Traditional Yeast-Making in Buli

Description

Kheng Buli is popularly known as the place of lotus bowl, and it is located 56k from the district headquarter under Nangkor Gewog. Buli is the most visited village under Zhemgang district because of its ideal location and improved motorable road, it attracts many visitors. Moreover, it has the added attractions of many heritage and religious sites that have strong historical connections and associations to the people.The village has basic amenities in place such as electricity, mobile network coverage, education facilities including ECCD and lower secondary school, health facilities-BHU Grade II (which is being upgraded to Grade I) that provides health services to the nearby villages.

The main source of income for the villagers are agriculture products, livestock farming and forest products. Since the land is fertile and suitable for all varieties of cereals, every household sell their agricultural products to nearby farm enterprises, educational institutions, and to the civil servants.Compared to other villages, the Buli community considers farming a top priority for their livelihood, and the farming practices are also much better than the other nearby villages. The villagers have formed cooperatives, which receive supports in terms of farm machineries, hybrid seeds, farm mechanization, hybrid livestock and artificial insemination that have contributed to producing better farm and dairy products.

Role of Women in the Village

Women play a prominent role in the villagefrom managing house to farming and taking part in other economic related activities. In addition, women are also engaged in brewing alcohol for religious purposes such as festivals, annual rituals, and daily offerings, and also, they sell alcohol products for income. Although, alcohol consumption has drastically reduced in the community, but locally brewed alcohols like bangchang, singchang and ara are still used as part of social and cultural practices.

These alcohol products are made from food grains such as maize, millet, buckwheat, foxtail millet, and finger millet. These grains are not only used as food grains, but they are also used for making local alcohol products. These local alcohols are prepared for self-consumption as well as sold locally to earn small income for the household, especially for women.

And thus, the people in the village say that the taste and purity of alcohol depends on the use of yeast for fermentation of grains. It is said that Bulip women are the best yeast maker in the region and people from nearby villages still prefer to buy yeast from them.

Preparation for Yeast-Making

The following ingredients are used in making yeast:

  1. Threebje (traditional measuring bowl) of millet flour
  2. Half bje of maize flour
  3. Half bje of buckwheat flour
  4. Dumangla- དུ་མང་ལ།-
  5. Banglakpa- བང་ལག་པ།
  6. Kachimailampa-ཀ་ཅི་མ ི་གླམ་པ།(sweet potatoes leaves)
  7. KhagaiNumba-ཁ་ག ི་ནུམ་བ།
  8. Lichilampa-ལི་ཅི་གླམ་པ། (peach leaves)

Firstly, millet, maize and buckwheat are dried in the sun for a few days. Maize and buckwheat are ground into powder after they are sun dried; whereas the dried millet is toasted in a large pan for 10 minutes and then ground into powder. The powdered grains are sieved repeatedly to remove the coarse granules to get the fine flour to maintain the quality of the yeast.

In addition, PhapgiDing, which is the main ingredient used in the yeast locally known as Dumangla  is collected from the forest, and it is added to improve the taste of alcohol. Another ingredient added is Banglakpa, which supposedly improves the potency of the alcohol; KhagaiNumba is used to add bitter taste; and Kachimailampa is believed to improve the sweetness in the fermentation. These ingredients are collected from the forest, sun dried and then ground intofine powder. These ingredients are added to the mix. The people in Buli believe that these ingredients are mandatory inyeast-making to maintain the quality of liquor. People also say that these ingredientshave medicinal benefits, but these assumptions have not been tested or proven scientifically.

Yeast-Making Process

A handful of powdered wild plants (see description above) is added to one bje of flour, then water is added and kneaded. Only experienced women know the exact measurement of what amount of flour and plant powder to be mixed. If the plant powder exceeds the required amount, the grain fermentation will become sour and will not give good alcohol. The buckwheat flour is added to bind the mix, so that it does not crumble; and maize powder is added to improve the flavor and also to give it a golden yellow color. Then, the mixture is kneaded properly and the dough is made into small ball and flattened to give it a circular shape,and they are placed on the Gramang (a flat circular bamboo basket). After a few minutes, old yeast powder is sprinkled and rubbed on the new yeast. This process is called cleaning the face of the yeast.

The last part of the yeast-making process is called making the yeast to sleep to maintain the temperature of the new yeast and also to keep it soft.If this process is not completed, yeast will turn reddish and become very hard. Firstly, a generous amount of bramaisewla (buckwheat husk) is sprinkled on the gramang, and then the circular yeast balls are rolled in it so that the balls are covered in bramaisewla. Thereafter, the yeast balls are placed on Tshenty (a hanging bamboo shelf that is traditionally used to dry things) above the traditional woodstove for five days.  During this process, especially  in the winter, the oven should be fired day and night to bring a proper fermentation to the yeast, and in the summer, it is to avoid the formation of moisture and fungus.After five days, the bramaisewla, or the buckwheat husk is removed and dried for two more days on the tsentey to harden the yeast. After the yeast is dry, it is stored away, or sold to people who come looking for yeast.

Challenges

Today, only a few women show interest and effort to prepare yeast as it is laborious and process-oriented. People have to collect the raw materials from the forest, which is arduous, and it also involves grinding and sieving the three different kinds of grains for making yeast. Moreover, there is a certain local belief embedded in the yeast-making process, if the maker does not maintain proper hygiene and cleanliness, the maker will suffer misfortunes and severe illnesses including blindness. Therefore, women are careful when they make yeast. Furthermore, the reason for the dwindling yeast maker is the easy availability of yeast from the nearby local Indian market. Thus, the traditional yeast-making process and the maker are almost on the verge of disappearance, unless this indigenous cultural heritage are documented for posterity.

Informant

Aum Tshering Chezom, 70, elderly woman, Kheng Buli

Researcher

Tshering Dema, Associate Lecturer, CLCS, Taktse, Royal University of Bhutan, 2019