Mbege – A Unique and Chaga Traditional Beer
The Chagga people come from the hills at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. The Chagga tribe also has a unique tradition and that is Mbege. The alcoholic beverage Mbege is made from sprouted millet powder and ripe bananas.
Often referred to as banana beer, but with a taste more like wine. Traditionally, Mbege is brewed only by women. It is a very time-consuming process and labour-intensive.
Specific bananas are harvested from the farm to make Mbege. There is a specific type of banana used called ‘ndizi ngombe’, which means ‘cow bananas’. Bananas are stored in a warm, dark place to ripen after they are harvested. Bananas can take up to seven days to reach adequate ripeness depending on the prevailing weather conditions.
After they are ripe, the banana skins are removed and the bananas are put in a big pot of water to cook. The bananas are initially yellowish-white, but after about 6 hours of cooking, they turn a reddish-brown color, which indicates that they are done. The banana mix is then poured into a container and left to ferment for several days.
Whilst fermenting, the finger millet is produced. The millet is normally put inside a plastic sheet to germinate. Once sprouted, the millet is dried in the sun and crushed to a fine powder to make flour.
When white bubbles appear on the surface of the banana mixture, it is ready. This is often the stage when the men will be asked to assist with filtering the liquid through a local sieve.
To make a thick porridge, millet flour is mixed with some water. This is the last step needed to successfully prepare the brew. The millet and banana mixtures are mixed together and a few strips of quinine bark are also added and left overnight. The quinine adds a slightly bitter taste to the beer. The brew is then ready to be drunk as Mbege on the following day.
On the first day, Mbege content is usually between 0.5% and 1.5%, but as the mixture continues to ferment, it becomes more potent. In the beginning, the taste is sweet and then sour towards the end. Occasionally it is quite bitter as well as malty from the millet.
Chagga people consider Mbege to be an important part of their traditions, but some of the WaMeru people who live on the slopes of Mt. Meru also consider Mbege to be part of their culture. People from the villages can be found on the lower dips of Kilimanjaro selling Mbege.
It is usually part of a traditional lobola before the wedding takes place. It is drunk at weddings, funerals, birthdays and business meetings.
Mbege is normally shared, so when a group of people sit around they usually share one or two glasses passing them around until more is needed.
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