IS EXCESSIVE BEER DRINKING THE LOZI CURSE?
Barotse people are known for many lofty ideals and values; among them honesty, self and national pride, integrity, humility, self-respect and respect for authority. However, lately they are also known for negative socialization, especially their tendency to consume so much alcohol that beer is now widely considered as sikuto sa maLozi, the Lozi ‘curse’.
The vice appears to be a ‘Lozi’ curse as Barotse people and their related people groups found in neighboring Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, South Africa and Angola all seem susceptible to it.
WHEN DID BEER DRINKING EXACTLY BECOME A PROBLEM IN BAROTSELAND?
It is not exactly known when beer drinking became a grave concern in Barotseland but by 1921, King Litia Yeta III had persuaded his kuta to make beer-brewing illegal in the kingdom. This was in fulfillment of the solemn promise he had made on his enthronement in 1916 to tackle the problem.
In fact, King Lubosi Lewanika I before him had also forbidden indunas serving on his council from drinking beer, accusing drunkenness to have contributed to the 1884 revolt which had happened earlier in his reign. Lewanika may also have been aware that King Lutangu Sipopa who defeated the ma-Kololo invaders, did so by intoxicating all their men with alcohol right before he and his band of warriors pounced on them.
In Barotse governance, therefore, the supply and consumption of beer began to be regulated specifically by the Litunga (King) through the kuta system which goes down to the family and village level. Even in the defunct Barotseland Agreement of 1964, there was a specific clause on the regulation of not only the supply of beer but also its consumption. It is as though the ‘curse’ of beer had been looming over the entire Lozi nation for so long that to moderate and limit its debilitating effects, special laws had to be instituted to save the nation from being crippled or consumed by the scourge.
Historically, the commonest beer, sipesu, a locally brewed drink from fermented maize or sorghum, was introduced in Barotseland by the ma-Kololo, a Sotho migrant group from Lesotho and South Africa who had invaded and colonized Barotseland from 1830 - 1864. Then, its alcohol content was low enough to earn its popular spot as a beverage consumable by everyone, like its modern day counterpart, maheu, which is similarly processed and consumed. It could be served at family and social gatherings, but later, with increased alcoholic content, it became more for merry making and unwinding until its excessive consumption over the years became a source of grave concern in the Lozi nation.
Later, other more alcoholic brands such as mbote, a sweet wine of sorts, brewed from wild honey and kachipembe, the illicit and stronger undiluted alcohol made from the wild muhwahwa fruit, were introduced with the latter brought in by the ma-Mbunda tribe from Angola.
While a few ‘classy’ or ‘strong’ men imbibed mbote, almost everyone would drink Sipesu as it was considered socially tolerable for all gender and ages. Even children could be given muluku, the malting or chaff from the processing of the Sipesu. However, only few very ‘troubled’ souls would dare take Kachipembe, and it was generally considered shameful to consume it.
Nowadays, however, the beer tables seem to have turned because more revelers, regardless of age or gender, would drink Kachipembe without remorse.
In urban areas, whether in Barotseland, Zambia, or the sub-region, the reputation of Lozi people in relation to beer is not any different. Most Lozis are known to be ‘drunks’ who indulge themselves in all other vices that are consequences of excessive beer drinking, a worrisome trend escalating the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate and the general breakdown of the Lozi family and national structure, thereby hampering economic productivity.
In present Barotseland, however, political, economic and social frustrations confronting the Lozi people have fuelled the curse to the extent that the entire nation may drown itself in beer if the Litunga and his government do not effectively step up measures to salvage the situation. Teenage beer drinking is now alarming! Women and mothers are no longer the voice of reason in this matter as they too have not been spared by the curse.
Although specific statistics are not readily available, it is apparently clear that excessive beer drinking may be the undoing of most Lozi people and the Lozi nation at large. Therefore, moderation is the key, and it is here hoped that the Barotse would critically look at this particular aspect of their socialization, and find ways of recalibration.
To keep this social dialogue, please, share your opinions or experiences on the matter as you read the joke below illustrating the drinking habits of the Lozi people, adapted from an original social media posting recently shared by BBN:
BEER DRINKING COMPETITION: Barotseland Vs Zambia
Mongu and Lusaka decided to have a beer drinking competition.
A week before the competition, Lubasi was sent to Lusaka to confirm if the competition will indeed be held.
On his arrival, the people of Lusaka brought 20 liters of their strongest beer to impress Lubasi.
Lubasi asked if he could taste, and he was permitted to.
However, instead of just tasting a little of the brew, Lubasi finished the entire 20 liters in no time and sighed, “This tastes impressive! Please, give me the main drink now!”
The Zambian president and his cabinet were shocked because nobody had ever taken more than 5 liters of their strongest beer and remained standing.
In shock, they asked if Lubasi was among the participants in the planned drinking competition.
“Me? No!” Lubasi replied. “I didn’t qualify.”
Consequently, the President and his cabinet could not sanction the competition for fear of a humiliating defeat as they thought, “Surely, if this fellow, with such superior drinking abilities, was not good enough to enter as a competitor from Mongu, what chance then does our Lusaka team have to beat those better than him?”