Usually sipped from enkyeeka (a small gourd) or a half litre mug (usually called gamma), obushera butookoo has for long been the Bakiga's favorite thirst quencher.
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First published: March 2, 2008
Kabale district in Kigezi is located about 500 km southwest of Kampala, Uganda's capital and on the border with Rwanda. At an altitude of about 3500m above sea level, the district is characterised by a relatively cool climate. Midday temperatures in Kabale are no different from those at dawn in Kampala. Terraces run round the steep hills and reveal a scenery that is irresistibly charming, with small but dependable fields of sorghum, millet and Irish potatoes. Gentle breezes always comfort the farmers as they wait patiently for the next harvest. The winding roads from one hill to the next make a trip to Kigezi a spectacular one.
One cannot help but wonder why its inhabitants, the Bakiga and the minority Batwa, are so keen on refilling their gourds with obushera butooko (a drink made out of millet or sorghum flour). Finding a Mukiga or Mutwa who does not enjoy its taste is akin to finding a dog that wears horns. A new visitor in this area might leave with the impression that it is mandatory here for every shop keeper to stock the drink. In Kigezi, there is obushera butooko every where you go! Usually sipped from enkyeeka (a small gourd) or a half litre mug (usually called gamma), obushera butookoo has for long been the Bakiga's favorite thirst quencher, used from time to time by both adults and children to silence their parched throats.
According to Gilbert Twinamatsiko, sometimes obushera butooko proved so magical in the past that most rural Bakyiga thought of it as medicine. This is indeed true to some extent - some information obtained from Kisiizi Hospital reveals that the population of Kigezi has a low level of constipation complaints compared to the rest of Uganda thanks to regular sips of obushera butooko. The Bakiga will need no specific time, agenda, environment or weather to drink the stuff.
Most typical Bakiga will assure you they were once relieved of flu, malaria or backache just by drinking about a litre of this beloved magical drink. The ability of this drink to keep one in good health can not be underestimated; with it, one can not lose appetite when he or she is sick. The ability to be drink obushera at any time of the day makes the Bakiga's working hours very flexible and easily stretched into an entire day. A sip of obushera while munching on some Irish potatoes prepared the night before can keep one going for a while longer. Bakiga are arguably the hardest working tribe in Uganda courtesy of obushera.
If one researches so prudently, they will discover that the Bakiga are well endowed with physical strength, which can be traced to the nutritive value of obushera butooko. Feresta Nyakabwa, a resident of Muhanga in Kabale, says that because the Kigezi area is too hilly for the Bakiga to engage in rearing animals like their Ankole neighbours who own plenty of cows from which to get milk, they mainly cultivate crops like sorghum and millet. In the past, they had to make do with porridge taken in the mornings for breakfast, the rest of which was diluted with water to make omufunguro.
Making obushera butooko
There are two ways of making obushera butooko. In one, millet flour is used and the in the other, sorghum flour is used but for both, water is boiled first. A mixture of flour and cold water that was boiled and cooled earlier is thoroughly mixed to form a thick slurry in a bowl. Boiling water is then added, stirring rapidly to produce a smooth enkoomba (porridge). Any solid/non-jelly pieces of millet/sorghum meal that form in the porridge are removed by dropping ekyishandiiko (cooked plantain leaves that may have been used to cook an earlier meal) into the porridge. Some people also sprinkle a little ash from the fire into the bowl. The scientific explanations of these techniques is vague but Feresta is very sure that they work.
Millet or sorghum flour is an important ingredient in obushera butooko.
After the porridge cools, ekyimeera (yeast) is added and the bowl covered for a night. After about twelve hours, obushera butooko can then be stirred and is ready to drink. This is one healthy drink that the cook prepares with a special attachment, counting on it to take him/her into the next day. There is no mention of sugar or sweeteners in the entire procedure. However, the non-Bakiga who drink obushera are often quick to bet that sugar is one of the ingredients. To tell the truth, it is very difficult to believe that no sugar was added and for that reason most diabetic and high blood pressure patients tend to avoid this wonderful beverage.
Asaph Kabwende, a cold drinks shop owner on Mackay Road, Kampala, says that obushera butooko has grown in popularity even among other tribes besides the Bakiga in Uganda. He claims it is these amateurs who fail to sweeten the stuff through natural means and resort to adding a little sugar to it. This, though, has not altered the incredible taste that makes the elderly, youth and children rush for a fix from time to time, trusting its ability to relieve them from the agony of thirst. Most Ugandan tribes that did not originally use obushera butookoo as a staple drink have started doing so. In Ankole, they make a similar beverage, only changing its local name and preferring to use millet over sorghum.
Bashir Katumba, a Muganda, says that he likes obushera because he can be sure that he is drinking a beverage that was prepared with boiled water as opposed to squash in which some unscrupulous traders use unboiled water, exposing customers to illnesses. Other obushera enthusiasts say that its nutritive value is a class apart from orange juice.
Obushera butooko has been and is still a vital part of the Bakiga's way of life - so integral that Bakiga staying as far as London will always send for some more millet/sorghum on a regular basis because they just can't do without it. Denis Twinomujuni, a lecturer at the Islamic University in Uganda, says that the Bakiga are mad about obushera butooko because they feel it is their own and are sure of its contents. "Rather than sip an expensive bottled drink, whose contents I am not even sure about, I am easily satisfied with the all familiar glass of obushera butooko."
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First published: March 2, 2008
Burite is an upcoming writer, currently pursuing his degree in Mass Communication at Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), Mbale.