Malala palm wine: Drinking for health?

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Tawanda Musarurwa
Although the drink is generally drunk fairly soon after being drawn from the tree when it is still sweet and relatively non-alcoholic the locals like it when it makes them stagger.

Popularly-known merely as a border post into South Africa, Beitbridge doesn’t really strike one as a tremendous travel and tourism destination, not quite like Chimanimani, Victoria Falls or Hwange but these lands hold some of the richest ancient artifacts you’ll find anywhere.

It’s the sheer diversity of these artifacts that fascinates . . . from glass trade beads and Chinese porcelain to unique and stunning grain bin shelters to exquisite rock paintings. All these occur within the environs of the 32 000-hectare Sentinel Ranch.

It’s perhaps because Sentinel Ranch lies just one mile north-east of the now famous Mapungubwe Hill dating back over 700 years, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa on the southern side of the Limpopo River.

And it was on our way to this stunning Sentinel Ranch that we encountered a close-knit community that still does a lot of things in a lot of different ways.

Welcome to the Masera communal lands, which forms part of the rural community around Sentinel Ranch along with the Maramani and Machututa communal lands. This area remains a vibrant microcosm of rural life in Africa in general.

“Take a sip, it’s delicious.” I hesitate. He notices.

“Come on,” he says: “Besides, it’s very healthy. Actually it’s more of a detox than an alcoholic beverage. It will help clean your system and improve your health,” said the grinning old man, holding a calabash of some murky white water up to me.

Well, I wasn’t about to pass a chance to become healthier. I looked at the old man. Besides, maybe I could live longer. So I take the sip.

It tastes like beer. I have been deceived. I think there is a need for scientific study into their claims of a therapeutic drink!

But to be fair to them, perhaps this is how this little community gets visitors and strangers to try out its dearly loved local brew — the Malala Palm Wine. It’s certainly an educational and eye-opening experience for the international visitor who would like to witness life day-to-day in an authentic rural village environment . . .

. . . and to sample their home-grown brew — the Malala Palm Wine. The wine created from the sap of a palm tree, known by locals here as the Malala tree. (Malala is a Venda term.

The Venda language — tshivenda — is the commonest in these areas, what with the community so near to South Africa).

Although the drink is generally drunk fairly soon after being drawn from the tree when it is still sweet and relatively non-alcoholic these guys like it when it makes them stagger, so they ferment it for a day or two.

Oh, and how they stagger . . . and make noise, when they drown in it. Malala palm production is just one of this community’s infinitesimal (but sufficient) food industries. They also produce a delicious jam from some fruit they called “dense”.

Though these areas are among the poorest in the country, being in a remote, drought-stricken corner of Zimbabwe, the local peoples living here are remarkably proud and happy despite the hardships they endure on a daily basis.

Generations-old African customs and traditions are alive and well, and the rural folk of Masera are amongst the friendliest you’ll find anywhere.

Traditional methods of basket weaving and broom making, transport (donkey carts), water extraction (bucket wells and hand-pump boreholes), draft animal field preparation and agricultural manpower, music and dance, food preparation, mud-and-thatch homes, sangomas, and village indabas: these are all part and parcel of the real-life community experience, and these people are more than happy to share it with you!

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