Waragi (pronounced [ˈwaɾaɡi], also known as enguli) is a generic term in Uganda for domestic distilled beverages. Waragi is also given different names, depending on region of origin, the distillation process, or both. Waragi is known as a form of homemade Gin. It is commonly called Waragi in the central area of Uganda but in the West it is sometimes called "Kasese". In northern Uganda it is more commonly called "Lira Lira". The manufacturing of Waragi does not vary too much in the different parts of Uganda - only the ingredients are slightly different. A commercial brand called Uganda Waragi is produced and marketed by East African Breweries Limited.
Moonshining and consumption of waragi and other alcoholic beverages is widespread in Uganda. In the 2004 WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol, Uganda ranked as the world's leading consumer of alcohol (per capita). Based on results from 2007, Uganda’s overall alcohol consumption was an average of 17.6 liters per capita. This is unusually high compared to surrounding countries.
Waragi was created to give the soldiers confidence to go into battle during the war. A common fear of theirs was internal conflicts about fighting in the war. Waragi gave the soldiers what the English now name it, "Dutch Courage." Waragi was first made in 1965, yet prior to that the people of Uganda brewed another kind of liquor called Enguli. This drink brought about the Enguli Act of 1965- Enguli production could only be done with legal licenses. Furthermore, those who had the license were required to sell it to the East African Distillers. When Enguli was received from local suppliers, over the years it was distilled to Waragi. It took 30 years of inconsistency of the drink to finally come to an end template of what is the Uganda Waragi today.
Waragi derives its name from "war gin", as the British colonial expatriates in the 1950s and 1960s referred to the distilled spirit known in Luganda language as enguli. The pronunciation with the hard [ɡ] sound is more common; those who are aware of the English origins of the word often favor a "j" sound for [ˈwaɾadʒi]. Its appearance first came about when British soldiers were first starting to create inroads into East Africa. They used brigades of Nubian Soldiers to help with the feat, and they concocted the alcohol to help keep up good spirits. It then spread throughout Uganda as a well-known drink. Another theory is that the name is a corruption of "Arak" the North African spirit with which the Nubian soldiers would have been familiar.
The colonial authorities of Uganda banned the drink and the laws still exist today. Africans at the time would not drink it publicly because drinks that were less harmful to them were also off limits then.
In 1965, "The Enguli Act" decreed that distillation would only be possible under licence, and that distillers should sell their product to the government run Uganda Distilleries Ltd – which produced a branded bottled product, marketed under the name Uganda Waragi (distilled from millet and today wholly produced by East African Breweries Limited). "The Enguli Act" was never successfully enforced, as unlicensed production of waragi persisted.
People in Uganda now drink the harsh gin and authorities overall ignore the law and do not enforce it regularly. It is sold in shops and bars across Uganda and a distilled version in sold overseas. The product that is sold overseas is double and sometimes triple distilled from the alcohol that village distillers make for the factory Uganda. When it is distilled, flavors are added and many impurities and dangerous parts of the alcohol are filtered out.
In April 2010, 80 people died from multiple organ dysfunction syndrome after drinking waragi adulterated with a high amount of methanol over a three-week period in Kabale District. Many of the deaths were blamed on the reluctance of people to openly admit their relatives had been drinking it, allowing the abuse of the substance to continue. When revelations came about houses were searched, with around 120 jerrycans uncovered.
The death toll of 80 was arrived at after 15 people died in the period between April 23 and the weekend before. Deaths in Kamwenge went from five to nine after four people died on 21 April. Two people were hospitalised at Kamwenge's Ntara Health Centre IV and five were hospitalised at Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital.
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VICE, a news outlet known for "immersion journalism" devoted an episode of their web series Fringes to the process of making and distributing Waragi. The episode also covered the cultural significance of Waragi in Uganda, with reporter Thomas Morton imbibing various distillations of the traditional beverage.
Waragi can be brewed from bananas.
The base of waragi distillate can be made from either cassava, bananas, millet or sugar cane, depending on the crops grown in the region. The most popular (besides the branded Uganda Waragi) are Lira Lira and Kasese. Lira Lira is made mainly from cassava flour and cane sugar, and is named after the town of Lira. Kasese, named after the town of Kasese, is a potent banana gin. Waragi may also be known as "regular" or "crude".
Common in Uganda, besides waragi, are home-made beers and other brews such as tonto, mwenge, muramba, ajon (aka malwa), kweete (or kwette) and Musooli.
Close to 80% of the Waragi today is made in Uganda. A large glass of this unregulated liquor goes for approximately 25 cents, making it easily accessible for Ugandans.
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- WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004
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- "Uganda Waragi" (PDF). Uganda Waragi. The spirit that binds us.
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- "Home-made gin kills 80 in a month in Uganda". Herald Sun. 25 April 2010. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
- "80 people die of methanol-laced gin in Uganda". The Gazette (Montreal). 23 April 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2010.[dead link]
- "Illegal banana gin 'kills 80' in Uganda". BBC. 23 April 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
- "Waragi Death Toll Rises to 80 in Kabale". TMC. 23 April 2010. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
- Morton, Thomas. "War Gin: Fringes". Video. VICE.com. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
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