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Palm wine tapping: it is now a dying art

I hit on the idea of this topic after my last visit to Ekwueme Square in Awka penultimate Saturday. Ekwueme Square is used for government activities like the marking of Children's Day, Independence Day Celebration, Armed Forces Remembrance Day, May Day, among others. The place is also hired by groups, both secular and religious, to hold their functions. The place I am talking about is located along the House of Assembly Road, just before or after the popular Aroma Junction, Awka, depending on where one is coming from. On ordinary days, especially when there is nothing to celebrate, the place is deserted, even looking abandoned. But come Saturdays, it undergoes a transformation. Right from the road leading to it, one sees dozens of young men, women and even the elderly, either jogging or doing one form of exercise or the other. If one goes further and enters into the arena proper, one beholds an even bigger sight of people doing the same things as those outside. What unites them is just one thing: THE DESIRE TO LIVE. Yes, all those trooping out to the square every Saturday can be said to be anxious to live. Not one of them wants to be obese, to be cut down by stroke or be conquered by any of the modern killer ailments arising from a lack of exercise or from bad food. So, to ensure they maintain their good health, they do not miss going to Ekwueme Square, especially on Saturdays. The class of people who go there is mixed. There are the politicians, there are the civil servants. There are even the medical practitioners, plus the journalists, lawyers and whoever that wants to postpone their date with the undertaker. But any time I go there and see men and women puffing and panting, I do not fail to be amused and I always tell myself that we are suffering from what we did to ourselves. What have we done? We abandoned good old nature and all that come with it. We abandoned it for the so-called oyibo life which includes consuming oyibo food and drinks and like in some of the literatures that centre on the inter-face between our forefathers and the White men, we encountered an alien culture which tore us apart from ours. This cultural collision or conflict resulted in dire consequences physically, psychologically, socially and otherwise. I have always believed that every race has foods and drinks that are native to it. That is perhaps why some diseases that befall us blacks do not befall the whites. In the good old days, our fathers, mothers and their children ate and drank native foods and wines. They ate foofoo or akpu. They drank palm wine; raffia (ngwo) or up wine (nkwu enu), and this was used to wash down heavy meals such as akpu and onugbu, or roast yam. The soup was always sprinkled with dried meat. In fact, they hardly ate fresh meat. Meat was stored in a the ngiga (a kind of basket) up in the rafters but often directly on top of the fire. The heat from the fire kept it dry and free from rot. Thus, after meals, the man of the house would bring down the ngiga and take some of the dried meat which would be washed down with local wine as mentioned earlier (oh, how my mouth waters). Why wouldn't it water? In those days, our mothers were well schooled in the art of cooking. There was hardly any fried food. It was always with the red oil. And the food then tasted great. In those days too, people worked hard in the farms to burn away fat. They danced, wrestled and did arts and craft. The result was that they lived very long. It was taken for granted that children would bury their parents and not the other way round. That was why it was taboo for anyone to die young. Such a death would normally be traced to either the ogbanje spirit, or to some other spiritual happenstance or manipulation which required them to perform what they deemed appropriate rituals to prevent a recurrence. While I am not advocating for a return to the performance of those rituals, what I am trying to get across the fact that our forebears lived close to nature. They ate the food God gave them and it worked wonders in their bodies. Their philosophy of life abhorred laziness.

People have abandoned the fresh palm wine for beer with its attendant health hazards

Everyone worked hard and the few who did not were termed efulefus or never do wells. But gradually, as we continued to inter-face with the Whitemen, we began to introduce some poisons into our systems in the forms of foreign foods and drinks. Naturally, the Whiteman lives in a temperate climate, meaning that they are always cold. Thus they need hard drinks like rum, whiskey and the like, to stay warm and healthy. For us, we live in the tropics. Our climate is hot and taking anything just as hot is tantamount to pouring fire on ourselves. That was why our grandparents relished the ngwo or nkwu enu. They also did not eat foods like indomie; neither did they fry eggs. They cooked their stew with red oil, using the “nchuanwu” leaves which in themselves, are highly medicinal, just as the onugbu (I'm still savouring the wonderful onugbu I ate at home during the Easter period. It was bitter-sweet as one would expect such a soup to be and it was spiced with dried meat and the okporoko that I bought…Oh my God, how I enjoyed it). Please don't blame me for deviating, there are things you just can't resist, after all, one of my hobbies is eating. So, as I was saying, our forebears ate well, drank well and worked hard. They lived long enough to see their children's children and more. Today, what is happening? It is consumption of foreign foods all the way and the downing of foreign liquor. The yeast from the palm wine which cleared our eyes has been replaced by the rum and whiskey which kill our livers. It is fried this and fried that today. Worse still there are no more palm wine tappers. Everyone wants to be in the township where they will live like the Whiteman, eat his foods, drink his wines and generally ape all his mannerisms. The few who still tap wine today in the villages mix it with saccharin which in itself is not good for our system. Gone are the natural foods and drinks and gone are our wellness. The result? We are now over stretching ourselves to burn accumulated fat from junk food and to stay as healthy as our loaded time can allow. You need to see some men with protruding tummies sweating it out at Ekwueme Square, tummies filled to capacity with nkwobi and isi ewu which they wash down with bottles of the green bottle. I always get amused watching them. You could feel what looks like their anxiety to escape from the groping hands of old age but not quite succeeding. Anyway, the truth remains that until and unless we go back to our roots which is nature, we will continue to be susceptible to all these modern day ailments. When a dog begins to eat grass and a goat begins to eat meat, something must go wrong. That's what has happened to us. It just may not be enough to kill ourselves jogging and jumping up and down in the name of exercise. After all, don't they say that what kills man is what goes in; not what comes out. What goes in is what we consume, and what goes out is what we are trying to remove at Ekwueme Square and gyms scattered all over the place. I pray those trying to do that succeed. But then, nature remains key to our good health.

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