Xhosa Beer Drinking Rituals

Power, Practice and Performance in the South African Rural Periphery

by Patrick A. McAllister

Tags: African Studies, Africana Studies, Anthropology, Ritual Studies Monograph Series

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384 pp  $45.00

ISBN 978-0-89089-021-9
eISBN 978-1-5310-1086-7

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The consumption of indigenous beer is a widespread and long-standing feature of many African societies, a practice of both historical and contemporary significance. Among the rural, Xhosa-speaking people of South Africa's Eastern Cape province, maize beer became increasingly important in the context of early twentieth century colonialism, and a range of new beer drinking rituals developed. This coincided with state neglect of black rural areas and with economic and demographic changes that led to the emergence of co-operative relations within neighbourhood groups as a vital element of homestead production.

With the entrenchment of the apartheid regime from the late 1940s onward, the maintenance of a rural homestead, agricultural practices, and an agrarian lifestyle became one way to resist the injustices of apartheid and fuller incorporation into the wider society. In this respect, beer rituals became a crucial mechanism through which to develop and maintain rural social and economic relations, to inculcate the values that supported these, and to provide a viable though fragile view of the world that afforded an alternative to the disillusionment and suffering associated with black urban areas. Using an anthropological analysis based on a combination of Bourdieu's practice theory with the anthropology of performance, this book demonstrates the way beer drinking rituals worked towards these aims, the various types of rituals that developed, and how they sought to instill a rural Xhosa habitus in the face of almost overwhelming odds.

This book is part of the Ritual Studies Monograph Series, edited by Pamela J. Stewart and Andrew Strathern, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh.

Named a 2006 "Outstanding Academic Title" by CHOICE Magazine.

"[T]his vivid, comprehensive study of patterns and variations within a single society makes the subject come alive as few other studies have done." — CHOICE Magazine

"McAllister's focus on the community-building role of beer drinking rituals in Xhosa society greatly contributes to the growing body of anthropological literature on alcohol. This book is a must read for serious scholars of African anthropology, colonial and postcolonial studies." — Journal of Anthropological Research

"This is a respectful book about beer drinking and this respect is inherent in the author's attitude toward research. Patrick McAllister discovered while researching labour migration and ritual that he should be led by what Xhosa considered as ritual and not what the researcher defines as ritual. From this new perspective, the importance of beer drinking became obvious and this gives the book the hallmark of good anthropological work: we get to know the logic of a society that is very different from our own." — Development and Change

"Overall, the book interprets beer drinking rituals with anthropological acumen, and it succeeds in revealing how these individual rituals adapt to and reflect broader historical changes." — Modern African Studies

"I came to this book expecting a useful monographic account of beer drinking and labour migration in the Shixini district in the Eastern Cape, perhaps pulling together material previously scattered in several publications. The book does indeed provide this, but in fact delivers much more… Despite my familiarity with much of the ethnogrpahic material, I found it fascinating reading." — Journal of Southern African Studies

"McAllister shows, with a great deal of finesse, how to take a small-scale study and use it to cast light on a much broader set of topics… McAllister provides a deep ethnography that builds upon the work of earlier ethnographers of Xhosa-speakers, including Philip Mayer and Monica Wilson. Like that of his predecessors, his work shows a profound respect and affection for rural culture and the people who practice it." — H-SAfrica