Bananas and plantains are the staple food of Uganda (just like corn in Mexico and wheat in the Mediterranean countries). They are cultivated all over the country and eaten every day. There are more than 50 varieties, which are eaten in many different ways: the matooke, gonja, and kivuvu varieties, for example, are eaten cooked (roasted, steamed, or fried), while the ndiizi and bogoya varieties are eaten raw or distilled to make alcoholic drinks. Today, this extraordinary biodiversity is seriously threatened by one of the world’s most standardized markets (international banana trade is dominated by just one cultivar, the Cavendish) and by several diseases (Moko, Fusarium, and Xanthomonas) that, in the space of just a few years, have devastated hectares of crops. In addition, an experimental project aims to introduce genetically modified “super bananas” to Uganda.
One of the many traditional varieties is the kayinja (or mbidde) plantain, which is not eaten fresh but only used to make beer and spirits. It used to be an integral part of the culture of many tribes across the country, including the Banyoro, the Basoga, and the Baganda. The beverages made from it are still considered sacred and are drunk at feasts and celebrations. At one time this variety was grown in every garden and orchard (together with pineapples, passion fruit, matooke bananas, coffee, corn, and potatoes) but today it is becoming increasingly rare.
The stalk is pale green with pinkish tinges at the tip of the shoots, and the leaves are bright green. Trees may reach 5 meters in height and begin to bear fruit after 10 months. The ripe fruits are green and are picked in stages between March and August. The branch that supports the ripe bunch is cut at the base. It is then slowly bent back and the bunch is pulled off and loaded onto a bike. With the aid of a wooden plank, it is possible to load up to seven bunches, each weighing about 10 kilograms. At this point, the bunches are arranged on a wooden frame (a sort of small suspended bed) and covered with leaves. After 5 to 7 days, the plantains are detached from the bunches, skinned, and squeezed. The resulting juice is known as omubissi in the local language.
The juice is drunk fresh or used as a base ingredient for beer and spirits. The beer, known locally as tonto or bwakata, is brown in color with a slightly sugary flavor and a medium-high alcohol content. It is made by blending the plantain juice with fermented sorghum flour and is stored for a few days in a kita, a large scooped-out dried calabash. The beer is served to guests in an endeku, a smaller calabash. Waragi, a traditional colorless brandy with a slightly smoky flavor, is made through two distillation cycles using rudimentary equipment. Today a waragi produced with cane sugar instead of kayinja plantains, and using modern distillation methods, has become commercialized in Uganda, which is why many small producers have stopped growing the kayinja variety.
In periods of drought, unripe kayinja plantains are chopped up and dried. The pieces are then ground into a flour, which can be added to other foods or eaten on its own. Kayinja leaves are also excellent for wrapping other foods for steaming. Since they have a long lifespan (some produce fruit for more than 50 years), kayinja trees were also used to mark boundaries between plots of land. This, in fact, is the origin of the variety’s name: The term kayinja ka lusalosalo refers to a sort of cornerstone for delimiting properties.
The Presidium supports their work with training activities about agronomic techniques, processing according to proper hygiene regulations, spirit and beer tasting, manage- ment and marketing. It also promotes knowledge of the variety and its byproducts: juice, beer and spirits.
Bugonya village, Kayonza county, Kayunga district, central Uganda.
Presidium supported by
Intesa Sanpaolo Fund for charitable, social and cultural donations