Can wine – the traditional wine of Ma ethnic minority people
May 14th 2013.
In the food & dink culture of ethnic minory people, “Can” (rờ rờm) is their favorite beverage in the Ma households and in the whole community, and women take charge of both yeast making and brewing. Can is present in almost all family activties, in the community, at funerals and weddings. Especally, Can is a mandatory offering in Heaven rituals.
The ingredients include wine yeast, cooked rice and rice husks. Wine yeast is made from rice pound with gràng leaves and made into cubes then incubated for 5-7 days and kept over the attic. Gràng leaves must not be too young or too old, so when they are covered up, the yeast is more fragrant and the wine gets strong sweet taste. After being covered up above the oven, the yeast is fermented and people dry it under the sun or tie and hang it above the oven for wine brewing. The yeast being done, people cook fermented glutinous rice and spread iton the dying basket when it is still hot. Yeasts is pounded into fine power; then mixed with rice, adding some rice husks and then cover it up overnight. The honey-smelling fragrance shows signs of good fermented glutinous rice. Then yeast is put into large jars for brewing. The Ma in Đạ Tẻh when making CAN add some very hot chilli powder and wild galanga powder – ingredients to make wine yeast, and each ingredient offers specific odor.
When making CAN, the Ma can use different kinds of jars – jar for 4, jar for 8 or jar for 20, depending on each household condition. Prior to brewing, jars must be sterlized by boiling water with lemongrass, grang leaves or pomelo/grapefruit leaves, then washed and dried in the sun then fermented glutinous rice is put into it for brewing.
The process of making CAN of the Ma must be step by step. The lowest layers a thin layerof rice husks, then fermented glutinous ice, then again a layer of husks and a layer of fermented glutinous rice… until the jar is full of ingredients, and this combination should not be too crushed nor too loose; then a thin layer of husks is kept on the surface. The lids made from a dried gourd skin, or people can use ashes to seal the opening. Today, people usually use forest leaves or plastic to close up the hole and keep the jar in dry aiy places or even bury it for 5-6 days before using.
However, the longer brewing days the more delicious CAN is. According to the Ma’s experience, the appearance of tu lú (winged insects) and the warmth from the jar, the lid having vapor, and the sweet smell emitting from the jar are sure signs of good status of CAN.
To drink CAN, the Ma use straws. Straws are made from bamboo branches or reeks, the length depends on the dimension of each jar. The inside of the bamboo is empty the top with the node is pierced or chiseled with 3-4 small holes so when drink, you the wine will be absorbed through the hole and no husk or waste can penetrate into the straws. The Ma drink wine for specific purposes. For instance, in the heaven worship ceremony, the Ma use only one straw. This makes a big difference from other ethnic minority ribes.
CAN is an alcoholic drink but is not distilled as the Kinh’s practice, this product is made from yeast but does not contain alcohol. The first extract has the color of dark yellowish with a sweet-smelling fragrance, not hot nor bitter and especially with low alcohol level. Upon jar opening and straws pitching, the chief or the witch reads prayers to Heaven and invites God to accept their offering, then the chief wil take the first spas a proof of confirming no poison in the wine then hand the straw over to the next person, people old and young, guests and hosts, males and females, all take turns to sip… The straw must not be dropped unless there is another person to take it. While delivering the straw to the next person, you must close the top of the straw so the breng-bad devil cannot have access to the jar and harm drinkers. For other community gatherings, or receptions of distinguished guests or close friends, the Ma can also use more straws. After each turn, the host will pour more water into the jar. Other than the host, his relatives and offspring or a close friend can pour water into the jar. And the gathering goes on until the end.
According to the Ma’s viewpoint, CAN is the beverage of divinities. Therefore, besides purely materialistic value, it assumes a spiritual meaning. As such, the processing and drinking of CAN must strictly conform with stringent taboos, for instance: Durng the making of yeast and brewing, the ladies must keep their body pure and clean, no sexual relationships are allowed. They are not allowed to make yeast nor approach the area wher yeast is processed. A chance guest calling on the house must help pound yeast, and avoid braking jars. During yeast processing, all family members must not go to the forest move away or travel to another tribe, for fear of bad luck – traw suddenly broken or while drinking. When a member dies of a certain disease the Ma suspend processing of CAN for a week. If it is an unlucky death (accident), for three years they stop making CAN. If unexpected pregnant women or people on mourning arrive at the time when the owner is making yeast, then they will throw it away lt is said that during mourning your body is not clean and you have lots of burdens on your shoulders.
Additionally, when drinking CAN, breaking the straw of the jar is a taboo subject. No Ma people dare break the straws, for this is a sign of disrespect for Heaven, or quarreling with the host.
Currently, Can is still processed quite frequently in tribes but the regulations are less stringent and simpler. Some taboos are discarded and this is a good progress in Ma’s culture and the cultural practice of Can in particular.
By Hong Truc