Only the finest millet will do

A group of men enjoying ajon. Photo by Stephen Otage

What you need to know:

Ajon. Alcohol brought together communities in most tribes in Uganda.Among the Itesot, Ajon is the drink that many cherish especially in rural areas.

The joke is still told that in order to prove an Itesot is dead, just tempt him by placing a calabash filled with ajon (millet beer) by his mouth. If he does not wake up, then indeed the son of the soil is dead.

Regarding the origin of this joke, Mzee Joseph Ikotot, an Itesot, aged 60 years, says it is obviously the passionate and undying love that the Itesot people have for the drink that led to the birth of the saying.

“My fellow Iteso people treasure this locally made alcoholic brew as though it is a staple food. In fact, in most Iteso introduction and wedding ceremonies especially those held in the village, the local beverage rarely misses out on the list of drinks,” Ikotot says.
He even goes ahead to claim that he actually started drinking the millet beer at a tender age, probably when he was 10 years old.

“My friends and I would constantly gate-crash various functions that were not only held in the neighbourhood, but in distant villages as well just because we wanted to drown ourselves in the local brew,” Ikotot adds.

Making ajon was an activity that was mainly done in the rural areas that had homesteads of the Itesots. However, this has changed of late as Itesot in urban areas are not only making the local brew, but also selling it to various city residents as well.
Some of the common city suburbs where one is likely to find the locally made brew as well as the drinking joints include Bweyogerere, Kireka, Kansanga, Kibuye, Kawempe as well as Bwaise. The list is endless.

In order to see a clear picture of how the ajon business is different in the city, Bella Akurut, who has been an ajon brewer for over 30 years in Kiwafu zone in Kibuli, says this kind of business is good in Kampala because there it earns one more money.

“At least in Kampala, clients pay fairly a good amount of money for drinking ajon compared to most of the rural dwellings where individuals pay less and yet they drink heavily,” Akurut says. This was what actually made Akurut shift her ajon business from Soroti to Kibuli, a city suburb. Much as this mother of four earns fairly good profit from her ajon business, Akurut says there are also challenges that ajon brewers face every day in their work.
The most common however, are the expenses incurred in transporting the drinking raw material from upcountry to the city.

“There are times I even end up spending about Shs50,000 in one day just because I want very good millet from Soroti,” she says.
Akurut prefers the millet from Soroti because she believes that it is the one that makes very nutritious ajon.

Tom Ochom, a regular customer confirms this by saying that indeed the millet Akurut uses is of good quality. This is why he has even lured some of his friends to drink at her joint.
Besides drinking, traditionally, this locally made brew is at times used when initiating children into the tribe. This is done by placing a few drops inside the child’s mouth.
But even with this traditional norm, the fact still remains that ajon is ideally meant for drinking among the Iteso grownups.