Beer In Art #26: Brewing Traditional Beer In Zimbabwe

Today’s works of art are more depictions of traditional, pre-industrial brewing, these ones from Africa, specifically Zimbabwe, in southeastern Africa. The title of the first painting is Brewing Traditional Beer and was painted by Morgen Chandomba in 2007.

Click on the image above for a larger, more detailed view.

There is very little information about the artist, Morgen Chandomba. At Absolute Arts, the only place I could find mention of him on the internet, there is a small galley of his work, which is primarily depictions of everyday life, along with the occasional abstract. His biography only gives very basic details, such as the fact that he’s only 24, single and enjoys “watching movies, painting, socializing, and hanging around with guys or drinking.”

Chandomba lives in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the second-largest city in that African nation. And while there is industrial beer in Africa, the primary type of beer for centuries has been millet beer, which is also known as “Bantu beer, kaffir beer, or opaque beer, [which] is an alcoholic beverage made from malted millet.”

As one website tells it:

Millet beer has been brewed in Africa for millennia. It is one of the staples of religious and social life. No prayer to the ancestors can begin without an offering of millet beer, no funeral can be held without copious amounts of millet beer. Very few visitors to Africa have ever watched beer being brewed, or know that it is safe to drink in rural villages.

To buy a DVD on Brewing Millet Beer in Africa or to watch the trailer, check out CreateSpace.

There’s also an interesting story on homebrewing in Zimbabwe on Michael & Doria’s Travel Tales. And check out this Weya Story Quilt depicting beer brewing (it’s at the bottom of them page).

But not all beer in Zimbabwe is only for personal use. Some Millet beer is made to be sold, as can be seen in this painting, Brewing Beer For Sale by Milcah Mashonganyika.

On the reverse of the painting, is the following legend to help explain what’s going on in the artwork.

Two women are carrying sacks of millet.
They are putting the sacks of millet in the river.
They want it to germinate.
Mother is putting the germinated millet on a flat stone to dry.
Mother is winnowing the millet.
Mother is grinding peanut butter.
Tendai is paying with a ball.
Two women are brewing the beer in the big drum.
Now they are filtering the beer.
People are drinking beer.

It looks like she did at least a second painting by the same name, though showing more detail and brighter colors.

As for Milcah Mashonganyika, there’s slightly more information at her biography:

Born in 1966, Milcah was raised in a family of 6 children. She was married in 1982 and has 5 children. Her husband died in 1994, at the age of 32. She is now the sole support for her children.

Milcah learned to paint at the Weya Community Training Centre in 1988. She moved to Harare in February 1998, to paint on hand-thrown pottery at Ros Byrne Pottery. She says she moved to the city because “every week there was money,” thus enabling her to “give my children a better life.”

Harare is the capital of Zimbabwe and its largest city.

Here’s the Wikipedia summery for Zimbabwe:

Zimbabwe, (officially the Republic of Zimbabwe and formerly Southern Rhodesia, the Republic of Rhodesia and Zimbabwe Rhodesia) is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the continent of Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. The official language of Zimbabwe is English; however the majority of the population speaks Shona, a Bantu language. Its other native language, Sindebele, is spoken by the Matabele people.

Zimbabwe today is under the reign of President Robert Mugabe. Human rights abuses[2] and economic mismanagement leading to hyperinflation and impoverishment have increased popular support for newly sworn-in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai.

It’s interesting that wherever cereal grains grow, native populations have figured out how to make beer with them. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a beer brewed with Millet, but now I’m extremely curious to get my hands on some. Does anyone use millet in homebrewing?



  1. says

    Not being an experienced brewer I stick to churning ou hard cider as it is cheap and easy to produce. However, having been fortunate enough to experience “lunch” with some locals at a beer hall in Bulawayo, I have sampled traditional Zimbabwean brew. Despite experiencing a little GI distress later that evening, I am still very much alive and in good health. I think sorghum is actually included as a part of the mix with the end product being an opaque white chalky potion which has all the bite of a nine volt battery and the smell of a very old snake. Given the choice again I would opt for a Castle Lager over some Chibuku anyday but I guess that is just the Mukiwa in me.


  2. says

    I used to drink millet beer in the Peace Corps in Mali (West Africa, quite far from Zimbabwe). It was quite mild, slightly tart, and reminded me somewhat of German dunkel hefeweizens. I don’t do any homebrewing myself, but I’ve been thinking about trying to prod one of my homebrewing friends into trying to replicate the Malian beer. That video looks like it might be a good place to start, thanks for pointing it out!

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