Alcohol and disorder in precolonial Africa
Ambler, Charles H.
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Alcohol has for centuries played a prominent role in the social and religious life of African societies south of the Sahara. As early as the eleventh century AD., Al-Bakri described offerings of alcoholic drinks in royal funeral rites in the kingdom of Ghana. Indeed, from other scattered references it is clear that alcohol pervaded the continent, and that the consumption, exchange, or offering of alcoholic beverages was often a central element in the ritual life of communities. Before the latter part of the nineteenth century, distillation was largely unknown and imported distilled drinks were confined to a few areas; but virtually every community produced one or more types of fermented drinks from grain, fruits, honey, palm sap or sugar cane. Consumption of these beers commonly accompanied celebrations of season and passage, legal deliberations, and meetings of elders; gifts of beer were made to prospective in-laws, to patrons and rulers, and to honored guests; and the pouring of libations mediated relations with gods and ancestors. Yet despite an upsurge of interest in the social history of alcohol in Europe and America, Africanist scholars have paid the topic little attention. Moreover, the work that has been done is concerned with the relatively recent past and has focused very largely on attempts by the state - notably in South Africa - to regulate production and consumption.
African Studies Center Working Paper No. 126
RightsCopyright © 1987, by the author.