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Tamarind: The untold story of highly valued indigenous species

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The mysteries of the universe may be explained by cosmologists and indigenous knowledge experts. Nature has treasures beyond what humans can ever imagine. Traditionally, some plant species have been recognised for their contribution to human existence in many parts of the world. Under a new project, “Nature, Culture and Human Well-being”, the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) URA-FM Station in Bolgatanga, in collaboration with the African Centre for Sustainable Savanna Communities (ACeSSCo) has been examining the importance of nature and biodiversity to human well-being.

The dead Tamarind tree uprooted by the storm.

The project team recently participated in traditional events by the people of Kembisi Clan of Sirigu community and its surrounding villages in the Upper East Region to celebrate an old highly valued tree, which had died following rainstorm that uprooted it after hundreds of years. This celebration defines the significant importance and values of the species and resonates with their ancestral beliefs. A notable tree species revered in the Savanna and Sahel zones is the Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) which is usually associated with sacred groves. It has special historical and traditional significance among the people of Kembisi, a Gurune speaking community. The Tamarind tree known in Gurune as “Pusika Tia” is believed to have been introduced to the area by two brothers, Akea-mah and Aka-mugma who migrated from Youwa in the southern part of Burkina Faso about four hundred (400) years ago amidst famine. They settled in Pogmulgu-Sirigu in the Kassena Nankana municipality, and later moved to Sumbrungu and finally settled at Kembisi. Akamugma died over 300 years ago but his descendants form a majority of the Kembisi community.

According to tradition, the Pusika Tia symbolically represents the dead man, Aka-mugma, so when the tree died in November 2016, it became necessary to perform some customary rites, in accordance with tradition, this year. The ceremony started at the family house of the Tindana (chief priest) amid drumming and war performed by village warriors. The procession ended at the house where the old man Aka-mugma lived, died and was buried, the Aka-mugma Daboo for the final rites.

War dance in commemoration of the dead tree.

ACeSSCo understands the values of indigenous economic trees in the Savanna Ecosystems and has designated a special programme for research, education and development of several species. The Programme known as “Sites of Special Significant Scientific and Cultural Interests (4SCI)” undertakes research to establish the crucial importance of indigenous species by local communities and works with them to develop conservation plans to save endangered species.

The Tamarind is one of the priority species. It will interest readers to know that the fruit of this same Tamarind tree is a major ingredient for sour water, used to stir Tuo Zaafi (T. Z) and a local beverage called sobolo and other local drinks. As a conservation strategy, the Tindana of the Kembisi Traditional Area, Atindanbila Ayika explained that being a revered and sacred tree, it is forbidden to cut and use any part of the Pusiga Tia as firewood.

On Ghana Government policy and legislation, a Senior Programmes Officer of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Mr. Hamid Abdulai explained that, they are mindful of the sacred grooves and shrines which are biodiversity conservation hot-spots monitored by the EPA. Besides the traditional belief systems and traditional rules, the EPA indicated there are Forest and Wildlife laws and regulations for protecting sacred groves and shrines which local people must respect. Meanwhile, the Paramount Chief of Bongo Traditional Area, Naba Salifu Limyarum, had urged his colleagues and other traditional rulers not to allow modernisation to overshadow the need to protect sacred grooves. Naba Limyarum indicated that even before the advent of the EPA laws regarding environmental 0rotection, chiefs had authority to protect shrines and grooves with strict traditional byelaws. Persons found invading such sacred areas were apprehended and sanctioned for violating the laws. He emphasised that in the wake of severe environmental degradation, those cultural and traditional practices that promote the preservation of the environment should be strictly enforced.

Chief mourners of the dead tree.

There are several sacred grooves and shrines across the Upper East Region with similar highly prized and valued indigenous tree species that are under severe threats. Unfortunately, due to poverty, lands containing these grooves are gradually being lost as they are sold out to investors, for infrastructural development to the detriment of the environment.

The 4SCI Programme has identified that the benefits of indigenous plant species are not limited to traditional values but they are also important in the industrial, commercial and scientific sectors as well. Savanna indigenous trees serve so many purposes including food, medicinal herbs, dyes, clothing and textiles materials, and environmental functions such as erosion control, and mitigation of climate change mitigation, where they serve as sinks for carbon dioxide. Their role in balancing the levels of greenhouse gases is remarkable as the whole plant tissue is made carbon absorbed and stored from the atmosphere and consequently, protecting the earth from global warming. Trees and forests provide a habitat for many species of animals and plants. They equally provide shades and shelter, timber for construction, fuel for cooking and fruits for food.

The initial collaboration between the GBC and ACeSSCo is being expanded to include academic partners, conservation NGOs and local community groups. By working together, we shall better protect the Savanna Ecological Zones and rip economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits, a win-win for humans and nature.

Story filed by Emmanuel Akayeti, JM Atibila and Martin Lutherking Aduko.

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