By Harshana Rajakaruna –
Spirits made under the moonlight
Once I crashed an elites’ party in the US with a friend. There was a free bar on the side. In it, bottles of colored liquids filled with grapes, berries, and cherries caught my eye. I asked the barwoman what they were. To my amazement, she said, “moonshine,” which is Sri Lanka’s “kasippu” equivalent, the illegal spirits known to be made under the moonlight. I was utterly flabbergasted by the thought of how rich and famous ever wanted a shot of kasippu in a party of such grandeur. The lady wondered if I, too, wanted a shot. Pretending to be an American elite myself, as if kasippu were my regular refresher back home, with the love of tasting, I said, “Yes.” It was the first time I “moonshined” in my life, for which I traveled thousands of miles. Yet, back in Sri Lanka, once I missed a chance. That was a friend, a Police officer, who offered me a bottle of kasippu from a seized barrel. Later, I checked on the internet how the value-added kasippu became a celebrated drink among elite Americans.
Humankind has produced alcohol for thousands of years. However, the American government was a pioneer to tax and control the industry. After the Whiskey Rebellion, a violent resistance mass movement killed many Americans, the tax was eventually repealed. During which, the moonshiners were portrayed as heroes standing against an oppressive government. Yet, in 1920, America passed a liquor ban, pressured by the then-dominant Christian church. Overnight, illegal liquor became one of the most profitable businesses. Moonshiners worked hard to distill at night to avoid detection from authorities. Later, in 1933, the prohibition was repealed, and the moonshine market dwindled to a shadow of its former self. Moonshine is now produced legally in America, not anymore in clandestine distilleries. Every time the barwoman pours a glass of moonshine, the Americans sip on their history.
Moonshine is viewed much differently today than it was a few decades ago. Few developed-countries let residents legally produce their own home-brewed spirits. Like vodka, moonshine can be made from anything fermentable, and there’s no upper limit on its alcohol content. In Sri Lanka, many country folks, including farmers, rely on moonshine manufacturing to survive bad years. Low-value crops and fruits are turned into high-valued kasippu. Yet, it is said that bad batches or certain production techniques such as distilling in car radiators could result in liquor that could make you go blind—or worse. Some moonshiners claim that these “stories” are spread to discredit their work suggesting legal producers differ. The British colonial government banned our local distilleries of moonshine and introduced their spirits into our local markets.
Like other countries, Sri Lanka needs to rethink now legalizing, regulating and promoting the local moonshine distillers, the poor in the rural communities. Why not? Sri Lanka imports ship-loads of worse spirits, burning foreign exchange, bottles and sells them to the same local folks. And it consumes a recorded per capita volume of spirits a year. Accepting and legalizing value-added moonshine will not make Sri Lanka any worse-off, but on the contrary, it will save us foreign exchange and promote our tourism. Propper regulations could make moonshine as safe as any other alcohol, like how it is done in America today. Why are we shy to legalize moonshine, letting the innovations spring with value-additions? Let our moonshiners share their experiences with an honorable countenance. Isn’t it time for us to be proud of the history of our adventures?
Cannabis the savior
On my return to Sri Lanka after many years of absence, I crashed a party of elites. To my amazement, many happy folks dressed-up in haute couture were enjoying “pot,” a smoke of cannabis, or the recreational weed, like as if smoking fancy Cuban cigars. Cannabis or marijuana or weed, among many names, is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used primarily for medical or recreational purposes. Isn’t cannabis illegal in Sri Lanka? I wondered. A friend offered me also a wrap asking me to join in. Not wanting to be embarrassed, hence, pretending as if I were also an elite myself, rich and famous, smoking a ‘joint’ at home every now so often, I said, “Yes.” Today, if one wants a ‘joint,’ the place to check out is with someone in Sri Lanka’s high-society, not someone doing business in the street. In Sri Lanka, Cannabis is still illegal.
Is cannabis bad for health as much as cigarettes and other illegal drugs are? The World is now starting to think otherwise, except for probably a few countries like ours, formerly colonized. We are still stuck in the colonial ideals implanted on us and struggling hard to come out of them. We do not know for ourselves what we want, what constitutes a decent society. Regarding cannabis, we still have the understandings and the values of the old British colonials, psychologically caught up between many mystic worlds. Yet, the high-society in Sri Lanka is progressive; not shy to experience the beauty that cannabis offers, enjoying its glamor, medicinal values, and peacefulness. High-grade cannabis has the potential to keep Sri Lanka away from killer cigarettes and illicit drugs.
When the World is thinking afresh about cannabis, absorbing a new-normal culture, expanding and opening up new international markets, Sri Lanka remains a backwater being reluctant to open. Why are we shy to explore the science of cannabis, the indigenous and ayurvedic value of cannabis, and the yogic adventures of cannabis? With cannabis, Sri Lanka has its own history. Own story. Sri Lanka needs to wake up and have an honest public dialogue and a discussion. What shame is exporting marihuana to the West when we are exporting slaves to the Arabs as labor? Economic experts believe that we could pay back our Nation’s debts within a few years if we break into the international Cannabis markets.
The irony is, what keeps the rich and powerful in the country smoking pot behind doors, being dishonest about what they genuinely believe in, and blocking others from getting the benefits of the marvel of the mystic of its natural wonder? Why is it taboo now we grow marijuana as our forefathers did? The labor that we export to Arabs in the form of slavery can be redirected to grow cannabis as a home-industry and help the country develop a substantial export market, beating the now-largest foreign exchange earnings by exporting labor.
Legalizing moonshine and marijuana, regulating their production, and opening them up with new domestic and foreign markets will soon help Sri Lanka combat its many socioeconomic evils at present. They will indirectly counteract illegal drug smuggling, importing low-grade spirits, and markets of killer cigarettes while earning the country a sizeable net foreign exchange income to hedge the escalating foreign debts for the good. It will also help cutdown exporting labor, which is currently not different from slave-smuggling, to Arabs, and redirect labor to produce cannabis and moonshine as home industries. In such a way, unlike a pimp, Sri Lanka’s government won’t have to tax the foreign exchange income brought by our exported slaves, mostly poor women and sometimes children. For a change, what we need is merely a matter of our honesty, a change of values, and adopting new attitudes.