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Palm wine-The Palm wine Tapper

Updated on May 13, 2014

Palm wine

In several countries like china, Philippines and India you will find the palm tree, many countries have their own verity of the palm tree and not all palm tree species produce palm wine sap.

In Africa especially West Africa the palm tree does not only have a reverent standing in the economic and social life but is highly integrated into the culture and traditions. Many festivals and special occasions like child naming, marriage or being honored with a chieftain title or just at social gatherings the wine is highly favored and loved.

The palm tree apart from its other economic benefits like the production of timber, raffia for mats, chairs and fashion accessories the tree also produces palm wine which is a highly favored alcoholic drink.

Some of the top palm trees tapped for their sap are the coconut palms, oil palm called elaties gulneenis, date palms, raffia tree the Palmyra, lala palm, and the African oil palm,.

Palm wine is obtained from the sap of the palm tree its seasonal and the type of sap depends on the specie. There are different kinds of wine such as the wine gotten from grape the grape wine, wine extracted from fruits the fruit wine and wine sap extracted from palm trees.

Unlike other wine which goes through the plucking and crushing stages the sap of the palm tree is already liquefied and is easily ferment by adding alcohol to the brew. The palm sap is a rich store of sucrose a major component that triggers yeast which ferments the wine.

Bottles of palm wine

Bottles of palm wine
Bottles of palm wine | Source

Collecting the Palm sap

Quality of palm wine sap

The palm wine sap which is harvested or tapped by palm wine tappers starts the process of fermentation as soon as the sap is collected; the purity or quality of the sap depends on the type of palm tree the soil composition age of the tree and method of harvesting.

Harvesting or sap collection could be done by climbing the very tall palm tree by a palm wine tapper and collecting the sap; another very destructive method is by felling the tree to collect the sap. The destructive method of felling the tree to extract the sap is the main reason some palm tree species have become extinct , two palm trees that readily comes to mind is jubaea chilensis the Chilean palm tree.

Collecting the sap

The palm wine tapper makes a cut and fastened a keg like container to the palm tree he wants to collect the palm sap, the palm wine sap usually is milky or white in color and has a tendency to ferment quickly. This is largely due to the of airborne bacteria or yeast in spent containers, yeast accelerates the process and within three hours and the sap acquires a nice aroma, and is sweet to taste.

Collecting the sap is a highly specialized skill passed on from father to son and involves a delicate incision and collection mechanism attached close to the cut that stores the sipping liquid. The sap drips slowly and the tapper usually allows twenty for hours before extracting the container full of juice. The fermentation process makes use of natural forming yeast.

During the fermentation process the palm wine foams vigorously which is a natural reaction during the fermentation process.The palm wine tapper in order to increase the liquids content or volume introduces water and some added agents to the mixture,

The sweet liquid does not contain alcohol until fermentation occurs, the fermentation process usually last twenty four hours which eventually accounts for the sour tasting white beverage drink. So basically palm wine is the fermented sap of a palm tree.

The most common palm tree used in West African to collect palm sap is the data palms, jaggery palm and raffia palm. There are two methods used in collecting the sap, the tappers might decide to cut down the tree or burn to collect the sap or might climb the tall tree using improvised vines.

The raffia palm is easier to reach because they are not that tall and tappers do not have to bring them down.

Cutting down the palm tree does not have any economic value because by killing the tree, the tapper has to find another wild palm to tap, so killing the tree is not common and they prefer climbing the tree so they can tap the sap seasonally.

Tapping methods

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The drink

The palm wine drink

The palm sap might be preserved in its non alcoholic state or fermented to make the palm wine drink, the drink is alcoholic, and the hours apportioned to the fermentation process yields various degrees of alcohol in the drink. The longer it is fermented the strong the drink., if left to ferment further the wine becomes vinegar.

Palm wine may contain up to forty percent (40%) alcoholic content by the time it reaches maturity and it quickly deteriorates without proper storage or refrigeration. The palm wine drink can be white dull white, milk colored and in some cases reddish.

The wine is usually collected, fermented and stored in wine drums or large calabashes but in modern times is stored in large fifty litter kegs. Other locally made brews which are highly alcoholic can be derived from palm wine during the fermentation process such as the local brews called Ogogoro.

During the fermentation the palm wine is further distilled into local whiskey which is a heap readily available wine that has a very high alcoholic content. In many West African counties this brew is responsible for the high prevalent rate of kidney, liver ailments, the sour taste of palm wine is due largely to the presence of lactic and acetic acid present in the alcohol.

Man on palm tree

Man on palm tree
Man on palm tree | Source

Palm wine names

Palm wine is known by many names like. Matanga, Matanga ya mbila, Segero, Lapo tuak and Emu.

Species of palm trees

There are many types of palm tress that produce sap that can be used as palm wine

1 Raffia palm

2 Silver date palm

3 Jaggery

4 Date palm

5 African oil palm

6 Nipa palm

7 Coconut palm

8 Palmyra palm

9 Lala palm

10 Chile palm

11 Malafu palm and many more.

Distilled palm sap

The distilled sap of the palm wine tree produces very strong alcoholic drinks that are comparable to the Russian vodka; they come out water clear and may contain up to seventy percent alcohol (70%). The drink can be found in many countries and is highly consumed by the poor, low and some middle class members of society.

You can find such brews in local drinking joints usually make shift wooden sheds, shanty towns, the ghetto area of cities and other make shift shacks. The alarming practice of selling the dangerous brew at motor packs to bus drivers and motor touts who patronize the vendors is the reason there is a high rate of vehicular accidents in Africa.

In some cities you can find beautiful young girls hawking the brew in different bottles full of homemade remedies and concoctions. Some vendors add garlic, herbs and roots which are believed to have curative effects against diarrhea, pile, stomach upset and general body pain.

Most of these concoctions have not been scientifically tested or certified to ascertain the efficacy of the concoctions, yet millions of people especially in Africa drink this deadly brew.

Brewing palm wine in still drums

Brewing palm wine in still drums
Brewing palm wine in still drums | Source

Producers of Palm wine

African palm wine producers
Non African Producers
South Africa
Sierra Leone

The Palm wine Tapper

Countries that produce palm wine

Many countries produces palm wine from palm trees indigenous to specific areas some countries that produce the wine are, republic of Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Gambia, Kenya, Southern Africa, Philippines, Mexico Chile, Algeria, Vietnam, Tunisia, Thailand, sierra Leone, south Africa, Nigeria and Maldives. There are many other countries also cultivate and tap palm sap.

Palm wine names

Many countries have their own species of palm trees that produces sap that is tapped and made into palm wine and the palm wine is called by many names some of which are; mimbo, matanga by Cameroonians,, masanga ya mbila and kikongo in the central republic of Congo, singer in Gambia,.

Ghanaians call the palm wine nsafufuo, doka and yabra depending on the region, thati kallu, taadi, in India. The Indonesians call the palm wine ballo, lapo tuak and arak, tuba in Mexico, segero by Papua New Guineans and emu in Nigeria.

The different names show the fondness and diversity of the palm wine beverage which in some parts is refereed to as the nectar of the gods. The drink is cherish and has significant roles in certain tradition practices, cultures and herbal remedies.

Bottle on palm tree

Palm wine Bottle on palm tree
Palm wine Bottle on palm tree | Source

A palm wine tappers tool

The palm wine tappers tools are basic but functional; some of the equipment used by them is highlighted bellow

1 A sharp cutlass

2 Most of the wear either large straw hats or baseball hats

3 The need strong banded rope to climb the tree

4 The carry along plastic kegs for the palm wine extract

5 They have small sharp knives to make delicate cuts

6 Some use bamboo tubes to guide the sap into small containers

7 The can be found on old metal bicycles.

The tapping culture

Cultural significance of palm wine

Palm wine is a significant part of African culture and traditions and is widely consumed by both male and female, the beverage can be found during traditional weddings especially in eastern Nigeria. Naming ceremony, birthdays, it is consumed during towns meetings and certain traditional festivities like new yam festivals.

Some traditional rites and religious ceremonies use palm wine for libation in honor of past ancestors and gods.

Focus on the palm wine tapper

The palm wine tapping is almost an extinct profession, and the tapper hardly seen. Most palm wine tappers learn the profession from their father or grandfather and palm tappers can be seen mostly in rural areas and communities where the palm trees grow.

Tappers are not known to have their own trees but they go into the forest to specific locations past down to them by their mentors. Tapping palm wine is very dangerous because the palm wine tapper contends with dangerous animals like poisonous snakes, harmful insects and plants as well as top predators.

They are also prone to accidental death or injury from tree fall especially when the climb very tall palm trees.

Tools of the trade

The palm wine tappers use basic tools to extract sap from palm trees, some of the tools are a cutlass, straw hat to shade his eyes from the sun, a strong banded rope made out of tough material like tree vines or synthetic strings.

Other tool include a twenty five or fifty litter keg, smaller container to collect the sap, small knife to make small cuts and incisions, small hose or thin bamboo stick.

Most tappers do not have the luxury of formal education especially those that grew up in remote villages, for convenience of movement within forest terrain they use of bicycles not only as a means for transporting the goods but to get around more quickly.

Many used to forage in their bare feet but some wear sandals to protect their feet from harm.

A compelling and original African story


The palm trees that produce palm wine have different characteristics, some have narrow rugged trunks and are tall and slender while others have thick jagged stems and are relatively short. They can grow and live for many years if not felled, burnt , cut or infected, the parasite that does extensive damage to the palm trees is the red weevil larvae of the red weevil beetle which barrows deep into the trunk while feeding and growing.

The palm tree has great economical value and it seems that every known part of the tree can be harnessed and turned into cash, the trees trunk for wood and furniture making, leafs made into mat, bag accessories, hats.

And even the sap turned into palm wine or other stronger derivatives like gin. The brew can even be made into herbal concoctions, no wander in some folklore and stories the palm tree plays a prominent role and is aptly referred to as the nectar of the gods.

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