It can be tough to choose just one wine. A great wine is capable of evoking a wide range of emotions, and you don’t want to miss out on any of them. The traditional West African palm wine is no different. In Nigeria, palm wine is traditionally served at the end of a meal. The sweet, syrupy wine is poured into a calabash gourd and served on the rocks, accompanied by a bowl of shaak (spicy bean stew).
In 1952, Amos Tutuola, a Nigerian writer, published a book called The Palm Winegrower, based on Yoruba folktales. It has become a canonical work of African literature and has been translated into 12 languages.
The initial international reception perhaps says more about the Western critics than about the work itself.
The book’s first reviewer, Dylan Thomas, described it in a 1952 review in The Observer as simple and neat, written in youthful English.
In 1953, the New York Times Book Review described Tutuola as a true primitive whose world had nothing in common with the rational, Christian traditions of Europe. A 1953 review in The New Yorker stated that Tutuola was taken too seriously and that American writers were advised not to imitate him, as that would be fatal for a writer with a richer literary heritage.
Criticism aside: The book tells the story of a man who sets out to bring his palm vineyard back from the land of the dead. It brings together different folk tales that use palm wine to reveal themes of brotherhood, communal love and family identity. This shows how close the relationship with palm wine is in Nigeria.
To make palm wine, the gunmen climb insanely tall palm trees while balancing on ropes attached to their belts. Once inside the tree’s canopy, they insert a tube that slowly drains the sap into a barrel or gourd that is securely attached to the tree. After about half a day, the palm wine picker returns to collect the juice.
Once the juice leaves the tree, it begins to ferment under the influence of yeast. The more time that passes, the stronger the fermentation and the higher the alcohol content.
The groom toasts with palm wine / Alamy
For Nigerian culture, palm wine is a means of social cohesion, says Justus Aboyeji, a doctoral student in history and international studies at the University of Ilorin. The drink is served at informal visits and gatherings, while it is used more formally at coronations and celebrations.
It is usually served at room temperature in gourds, poured directly from the gourds. Depending on preference and ageing time, the alcohol content of palm wine ranges from 2 to 15%.
In Igbo tradition, a marriage relationship is not considered final until the groom brings palm wine to the father of the woman he is pursuing. The elders bless the palm wine, which is then tasted by the bride and groom.
The wine is made from all types of palm trees: Oil palm, raffia palm and date palm. Wine made from oil palms and raffia is generally the most popular.
The Yoruba consider wine made from the raffia palm as emu ogidi (meaning real wine) and wine made from the sap of other palm species as emu oguro (cut wine). Among the Igbo, wine made from oil palms is more revered.
In other Nigerian cultures, such as the Ijaw and the Urhobo, palm wine is distilled to 40% vol. to make a gin-like liquor called Ogogoro.
Why drink only palm wine? -Segun Loal, owner of Vibe
Palm wine has survived urbanization in Nigeria and has retained its social and cultural values. Palm wine bars in the countryside have been transformed into open bars and bamboo-fenced party venues. The gourd and calabash formerly used to store and drink wine have been replaced by a barrel and a red chalice, and the shade of the trees has been replaced by the canopies of the station. But the palm wine loser hasn’t changed either.
Some families are called ile elemu, which literally means house of the palm wine master, Justus explains. Every morning the pickers come out of these houses with pumpkins tied to the back of their old bicycles. They climb the palm trees and cut the bark with neat, measured movements. Later they praise the palm gods for the wealth of the day.
Palm wine also retains its social value. Why drink only palm wine? asks Segun Laval, owner of a palm wine establishment called Vibe.
For Salaco Francis, who says he first drank palm wine when he was four years old, the drink persists because it offers brotherhood and friendship, as well as a connection to a pre-existing culture.
The average palm tree gives off less than a liter of sap per day. As a result of deforestation, most farmers’ harvests have declined significantly over the past decade. Some producers and traders now dilute palm wine with water or add artificial sugar and yeast.
You can’t get pure palm wine, [unless] you go to a rural area where there is even a risk of dilution, Salaco says.
In their quest for authenticity and exclusivity, some of the wealthiest Nigerians do what the palm wine drinker in Tutuola’s novel does: They hire a harvester whose daily harvest of palm wine is sold only to them.
A popular Yoruba saying is that the value of palm wine is greater than its financial value: The snorers in joy, / The penny pincher and the millionaire in the woods, / You are what the horse drank, / Drank till he forgot his horns.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is the importance of palm wine in Nigerian culture?
In Nigeria, palm wine is an important part of the culture and history of the country. The beverage is made from the sap of the palm tree, and is traditionally consumed by the people of southeast Nigeria. Palm wine is the drink of choice for many people in the country. Although the drink tastes like a slightly watered down version of white wine, it is still very popular with young and old people alike. Palm wine is a naturally fermented beverage made from the sap of various species of palm tree, mainly from the African Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis), the Palmyra Palm (Borassus flabellifer), and the Palmyra Date Palm (Borassus flabellifer). It is also known as tappa in Ghana and taka in western Africa. Palm wine is not palm sap but palm sap is a component of palm wine. Palm wine is produced in a similar fashion to wine, by the fermentation of sugars in freshly extracted palm sap. Palm wine is a popular drink in West Africa, and is also called “grape wine” by some, although there is no resemblance between palm wine and grape wine.
Is Palm wine an alcohol?
Palm wine is a type of wine, often served during ceremonies or parties in certain parts of Nigeria. It is fermented in a clay pot and left in the sun for one or two days. It is then collected, strained, and left to ferment again. This process is repeated four or five times. This text is sensitive. Click edit and regenerate for new copy.
What is Nigerian palm wine?
Palm wine is a natural, non-alcoholic wine from the sap of palm trees. It is a sweet, potent drink that is the favorite tipple of many West Africans and the Caribbeans. When harvested from a tree, the sap is collected in a gourd, and left to ferment for a few days. Fermentation produces alcohol, and it’s this that gives palm wine its kick. The drink is served in a calabash, or gourd, and is usually made from the sap of either the oil palm or raffia palm. Palm wine is a traditional alcoholic drink made from the sap of various species of palm trees. Palm wine is made in various parts of the world, but Nigeria is one of the world’s largest producers of the beverage. In Nigeria, it is a popular drink and is commonly mixed with carbonated drinks. It is also a popular alcoholic drink in Ghana, where it is known as “brakwa”.
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