Sorghum Beer Merchants in Mecca, in 1822 and in 1852

Muslims praying around Kaaba, the most sacred ...

The annual pilgrimage at Mecca. Wikipedia

[First posted May. 2009,  Revised 17 November 2011]

There are several documents that have recently been put on the internet, claiming that Sir Richard Burton did not recognize the earlier trip of John Lewis Burckhardt to Mecca, some 30 years before his own trip.  While Burton tended to exaggerate his travelling adventures, in this case he did recognize Burkhardt’s trip.  Thus I want to repost this blog providing the relevant information.

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In addition to its religious importance, the annual Hajj to Mecca has provided, in the markets of Mecca, a commercial and social meeting ground for merchants from Muslim lands. And to ‘facilitate’ the active trade that went on, it is not surprising to find that African women were plying their trade of producing  and selling sorghum beer, on which see also this blog.

John Lewis Burckhardt, a German explorer of the early 19th Century who learned Arabic prior to his ventures into Arabia, the Middle East and Sudan, provides a view of the beer trade during the time he was in Mecca:

John Lewis Burckhardt

The Souk-es’-Sogheyr* is sometimes comprehended in the Mesfale, or “low place,” the name of the quarter on the east and south sides of the Souk; but that name is more commonly applied exclusively to the latter district.

The Mesfale is tolerably well built, and, like the Shebeyka, contains a few new houses; but that part of it which lies towards the great castle-hill is now almost entirely in ruins. It is inhabited by Arab and Bedouin merchants, who travel in time of peace to Yemen, principally to Mokhowa, from whence they import grain, coffee-beans, and dried grapes.

It is also the residence of many poor Indians, established at Mekka; these let out their houses to their countrymen, who visit this city in the time of the Hadj.

In the ruined dwellings, Negro pilgrims take up their temporary abode; some of these are settled in Mekka, and their wives prepare the intoxicating liquor made from durra [sorghum], and called bouza, of which the meaner inhabitants are very fond

* ‘The small market’

Source: John Lewis Burckhardt – Travels in Arabia, Ch. 8, Quarters of Mekka. 1822.

Some 30 years later, Sir Richard Burton visited Mecca and the region, and had this to say about the production of beer, referring back to Burckhardt’s remarks, above:

Richard Burton vestido de árabe. Pintura

Richard F. Burton,as well as Burckhardt, travelled in local costume during their explorations of Arabia. Wikipedia

No one within the memory of man has suffered the penalty of immorality. Spirituous liquors are no longer sold, as in Burckhardt’s day,* in shops; and some Arnaut officers assured me that they found considerable difficulty in smuggling flasks of Araki from Jeddah.

* It must be remembered that my predecessor [Burckhardt] visited Meccah when the Egyptian army, commanded by Mohammed Ali, held the town.*

Source: Richard Burton – Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, Ch. 32: Life at Meccah, and Umrah, or the Little Pilgrimage. c.1852

* Here, Burton may be referring to the fact that Muhammad Ali was a ‘great Westernizer’, and might have (or his troops might have) sanctioned, or at least looked the other way, at the brewing of beer.  Maybe Mike has some thoughts on this?

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!
This entry was posted in Beer, Explorers & exploration, History-Recent, John Lewis Burckhardt, Middle East, Richard Burton and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sorghum Beer Merchants in Mecca, in 1822 and in 1852

  1. Pingback: Brewing Banana Beer in Colonial Burundi « Dianabuja's Blog

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