Although the Marula fruit can be found throughout Africa, it is in Eswatini where it is found in abundance and is celebrated to the fullest. They have a vast range of uses for this juicy fruit from medicinal to the delightful (although very strong) Marula beer.
Eswatini’s Marula Festival, celebrates the harvest of Marula Fruit, between February and mid-May in the country. The festival pays tribute to the riches of Mother Nature, and is the highlight of the Eswatini calendar. It is initiated by King Mswati III and the Queen Mother, Her Majesty Indlovukazi, who travel all over the Kingdom leading the nation in animated celebration.
It starts with women and children collecting the fallen Marula fruit to store until it turns to a creamy yellow colour – the sign that it’s ripe. It is then placed into sugar and water, left to ferment, and eventually creates Marula beer. First to sample the brew is the royal family, and only after this is the rest of the nation permitted to drink and celebrations can officially begin.
Across Africa this fruit is used in many weird and wonderful ways. Well known as the fruit that ‘drives elephants wild’ as when fermented it becomes very alcoholic which means you may stumble across drunken elephants – or they may stumble across you!
In the north of South Africa, the Sotho people believe that the Marula tree is sacred as the spirits gave it to them. To respect this, and the way of their ancestors, the Marula tree will be the only tree left standing in field once is has been ploughed. The Shangaan tribe use the stone of the Marula fruit as dice and cast their “bones” to predict the future and help their clients with problems and ailments.
In Zimbabwe they use an infusion of roots and leaves to wash the body and prevent possession from evil spirits. By bathing in the concoction it also acts as a cleanser before treating infectious diseases.
The skin of the fruit can be burnt and used as a substitute for coffee, the wood from the tree is soft and used for carving whilst the inner bark can be used to make rope. Inside the flesh are a couple of very small tasty nuts, which provide a rich source of fat and protein to local communities. The oil from the nuts is used in skincare products, as they are known to make the skin supple and radiant. Their green leaves are eaten to relieve heartburn, and the bark contains antihistamines.
Tourists are welcome at Eswatini’s Marula festival to join in song, dance, and celebration. And of course, a mug or two of Eswatini’s finest Marula beer.