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'Beer used to belong to older men' : drink and authority among the Nyakyusa of Tanzania.

Willis, J. (2001) ''Beer used to belong to older men' : drink and authority among the Nyakyusa of Tanzania.', Africa., 71 (3). pp. 373-390.


In her last major work on social change among the Nyakyusa of southwestern Tanzania, Monica Wilson returned to an argument about the changing role of beer drinking which had featured in her earlier writings (1963: 176, 1977: 92-3, 131). She suggested that the selling of locally made grain beer for cash, and its consumption in commercial clubs, had played a major role in altering relationships between young and old, and men and women. Generational separation had broken down: young men had lost respect for elder men and women had acquired a new economic autonomy founded on the cash income they earned from selling beer. Beer thus lay at the heart of a pattern of social change (1977: 186). This article examines changes in authority and the drinking of beer in Nyakyusa society from the 1890s-when written records become available-to the end of the twentieth century. It argues that patterns of deference and authority have suffered less dislocation than Wilson suggested and that-while locally made grain beer has been physically transformed, has disappeared from certain public rituals of well-being and has come increasingly into the cash market-its commoditisation has not necessarily empowered women, nor has it eliminated the role of beer in patterns of behaviour and discourse which sustain elder men's claims to authority.

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Record Created:04 Nov 2008
Last Modified:01 Jun 2011 11:16

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