It is a common practice among the indigenous tribal communities of North East India to prepare and consume traditionally prepared rice beer (rice wine) from different varieties of rice with plants, medicinal herbs, fruits and flowers. The art of preparing household liquor varies slightly from tribe to tribe though the fundamental steps are almost the same.
The homemade alcohol is a direct reflection of their rich culture, beliefs and knowledge. This liquor is served in all social and cultural functions like marriages, funerals, festivals and births.
Judima is a traditional rice wine of the Dimasa tribe of Assam that is largely based in the Dima Hasao district (formerly North Cachar district). This rice wine is an integral part of their sociocultural life. Judima is carried by the groom’s party when visiting the prospective bride signifying an interest to issue a proposal. Fathers dab a little Judima on the lips of their new born to keep away evil.
According to the locals, centuries ago, a man belonging to the Dimasa tribe walked towards the paddy field carrying his lunch which was rice wrapped in banana leaves. He placed his lunch on the trunk of a tree and got busy with his work.
When he came to have his lunch, he found some liquid oozing from the banana leaves. He became curious and tentatively tasted it and found it to be remarkably sweet. As he pondered over the formation and sweetness of this liquid, he looked around and realized that the tree was responsible for this. The bark of the tree Acacia pennata has since been called locally as Thembra (Thempra according to some).
The preparation of Judima involves two steps namely the making of the rice cakes and the preparation of the wine. The rice cakes are prepared from the glutinous Bora saul rice. The Dimasa tribe feel that the Maiju variety of Bora saul will make the best Judima. The yeast is prepared from the bark of the Acacia pennata which is available in the nearby forests.
Rice is soaked overnight and ground into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. The bark is sundried, chopped into tiny pieces and crushed into a fine powder. This powder is then mixed with the rice flour with some water and made into a paste. Small rice cakes are made from this paste. The rice cake locally known as umhu or humao is dried for three to five days and then stored in a cool place (can be stored for a year). It is usually kept away from direct sunlight as locals feel that the fermenting capacity decreases.
Maiju variety of Bora saul (another variety of Bora saul called Bairing is also used) is cleaned, cooked and spread on bamboo mats (sometimes banana leaves). The old rice cakes are powdered and sprinkled over the freshly prepared ones that are crushed and mixed with the cool rice and kept in earthen vessels whose mouths are sealed with jute gunny bags (sometimes a large container is used). The fermentation usually takes three to five days depending on the season (it takes lesser time in summer and more in winter).
The slightly yellowish juice is collected carefully and transferred into special cones which are placed on top of receptacles that collect all the liquid that spills. This strained liquid is ready for consumption. The taste usually depends on the time it has been kept in the earthen vessels (longer the time, better the taste). Sometimes, leaves of Piper betle, Buddleja asiatica and Hedyotis scandens are also used as a variation. The juice can be diluted with water and left for fermentation as well.
The Dimasa tribe believe that the consumption of rice beer is good for health and acts as a remedy for various ailments which is attributed to the medicinal properties of the herbs used in the preparation of the rice cakes. This locally brewed drink tastes like honey and is rich in nutrients, known to improve digestion and cure insomnia.
The Assam government is now working actively to promote, nurture and preserve the culture of the Dimasa tribe by hosting a yearly festival. This festival named after Judima is aimed at providing an alternative means of livelihood for the native tribes.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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