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Beer and human civilization

  • The evolution of alcohol in human history reflects the flourishing wisdom of humanity as it advances incessantly towards nobler accomplishments. Only the laggards will gradually wither and recede in their fatuity.

By CHONG LIP TECK
Sin Chew Daily

The beer festival issue has been hijacked by politics, as political parties irrespective of whether they are for or against beer festivals have exploited the issue for their own gains. Eloquent as they are, we have no way to tell the good guys from the bad ones.

A book on the history of beer on my desk makes a splendid read. While beer is for the smashing in the context of today's Malaysian politics, it has been a great drink in the long history of human civilization, one that connects our emotions.

Humans gave up their Stone Age primitive lives of food-collecting and hunting to settle down in collection of villages with their newly acquired agrarian lifestyle, barley and wheat being the earliest cultivated crops that were found to be able to be made into liquors by means of fermentation.

That was the precursor of beer that has stirred up so much controversy in this country of late.

Where were the earliest farming settlements on this planet? Mesopotamia. Sounds familiar? Yes, a name we learned about in history textbooks.

Of course, textbooks would not tell you anything about beer, but if you are interested, some other history books will provide a good glimpse into the evolution of beer-brewing of Sumerians in Mesopotamia and ancient Egyptians.

A politician has said we need to learn to think independently on the issue of beer, which I agree. Well, reading a history book does help reinforce our rational thinking. So, let's start from here!

From how the Sumerians described beer in 3000BC, people shared the beer from a common urn, a symbol of hospitality and goodwill that also served to show that the beverage was safe to drink, and that the person offering it was trustworthy.

Scholars argue that we knock our mugs in "cheers" today as an alternative manifestation of sharing from an ancient common urn.

So, no alleged vices associated with drinking!

Next, the argument that drinking is intolerable by religions can hardly be substantiated. I recall that when Jesus performed his first miracle, he turned water into wine in a wedding feast as a way of blessing.

In ancient times, the feeling of intoxication and suppressed alertness as a consequence of beer drinking was an incredibly wonderful sensation that went beyond words. During the process of fermentation, ordinary cereals were miraculously turned into beer believed to be a divine gift.

Because of that, liquors were naturally used for religious sacrifices. The Sumerians and Egyptians were the first to use liquors in religious rituals and worshipping. The same was also practiced by other ethnicities as an offering for worshipping, blessing or well-wishing.

The Oktoberfest demonized by many of our politicians today is nothing more than a legacy of well-wishing, if we were to trace its origins.

Beer was seen by the Sumerians as a symbol of civilization. A Sumerian king once wrote an epic to depict the evolution of his tribe's civilization, one that included the consumption of bread and beer, symbols that set themselves apart from uncivilized barbarians.

Such a perception faintly reflects the correlations between beer and a stable, orderly life, as opposed to the disorderly prehistoric life of food collecting and hunting.

Meanwhile, in ancient Egypt, the Sun God found out that humans planned a rebellion against him, and he subsequently instructed Goddess Hathor to penalize humans. However, Hathor wanted to wipe out the entire humanity, and Sun God, worrying that there would be no one left behind to worship him, dyed large quantities of wine blood red and splashed it in the wilderness like an immense mirror reflecting the sunlight. Hathor stopped in front of the "mirror" and started to drink the wine and get drunk. When she woke up from her sleep, she forgot all about her mission!

Now come to the problem of addiction. In ancient Egyptian literature, young people were warned against alcohol addiction: "Beer can make you alienated by the other people, and could deliver your soul to the Hades such that you will be eternally doomed."

Others have advised against drunkenness, for the drinker will create himself tremendous troubles for saying inappropriate things after he gets drunk.

But, even that fails to overturn beer's status as a symbolic drink of civilization. If we don't drink excessively or speak or do the wrong things, we won't get into trouble. Period.

We have countless of recordings and illustrations of liquors throughout the course of human history, including their uses, cultural significance, literary connections as well as religious attachments, among others.

The evolution of alcohol in history epitomizes humans' quest for new discoveries, their great fear for the unknown, mutual respect for one another, and judgment of human conducts and moral values, all manifesting the flourishing wisdom of humanity as it advances incessantly towards nobler accomplishments.

Only the laggards will gradually wither and recede in their fatuity.

 

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