Women and Goddesses are credited as the originators of beer in ancient cultures worldwide. While our culture might frame beer as a stereotypically masculine drink, the history of beer is far more complex and interesting. As we saw in ancient Sumer, women not only brewed beer but also were the primary tavern keepers. For this round of our discussion, we’ll turn our sights to the African continent to find out more about Goddesses who love to drink!
The Dogon culture of the Republic of Mali revere Yasigi as the matron of beer. She is portrayed dancing while holding a beer ladle. A figure of her appears in the photo above, and I love this image! Perhaps she is fresh from successfully brewing and can’t help but celebrate by dancing exuberantly. As with many beer related Goddesses, this is not the only function of Yasigi. She is also the Goddess of dancing and masks. Beer, dancing, and masks form an interesting continuum in relation to identity. Each of the three can alter our thinking and the perception that others have us.
Another Goddess found in Africa, is Mbaba Mwana Waresa of the Zulu people. She is the beloved originator of beer. Mbaba Mwana Waresa is also the Goddess of rain and rainbows. The combination of those with beer seems to point to the life enriching qualities of all three, reminding me of joy and celebration. Each one is a gift to her people.
Ukhamba Beer Storage Vessel
These Goddesses support the fact that women have traditionally brewed beer throughout the African continent. Interestingly, the resulting beverages often give people a strong source of vitamin B. In South Africa the traditional brew called umqombothi is made primarily by women. The ancestors play an important role in this process and are thanked as one of the final steps of brewing. Umqombothi has ritual use after men’s initiations and at social gatherings. The drink is also central to contacting ancestral spirits, known as amadlozi.
Beer is an integral part of human culture as a source of nutrition, medicine, spirituality, and festive inebriation. Finding women and the feminine Divine at the center of beer’s history is something that I’ll drink to! We’ll continue our discussion next time with a look at Egyptian history. Finally, we’ll conclude in time for Oktoberfest with a look at women’s role in brewing in European history.
Sources and More:
Incidentally, if you are looking for some gluten-free fare to go with your gluten-free Goddess loving beer, check out my recently published cookbook.
Image: Brooklyn Museum