29-03-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
They have always represented a certainty for the inhabitants of the coast and its immediate hinterland, and now they too are beginning to suffer due to climate change and the little respect that man has for them. We are talking about palms, the most representative plants for foreigners of the idea of exoticism, of vacations, but above all vital plants that can solve most of the problems of the local population.
First of all because thanks to the coconuts, called "madafu" you can eat their fresh pulp and quench your thirst in times of drought with its water rich in minerals. With the dried fruit, instead, it is possible to obtain a powder that can enrich poor dishes and above all, wetting it with water or milk, obtain a creamy cream that gives taste and protein to meat and fish sauces, beans and vegetables.
However, palms are also fundamental for their leaves which, once dried, together with the so-called "makuti" (bundles of dried leaves intertwined to become tiles) make up the roofs of most local homes, from mud huts to large villas on the coast and inland up to a hundred kilometers and more.
Coconuts also produce oil that can be used for cooking (and in this period, with the increase in the price of seed oil, this becomes even more important) and for cosmetic use.
There is a fourth aspect, scarcely considered but very common and in these times more criticized than usual: from the sap of palms is obtained the so called palm wine or "mnazi".
Palm wine is the most popular beverage used by Mijikenda tribes of the coast, traditionally drunk during ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. If sipped freshly tapped, it is moderately alcoholic (kajama) and fairly tasteless, while the more it ferments, the more acidic, alcoholic and harmful it becomes. Abuse of mnazi can lead to trance-like states, hallucinations and prolonged use give ethyl coma.
These days, mnazi tappers are in the eye of the storm because it has been shown that coconut palms dry out more during the hot season and risk losing their productivity and even dying.
"Coconut palms are a means of livelihood for most residents of the Coast region," said a staple exponent, "However, the harsh weather conditions have dealt us a blow. Most of the plants are drying up. We fear that this could mean the end of the mnazi business. Our children may also lose the cultural importance of palm wine."
While respecting this aspect of local traditions, it would be good if the culture of coastal populations were protected in other areas whose drift is less destructive.
For example, many residents from the mnazi business have moved into mangrove conservation, beekeeping, and fishing.
With support from the county's environment department and the Kenya Forest Service, some of the residents have formed a Community Based Organization, the Mwachideko Self-Help Group, to help with their new ventures.
Not "squeezing" the palms and at the same time replanting the mangroves, plants of life for the Kenyan coast, could be a solution that is not only healthy for the environment, but more importantly for the environment.
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