Tainted Beer Kills Nearly 70 at Mozambique Funeral

By John Lavitt 01/13/15

It's been widely reported that a homemade brew called Pombe was reportedly tainted with crocodile bile, but that might not exactly be the case.


Homemade beer made for a funeral in the Mozambique village of Chitma was said to have been tainted with crocodile bile after 69 people were killed and 196 hospitalized. The mourners were poisoned after drinking a homemade brew known as Pombe that is a traditional offering at funerals in the African country.

"As we prepared to determine the cause of death of people we began to receive a lot of people with diarrhea and other muscle aches," said local health director Paula Bernardo in an interview with Radio Mozambique. "After that we began to receive dead bodies from several neighborhoods."

Pombe is made from millet or corn flour. The exact source of the contamination remains undetermined, but local authorities initially believed the drink was poisoned with crocodile bile and dung during the course of the funeral.

Leading the investigation, provincial health director Carle Mosse said that suspicious objects found inside the drum that held the homemade, beer samples, and blood samples from the victims had been sent to the capital of Maputo to be tested.

The woman who brewed the beer, several members of her family, and a toddler were among the victims. The question of why a toddler was drinking the homemade brew remains under investigation. Local authorities are collecting food, clothing, and coffins to help out the dozens of families affected.

While myths of the poisonous effects of crocodile bile have been circulating for decades, so far no one has been able to prove its deadly properties.

"The use of bile is not uncommon in the production of local or poor quality beer but is not known to be toxic to the extent this outbreak shows," said Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organization. Instead, the more likely culprit is a toxic plant.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.