Hacha, The Giving Tree
In Mutoko district, people of all ages look forward to the mobola plum (hacha) season every year. And no-one more than Agnes Zinhu, Agnes Machona and Janet Zirugo, three ladies who turn these delectable fruits into sweet treats for family, friends and strangers alike.
Agnes, a young mum of two, has been eating and using hacha fruit since she was a little girl and says just when she thinks she’s used the fruit every way she can, she finds a new recipe for this delicious fruit! Agnes collects the ripe fruit in a big sack when they fall to the ground. It takes a lot of fruit to make hacha syrup and other treats.
For her kids’ favourite snack, mahanya, she mashes a mixture of very ripe fruit with less ripe fruit, in a mortar and pestle. Her kids love it so much, she sometimes even serves it for lunch. “My kids love it, it is filling and also very nutritious and hydrating,” she notes.
Every season, Agnes makes batches of hacha syrup which she then uses to spread onto bread or as a sweetener for porridge instead of using sugar. Occasionally, she makes hacha syrup cakes, locally known as zvambwa, which she says are not only delicious, but cheap and easy to make, and her kids go wild for them. “I like the fact that the hacha is a wild tree, so it is easily accessible, and I don’t need to pay for the fruits, but I can actually get money from the tree when selling my syrup and cakes,” she says. This income has helped her pay for school fees, uniforms, food and other household items.
Seventy-year-old Janet Zirugo has been making zvambwa since she was a little girl. She uses a family recipe that her mother passed down to her and recalls helping her mum make and sell the little cakes when she was young. Now she is carrying on the family tradition. She sells her cakes both to travellers at the nearby Mozambican border and to people in her community, just as her mother did when she was young. Gogo says the snacks are a family favourite with her husband and grandkids too.
From the nut kernels she makes a nut butter which she loves to put in vegetables. On a lazy afternoon, she roasts hacha nut kernels and enjoys them as a snack, along with the fruit. Gogo Zirugo sells hacha nut kernels as well.
She uses the money she makes from selling zvambwa and hacha nut kernels to help facilitate the other projects she has at home, such as buying feed for her chickens or fertilisers for her crop. She also uses the money to buy crockery and pots for her lovely home.
The hacha tree also has religious and cultural significance for the Shona people, used in ceremonies and as a shrine to ancestral spirits. “The trees belong to the whole community and are protected by our traditional leaders who have made rules about when and how we can harvest the fruits. No one person is allowed to harvest or sell all of the fruit from a given tree. Fruit must be shared among the whole community and some also left for wild animals to prevent them from coming to steal crops.”
Some people in Agnes’s community use the leaves of the hacha tree to speed up the fermentation process when making traditional beer. Others use the bark to treat common poultry diseases and even stomach ailments in people.