Mbege is an alcoholic drink that is brewed with sprouted finger millet flour and a special variety of banana called ndizi ngombe. The production process is relatively long and difficult. Bananas are harvested and placed over the fireplace or in the ceiling of traditional Chagga huts where the temperature is high enough to speed the ripening. When they are ripe, usually after 5-7 days, the fruits are peeled and boiled in water until the mixture turns reddish brown. The peeled ripe bananas are cooked until soft and left to cool for 2 – 3 days. The mash is mixed with more water and filtered through a bed of savannah grass and ferns onto a bed of broad banana leaves mounted on a slopping trough. The filtered liquid is left for some hours prior to being inoculated with malted millet (mbege) flour. This mixture is fermented for 1-2 days to produce a relatively strong alcoholic drink. Mbege is often part of a traditional dowry and is also served at traditional wedding and funeral ceremonies among Wachagga and Wameru communities. This fermented banana beer plays an important role in the social life of the Chaggas and the Merus and business transactions are usually conducted around a bottle of mbege. Mbege is still produced in villages on lower slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the Kilimanjaro region and Mt. Meru in the Arusha region in the northern part of Tanzania. It is made both for home consumption and commercial sale, and can be found at local bars. However, mbege tends to be more popular with older generations, with younger people less interested in the production technique and choosing instead to drink industrially produced and imported alcoholic beverages.
Image: © Francesco Sottile