By Obinna Chukwuezie
If you live or have lived in Plateau state in North Central Nigeria, you would have no doubt that Burukutu and Pito are more than mere drinks. Burukutu and Pito which are brewed from Sorghum are indeed, a way of life. These liquour is not consumed only on the Plateau, you would probably find consumers in all the 36 states of Nigeria.
These twin drinks are consumed by the old and young, male and female, educated and uneducated. Even the elites and big politicians drink it too, but not at the public consumption centres where their admirers will notice them. They rather store it in their refrigerators at home and take it as if it is kunu (local drink made from millet), which is a popular /healthier traditional drink. The consumption of these drinks cuts across religious and cultural divide. It is consumed anytime of the day-morning, afternoon and night.
While some start their day at consumption centres, some others stay all at consumption centre where they would saturate themselves with these liquour enough to stagger home. Some have turned the consumption centres as workplace where they resume work in the morning and close for the day at night. The difference is that in the conventional workplace, people go home with money, while in the Burukutu and Pito consumption centres, people go home empty-handed.
The difference between Burukutu and Pito
Both drinks are highly intoxicating given the fermentation processes that is involved in its production. While Pito is usually filtered off from the top after soaking in water, Burukutu is usually the part that settles down and which contains dregs which has been indicated as cancerous. To many, Pito is believed to be purer and sweeter than Burukutu since it is not allowed to settle down. Luka, told me that Pito tastes like Heineken beer, that is why he goes for it anytime, anyday. Gyang Paul, a commercial keke (tricycle) operator prefers to describe Pito as “feminine, while Burukutu is masculine.”
It is always fun when you visit consumption places, as consumers are seen singing local tunes, playing local xylophone along with corresponding local dance steps. In most consumption places, these drinks are served with special delicacy, including dog meat, pig meat or spiced vegetable.
Women constitutes the bulk of brewers
Though the process of brewing this liquor is strenuous, yet women constitute the bulk of the brewers on the Plateau. When you travel to Enugu, Lagos, Abuja and Sokoto, women from the Plateau constitute the bulk of those who locally brew and sell these drinks there. These women also consume the drinks too. Infact, the younger women seem to consume the drinks more than the men. Recently, I saw a woman go the consumption centre with her 3 year-old son. As the mother drank, she gave her son a sip. Imagine a child who starts drinking these liquor at the age of 3, what will become of him when he is 30, if ever he will live up to 30?
The habits of consumers
These drinks seem to have won the heart of many residents than other local drinks such as the dangerous “goskolo”, “mos”, and more recently, “swagger.” In the last 10 years, the number of consumption centres has doubled and has continued to rise. The addiction to these drinks is better seen than imagined, as many young people wake up and start their day at Burukutu and Pito consumption centres. They brush their teeth, take their bath and eventually set themselves for the day on a very “high” frequency, with these favourite drinks.
They drink to the point that they do not have appetite for food anymore. They drink to the point that the texture of their hair changes and begins to stand alone, which is a strong sign of liver malfunctioning. They drink to a point where there is discoloration of their skin. They leave the consumption centres with oozing smell, having gulped several litres of their favourite drinks.
Dung told me “instead of paying N140 to drink a bottle of beer, that same amount will give me over 5 litres of Burukutu or Pito.” Many civil servants squander the whole of their salary in consumption centres, the same day as they receive their salary.
Under the influence of these drinks, they take over some junctions like, directing traffic and indirectly begging for money which they will return to consumption centres to take more of their favourite drinks. Money does not stay a minute in their pockets because these drinks always take the money away.
I met a young man who stopped me to beg N50 naira so he can take care of a patient in the hospital. After I gave him the money, he stopped me again in another 2 hours on the same road for the same reason. It seems that these drinks make them to lose memory or not to recognize faces or events. Die-hard consumers do not have money to marry; they simply impregnate their kind of ladies and marry them by default.
You don’t have to be have money to drink
They drink even when they do not have money. I saw two men drinking from the same calabash at the same time. When I asked, I was told that one of them do not have money so the other has to share with the other. I think that even if they have to share, let it be turn-by-turn? Dr. Vincent, a public health practitioner told me these habits have increased the cases of Hepatitis on the Plateau.
Those who do not have money, move from one joint to another to “thirst” until they are tipsy then they go home. They repeat the same daily drinking without paying. Since some of them have devised these schemes, some sellers are beginning to identify these categories of young men. Recently, one of them came to a joint and asked for “thirsting.” The seller refused, so the young man went to another joint where he was successful. In order to punish the seller who denied him “thirsting”, he told his colleagues that he saw a cat dipping mouth in that woman’s drinks. So, his colleagues stopped patronizing the woman.
Futility of efforts to regulate the practice
During the past Governor Jonah Jang’s administration, there was raging controversy over the desirability and or otherwise of the consumption of these twin local liquor made from sorghum. That administration, as well as the palace of the Gbong Gwong Jos, His Royal Majesty, Gyang Buba made frantic efforts to reduce, if not stop the consumption of these drinks at different Public Fora. The government discouraged the consumption of these liquour partly because it “weakens the alertness of the consumers in securing their communities as well divulge security secrets.” Besides, the consumers normally constitute “social nuisance” and take regrettable actions.
Sadly though, the more the duo publicly condemns the consumption, the more the consumption centres increased. Religious organizations are making attempts to stop the consumption, some Non-Governmental Organisations are making efforts to stop the production by teaching the women brewers skills in tailoring among others. Recently, a community banned the sale of these drinks in their community on Sunday because each time the consumption centres opens, their youths will not go to church. They ran the jingle in the state-owned radio Peace 90.5 FM station for several days.
The attempt to stop it did not start today, it was gathered that one of the previous Gbong Gwong ran a prison from his palace where he detained Burukutu consumers.
In spite of these efforts, the production and consumption has continued unabated.
Can their consumption ever be stopped on the plateau?
The following song by consumers would provide clue:
Burukutu ko Pito, za mu sha
Burukutu ko Pito, za mu sha
Whether it be Burukutu or Pito
We shall drink
As long as production continues, consumption is inevitable! For Gotom and Nandur, Burukutu and Pito are more fun than harmful! Gotom, a civil servant who is a regular visitor to one of the popular consumption centres advised the government and other organizations to forget about the idea of stopping the consumption of these liquour because “they will fail.” He said; “these drinks are part and parcel of our culture. We use drinking sessions to discuss and settle some of the problems in our communities.” He continued, “Burukutu and Pito have a strong unifying factor.” Supporting his friend, Gotom, Nandur said that these drinks “create a major platform for the people to interact, as it helps the rural dwellers to socialize and relax after work.”
Continuing, Nandur questioned the rationale of the government’s intention to ban the sale, production and consumption of these drinks. He reminded the government that Burukutu and Pito are the “only liquour that is somewhat affordable to the poor, and banning it is the height of wickedness and denial of their fundamental human rights.”
Pam, a farmer argued that Burukutu and Pito are medicinal because of its base material. According to him, the drinks are used in treatment of ailments such as sore throat, acute headache, migraine, acute fever among others.”
Pupet, a night guard told me that their forefathers took the local brew but nothing happened to them; they lived long. He said that their ancestors “consumed a lot of Burukutu and lived normal lives. Many of them lived well beyond 100 years.”
Kaneng, a liquour operator whose husband is a Plateau state civil servant condemned government’s plan to ban the drinks. She said “it is from these drinks that I pay my children’s school fees and feed my family since my husband’s salary does is always delayed.”
At 8 O’clock in the morning on my way to work yesterday, I saw a young man who obviously drank himself to stupor. As he managed to navigate himself to cross the deserted road, here I come on the steering struggling to avert murder and clutched my brake pad until it I exhausted its limit and screeched out from the asphalted road.
I succeeded to avert the impending doom because my vehicle did not hit him. It was a narrow escape for him, though he did not realize it. I had to wait for a while until he successfully crossed the road. May be the story would have been different if it were a busy road.
I am sure that not all the drivers would exercise my kind of patience for a man who obviously has created nuisance on the highway and obstructed free flow of traffic.
Having watched him crossed the road; I paced on to my office. As I went on, I began to have inner dialogue as to why a young man would be drunk such early when many are already at the place they earn their livelihood. Why would a man at his productive age spend his productive part of the day in a liquor shop. It became a source of concern to me and I made a U-turn and paced backward so I could have an interaction with the drunk.
In a geefy, I was there. I met him. This time, he was lying down on the road. As I pulled over, and alighted from my car, I accosted him with a question which he answered in such a sarcastic manner. I asked him; “What if you are knocked down by an on-coming vehicle?” The drunk replied in a coarse tone; “I will copy the vehicle’s plate number and give it to the Police, so they will arrest such driver for murder.”
It sounds funny! How could a drunk who could barely open his eyes, see a fast-moving vehicle? Where will he get a biro and a piece of paper and what time does he have to do that? Is he conscious enough to recognize the vehicle among other vehicles?
You and I know that if he was a hit-and-run driver, he would end up in the mortuary, or at least in the emergency unit of the nearest hospital. He is just day-dreaming!
As the young man continued to entertain the passer-by with his tantrums, I left the scene laughing, but sad! I left the passers-by punctuating the air with remarks, for and against Burukutu and Pito.
A housewife and street-sweeper, Ruth, supports the government’s effort at banning the drinks. According to her, her husband is a chronic consumer of these drinks; “comes home drunk, beats me, rapes me and snores through the night.”
Given that the raw materials which are used in its production, these drinks can be nutritious if produced under hygienic conditions.
“If na oyibo dey make Burukutu and Pito, dem for don improve, rebrand and repackage it to be a hot cake internationally and a huge foreign exchange earner for Plateau. All these red wine tinz could be Burukutu or Pito or goskolo or swagger tinz? The grounded Jos International Breweries can be reactivated as Income Generated Revenue with the mandate to produce premium Burukutu or Pito. Have you ever imagined the commercial on CNN ‘Obama takes Premium Bruks?’ Do you care for a glass of fine brewed bruks? It that happens, it will create more employment for the youths and improve the economy of Plateau!
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