Zulu beer is traditional beer which is known as uMqombothi but also called IsiZulu; it is a big part of the Zulu culture.
It is tradition to make Zulu beer, from the past, our fore fathers made Zulu beer and was passed on from generation to generation. A ritual is not complete without Zulu beer; in fact it has never been without Zulu beer. It is the foundation of every ritual, no matter how small it is. Remembering the dead, weddings, umemulo and other rituals Zulu beer is made, it is very important. When remembering the dead or when visiting a gravesite, one may make Zulu beer even if they are not going to slaughter an animal.
It is believed that the ancestors will not recognise the ritual that one is performing if Zulu beer is not part of it or they will not recognise it, it is believed to be done for the ancestors. It may be a way of communing with the dead. As they also used to make it, it is a way of connecting with them as they believed in it. When making Zulu beer, we are communicating with them, it is a source of food for our ancestors, it is what they used to drink it and so it is significant.
Women make Zulu beer, usually the mother of the household and the daughter-in-law (makoti). It is her duty as a makoti to make Zulu beer for her in-laws, she creates a good name for herself if is able to make good Zulu beer.
When still in the process of making the beer, it is stored in the kitchen, at a warm place for it to have sour-like taste and covered with a net for it to inflate. That is just the mixture of maize, sorghum, millet and warm water, which is before boiling; the sour-like taste will show that it is ready for boiling. After the whole process, one beer pot is store ‘emsamu’, which is where incense will be burnt together with the meat and other food.
Anyone is allowed to drink Zulu beer, whoever wants to, from the older people to the young people. And the one who made the Zulu beer has to take the first sip.
Zulu beer is made on every ritual, it is made for any occasions, umemulo, umhlonyana, weddings, funerals, even for a party and also for just remembering the ancestors or when visiting the gravesite of a dead family member.
The main purpose of Zulu beer is to commune with the ancestors, to remember family that has passed on, to celebrate and Zulu beer is tradition.
The beer pot is made of clay; women make it and put it on fire for it to be firm. It is tradition to drink Zulu beer from the beer pot; it is specifically made for Zulu beer. It is covered with a lid made with the same grass (imbenge) that is used for the grass mat, it the lid is upside down, it shows that the beer pot is empty.
Ayanda Ngcobo (October 2012)
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