“Bandji” or palm wine, element of cultural heritage
The palm tree is a plant of the Arecaceae family. The variety found in West Africa is the oil palm or Guinea eleis. It has several uses. Apart from the use of its seeds to produce oil and that of its branches for several domestic purposes, it is also exploited for the production of palm wine or “bandji”, as it is called among the Akan.
The production of “bandji” begins with the identification and felling of a palm tree. Before starting operations, cleaning is carried out around the felled palm tree.
After which, a cut is made in the trunk of the palm tree. This is initially small, but it is enlarged over the days to allow greater production. Collecting the juice, that is to say the wine, is possible by drilling a hole underneath with a bamboo reed. A container is then placed under the felled palm tree at the location of the drilled hole in order to collect the wine. In short, it is a natural fermentation of palm juice (or sap).
The cut remains closed (except during operations to enlarge it) using cocoa leaves to protect it from the heat, because it must remain cool. However, it is necessary to set a small fire regularly in order to heat the palm tree and at the same time chase away the critters that gather there.
The wine is harvested at least once a day. Some palm trees can produce up to 5 liters per day. The container generally used for drinking it is the calabash. The good quality of the wine is preserved for a day. After which, it deteriorates, but some people consume it even after 2 or 3 days. Obviously, if it is stored in a refrigerator, it retains all its properties for many days.
“Bandji” is also used to produce another traditional highly alcoholic drink called “gbêlê” or “koutoukou” among the Agni (Akan cultural group). Formerly produced with significant use of sugar, farmers found a way to make it with “bandji”. A quantity of “bandji” is put in a barrel which is heated to high temperature. A pipe connects the heated barrel to a basin of water which itself communicates with a container via another pipe. The principle is simple: the pipe coming out of the heated barrel transports steam to the cold water pool. There, it is transformed into a liquid before pouring into a container in the form of a transparent drink similar to gin. The alcohol content is not measured, but everyone who has tasted it unanimously agrees that it is stronger than the widely used gin.
It takes a total of 160 liters of “bandji” to produce 25 liters of “gbêlê”.
The “bandji” is part of the cultural heritage of the people who produce it in the sense that it accompanies people in moments of family or societal conviviality, whether around a meal or not. For example, the young “bandji”, that is to say the one which has just been freshly collected, which is also called “dofflè”, serves as a food supplement. Above all, it is one of the most popular and requested drinks during celebrations of important moments in the life of the community: baptisms, marriages and more precisely for the dowry, the yam festival and funerals. A certain number of liters is required, and the quantity depends on the circumstances and the financial means of the people concerned.
Apart from the material aspect, its production and perpetuation reflect the necessity and relevance of preserving this know-how as well as the traditions and beliefs attached to it, thereby underlining the importance of immaterial heritage.