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Monday, August 13, 2007

Book Chronicles Xhosa Beer Drinking Rituals

The credit for the content of this post goes to a good friend, J. Barron Boyd, Ph.D., a political science professor at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and Director of the Center for Peace and Global Studies, and Director of the International Studies Program at the school. He is one of the more learned people willing to hoist a pint with me, which may cause some of you to question his judgment. Still, this is interesting stuff, so read on.

In many places around the world alcohol is important to religious, cultural and business ceremonies. Patrick McAllister has published a book based on years observing these practices in South Africa. "Xhosa Beer Drinking Rituals: Power, Practice and Performance in the South African Rural Periphery" (Carolina Academic Press, 355 pages, $45.00) examines beer brewing and drinking rituals in rural South Africa.

McAllister, an anthropologist, looks at changes taking place in the African society of the Eastern Cape during a 22 year period and how beer rituals are used as a buffer against greater changes taking place in South Africa.

McAllister found ritualistic beer drinks often held for returning migrant laborers. The beer is made from a porridge of maize and sorghum, requiring people to raise grains for this purpose. The story of Xhosa Beer drinking rituals actually traces male labor migration and its impact on rural communities and families.

The beer rituals are seen as a way to symbolically translate the earnings of migrant workers into social capital. The ceremonies are part hospitality and part a sign of a strong family unit. According to McAllister, workers returning with funds to support their families are praised and those without savings are criticized.

Sounds like payday in many American communities.

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