Toaka gasy – The rum that resurrects the dead

Madagascar is famous for its rum. Besides commercially in fabrics produced rum such as Dzama, there still is another very special kind of rum on the island: Toaka gasy. The word simply means “Malagasy rum” and points to a traditionally manufactured drink. Rumor has it that it may even resurrect the dead.

Malagasy law only allows production of Toaka gasy for own consumption. But in southern Madagascar, no one is really interested in enforcing these laws. Whole villages subsist on rum production here. Right beside RN7, a booming trade with Toaka gasy has come up during the last decades. If the police catches you in a Taxibrousse carrying several bottles of Toaka or if you even try to smuggle liters of rum from the South, you will have to expect high penalties. In southern Madagascar, one liter of rum costs about 2000 Ariary. But not for all: Who travels there from the capital or is on the road with foreign tourists, may  be charged the double or triple quickly.

Toaka gasy
The shredded mixture in an oil barrel

The rum villagers prefer to use a mixture of tamarind and sugar cane shred for rum production. They harvest tamarinds from the eponymic trees and grow sugar cane fields. Both is cut into tiny pieces and mashed. One old oil barrel full of sugar cane shred makes an average of 20 liters of rum.

Depending on weather conditions, the mixture ferments for about seven days in the oil barrels that have been sealed with clay. The fermentation process produces alcohol. If it is finished, the villagers put the barrels on open fire. In most cases, they can only cook a half barrel at once. The cooking vapors get into some kind of distillation apparatus. This apparatus is completely hand-made and consists of a metal pipe in a dirty wooden trough filled with even dirtier water. The evaporating alcohol is lead from the oil barrel into the metal pipe, where the surrounding water cools down the vapor and the alcohol condenses. At the end of the pipe, there is a small drain with a simple empty coke bottle beneath. The drain often has a small dirty piece of wool working as rudimentary filter. The result is a clear fluid that is really strong.

Toaka gasy
The whole distillery

Who wants to buy this traditionally produced rum has to be careful. For Madagascans, the higher the concentration the clearer and of better quality is the rum. But in many places, people dilute Toaka gasy with water to make it more drinkable – and this water is surely not clean. Additionally, most rum farmers have no idea what concentration their drinks might have. Alcohol concentrations above 75% are possible. People who are not aware of the danger of such high alcohol levels can become alcohol poisoned soon or may be permanently damaged.

Nevertheless, the traditionally manufactured rum is part of every festivity in Madagascar. People drink it during marriages as well as for sacrifice ceremonies, circumcisions or at Famadihanas. It is the rum that makes people talk and augurs a good time – as long as you do not drink too much.

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