From the Amerindian mabi to the beer for slavesArticle 14 of 16 Mabi-beer rejected as an indigenous drink 19-20th

The Mabi-beer becomes a second category drink (18st century).


The Amerindian women were employed by the settlers to prepare cassaves and cassava beer. They remain more expert in this field than black slaves or Creoles who do not know how to detoxify the manioc pulp or how to cook cassaves[1].

Cassava became one of the staple foods of early Europeans. The settlers had to learn how to process the root, remove the prussic acid and transform it into edible food, one of the most lasting contributions of the Amerindians to the islands' culture. Ligon notes that the Indian slave women "are more expert at processing cassava and making bread from it than the black women we use for this purpose". On this subject as on others, Ligon's description offers more detail than that of his contemporaries :

" [the Indians] wash the outside of the root clean, and lean it against a wheel, whose sole is about a foot broad, and covered with latine made rough like a large grater. The wheel to be turned about with a foot, as a cutler turns his wheel. And as it grates the root, it falls down in a large trough, which is the receiver appointed for that purpose. . . [The grated cassava] being put into a strong piece of double canvas, or sackcloth and pressed hard that all the juice be squeezed out, and then opened upon a cloth and dried in the sun it is ready to make bread. "

In Martinique, the Amerindians disappeared from the landscape at the beginning of the 18th century. The maby continues to be brewed. The fermented beverage became the drink of black slaves and creoles. The economy of the island is based exclusively on slave labour.

" Their ordinary drink is made of the sweet potatoes I mentioned above, which they boil with sugar syrup; they call it Mabi, & they call it Ouicou when, with the sweet potato and the sugar, they add cassava which they boil together.

They have a kind of brandy that they make from cane juice & sugar syrup. They call it Tafia or Guildive, it is almost as strong as brandy, & it is used only by Negroes. " (Gautier Du Tronchoy 1709, 66)[2]

About the black slaves, the author specifies the way of treating the bitter cassava, a method inherited from the Amerindian women:

" these roots, which serve as bread for a large part of America, are as big & long as carrots; they are peeled off on specially made graters, and are made into flour by extracting all the juice, which is the subtlest poison of the world & which is carefully drained into underground places for fear that the cattle might drink it; most Negroes eat this flour, which they cook on iron pans intended for this purpose; " (Gautier Du Tronchoy 1709, 44).


[1] Handler Jerome S. 1970, Aspects of Amerindian Ethnography in 17th Century Barbados, Caribbean Studies Vol. 9, N° 4, p. 201.

[2] Gauthier Du Tronchoy, Journal de la campagne des isles de l'Amérique qu'a fait M. D..., la prise et possession de l'isle Saint-Christophe, ... la manière de vivre des sauvages, leurs moeurs, leur police et leur religion ..., 1709.

From the Amerindian mabi to the beer for slavesArticle 14 of 16 Mabi-beer rejected as an indigenous drink 19-20th