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27.09.18

Insider's tip against sour milk in the East African steppe

Calabashes are very robust vessels made of dried and hollowed gourds. Before smoking the calabashes, the Maasai rinse them with cattle's urine. | © Veterinarians without Borders

Maasai women decorate the calabashes depending on their use. Each vessel has its individual ornament. | © Veterinarians without Borders

Are you familiar with this: You want to take a good cup of coffee, add some milk and only then you realize that it has turned sour. Each of us who has encountered problems with the shelf-life of dairy products during the hot summer months can imagine the challenges the Maasai in the East African steppe face every day.

The Maasai live there under extreme environmental conditions. Temperatures can be very high for a long time, clean water is scarce. Not only does the milk of their cattle serve the Maasai themselves as a staple food. It also contributes to the regional supply of people with milk. The Maasai rely on the longstanding tradition of smoking calabashes, in which they store milk, to kill dangerous germs. This tradition has its origins thousands of years ago and is unique to nomadic pastoralists, especially in hot, arid regions of the world where there is a scarcity of clean water. The milk takes on the smoky taste of the calabash.

Although this method has long been cultivated, there has been little attention to the smoking of calabashes in literature. Our Tanzanian employee John Laffa has covered this issue in detail in his doctoral thesis. We will tell you of John's most significant findings in the next weeks.

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