Brewing Sorghum Beer in Burundi, 19th Century and Now

The second beer that is described by Hans Meyer, in Les Barundi : une étude ethnologique en Afrique orientale, is made from sorghum – or millet, or a mixture. (See this blog for banana beer and this blog for information on the book). Sorghum or millet beer is found throughout Africa and still retains an important place in ceremonies.

Below is a translation of the French, from Meyer’s book, an edition that was translated into French from the original German in about 1980.

The brewing of beer made from sorghum [or millet] (insoga y’impeke] is less complicated [that banana beer].  It is also true that it has less taste and is less appreciated*

 * Chrétien:  Sorghum, called impeke, was – on the contrary – the most popular drink at the time.  [It was what] was drunk at the court of the mwami [king] and the Baganwa [nobles]. 

 It predominates in the areas where more sorghum than bananas are grown; for example, Eastern Urundi [Burundi] and Uha [territory to the East of Burundi], *.

 *Diana:  Perhaps in terms of quantity grown, but the ceremonial importance of sorghum beer is such that it was, and still is, widely marketed around the country.

The procedure is the following:

Red or white sorghum [or millet] is placed into cold water to swell and germinate.  A few days later, it is piled up in a basket, and after it has germinated a few more days, it is dried in the sun and is then pounded into flour.

 After this, the flour is poured into some boiling water.  The [resulting] porridge is continually stirred with a wooden board, while cold water is progressively added.

BaTwa pygmy potters made the large pots for beer in pre colonial times, as they still do today.  Source – Meyer

When the large pot is filled with cold water, a little sour banana beer is poured in [for fermentation], and the slurry is allowed to settle to the bottom.

 It remains only to pour the beer into small pitchers…

 [The beer] retains the color of flour, and is filled with grains of sorghum that float therein.

Reed straws used for drinking beer were, in the past, carried in decorated cases such as these. For pictures of straws used in the ancient Near East, see this blog.  Source: Meyer

 Nowadays (2011) sorghum beer is the preferred beverage for important ceremonies, such as marriage, as well as engagement, death, Christmas, and other celebrations. 

Father of the bride and of the groom ceremonially sharing sorghum beer as part of the ceremony

 In the past, the importance of sorghum and millet as key subsistence crops was expressed in ceremonies during the season of planting and were important in rituals, as explained by Chrétien:

 Sorghum had a prominent place in the symbolic sphere that helped to legitimize the royal power in Burundi, and more precisely during the annual festival of sowing. This festival (the muganuro) was associated with the cult of the dynastic drum, an agrarian ritual, a national holiday and associated with the periodic renewal of the king’s power.

This festival helped put into rhythm social time along with the beginnings of a ritual practiced with members of the finger millet families.

These two grains, combined with livestock, were associated with a stage in the history of ancient rural Burundi that preceded the diffusion of the American bananas and beans.

 Source: J-P Chrétien-Le sorgho dans l’agriculture, la culture et l’histoire du Burundi Journal de la Société des Africanistes Paris  – 1982, vol. 52, no1-2, pp. 145-162 (notes)

 See also the following blog, for more information on ceremonial uses of sorghum beer:

Fresh Sorghum Beer with Stewed Roadrunned Chicken & Yellow Beans



About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
Aside | This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Agriculture, Colonialism, Explorers & exploration, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Brewing Sorghum Beer in Burundi, 19th Century and Now

  1. Pingback: Sorghum | Find Me A Cure

  2. Pingback: $10 for $20 Worth of Drinks and Pub Fare at Sono Brewhouse and Restaurant in Norwalk » Get your daily Groupon deals

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