Letter: In-depth study of the tribal beer barrel

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The Independent Online
Sir: Peter Jones ('I drink therefore I am, as the Greeks no doubt said', 25 August) might find contemporary illumination of the behaviour of ancient beer drinkers among the East African tribes which brew and drink beer in the style of the Egyptians he mentions in his article.

Drinking through hollowed reeds with a finely made filter permits up to 20 elders to sit and drink from the communal pot. This was the only way beer was drunk traditionally among the Kipsigis with whom I lived for two years, and included the conventions that only one person would speak at a time, no one stepped over the beer pipe of another and anyone getting drunk or sleepy would be taken off to bed. Since the beer was made by women of the family and their neighbours from millet grown for that purpose, and was used mainly for marriage or initiation ceremonies, or to reward others for hut building or harvesting, and it was made overnight, there was a strong element of community in both preparation and drinking.

The transportability and conservation of ancient beer, best drunk fresh and still warm, would, by contrast to wine, be a serious factor in its availability to ancient urban boozers, possibly overcome, as in East Africa, by the production of gin from grain.

Yours sincerely,


Shepton Mallet, Somerset