Bovine Head Cooks Part 2: Urban and Ritual Metamorphosis

Rebecca Plumbley

This blog post is the 2nd part of the story of the bovine head cooks; read part 1 here.

The evolution of the bovine head cooks in Warwick Junction speaks to two interrelated transformations- a physical urban metamorphosis and the urbanisation of rituals and traditions. The bovine head cooks were originally located on the sidewalk; they then moved into a specialist cooking facility; currently they are in temporary facility while they await an infrastructure upgrade.

Urbanising cultural practices

Bovine head cooking is an urban activity that speaks to an urbanised socio-cultural landscape. When cattle are slaughtered for traditional celebrations only men are permitted to touch the heads, but in the bovine head cooks we see how the cultural practice has undergone an urban metamorphosis. The urbanisation of this practice brings into question where the boundaries of the cultural margins lie- as in Warwick today it is predominantly females who handle and cook the meat. In this practice culture has urbanised and morphed according to the demand for the delicacy by urban males which has provided a livelihood opportunity.

In 2003 a specialist cooking facility was designed for the cooks and they relocated from the street edge adjacent to the Early Morning Market to a site north of the English Market in order to connect to the sewer and to congregate with existing cooks. Joanne Lees, the architect for this specialist facility commented on her experience of the design process and some of the challenges that had to be faced:

“The biggest challenge really was that there was no precedent for what we were doing, so it was all from first principles. The only way to approach that is through consultation and co-design with the users. We ran a very interactive process with the cooks.”

“We discussed their needs and problems with the current situation first and had to do some persuasion around the proposed relocation off the side-walk. After that, we used scale models as well as full scale mark ups on the floor of the iTRUMP hall to workshop the design proposals in an iterative process over some weeks.

In spite of this process with the cooks, once the facility was completed, the space was used slightly differently from what was envisaged, although this was an improvement. There were opportunities in the new facility that we hadn’t anticipated.”

Sketch design for first facility. Sketch: Joanne Lees.

The recognition of cultural and livelihood preferences builds the stakeholders future willingness to participate in design processes. The design process of the new facility was initiated by the City but was taken up by the bovine head cooks who requested Asiye eTafuleni to help in the facilitation process.

The participatory design process that was undertaken for the bovine head cooking facility was detailed in AeT’s entry into the 2017 Africa Architecture Awards, which can be watched here. AeT co-founders, Richard Dobson and Patrick Ndlovu, speak about the process saying:

“The approach was designed to help informal workers do their own research of their infrastructure needs; to be able to articulate those to local government so that appropriate infrastructure would ultimately be built.” Richard Dobson

“Consultation is the key. You never go wrong if you consult extensively. You don’t convince, you don’t impose what you build, and you have to consult.” Patrick Ndlovu

The cooks sign the final drawings for their new facility. Photo: Phumelele Mkhize.

The new cooking facility will be the 3rd iteration of infrastructure for the bovine head cooks- an indication of the City’s investment into sustaining the practice. Unfortunately, construction of the new facility has been halted- due to issues between the building contractor and the City, meaning that the cooks have been housed in the temporary facility for almost 2 years. This has been the cause of much frustration among the cooks, and there have been ongoing attempts at dialogue with the City to urge the resolution of the issue.

Cover image by Angela Buckland.

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