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Ethnic preparation of Chubitchi, an alcoholic beverage of the Garo tribe of Meghalaya: a sociocultural analysis

Abstract

The Garo community living in Meghalaya has always relied on fermented rice liquor known as Chubitchi as a main beverage in their everyday life. Chubitchi is celebrated by the Garos during feasts and ceremonies. The indigenous populations of North-East India prepare alcoholic beverage in their traditional ways, almost always using rice as the base for those drinks. Chubitchi is a popular traditional alcoholic beverage prepared by the Garo tribe of Meghalaya, India. It is consumed during festive occasions such as Wangala (harvest festival), Do.si Do.doka (wedding festivities) and religious rituals, and also served as refreshments for weary field labourers and guests. It has a great significance in the social and cultural life of the Garos. This paper deals with the traditional preparation of Chubitchi by the Garo tribe, which is a vital part of their culture, and also examines the sociocultural significance of the beverage.

Introduction

Almost every country and region of the world has traditional alcoholic beverages made from local agricultural products [1]. Alcoholic beverages are a wide range of products. Meghalaya is a state in the North-East of India. Meghalaya’s ecoregion is characterised by the state’s distinctive lowland and montane forests. The state is well known for mammalian, avian and botanical diversity. There is a significant commercial forestry sector, especially potatoes, pumpkins, rice, maize, papayas and pineapples, which dominates the economy of Meghalaya. The Garos are residents of the Garo Hills region of Meghalaya. A few concentrated population of Garos can be seen in the plain areas of Kamrup and Goalpara districts of Assam adjoining the Meghalaya border and also in Bangladesh, across the border. The Garos believe that they came to their present abode in the Garo Hills from Tibet in the north. The tribe itself is known to outsiders as ‘Garo’, but the Garos call themselves ‘A. chik’ or ‘Mande’ [2]. It is estimated that more than eight lakhs A.chiks live in India, and around two lakhs live in Bangladesh [3]. They belong to the Tibeto-Burman language group. Early British encounters with the Garos were recorded by William Carey, a missionary, and Mr. John Eliot, commissioner of Dacca, who was sent by Lord Cornwallis in 1788–1789 [4]. William Carey in his A Garo Jungle Book noted the social, cultural and political life of the Garos based on his experiences of association with the people.

Alcoholic beverages made from rice have been consumed by many tribal communities living in the North-Eastern states of India from time immemorial [5, 6]. One consistent element associated with festivities, traditional practices and rituals among the Garos is the intake of alcoholic beverage traditionally fermented, which is known to them as Chubitchi. William Carey observes: ‘When in liquor the Garos are merry to the highest pitch; men, women, and children dancing until they can scarcely stand. A birth, a marriage, a death, the opening of a market, the sitting of a council, the trial of a delinquent, almost any and every event serves as an occasion for feasting and an excuse for drink. The liquor, which is generally a weak home-brewed beer, of a milky colour, made from rice or other grains, is even poured into the mouths of their babies as soon as they can swallow. Their festivities sometimes last for two or three days’ [4]. This observation of Carey has become anachronistic in the post-colonial Garo social life. With the conversion of major chunk of Garo population into Christianity, they have gradually distanced themselves from their traditional customs and practices, often contemptuously looking at those practices as superstitious and evil. It does not mean that the Garo people have left practices like drinking, etc., what has transformed is the customary practice of drinking traditional liquor to the modern practice of social drinking of foreign liquor. Thus, whatever traces of such customs and practices have remained are secular in nature, devoid of the ritualistic elements. It, therefore, has become imperative to preserve such practices and traditions. It is pertinent to mention here that the Government of Meghalaya has legalised the manufacture and sale of local homemade wine or alcoholic beverage.

Garos consider Chubitchi as one of the most important parts of their cultural life. Chubitchi is used during religious rituals, meetings, social gatherings, birth, marriage, during Wangala (harvest festival), house warming ceremony, before fighting enemies (in the pre-modern era) and in almost every occasion. The old and young, men and women drink alike. The intake of Chubitchi is not considered a bad practice among the Garos nor is it considered unhealthy. There is no particular age when a Garo can taste his/her first liquor. Written records of the traditional ways of making Chubitchi is absent as communication was basically oral among the Garos until the arrival of Baptist American Missionaries. However, the practices have been passed down orally and hence the knowledge of brewing Chubitchi continues in the interior places of Garo Hills, though it is no longer a preferred practice in urban areas and educated neighbourhood. The intake of Chubitchi is essentially associated with festivities and gatherings. However, on regular days when the occasion of a celebration is absent, men sit in front of houses sipping from Abet (hollow dried gourd as in Fig. 1a) and passing it to others, while discussing and debating about various things. One of the positive influences of this Chubitchi during such conversations is the transmission of folktales, myths and legends. Furthermore, guests and relatives visiting from afar are welcomed by the host with Chubitchi. The maternal uncle, who plays a great role in the matrilineal practice of the Garos, is usually shown respect, on his visit to his sister’s house, with the offering of the best and strongest Chubitchi by his nieces. Religious rituals among the Songsareks (non-Christian A.chiks), who still practise traditional customs and ethnic practices, necessarily include the offering of Chubitchi to Gods. Even when a truce was made between two parties, who had a feud for a long time, Chubitchi would invariably be offered to each other in a Rang (a brass utensil) marking the end of the feud [2]. It is also a sign of fostering bonhomie, a pact to deliver their children a peaceful life.

Fig. 1
figure1

Utensils and ingredients for preparing Chubitchi–Abet (a), Janti (b), Dikka (c), Chubitchi (d), Chu cheka (e), grinded rice for Wanti (f)

Chubitchi, in the recent times, has received considerable attention from the researchers as evidenced from the fact that three papers on this traditional alcoholic beverage are found in the SCOPUS database (in August 2021) and around 21 documents in Google Scholar. The current paper is devoted to cultural study, ethnic preparation of various starter cake, plant leaves/parts used for making starter, chemical characterisation of Oryza sativa var. glutinosa which has been used as a substrate in beverage production and names of various types of Chubitchi used by Garos in different occasions. However, no works specifically devoted to stereochemistry of organic compounds and alcohols produced using these methods have been found in the database in a bibliographic search.

Ethnic preparation process

Meghalaya is situated in the North-Eastern part of India. It shares its borders with Assam in the north and Bangladesh in the south. The Garo Hills region, where the Garo community predominates, is situated in the western part of the state. The region known as the Garo Hills is divided into the following districts—West Garo Hills, East Garo Hills, North Garo Hills, South Garo Hills and South West Garo Hills.

Before visiting the field to gather information about the traditional preparation process of Chubitchi, we prepared a structured questionnaire. The authors visited and gathered information for this study in various parts of the locality, particularly in Akelgre village located within Samanda Block of East Garo Hills district. Respondents who were involved in Chubitchi preparation were interviewed. During this study, we focused primarily on elderly people who sell liquor to customers on a commercial basis. We recorded the information provided by them. The data generated, as well as the information disclosed by the respondents, have been cross-checked to ensure the accuracy of the information. We thus discovered that the paper has adressed almost all the ethical practices involved in the preparation of Chubitchi through the process discussed herein.

Things needed for preparing Chubitchi are—Merong (rice), Wanti or Chuwanti-chuginde (rice cake starter), Abet (hollowed dried gourd as in Fig. 1a), Janti (cylindrical strainer that is made of bamboo as in Fig. 1b), Dikka (huge clay pot as in Fig. 1c), banana leaves. The wanti is the natural starter and most important ingredient in making Chubitchi.

Wanti preparation (starter cake)

For the preparation of Wanti, Merong (rice), plant species, Sa∙sam-rimol (wooden mortar and pestle), Sarat (fern), Ruan (winnowing basket) are needed. Any variety of rice can be used for the preparation of Wanti. Any amount of rice, depending on the amount of wanti to be produced, is soaked in water for a few hours and the water is drained off. It is kept in Ruan allowing the remaining water to drain off. The rice grains are then finely pounded adding chilli and leaves of plants. Different leaves can be used in this process but the most commonly used are the leaves of Te∙brong or jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), Kimka (Solanum torvum) and Sarat (Pteridium aquilinum). Only two or three leaves of these plants are added to the starter cake.

Any type of chilli can be added along with the leaves. A little amount of old rice cake starter is mixed with the fine powder of rice. A little water is sprinkled over the pounded rice and mixed thoroughly to form a paste which is then moulded into small cakes. The shape of Wanti is usually flat and round. A finger is pressed on three spots of each side of a Wanti to form small depressions. The cakes are then placed on top of Sarat (Pteridium aquilinum/ fern leaves) inside a Koksep (traditional conical basket with one open end made of bamboo). The cakes are vertically placed one on top of the other, with leaves of Sarat (Pteridium aquilinum) in between them all, so that the cakes do not come in contact with each other. It is kept untouched in the Koksep for seven days. The Koksep is hung in the verandah or inside a room with ample amount of sunlight. The cakes become harder after seven days. It is then transported to the fireplace. After keeping the cakes in the fireplace for seven days, it is considered ready for use. It is commonly believed that when the insect Lyctinae (powder post-bettle) dug into the Wanti, it is a sign that the Wanti is ready. Unused cakes are kept wrapped in banana leaves for further use. A wanti weighs around 200–500 g after the completion of the process.

The most popular among plant leaves used in the preparation of Wanti are—leaves of Te∙brong (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.), leaves of Kimka baring (Solanum aethiopicum), leaves of Kimka (Solanum torvum Sw.), leaves of Sarat (Selaginella semicordata) or a variation of it—Pteridium aquilinum (L) Kuhn., leaves of Komperam (Psidium guajava L.). Along with these leaves, Ja∙lik (Capsicum frutescens or any other variety from the same family) is always added (Table 1).

Table 1 Plant leaves/parts used for making Wanti (starter cake)

Some claims have been made about the medicinal values of various herbs used in traditional alcoholic rice beverage from ethnopharmacological studies [7]. The leaves of Capsicum frutescens used in the preparation of Wanti are known to be commonly used to treat headache [8, 9], while the fruits are used in traditional medicine to treat typhus, intermittent fever, dropsy, gout, dyspepsia, cholera and stomachache [8, 10]. Capsicum frutescens is also used in traditional medicine to treat painful muscle spasms in areas of shoulder, arm and spine; for treating arthritis, neuralgia, diabetes, blood pressure, bronchitis, burning feet; to increase circulation, relieve rheumatic pain, mouth sores and wounds; in reducing blood clots; and in aiding digestion [11, 12].

The leaves of Solanum torvum are found to have medicinal properties like antibacterial, antiulcer [13,14,15,16,17], anti-inflammatory [18] and antioxidant property [19]. The fruits, leaves and parts of Solanum torvum are said to be used as medicine for fever, cough, wounds, pain, liver problems, tooth decay, reproductive problems, arterial hypertension and as an antidote against poisoning [18, 20, 21]. The leaf juice of Solanum torvum is taken orally to beat body heat [14, 22]. The Garos of Bangladesh used the juice of roots and leaves of Solanum torvum for asthma, diabetes and hypertension [14, 23].

The leaves of Psidium guajava have been used in traditional medicine to cure diarrhoea [24]. Guava leaves also show antimicrobial activity and are also said to cure cough [25]. Guava leaves along with pulp and seeds are also used in treating respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders [26, 27]. The leaves are also known for having antispasmodic, antihypertension, antiobesity and antidiabetic properties [28].

Though fern or Pteridium aquilinum is known mostly for its poisonous effects, its positive effects have also been noted, such as its use in burned wounds, galled cattle, ulcers, pain of spleen, nose bleeds and in case of general wounds. It has also been used as a cure for rickets [29].

Another ingredient, the leaves of Artocarpus heterophyllus are useful in fever, boils, wounds and skin diseases [30]. The extracts of the stem and root, barks, stem and root heart wood, leaves, fruits and seeds of Artocarpus heterophyllus are said to exhibit antibacterial properties [31, 32] and anticariogenic properties [31, 33]. Artocarpus heterophyllus is well known for its antibacterial, antifungal, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities [34].

By and large, the starter culture is prepared by incorporating many medicinal plants, herbs and spices that are locally available in a given region. It is believed that the herbs impart an intoxicating property to the fermented rice beverage [5]. They also contribute to various organoleptic and certain medicinal properties to the beverage that could be dependent on the type of medicinal plants used [6]. The plant may also furnish certain nutrients that could be essential for the survival and growth of the indigenous microflora present in the starter cakes, produce fragrance and keep down the growth of undesired micro-organisms in the final products.

Fermenting Chubitchi

Me∙dik (aluminium or silver pot), Am (straw mat), Janti (bamboo cylindrical sieve as in Fig. 1b), Dikka (clay pot as in Fig. 1c) and banana leaves are needed for the preparation of Chubitchi. Any variety of rice can be used for the preparation of Chubitchi. Traditional Chubitchi was made from non-glutinous rice and also other produce from the fields (Table 2) such as Minil (glutinous rice or Oryza sativa var. glutinosa), Misi (foxtail millet/ Setaria italica), Me∙garu (pearl millet/ Pennisetum glaucum), Ta∙bolchu (tapioca/ Manihot esculenta) or Me∙raku (corn/ Zea mays).

Table 2 Field produce that can be used for making Chubitchi apart from any type of rice

Rice is cooked in a pot and allowed to cool. It is then dried in a straw mat (Am). The dried Wanti is crushed and mixed with the cooked rice, and the mixture is filled into the Dikka (huge clay pot). A banana leaf is usually placed at the bottom of the Dikka. Before filling the Dikka with the rice, the Janti is positioned in the middle of the Dikka, while the surrounding space around the Janti is filled with rice. The rice around the Janti is softly pressed compactly and is never filled above the level of the Janti. As the rice grows old, it shrinks lower than the level of the Janti. The Janti is sealed with banana leaves. The Dikka is also covered with banana leaves and sealed tightly. Some charcoal and chilli is put on the top of the Dikka after sealing to keep away evil spirits. The liquid from the rice seeps through the Janti and settles inside it, which becomes what the Garos called Chubitchi. The beverage is considered ready to drink after seven days of fermentation during summer (28–33 °C) and ten or fifteen days during winter (18–25 °C). The longer the liquor is kept in the Dikka, the stronger the drink becomes.

When Chubitchi is prepared from Misi (Millet), Me∙raku (Corn) or Me∙garu (Pearl millet), after being cooked they are grinded into coarse powder and mixed with old rice cake starter. It is then put inside the Dikka. When tapioca is used, it is boiled and allowed to cool before being mashed, mixed with starter and put inside the Dikka. One batch of rice weighing 10–15 kg put in one Dikka can produce atleast 4–6 L of Chubitchi.

Names for different types of Chubitchi

If the beverage tastes sweet, it is called Chu me.chik (lady wine), and if it is bitter it is called Chu bipa (male wine). If it is both bitter and sour, it is called Kakimeseng. If it has a little bit of sweetness, salty and bitterness, it is called Chumekrip. The best Chubitchi is considered to be the one which has the combination of both bitterness and sweetness. Chu me∙chik is meant to be consumed by women, while Chu bipa, which is stronger, is consumed by the men. Wanti, which has been prepared with Sarat (Pteridium aquilinum), yields a pungent taste in Chubitchi, and it is liked by men.

Chu cheka

Chubitchi is scooped from the Dikka with the help of Abet (dried gourd) and kept in bottles or dried gourds. The process of mixing the remaining liquor with water and stirring it for consumption is called Chu cheka. After Chu cheka is done, the liquor is no longer called Chubitchi, it is called Biwak. Chu cheka is usually done with the help of Abet. The Abet is made of dried gourd called ‘long handle dipper gourd’ (Lagernaria Siceraria as shown in Fig. 1a). The long handle dipper gourd is a large gourd with a hard shell, a round belly and a long swooping top that can be used as a handle. The gourd is cut off at the end of the swooping top and a hole is punched in the belly through which the seeds and flesh is emptied. It is then dried in the sun and kept in the fireplace until the shell hardens and turns dark brown or black. It is taken out from the fireplace only when it is about to be used as a utensil. When the Abet is immersed in the liquor, it seeps inside the Abet through the hole in the belly while the end of the long neck is used to pour out the drink. Chu cheka also implies the process of reducing the alcoholic content in rice-based beverage by diluting it with water, which increases the quantity of Chubitchi from the normal 4–6 L yield to 5–7 L. It involves pouring a little water over the rice. The water seeps through the rice and settles inside the Janti, mixing with the already available liquor from fermentation. The water and the liquor is stirred and mixed for several minutes with the Abet. The water is scooped up from the Janti with the help of Abet and poured again on the rice. This process is followed several times until the alcoholic content from the rice decreases. Chu cheka can be done separately in parts by first drawing out the alcoholic content from one side. This process of stirring and pouring the liquid over the rice goes on simultaneously. When the first scoop of Chubitchi without performing Chu cheka from the Dikka is given to someone, the Garos believe that the person has to consume it all by himself, it cannot be shared nor can it be passed around to others.

For the Chubitchi to taste stronger, it has to be kept longer than six months. When the rice inside the Dikka shrinks, and if the Chubitchi from the Dikka is meant for stronger taste, more rice mixed with Wanti is filled inside the Dikka on top of the older rice and sealed again. So, layers and batches of rice can be found in a Dikka which has been kept without drinking for a year.

Discussion

Rice-based alcoholic beverage is widely consumed by the people belonging to the indigenous communities. It is therefore an integral part of human history, a natural dietary component and a recreational ingredient. Using and producing alcoholic beverages in order to drink with friends and loved ones additionally ensure good nutrition and intimacy into our everyday lives [35]. Cereal-based fermented beverage like Chubitchi has been known for low cholesterol content, high minerals, dietary fibres and phytochemicals content [36]. Fermentation is also known to increase the nutrition and energy produced by cereals such as rice. The fermentation process enriches and supplements the rice with essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and probiotic organisms [37]. For instance, it was noticed that fermented brown rice and rice bran showed chemopreventive potentialities [38]. The Korean rice wine and the Japanese Sake are known for its antimicrobial and anticancer properties [39]. Similarly, a study conducted on Chubitchi also showed antioxidative and antimicrobial activities [40].

Chubitchi preparation shares similarities with the process of making cereal-based fermented beverage practised among the tribes of Assam, such as Jou bishi by the Bodos, Horlang by the Karbi, Xaj by the Ahom tribe, Sujen by the Deori tribe, Jonga mod by the Rabha tribe, Apong by the Mising tribe and Rohi by the Sonowal Kachari tribe [41].

Rice, locally referred to as ‘Mi Ma’ meaning ‘Rice mother’, plays a central role in the life of the Garos. Rice is the staple food of the Garos, which is consumed thrice a day. Further, many traditional rice varieties are conserved and grown which include white rice (Migra), red rice (Mi Gitchak), black rice (Mi Gisim) and sticky rice (Minil). Glutinous rice or sticky rice (Oryza sativa var. glutinosa) is treasured for its aroma and normally used for making savory snacks. It is also preferred over normal rice for making traditional rice-based alcoholic beverage called Chubitchi, which plays an important role in the rural life of the Garos. Comparison of principal nutrients of glutinous and non-glutinous brown rice showed higher average content and wider range for non-glutinous rice protein and fat perhaps due to larger sample size. Protein content influences the nutritional quality of rice. The average protein concentration of 7.24 g/100 g is found in glutinous rice genotypes. Minil Gitchak and Minil Jaha are the most preferred genotype in prepartion of Glutinous rice. Figure 2 depicts the approximate protein, vitamin, amino acid, mineral and fibre composition [42].

Fig. 2
figure2

Graphs shows the approximate protein, vitamin, amino acid, mineral and fibre composition of Minil Joha and Minil Gitchak. Protein, fibre, fat, amino acid composition (g/100 g), B vitamin content and mineral content (mg/100 g) (this graph is based on data from (48)

Preparation of Chubitchi was one of the important activities of a Garo household in Meghalaya, India. The practice has disappeared in modern day Garo households. Its cultural significance is treasured by the Songsareks, the non-Christian Garos who inhabit interior villages of Garo Hills. Chubitchi was used by Garos in almost all occasions. Celebrations like wedding, engagement and clan meetings allowed as much intake of Chubitchi as one wished. The Garos depend mainly on agricultural produce for their livelihood. The first step in jhum cultivation of the Garos is called A∙a O∙pata, which involves the villagers along with the Nokma, going to the chosen field and building an altar. The Nokma then offers eggs and Chubitchi while seeking permission from the god or custodian of the forest, Abet Rengge, and the creator of land and water, Tatara Rabuga, to show their approval or displeasure by appearing in his dream. A∙galmaka (burning the trees and shrubs from the jhum field) is another festival where all families carry their own Chubitchi to the jhum field and drink it after offering it to the gods. Any remaining Chubitchi is shared among others to ensure that not a single drop returns home as it is considered inauspicious. Rongchugala implies the harvesting of early produce from the fields such as melons, maize, millets and other fruits. After celebrating in their own homes, the villagers gather at the Maljuri (centre pole or altar) of the Nokma’s (Chief) house. Here the first fruits and produce are offered along with Chubitchi.

The Wangala is the greatest festival among the Garos marking the end of harvest and a ceremony to send off the gods who had blessed them by staying throughout the harvest. The beverage prepared for any festivities is same except for the ceremony of Chu rugala during Wangala and childbirth. While performing Jamegapa Amua, a ritual in the fields before Wangala (harvest festival) where a cock has to be sacrificed, the priest uproots stalks of rice while uttering the words ‘Mialona ang bangbolona patiepabo, aganepabo tengte bone, misi cholsi’ which is a prayer directed to the gods of crops Misi Saljong and Mima Kiri Rokkime to bless the rice of his fields till the barns are full [2].

The Wangala is celebrated after the harvest is done. A ceremony called Chu rugala requires the burning of incense at the Maljuri of the Nokma’s house. The incense is acquired from the resins in the bark of a tree called Cha∙chat. The rice-based alcoholic beverage for Chu rugala is prepared from the sheaves of paddy brought home at the time of Jamegapa Amua. No other fermented rice-based alcoholic beverage can be used for sacrifice during the Wangala. The produce from the fields are never consumed before being offered to the gods first during Wangala.

The centre pole of the Nokma’s house, Maljuri, is prepared for the Wangala. Produce from the A.ba (jhum field) like pumpkins, gourds and ginger are kept as offerings to the gods. Sheaves of paddy and millets are tied to the Maljuri. The special Chubitchi prepared for this day is kept in a Dikka near the Maljuri. On the day Wangala is fixed, the villagers gather in the house of the Nokma (chief). The Kamal (priest) along with drummers gather around the Maljuri. The Kamal chants prayers thanking Misi Saljong and Mima Kiri Rokkime for blessing them with bountiful harvest. He bids adieu to them and pleads for their return in the next season. The Nokma usually performs the role of the Kamal, and in his absence, any Kamal from the village who is familiar with the chants and rituals takes his place. The Chubitchi which has been prepared for this special day can be touched only by the Kamal. He scoops the Chubitchi from the Dikka and pours it at the Maljuri as an offering to the gods. Only after offering it to the gods, the Kamal is allowed to drink it himself and offer it to others in the Abet. Wangala is celebrated for days, even up to a week.

Another distinct practice in the use of Chubitchi is during childbirth. The expectant mother will prepare Chubitchi for the day of childbirth when she is about two or three months pregnant. This beverage prepared by the expectant mother is known as Chu janggi (drink of life). It is kept covered with a cloth indicating that it is reserved for the special occasion. Chu janggi is considered sacred and no one is allowed to taste it. If anyone mistakenly takes a sip from the Chu janggi, it will have to be repaid in the same amount prepared in the same manner. The Garos also believe that disobeying the rules and consuming Chu janggi will result in ill luck such as death of a relative or a villager or a calamity of great magnificence over the land. In circumstances where the family or the pregnant woman has shamed the clan or the village, the maternal uncles have the right to take this Chu janggi and consume it, as reparations. This fermented Chu janggi can be used only on the occasion of child birth. It cannot be used for any other occasion in the house. If the mother or the child dies during childbirth, this very Chu janggi is poured into a Rangmatchi (brass utensil) and used to bathe the dead before cremation. The Chu janggi shall have to be rugala (offer libation) first to the dead before offering it to the people who have come for the cremation. It is believed that consuming Chu janggi after childbirth cleanses the woman’s womb and gives strength to her. It is also a custom among Garos to put a few drops of Chu janggi on the tongue of a newborn baby believing that it will have a positive health effects on the baby.

The Garo matrilineal custom requires the girl’s family to ask for the boy’s hand in marriage. Keeping in mind an impending engagement, Chubitchi is usually prepared about a year earlier. On the day the boy is to be asked to marry a girl, all members from the girl’s family including the maternal uncles and brothers who are known as the girl’s Chra goes to the boy’s house taking with them fowls, pigs and even cows if possible. This occasion is called Chawari sing∙a, and Chubitchi is a necessity to be taken along with the fowls and pigs. Chubitchi is also prepared beforehand for Do∙si Do∙doka (traditional wedding). In certain cases where a Do∙si Do∙doka has to be done hastily and, if there is no Chubitchi available in the house, Chubitchi is loaned from the neighbours, which of course has to be repaid later.

During Nokdong gaa (house warming ceremony), the Kamal chants prayers and offers thanks to the gods for blessing the family with necessities such as bamboo, wood and mud. He then pours the first of the Chubitchi to the gods and drinks only after that.

The cremation rites among the Garos involve the bathing or cleaning of the dead person by his or her sisters and nieces. Chubitchi is poured onto a utensil called Rangmatchi (brass utensil), and then, it is used to cleanse the body of the dead person before being cremated. The Garos believe that the spirit of the dead do not leave until they are properly send off with rituals. Hence, after cremation Memang nok or Delang, a small hut meant as a resting place for the spirit is constructed. The family members keep food for the deceased along with Chubitchi in cups or bottles near the Memang nok. A special day is chosen for the farewell of the spirit after which the spirit is believed to leave for the land of spirits, Balpakram. On this day, the bones of the dead person are carried around the village as a sign of mourning and honouring the departed. Chubitchi is prepared separately for this day of Mangona or Delang so∙a. This ceremony involves feasting and drinking in honour of the departed.

Apart from its social and religious significance, Chubitchi is also consumed by the Garos as a beverage to relax the muscles after a hard day’s work in the fields. When visiting a sick relative in another village, fowls and pigs are taken along with Chubitchi. Hence, almost all social activities among the Garos involve Chubitchi. Garos also believe in the medicinal properties of Chubitchi, particularly its role in relieving stomach cramps, gastro intestinal problems, joint pains, menstrual cramps among women and as an antiageing agent. But these claims are yet to be scientifically tested and proved. These are the areas where further scientific research are needed. The folk medicinal practitioners of the tribe use the beverage in many of their concoctions, claiming cure for several illnesses. These so claimed medicinal properties of Chubitchi have not been scientifically studied so far.

Conclusion

With the advancement in modern technology and the spread of Christianity, the age-old tradition of preparing Chubitchi and the traditional knowledge associated with it has dwindled in recent years. Only a few Songsarek villages still continue this traditional practice. With increasing population, it has also become harder to acquire land for cultivation, and the produce from the jhum fields has decreased a lot in recent times. Hence they have started to use imported rice grains for preparing Chubitchi. Many households who live nearer to towns are now engaged in preparing Chubitchi for commercial purposes. They sell half a litre of Chubitchi at a rate of hundred and fifty rupees. While this may seem like an income opportunity for poor households, the traditional knowledge associated with the preparation of Chubitchi has faded, so much so that very few people who make Chubitchi today, apart from the Songsareks, are aware of the traditional associations, significance and relevance of Chubitchi in Garo tradition. Hence, retaining this traditional practice is of an utmost importance for future generations. This traditional knowledge that has great significance in the social and cultural aspect of a tribe needs to be preserved. The paper is limited only to this aspect of sociocultural significance of Chubitchi. But, the dying practice of preparing Chubitchi needs to be revived. This can be achieved through scientific study of its health benefits. Another way to keep alive this traditional practice is by teaching the younger generations about its significance and importance in the social and cultural life of the tribe.

Availability of data and materials

All material/data used are available in the manuscript.

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Acknowledgements

Authors are grateful to Mr. Jonson M. Sangma (Williamnagar), Mr. Colnat B. Marak, Mr. Venybirth Ch. Marak, Mr. Gripseng G. Momin and Mr. Bilnang K. Sangma for their assiduous assistance in writing this paper. Authors are thankful to North-Eastern Hill University, Tura Campus, Meghalaya, India, Institutional Biotech Hub, N. N. Saikia College, Titabar, Assam, India and Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India for providing logistic support to carry out the study.

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Marak, S.R., Sharma, D. & Sarma, H. Ethnic preparation of Chubitchi, an alcoholic beverage of the Garo tribe of Meghalaya: a sociocultural analysis. J. Ethn. Food 8, 29 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42779-021-00102-7

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Keywords

  • Chubitchi
  • Garo
  • Meghalaya
  • Wanti
  • Ethnic food