Growing up, the Dorowa tree (Hausa name) was common in the Savannah and semi-Savannah belt that I grew. Many benefits aside from the shade and ground cover it provides, the red Afro-like flowers produce nectar on which bees feed to produce the richest honey you can find anywhere in the world.
When the delicate petals of its flowers shade, as kids, we plucked them and used them in an African game of conkers, to see at a stroke how you can sever the head of your opponent’s. Then when the fruits grow and dry, we raided the trees for the yellow powder fruits.
Not forgetting to save the seeds for our mums for the production of daddawa. We would compete on whose teeth were the most yellow. Our mothers also harvest the dry pods for the seeds and also for the rich sweet powder used for porridge.
The Locust Been tree is a ‘life tree’ across the African Savannah belt, with its major product the seed from which the fermented locust bean cake is made – a common healthy seasoning for soups, before the advent of Maggi cubes and its Knorr and other brands. When the traditional Jollof rice is made with spinach and palm oil, daddawa and smoked fish give it the rounded taste and aroma, completed only by the smell of firewood smoke.
Across Nigeria, daddawa is known as Iru by the Yorubas and Ogiri or Dawa Dawa by the Igbos. Other ethnicities have their names and mostly it is the daddawa or dawa-dawa variations. Urbanisation, farming, firewood collection and desertification have been drastically reducing the number of the tree in Nigeria and across Africa. It generally grows wild and there is hardly any known effort that I know that it is being domesticated and deliberately grown in plantations.
This is the same for the Shea Butter tree. The economic value of the tree is growing in geometrical proportions against the demand and supply pressure on its fruits. The tree is now such valued that those in our rural communities who have them on their farms do not even allow the fruits to dry on the trees before they are harvested, because of serious poaching.
The powder made from the dried pods is also an important material in the leather tanning industry. It is also used for slate glazing in the building industry. The sap from the tree is also important in the pharmaceutical industry, while the wood, I am told, is also of high quality and value.
There are even incidences of inter-communal clashes over the trees in northern Nigeria. One wonders why our research institutes and large farm owners will not invest in growing these trees. Soon the Chinese will find out and we will again go the now common Chinese way on otherwise what from history and tradition is ours.
Saleh Bala lives in Abuja