12 February 2008

A Dia de Canhu

It has been quite some time since my last post. My fellow blogger Damian wrote to ask if I was okay and to keep posting, since he hadn't heard from me in a while. Also, he wanted to let me know he was using my "out of office" reply in his blog (9Feb08).

A LOT has happened, but I really wanted to post about last Friday's festival in Madjadjane. Very few traditional practices survived Portuguese colonialism, missionization, and independence. FRELIMO made a real effort to get rid of traditional practices in their effort to modernize. Both the canhu and rain ceremonies survived however.

Nkanhi (Sclerocarya birrea) is a sacred tree in Mozambique. I have seen many trees at homes with a small offering to the ancestors at the base of the trunk. It much of the greater world it is known as amarula. The fruit, canhu, is known as the "king of fruits" in this part of the world and contains 4x as much vitamin C as an orange.

Once a year, communities in southern Mozambique hold celebrations for this fruit and it's harvest. This year the induna of Madjadjane decided to hold their festival on 8 February 2008. When I asked if I could attend, everyone said "Of course, we were expecting you there!" They couldn't believe I asked.

Taste testing all the canhu juice to see which has fermented

The day begins early. People harvest fruits the few days before the festival. That morning women and children (sometimes) remove the thick peel from the fruit and make juice. My first photo shows the process at Lidia Rosa's house. She invited me over as I waited at the school to try out a glass of juice. Many people describe canhu having a flavor akin to pineapple, litchi, etc. But really, the flavor is unique and absolutely wonderful.

Sorting out what goes to the chief for tribute

Then each family separates out 15-20 liters of juice to bring to the community gathering. A lot of people use old fishing bouys as containers. But there are buckets, cooking oil containers, and even old car transmision fluid containers that get used (yeah, that last one was more than a bit sketchy).

Once everyone has arrived, some of the non-fermented juice (about 40%) will be separated out to be sent to the chief as tribute. This is a leftover from the old days when the chief would receive part of every harvest and hunt. The chief will take some to the sacred forest and give it to the ancestors as an offering of thanks. He and his family might drink some, and the rest is distributed out into the community. Knowing the current chief, the remainder will go to those who cannot harvest and make canhu on their own (elderly, orphaned kids, etc.). A group of women transport the canhu juice to the chief.

For those able bodied people who don't make canhu juice, the induna (community groups of elders) charges MTn20-30. This money goes into a community savings account to pay for stuff like the new school that is being built, electrification, etc. I asked about contributing since I did not bring juice, but was told I didn't have to pay because I was a special guest. I fortunately asked the right person, because even Sr. Mathe was a little offended that I asked.

Once it is sorted what goes to the chief, the party starts. Basically, people take a break from working in their fields to enjoy a harvest festival. Some, like small children and super-religious folk, drink canhu juice. Most consume the fermented canhu. No sugar or yeast is added to make this 6-8% alcoholic beverage. It tastes kind of like fruity soda pop with a kick. But it gives everyone a chance to relax and talk and take a break from the day to day grind.

People dance and sing. There is a special elephant dance in Madjadjane. I only got to see a little as the rain put a damper on the party. The rains came about 2/3s of the way through the party and everyone made a mad dash for the school.

We continued on under the zinc roof to the heavy patter of a downpour, but it wasn't the same. Once all the beer was gone people started to duck out and drift home. The rain was appreciated though since the region has been under a severe drought for a few years. Perhaps it was the ancestors way of saying thanks for the canhu beer.


  1. You're back! Interesting post, too. I'm pleased to hear that the chief'll be distributing the juice to those who don't have any. Nice work.

  2. Thanks for your post. I wandered on you when searching for a poem by Sherman Alexie. You quoted him in your introduction and I pulled it up on Google.

    Anyway, thank you for your blog and photos. Very interesting!



  3. I found this blog exploring Damian's. Really fascinating, well written post.