This weekend Kakasii and I attended an important event as part of the traditional marriage customs in Tanzania. We went to meet the new in-laws of Kakasii’s niece Elly (who, like our Elly, is named after Kakasii’s mother Eliasaria).
Although Elly has lived in the United States for many years, as has her new husband, the families back home are following the necessary customs. So on Saturday several members of the Kimaro family went to the home of the Mushi family to meet Elly’s new father- and mother-in-law.
True to Tanzanian hospitality, they warmly welcomed us to their home and had prepared a lovely and abundant meal. I visited with Elly’s new father-in-law who recounted stories of his time as a young man studying in Manitoba, Canada. Although decades have passed since that time he still very clearly remembers the bone-chilling cold during winters there.
Following the meal, crates of soda and beer were carried out and drinks were served throughout the crowd attending the party. Following that, it was time to bring out the mbege.
Mbege is the local brew made from fermented bananas and finger millet. I’m gonna be completely honest here: this stuff looks and smells horrible. I’ve seen the brewing process and I’ve also gotta say it is not prepared following the most hygienic standards either (never mind the fact that, in this case, it was also being served out of a paint bucket).
But regardless of how I feel about mbege, it’s an important part of Tanzanian culture and a party isn’t really a party until the mbege is served.
The mbege is poured with a cup made from a gourd into large plastic tumblers–what I would liken to the red Solo cups that are common at parties in the U.S. and made famous by country singer Toby Keith.
Not everyone gets their own giant plastic tumbler of mbege, though. Part of the significance of mbege in Tanzanian culture is the spirit of community it promotes. People share the local brew and pass the cup around to one another. This is one of Kakasii’s brothers, Matati, taking his swig of mbege before passing the cup on to someone else.
It was a lovely day to celebrate two families joining together and we look forward to the time Elly and her new husband will visit Tanzania so our families can gather together again. There’s sure to be lots of good food, good conversation and, most definitely, mbege.