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The Ukwitira experience

The “UKWITIRA” a unique African traditional method of preserving milk

The Ukwitira refers to the processing, curing,  sterilization, and preservation of milk using fragrant smoke generated by burning special grasses called ubwitizo. 

In order for Kwitira to be performed, the women must first go out and collect the stalks [Ubwitizo] of sweet grasses known as “Imburara”. The ubwitizo is then dried over the course of several weeks in the rafters in the kitchen roof. The soot from the fire beneath also improves the condition of Ubwitizo. 

When the Ubwitizo is sufficiently dry and aged, they are brought down and cleaned and shone of any stray sheaths, and then bundles of this grass are stored away in the rafters of the house so that a little bit of the ubwitizo can be used from time to time to fumigate the pots on a daily basis.

During Ukwitira, the Ubwitizo sticks are fed into the small hand-held censer [Igicunga] made of baked clay. Igicunga is an enclosed spherical structure with two openings, in which the sweet-scented grass is burnt. The two openings on Igicunga are the mouth on one side into which the burning sweet grass is fed, and; the little chimney atop the furnace through which the smoke is forced into the milk pot

A milk pot [Icyansi] is suspended over the Gicunga, and brought up and down to cover the chimney atop the censer, as the woman blows air into the other opening – the mouth – of the censer to force smoke up into the milk pot (Icyansi) 

When the sweet smoke has sufficiently circulated inside the Icyansi and saturated it, the pot is then quickly covered with a woven seal (Umutemere) in order to keep the smoke inside the milk pot and prevent it from escaping. 

Before they can be treated with smoke, the milk pots (Ibyansi) have to be washed. Around mid-day, women wash milk pots using boiled “amaganga” [cow urine] and then rinsed [kujubunguza] with water and sand using a scrub made of natural fiber. The fibers used in scrubbing the milk pots are special and are obtained from plants and grasses and I, unfortunately, don’t know their names in my language (Kinyarwanda) but I know them in Runyankole and they include: entarame, omugyegye, orukoma, enyakati, enzitaimu, and akayebe.

Unclean milk-pots spoil milk and so utmost effort must be made to maintain clean utensils. Milk spoils very easily and homesteads often maintain special milk houses which have to be kept in neat and hygienic condition at all times.

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