Fruit of the Marula Tree (Scelerocarya birrea). The marula tree is one of Namibia’s most versatile and thus important indigenous trees. It is native to many African countries including South Africa, Malawi, Namibia, Niger, Botswana, Gambia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and a few more. Archaeological evidence shows the marula tree was a source of nutrition as long as ago as 10,000 years B.C.
Marula trees grow best in frost-free areas and in dry, hot weather conditions. They are found in arid and semi-arid areas and is rain-fed. In Namibia the trees do well in areas with summer rainfall varying between 250 mm and 1,000 mm.
Marula trees are adapted to poor, sandy soil. Because of it’s versatility, marula trees often hold a special position in the social, cultural, economic and even political life of the communties that utilizes them. In Namibia that is especially true for the Aawambo communities of the four North-Central regions of Ohangwena, Oshana, Omusati, and Oshikoto.
The marula fruit is known locally as omagongo. It has very high Vitamin C content. It is about the size of a small plum. Marula fruits can be eaten fresh by sucking the flesh from the nuts. Almost all parts of the tree and fruit – the wood, leaves, bark, skins, nuts, kernels, juice and flesh – are consumed or put to good use.
Marula kernels located inside the marula nuts are delicious to eat, as is or roasted. The nuts are also used to produce oil known as ondjove or omagadhi. The ondjove is used as a body and cooking oil by local communties. Fresh marula juice is called omaongo and is very refreshing to drink during the warm summer months. It is also used to make ombike, a fermented alcoholic beverage.
Marula Fruit Festival
The Ongongola or marula season lasts from January to April. Fruits are harvested when they fall to the ground and turn yellow in colour a few days later; this is a sure sign that they are ripe. Only female trees bear fruit.
Namibia’s first annual omagongo festival was held in 2001. The country’s first President, Dr. Sam Nujoma is the current patron of the Omagongo Cultural Festival. The Festival is hosted on a rotational basis by the eight traditional authorities of Aawambo communities of North-central Namibia and was inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2015.