Tales of ‘Tonto’, the Fading Ankole local brew

Tonto brew, the used to be cherished, unifying cultural factor of Ankole


Tonto as was customary presented on cultural weddings and introduction parties in traditional Ankole kingdom. Credit: Flickr


If there was a cultural unifying factor among the people of Ankole especially, the agriculturally settled community that was a locally brewed beer made out of Matooke and sorghum called Tonto.

People used to rotate across families in the whole village, seating in circles and drink, deliberate on social issues and mostly  solve conflicts.

It used to be done communally and for free with lots of entertainment, dancing and singing.

But as modernity struck, it became a show of the past, not because the brew is no longer there but the purpose it used to serve, and the mode of consumption has changed or evolved.

Elifazi Rwabushaija, 53, an aristocrat, notes that today people have become more selfish and very individualistic arguing that that’s why the unity this drink used to encompass is no longer there.

“There used to forums where we could meet deliberate on issues concerning our society like  discipline, development and issues relating to strengthening our culture,’’he said.

Rwabushaija said strict discipline was maintained during these drinking gatherings for example, children were not allowed to join the elderly as well as women drank differently from men.


Residents also who misbehaved during these drinking gatherings were fined. They often were tasked to bring a goat that would be slaughtered and consumed during one of the gatherings.

Another culturalist, Zabroni Rwakaikara, 67, of Rwampara in Mbarara municipality, told The Transparent that even a resident who produced a brew that could not conform to standards, they too would be  fined.

So you had to ensure you maintain good standard during brewing like standard good measurement on the ingredients to be used during brewery.

He said that in the past, drinking beer used to play a very significant role especially in uniting and keeping bonds together unlike today when it is abused and has become source of evil to all ages.

“These days alcohol consumption has become a source of evil unlike in the past, whereas we used these drinking gatherings as a way to instill discipline in our societies, reflect on our cultural norms and values, these days it’s the opposite. The drinking joints have become hubs for thieves, rapists and murderers ,” said Rwakaikara.

Ceremonies like marriages, introductions never went without blessing of this brew.

“It was a must to have by the bridegroom’s entrouge as they went for introductions, we had special known people to test it especially on these occasions to ensure it was very good. Should one bring the ‘fake’ tonto, one that does not conform to standard, this could bring the function to a standstill,” Rwakaikara added.

He also said added during the helm days Ankole Kingdom, the subjects of the King used to brew tonto and bring to the palace. Those that did it best of it will be rewarded with land, exempted from paying taxes among others.


A man quashes bananas with his feet in oblate, a V-shaped trough made out of hard wood


Tonto is a traditional fermented beverage made from bitter bananas (embiire). It’s also referred to as ‘mwenge biggele’

It’s made by ripening green bananas (embiire) in a pit for several days. The juice is then extracted mostly using feet in a wooden trough, filtered and diluted before being mixed with ground and roasted sorghum.

The mixture is fermented again a wooden trough for two to four days.


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