Zulu Beer

Utshwala (Beer) / Umqombothi (Traditional Zulu Beer)

Beer is central to the social culture of the Zulu people.

Traditional beer is made from sorghum and is brewed by women. It is brewed in a special hut that is not completely thatched so smoke can escape and the beer gets enough oxygen to ferment. It is a very popular and enjoyed equally by young and old. It is an excellent thirst quencher particularly in the hot Zululand sun, and is also very nutritious and is known to soothe stomach ulcers.

Maize and sorghum are cooked to form a thick porridge, then left to stand for one day to steep. On the second day the softened grains are boiled with water to form a milky soup and dried sorghum is sprinkled on top. The large pot is covered to keep it warm and aid the fermentation process (also to keep flies out flies and dust) for the day. Thereafter the brew is filtered through a grass sieve.

Beer drinking

There is a specific way that Zulu beer is served traditionally.  The procedure is started by the woman who brewed the beer, she skims the froth off and pours it on the ground next to ‘ukhamba’ (clay pot) as an offering ‘kwabaphansi’  to the ancestors and spirits, who always drink first. It is then stirred and either a hollowed out gourd is filled and the hostess drinks first in front of all the guests to prove that the beer is safe to drink. This is all done while the hostess is kneeling. The host then drinks to check the quality and if he is satisfied, then his guests are served, in order of status. All people present drink directly from the clay pot or use the communal gourd.

One must always drink sitting or squatting and men take off their hats. As the ukhamba has to circulate and it can be a lengthy wait, everyone takes a long drink. The ukhamba circulates until empty, in the case of the use of a gourd, if it is placed mouth up, it indicates that you want a refill, if it is placed mouth down on the saucer, it means you have had enough. If an ukhamba is used, it is covered with a grass cap to keep out dust.  If guests want a refill they place the cap facing upwards, and this indicates that the ukhamba should be refilled.