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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Straws revive Uganda's home brew
By Abraham Odeke
BBC News, eastern Uganda

Ajono drinkers in eastern Uganda
Each drinker now has their own straw
The adoption of a "one-man, one-straw" rule in home brew drinking clubs in eastern Uganda has seen a resurgence of a declining social tradition.

Christian pastors launched a vigorous campaign against the nightly gatherings of people drinking ajono, a beer made from millet, a few years ago.

While doctors had warned about sharing a straw to drink from a central pot.

But when brewers introduced the new straw rule, the pastime became more popular than ever.

Dried stems

"Previously all us here shared only one straw which would rotate among the drinkers," says James Omongin, chairman of the Half London Club in Tororo district.

A bucket of ajono
Anti-ajono campaigners say the drink promotes laziness

"The group time-keeper would allow each member to suck the stuff for three minutes before passing the straw to the next member."

But drinkers often violated these rules, refusing to pass on the straw, which led to people giving up their membership.

"Then there was the warning of the medical doctors to the ajono drinkers to depart from the old-fashioned style of sharing the tubes to avoid the spread of certain communicable diseases including TB," Mr Omongin says.

So ajono drinkers now buy their own epi (drinking straw), which they can decorate or label, or hire ones that are sterilised with hot water after use.

The straws are made from the dried stems of a common creeper found growing in trees and bushes in the area.

Judging from the increased number of the brewers, their policy has reaped rewards.

Roasting meat

Anti-ajono campaigners claim the brew encourages laziness and immorality. They say millet should not be wasted as it is the area's main staple food.

They should know that ajono is a very hygienically brewed home beer that generates good income for the millet growers
Local MP

But even inside police stations, prisons and army barracks organised groups of men and their long home-made straws can be found sucking from the pot under a makeshift shelter.

There will always be some music with huge speakers powered by a car battery, and the appetising smell of roasting meat.

Village chiefs and local MPs also have their own drinking clubs.

"As a legislator I will never succumb to the wishes of those born-again pastors," said an MP who asked to remain anonymous.

"They should know that ajono is a very hygienically brewed home beer that generates good income for the millet growers and the poor families brewing it," he said.

"Above all, [it's drunk at] our weddings and the funeral ceremonies."

I counted up to 55 drinkers around one huge clay pot inside the White House Club in a densely populated slum in Soroti district.

Each member pays the equivalent of about 50 US cents for a drinking session.

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