Cheers to a horn of Muratina as high court rules it is legal

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula (right) enjoys a sip of traditional brew with Lurambi Mp Bishop Titus Khamala and Maendeleo Democratic party leader Hamisi Omikanda during the Batsotso cultural festival at Ikonyero Primary School. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Sometime in 1960s, the late benga musician Joseph Kamaru sang in praise of muratina that ni inyuo ni nyuo ni ya mwana ni inyuo (meaning drink and enjoy the traditional brew).

He sang that the traditional brew should be taken while conducting ceremonies such as child blessings and during dowries.

However, in central, a region where illicit brew has made young men either impotent, others blind or physically look thrice their age, the traditional brew has always been poured in the same basket of illicit brews by law enforcement agencies.

Those caught either brewing or drinking it were dragged to court and charged.

This will not be the case anymore.

The High Court in Kiambu on Friday declared Muratina to be a legal traditional brew.

Justice Abigail Mshila in her judgment ruled that the government was violating the Agikuyu culture by raiding homes for arrests.

According to her, enforcement authorities can only hunt for those violating alcohol brewing regulations.

“Unless the respondent enforce specific provisions of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act or any other law, they cannot raid homes, confiscate property and prefer unfounded charges against authorized muratina brewers. Those actions violate the cultural rights of the agikuyu people,” said Justice Mshila.

Justice Mshila said that muratina is central to agikuyu’s daily life as it is used for blessings and peacemaking among others.

“The importance of muratina in day-to-day functions and celebrations of the agikuyu people cannot be overemphased. It forms the heart of the cultural fabric of the agikuyu traditions,”she said.

Muratina has a sour, distinctly fruity flavor. It is brewed by fermenting ‘sausage’ fruit.

The brew is named after a fruit that comes from a wild tree commonly called the “sausage tree” due to the long, sausage-like shape of the fruit, which dangle from string-like twigs.  

Muratina fruits are poisonous when eaten raw, hence, they are often boiled or roasted to make them safe for brewing.

Traditions dictate that only the fruits that have fallen on the ground should be used.

Brewers combine boiled, sun-dried fruit with water, honey, or sugarcane juice then allow the mixture to ferment over several days.

When prepared properly, the fermented product is crisp and moderately sour with a mild, residual sweetness and smooth aftertaste.

However, it can be deadly if prepared wrongly. Traditionally, the brew is served in cow horns.

 Unlike ordinary glass, it is prohibited to put down a horn.

Once you put it down and spill its contents, it will be clear to those around you that you are drunk and it’s time to quit or head home. 

Agikuyu people serve muratina in ceremonies such as dowry(ruracio), circumcision (irua), initiation to the council of elders, reconciliation of family members (Goima Cia Worohia), praying for rain (Kuhoya Bura), blessing of children (Kurathima ciana) and blessings of land (Kurathima mugunda).

The case was filed by Kiama kia ma (association of the truth) led by Anthony Ngumi against Kiambu County commander and the Attorney General.

They argued that muratina cannot harm one’s health as such it should not be suppressed.

According to them, the government was killing Agikuyu cultural celebrations while being discriminatory as other cultures enjoy their brews without interference.

While urging the court to dismiss the case, the AG and the police argued that selling alcoholic drinks without a license is a criminal offense as alcohol manufacture is a highly regulated and controlled activity.

They also submitted that allowing those who brew muratina need licenses to manufacture and sell the traditional brew

According to the government, the case did not raise any constitutional issue, instead, it was filed for commercial interests.

The AG told the judge that the right to culture can be limited.