Title: “I Like My Windhoek Lager”: Beer Consumption and the Making of Men in Namibia. Chapter in this book, which is entirely dedicated to discussing beer in Africa.
Author: Mattia Fumanti
One-sentence summary: This article follows a group of young men as they party in Rundu, and look as how their identity as men is related to the way they drink and talk about drinking.
The men discussed in the article are mostly young professionals, so they have some money, and so they are very clear that they prefer to drink at more formal bars (“owned by members of the white elite”) than at shebeens. At these bars, the men often buy each other beers; these generous moments help them to build status. Here the article makes an important point: it is impossible to always buy beers for everyone else, so there is an expectation that everyone will take a turn to be generous — and this is a way of keeping out people who cannot afford to buy drinks of others. So men drink and buy lots of beer, and like to talk about the trouble they caused, all of which helps them to demonstrate that they are men. So far, so good.
The men live in a big town, but their family at home still plays a large role. One man was seen slipping drunkenly down some steps, and was called home to the village the next week, where his family chastised him for acting irresponsibly. The men are very aware that they should not misbehave too badly, and are anxious not to embarrass themselves. (To the extent that one sometimes goes drinking at shebeens because no-one knows him there). Because the values from their home villages still play such a large role in these men’s lives, the article calls them “urban villagers.”
Sleeping with many women is seen as an accomplishment. As in other places around the world, some of these men seem to have some troubling views on women: one man quoted talks about how a woman saying ‘no’ will change her mind eventually, and the men seem to think buying drinks means women have agreed to have sex — to the extent that “bitter arguments erupt if the woman decides to leave on her own.” The men are suspicious of ‘bar girls’, the few women regulars at the bars, because they think these women will tempt them into a relationship to take their money. The men also know that having sex with many people is dangerous for their health, especially as they sometimes don’t use condoms.
Considering all of this, Fumanti concludes that these men “often appear very vulnerable.” They feel trapped as they always have to act in a very masculine way, which exhausts them and prevents meaningful relationships with women. Trying to navigate nightlife – misbehaving to bond with their buddies, but not too much so it becomes embarrassing; sleeping with a lot of women but not with the wrong ones; constantly trying to keep up and maintain status — being a man sounds like lots of work.
I think there will be little in this article that will surprise Namibians, but sometimes it’s good to think about issues that are around us every day. The author says in this sector of society, mostly men go out on weekends — if true, I would love to read an article about the women in the same social circles on the nights the men go out.
Fumanti notes that “drinking is, by and large, an activity undertaken mostly by men.” Maybe this was the case when the article was written, but this is clearly changing — just look at the reader’s letters and radio discussions complaining about women drinking.