Virtual Kollage: The importance of the sheanut tree in the economy of pre-colonial Ghana

Posted by / Thursday, 18 May 2017 / No comments

The importance of the sheanut tree in the economy of pre-colonial Ghana

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The sheanut tree is botanically called Vitellana paradoxa. It comes from the Sapotaceae family and is a food plant that is common in Africa. It produces its first fruit when it is about ten to fifteen years old. By the time it starts bearing fruit at full capacity, it is between twenty and thirty years. It is capable of bearing fruits for about two hundred years. The shea-nut tree was very important to the pre-colonial Ghanaian economy in many ways.

It served as food
The sheanut tree served as a source of food for the people. Shea butter was extracted from the nuts and used as oil to prepare food. The by-product, which was obtained after the oil has been extracted, was fried and served as a dessert or eaten as snack.

Used for cosmetics purposes
The sheanut tree also played an important role in the cosmetics needs of both men and women in pre-colonial Ghana. In the north of Ghana, where the tree grows predominantly, the weather is always very harsh during certain parts of the year. This weather condition could cause the bodies of the inhabitants to crack, especially, the lips. However, the application of the sheanut butter to the affected part of the body, prevented this cracking from happening or reduced the negative effect of the harsh weather. The women also used it as a beautification agent.

For the construction of building
The sheanut tree was instrumental in the building of strong houses in pre-colonial Ghana. The sheabutter, extracted from the nut, is carefully mixed with clay to make it stronger and this employed in the building of pre-colonial houses in Ghana.

Source of energy
The sheanut tree was important as a source of energy for the pre-colonial people. The dry branches that fall off the trees were picked up and used as fuel wood to cook meals or used in the production of sheabutter. Also, sometimes, the branches of the tree are pruned and left to dry and these were also used as fuel wood.

As a source of medicine
The roots of the sheanut trees were employed as medicine to cure diseases. The barks of the trees and their leaves are also used as medicine to heal ailments. The shea butter, an extract from the nut was used as a base in the production of medication and this was smeared on the affected parts of the body. The butter was used to treat boil. It was also used as massaging cream for people who suffer from dislocated joints. In some cases, it was used to massage fractures and reset the broken bones.

A source of employment
The women in the northern parts of pre-colonial Ghana, used to go into the wild to pick the nuts and these were directly sold to processors or they were processed by the pickers themselves. The people who extract the butter from the nuts sold their products to other traders who took the butter to the south and to other parts of the country. In short, the sheanut tree was a source of employment to the pre-colonial Ghanaian.

1. Discuss the importance of any two of the following plants in pre-colonial economy of Ghana:
a. Sheanut tree
b. Kola nut tree

c. Oil-palm tree

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