for the Borana, who use many traditional preservation techniques to increase the quality and extend the shelf life of these products, guaranteeing a food source during times of shortage. Fonntuma is a traditional dried, roasted, pounded, and fried product made from beef or goat meat.
To make fonntuma, meat is cut into strips and dried for a few days. Next, the thin, dried strips are roasted over charcoal and then pounded (breaking them up and giving them a filamentous texture) to reduce their size and increase surface area for absorbing more oil during the frying phase. Pounding takes 1-2 hours depending on the size of the pieces of meat. Women use tongs made from dry sticks to hold the meat strips during the roasting phase: Three or four strips are grasped between the sticks, held over the red charcoal, and turned continuously. After roasting, the meat is deep fried with salt, sugar, and cardamom until it turns golden brown. The storage process is one of the most important aspects of preparation, for both quality and shelf life. A traditional wooden storage container called ejito is used. The inside of the container is smoked using special sticks in order to dry it completely and impart flavor. Fonntuma can be stored for 3-4 months and is served with ghee.
Only a few talented individuals, primarily elderly women, hold the knowledge (much of which is tacit) for making fonntuma. When a household slaughters a bull, women from the neighborhood come together to prepare fonntuma. This activity provides a space for interaction and knowledge transfer among community members. Arid and semi-arid areas are prone to famine, and fonntuma was the best anti-hunger food among the Borana community.
The emergence of butcheries in the region has made it easier for people to obtain fresh meat, so traditional preservation techniques and the knowledge associated with them is declining. Due to lifestyle changes, the slaughtering of animals has decreased and now takes place only during ceremonies and some festive occasions, such that there are fewer opportunities for knowledge transfer. If the elderly women to know how to make fonntuma cannot pass on their knowledge, the practice of preparing it may disappear. Conscious efforts need to be put in place to address the intergenerational knowledge gap and create awareness among youth to ensure that traditional culinary and cultural practices are preserved.