A (much-needed) season of plenty
A new year and nature’s ever-changing seasons are a welcome reminder that change is an undeniable, but equally beautiful, rule of life. Although some seasons are more challenging and require us to be more resilient, one certainty remains; the sun will shine again, bringing new opportunities to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
After a stormy 2020, the Marula season is the perfect symbol for a new dawn and a great harvest to which we look forward. For years, women and children across rural communities in Africa have gathered to celebrate the harvest and feast on the Marula (Sclerocarya birrea) fruit, regarded as a delicacy. The marula season will give you a real taste of South African heritage and put you right in the center of royalty. The Limpopo annual Festival of The First Fruit – ‘Ku LumaNguva/Go Loma Morula‘ – is a heritage phenomenon held by traditional leaders heralding the beginning of ‘the blessed season’ in this semi-arid region of South Africa.
Rooted in centuries of African heritage
The Marula (Sclerocarya birrea) in South Africa flourishes across the Lowveld before extending their reach into our neighboring lands, Namibia and even further north into Zambia. The marula season (also known as the season of plenty) begins at the beginning of the year and people can savor its fruit from as early as mid-January. As a uniquely clever anti-predation strategy (yes, these trees get effectively “predated upon by elephants”), the tree drop the fruits and it ripens on the ground making it readily available for humans, elephants, and a wide range of species of antelope.
The tree continues to fruit until May, bringing with it a celebration of the harvest of the marula fruit. The fruit is famous across South Africa, not least because of its popular Amarula Cream Liqueur but because its rich history dates back thousands of years, rooted in centuries of legend. Stories handed down over generations make the marula tree a revered, crucial part of African heritage.
Beliefs around the tree, based on the tree’s bark’s multiple uses, its leaves, fruit, nut, and kernels are integral to some renowned African cultures. True to its association with abundance, lore has it that the marula fruits also help women experiencing fertility issues. The Venda people of South Africa also believe that the marula tree’s bark can help determine the sex of an unborn child. A woman who desires a female or male child will grind and eat the marula tree’s bark based on the belief that the ‘gender’ of the tree will result in a female/male child’s birth. In Tsonga culture, the marula tree’s kernel is considered food ‘fit for kings’, due to its taste and a rich protein source. Studies show that the seed contains up to 3,100 calories per 100 grams, rightfully crowning it the king of foods amongst local communities. The marula tree, dubbed the ‘Marriage Tree’ in Zulu culture, affirms that those who marry beneath its branches will enjoy vigor and fertility all their days. Its oil-rich kernel is named the “food of kings”, its fruit is sky-high in Vitamin C.
From Marula to Amarula
Have you heard of the morning safari specialty Coffee-choc-arula? We can certainly recommend it!
Beyond the marula’s heritage in African tradition, it’s also known for the famous South African Amarula Cream Liqueur, sold in over 100 countries and produced by Distell. Amarula Cream Liqueur is a well-known delicacy throughout South Africa, so much so that it would be hard to find someone throughout the country who hasn’t heard of nor tasted this refined pleasure.
The marula tree is arguably one of Africa’s most noble due to its myriad of virtues. Oil from marula kernels is remarkably rich in antioxidants and an essential component for soft and healthy skin. Beyond beauty, it also has medicinal purposes. Many people use marula to make root tonics and medicines that can help treat many ailments from dysentery, rheumatism and insect bites to malaria. For adventurous coffee-lovers among us keen to try java alternatives, did you know that by boiling the Marula fruit’s skin you could happily replace your traditional morning brew?
Africa is the home of storytelling. Some stories, however, have gotten a tad tall over time. For example, the fable of elephants becoming drunk on fermented marula berries and stumbling around the veld, case in point. Consider that myth debunked. While it’s true that elephants feast on the fallen fermenting marula fruit, they would have to eat about one thousand five hundred fermented marulas to get drunk, meaning they’d need to consume around fifty-five litres of marula juice all at once. So what’s with the elephant on the logo? Although the fruit is a popular delicacy across the African plains with kudus, baboons, rhinos, and giraffes racing for the fruit – elephants are central to the marula eco-system. They are the second-largest consumers (after humans), and a very effective means for the marula tree to ensure its botanical footprint extends as far and as wide as the elephants’ range— natural selection in action.
A worthy celebration
With the Marula tree rooted in many traditions, Marula season is a significant celebration in South Africa encapsulating its diverse culture and rich tradition – especially when it comes to safari time. One of the dreamiest sighting you can hope for during a safari is to find a leopard perched atop a Marula tree.
“Leopard’s are a Marula’s best accessory” – Private guide Tristan Dicks.
Often overlooked, trees can impact everything we do during in the Bushveld, especially if you’re on safari. From looking on every branch for elusive predators, to enjoying celebratory drinks at a morning coffee stop, to learning about the cultural beliefs of our local communities, we hope you will look twice when coming across such a precious tree and admire them as much as we do.
Let’s help you wander through this memorable part of South Africa. Here’s to 2021 and all its bright moments. May there be many!