Fermented drinks and exotic food in Huila province Angola


During my work creating vegetation survey plots in areas of land in Bicuar National Park that have been altered by human activities, we came across a group of people that were distilling an alcoholic spirit called Canhome. Specifically, Canhome de Maboke. It is made from the fermented fruit of Strychnos cocculoides (Maboke in the Nyaneka language) a common tree in the park from the Loganiaceae family. The tree produces large round green speckled fruits which have a hard shell and hold an orange coloured sweet pulp with the seeds. The fruits make a satisfying crunch when stomped underfoot.

Strychnos cocculoides

First, the fruits are crushed to release the pulp, in this case using a hollowed out log and a mashing club. The pulp is then put into oil drums to ferment for about a week in the sun. After that a hot fire of sticks is lit next the oil drums to heat fermented pulp. At the top of the oil drum a pipe is attached, using packed clay to seal the join between the drum and the pulp. The pipe then runs slighty downslope through another hollowed out log which is filled with water. The fire evaporates the alcohol from the fermented pulp and the vapour goes through the pipe which is cooled by the water in the hollowed out log. At the end of the pipe bottles collect the Canhome which can be drunk immediately if desired. The northern Angolan equivalent of Canhome is called Marrufu but at this stage I’m not completely sure what it is made from.

Boiling in oil drums
Condensing pipe set in log
Pulping press

Another drink that can be made is called Macau. Macau is made from the leaves of the Massambala plant, which is a type of cereal grass that is very commonly cultivated in the area around the National Park. The leaves are juiced and fermented with sugar and extra water for only a couple of days to make this drink. Most often it is fermented in, and drunk from, a plastic water bottle.

Kisangwa is a wine made from Sorghum. I think it can be both alcoholic and non-alcoholic depending on preference. Last year in Lubango at a night of music and performance they had a big jerry can of kisangwa that was passed around during the show.

One day, I noticed the cook at the ranger station returning from the nearby woodland. When I asked what she had been doing it was explained to me that they had been eating parts of a termite mound they had found nearby. Apparently it is reasonably common for pregnant women to eat termite mound material when pregnant in order to provide extra nutrients. I’m not sure if they eat it raw or if it is used as an ingredient in cooking though.

Termite mounds

ulumei is the rhizomatous root of a plant which can be chewed like chewing gum then swallowed. It’s an aphrodisiac that gives the man “strength”. It’s also apparently quite tasty and people just chew it because it tastes nice and feels nice in the mouth. It’s a creeping herbaceous plant with big ovate leaves, serrated increasingly towards the apex of the leaf, with fleshy round petioles attaching the leaves to the creeping stem. The root itself is quite red/orange when cut open and kind of resembles a sweet potato only thinner.

Mulumei plant