Rice Beer: A vanishing tradition

Rice Beer: A vanishing tradition

Lipichem and Vibi Yokha
Kiphire/Kohima | June 26


Local rice brew, a staple of many indigenous communities, has started disappearing from their dining tables.
The brew is prepared with traditional knowledge, by letting the rice ferment with the starter cake, or out of pounded rice with herbs or bitter gourd.


An important staple for many indigenous families, the brew has now become taboo with the changing socio-religious perceptions of this indigenous drink.


Different communities have different versions of the drink. But the basics remain. Each community uses it as a drink as well as food.


Elders who grew up with this tradition say that brewing rice also helps save the food grains during poor harvest, as the rice beer could serve as a substitute to a normal meal.


In addition, the squeezed out remains of the rice beer can be dried in the sun, and used to make porridge along with cereals. This could be used as food during times of poor harvest, or as fodder during other times.


It may be noted that traditionally brewed rice beer plays an integral role in the day-to-day life of the Naga people and several other communities in the region.


The rice beer is also thought to have many medicinal and therapeutic properties. For example, the local brew called ‘YU’ of the Meitei community is used to treat several ailments like irregular menstruation, loss of appetite, low nutrition etc.


Similarly, in Sikkim the local rice brew is used as a beauty care product, while in the Karbi community of Assam, their local brew is used as a treatment for dysentery.


Earlier, there was no taboo attached to this brew. It was served to everyone, regardless of social status or gender.
However with the advent of Christianity, food habit and culture have changed, leading to this cultural legacy being negated and looked down upon.


Anise, a 75 year old widow of Khumusu village, grew up with local brew. She continues to brew it to this day, preparing it out of the harvest from her field. She confesses to consuming three to four bamboo cups of the brew a day. Anise further claims that at no point of time has she been intoxicated and adds, “without this I will not be able to survive.”


For Angami Nagas, there are two major kinds of rice brew namely Zutho and Thutshe. Believed to have medicinal values, the rice brew was consumed for regulating blood pressure, high fever and people suffering from weak stamina.


Both Zutho and Thutshe are made from sticky rice or normal rice and are prepared overnight to drink the next day.
A staple drink among the Angamis in the earlier times, it was served to both young and old.


“It was enough to carry rice beer to our fields for work. We manage to work the whole day sipping Zutho or Thutshe. Sometimes we drank it along with chillies, ginger or chutney,” says Kheneno, a septuagenarian from Kigwema village.


While the decreasing use of rice beer is often attributed to the advent of Christianity, Kheneno views, “Today, women no longer make for men. Brewing and serving rice beer is purely done by the women in our culture in the olden days but today women are engaged in other activities.”