How tribal communities brew apong, reveals a lot about gender and tradition

#1 Nov 11th, 2017, 21:26
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Dec 2008
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About three to four kilometre from Upar Deori Gaon, in the dense interiors lies a Mishing village. By the time I reach Mishing Gaon, it’s close to dusk and I see many young women riding back from school on their bicycles. “The LP School nearby has a field that becomes a water pool on rainy days, you did well by walking to arrive here”, says Mrs Biju Doley, a kind host who agreed to show me local beer preparations the following day. I rest with her children in their sang ghor, a raised stilted hut, and the delicious pork dinner keeps us all warm.

Early next morning, Biju introduces me to her female companions – mischief makers – and excellent apong brewers. Apong being their signature local drink, it has acquired a larger-than-life status in their festivities and rituals. All of them are young mothers (aged between 18-years-old to 20-years-old), carrying yelling infants on their shoulders and hips.
They have accepted that domestic chores are their department and that even though men can learn how to brew, they do not do so.

There are two kinds of apong: Nogin and Po:ro. For the Nogin apong, starter cakes called E’pob are made by crushing rice with medicinal plants, each providing a unique health quotient (and sweetness) to the drink. Biju also tells me that some flowers are used, though she doesn’t know their names. Cooked rice is laid out on leaves of banana or bamboo and after it cools, crushed E’pob is added to the rice. Then the entire mixture is put inside a pitcher or a plastic drum, the latter more commonly visible these days. I am told that in summer it may take upto 6 days for a proper fermentation. After that the mixture is filtered and the waste is used as pig or poultry fodder.

Mili Pegu, a young woman of about 20, shows me her fermented drums full of rice beer ingredients. They are covered carefully with bih-dhekia (Cyclosorus dentatus) leaves that form the upper layer of the mix. One of the drums contains black coloured rice; it is kept separately because this recipe is slightly more demanding and labour intensive than Nogin apong. Also known as Sai Mod (“Sai” meaning ashes and “Mod” meaning liquor), Po:ro apong is best for the winter; Mili tells me that it does wonders in healing urinary tract infections. She comments, “The ash needs to be collected with an expert hand after burning rice husk and dried rice straw. It tends to scatter easily, on windy days, it is very challenging. Thereafter, it is mixed with cooked rice and E’pob – say, a 6 cm by 3 cm cake for half kilo of rice, with variations as per choice. Filtration is done by using a conical bamboo basket generally lined on its surface with banana leaves.”

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