Marula, Chobe, and Women Guides

We keep trying to talk about marula oil in this blog, but occasionally something comes along that we simply have to share with our readers. This time, it is an article written by Hillary Richard in the travel section of the Aug 27 issue of the New York Times: “The Wonder Women of Botswana Safari.” (Our thanks to Tony Carroll for calling this to our attention.)

Photo credit: Alexander Lahti

This article was intriguing for a couple of reasons. First, Botswana is the country where we harvest and process luxurious marula oil, and the Chobe National Park in Botswana is a true national treasure.

Photo credit: Hillary Richard

Second, Ms Richard speaks at length to this relatively new role of women in Botswana: Park Guide, a profession long dominated by men. Ms. Richard notes: “Guiding in Botswana is a prestigious career. Applicants must complete a standardized course that includes a placement at a safari camp, plus tests to evaluate English skills and scholastic aptitude.”

These women love their jobs. We support all efforts at elevating the status of women everywhere, especially in such challenging and demanding careers.

Chobe Game Lodge. Photo credit: Joao Silva, New York Times

Third, we encourage our readers – their friends and family – to consider traveling to this beautiful country and embarking on a great and memorable adventure: a safari! A number of excellent lodges are available, offering services and facilities that will meet even the highest standards of travelers.

Looking to travel Botswana? We can help. While we do not profess to be travel agents, we can answer questions and get people pointed in the right direction. Just ask.

Maybe we will see you here!

The Story of Marula, Elephants, and Beer

As many bloggers will note, sometimes staying on topic can be difficult. Anyone, who has ever written a paper or a journal, knows to stay on topic. Fortunately, no such rule exists for blogging!

In a previous post… actually previous two posts, we tried to stay focused on marula. DLG sells marula oil to international clients, so we have a particular interest in the subject: What makes marula oil so special? But, as in life, we have those “squirrel!” moments. Something attracts our attention, and off we go!

Photo credit: Ross Couper and Singita Safaris

This time, it was elephants! But, we stayed clear, intent on marula. No great, gray pachyderms would deter us from our appointed rounds. (Actually, elephants and marula do have their own story!)

Our focus this time is the marula fruit itself, the pulp that serves as food for animals and humans. But like many other kinds of fruit, marula can also be fermented. People in southern Africa make a “beer” (“mokhope” or “ubuganu”) from the fresh fruit, although “beer” may be the wrong descriptor. For those of us, who have brewed beer at home, about 4 weeks is required to complete the brewing process.

Not so with marula. We are talking a mere couple of days here. Days, not weeks. In fact, anything past three days is probably too much. After that, the concoction is very potent – even if any is left to drink!

Brewing marula beer is a cultural and social activity, taking place in the first few months of the year when ripe fruit is available… and there is plenty of ripe fruit! Woman peel the fruit, crush the pulp, and remove the stones (similar to plums). (Watch this video for a demonstration.) Water is added in an equal amount to the mash (oh, yes, don’t forget to remove the worms first), which is then left in a covered bucket for…

… one day, maybe two. If you are brave, you might try the three-day beer. Anything past that, fair warning!

After that, it is festival time! One of the biggest is the Limpopo Marula Festival. Out in the villages, however, people sit around in a shady circle, scoop beer from a communal vat, share large pitchers of the brew, and give thanks for fruit, the “mokhope,” and the wonderful, joyous tradition passed from generation to generation.

Now, about the elephants…. Well, maybe next time!

Marula – from Stem to Stern (or root)

Photo credit: Stephen Sporik. Paintings inside Pomongwe Cave.

We noted, in a previous post, a cave in Zimbabwe: Pomongwe cave. When discussing marula, specifically marula oil, bringing a cave into the conversation does not seem relevant. Except that it is from a historical context.

Marula has been part of the African life for centuries. As far back as ten thousand years, and very probably longer, marula has been part of the southern African diet. The fruit is highly nutritious, as are the seed kernels. Inside Pomongwe cave, evidence exists that over twenty million marula fruits were eaten.

Photo credit: Brett Hilton-Batber

The marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea) is one of Africa’s treasures. Not only is the fruit so highly valued, but every component of the tree can serve a vital purpose. The tree bears fruit from January through March – give or take several weeks, depending upon location, beginning when the tree reaches seven to ten years of age. Trees continue fruiting into their hundredth year and beyond (at over fifty feet tall, the ancient trees are quite majestic!).

While the fruit itself is important (especially to us here at DLG, and we will discuss it in future posts), Africans have used virtually every part of the tree:  The wood can be carved and the bark made into a dye or brewed into a tonic used as part of a marriage ritual (marula is known as the “marriage tree”). The bark contains antihistamines and is also used to treat fever, malaria, scorpion stings, snake bites, dysentery, and diarrhea.

The “mopane worm” – Saturniidae “Emperor moth” caterpillar. Popular food item in southern Africa. Large numbers of caterpillars can be harvested before the start of the rainy season, dried, and stored. Photo credit: P.A. Hulley.

The inner bark makes rope. Insects – e.g., the large Saturniid caterpillar, a resident of the tree, and the larvae of the cerambycid wood-boring beetle – can be roasted as nutritious treats. (We here are DLG have enjoyed the mopane worm as part of our meal.) The leaves are commonly used to treat heartburn and indigestion.

Marula trees are dioecious, i.e., they have a gender. The Venda believe bark infusions can determine the sex of an unborn child. If a woman wants a son, the male tree is used; a daughter, the female tree. But, if the infusion fails (a child of the opposite sex is born), then the child is designated as very special: he or he defied the spirits.

We cannot forget the roots, which are used for bilharzia (a disease caused by a parasite worm), sore eyes, weakness, and making an alcoholic medicine known as kati.

Finally, the fruit.  Inside the fruit, and held firmly by a concrete hard pit or stone, are one to four seed kernels. These are tasty, protein-rich food sources, and their high oil content makes for a lovely skin cosmetic – and it is the oil that we will focus on in future posts.

The Story of Marula… opps – make that Hyrax!

When doing research for a blog article, we often stumble upon some interesting information that has nothing to do with the initial topic. In this case, we intended to write about the story of marula oil. The initial idea was to offer the story in two or three parts, depending on the eventual length of the blog post.

But, we found a description of a cave located in Matobo National Park in Zimbabwe. The cave, more specifically Pomongwe Cave, has produced intriguing archaeological findings dating back to pre-middle stone age, including nearly 40,000 stone tools, hearths, cave paintings, and bones – tortoise, large game animals and, most notably, bone fragments of the hyrax, apparently the main menu item for the cave’s inhabitants.

That is an old cave! But, the age of the cave was not what caught our attention. We had to stop and ask: What is a hyrax? That was a new one for us. Toyota builds a truck called Hylux, but we seriously doubt cave dwellers were munching on Toyotas of any model. So, instead of researching marula, we had to know more about the hyrax.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

To our surprise, we ended up on for a few “fun facts” about the hyrax. This little furry animal looks like a large guinea pig, but it is not a rodent. They are actually related to – ready for this? – elephants and manatees!

Somewhere in the evolutionary pathways, the hyrax and its cousins decided on different roads to travel. Today, the hyrax sports tusks, has a multi-chambered stomach (but are not ruminants), and males have testes that change with the season (hyraxes live in colonies usually dominated by a single male, who aggressively defends his territory and females from rivals and in mating season can have his testicles can grow 20 times larger than during the non-breeding season).

And they talk! And sing, and chatter… In fact, as noted in the article, “hyraxes have at least 21 different vocalizations, including trills, yips, grunts, wails, snorts, twitters, shrieks, growls, and whistles. Males also sing complex songs that can last for several minutes and serve a territorial purpose, like bird song. When researchers looked at how males put together different syllables (wails, chucks, snorts, squeaks, and tweets) to compose a song, they found the order of the syllables was significant; that is, hyrax songs make use of syntax, the manner in which different elements are combined. They also found hyraxes from different regions used different local dialects in their songs.”

Maybe they sing about marula!

Well, if they don’t, we certainly will. Stayed tuned for the Story of Marula in upcoming posts. We will try to keep on topic next time!

Stories… and mysteries to be solved.

For our team located at our marula production facility in Botswana, each day offers a story. Some of the stories relate to the trials and tribulations of running a factory in a country, which cannot guarantee electricity or Internet… or even water at times, those essentials needed to keep a business rolling. Other stories focus on our buying adventures, trips to parts of Botswana, places that invite producers of “Naked and Afraid” to film episodes of contestants challenging the elements for survival.

We go in search of “pips” – those hard cores of the marula fruit. The fruit is like a plum… flesh surrounding a hard core. That core, once the flesh is removed and the “pip” washed and dried, holds one to four “eyes” – the kernels that hold the oil we will process into a clean, rich, pure ingredient for cosmetics.

The pips are collected by Batswana (the citizens refer to themselves as Batswana) and either brought to us “at the gate,” as we call delivery at our door, or we go to the villages and buy the pips directly from the local harvesters. The pips are dry, as the fruit has either rotted away on the ground or been made into a strong “beer,” after which the pips are set in the sun. When ready, the people put the pips in to bags for sale to us.

We purchase literally tens of tons of marula pips during the year.

So, what is the story here? A few days ago, a “bucky” – a small pickup truck – arrived at our gate. In the back of the truck were bags of marula pips, all dried and in beautiful condition. ½ ton of pips! The truck had traveled from Shoshon, about a three-hour drive from the factory. The pips had been collected by a group of people, who are building a church in their community. They all chipped in enough pula (the country’s currency), so the driver could afford petro. The driver and his passenger arrived hungry and thirsty, and we were happy to feed them. The funds for the sale would be applied to their church building.

In fact, they promised us more pips over the coming months. We are delighted! The marula comes from an area we know produces excellent oil. But, beyond that, we achieve our mission of enhancing local economies. The money gained by the sale of a local, sustainable, natural product supports individuals and communities.

A “win-win” – and we love it!

Speaking of stories, we recommend Alexander McCall Smith and his series of novels, “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” (, for anyone interested in learning more about Botswana. The stories are delightful and fun to read. Each book offers a picture of Botswana – its land, its people, its development. The stories are a bit dated (set a couple decades ago), but much remains unchanged. And, of course, there are mysteries to be solved….

Bacteria are hot!

Photo credit: Yang H. Ku/C&EN

Just a few short years ago, even as of today, we were buying products that resulted in the demise of “99%” of the germs on our hands, our skin, our hair, or in our mouth. Those nasty bugs on our bods create all kinds of havoc! They don’t deserve to live! Thus, an avalanche of antibacterial toothpastes and lotions and shampoos and dish soaps greeted us on the store shelves.

And, anyone looking for a product that did not include anti-bacterial ingredients had a tough time finding one.

Among the latest trends in cosmetics today is a recognition that bacteria are not purely harmful. Most of the bugs that call our skin and hair home are harmless and some are even beneficial to our health. Like the “probiotic” trend in foods, products that maintain healthy bacteria and yeasts in the gut, cosmetic manufacturers are now looking at a “probiotic” approach to creams and lotions. One track is “feeding” existing “good” bacteria through specialized ingredients or “prebiotics.” A second track is adding bacteria to cosmetics, a similar approach to “probiotic” foods.

In either case, the jury is still out on effectiveness. Skeptics say that evidence is insufficient to warrant adding live bacteria to cosmetics. In addition, they point to regulations that prohibit the sale of “contaminated” products and wonder how the intentional addition of bacteria will be permitted.

Photo credit: Yang H. Ku/C&EN

We are in a new world where cosmetics are concerned, and consumers are curious about the prospects of healthier skin and hair through use of these products. Get ready to see “Beauty and the Bugs” at a cosmetic counter near you, as the big manufacturers are seeing a “healthy” market demand on the near horizon!

Eco-friendly cosmetics … a trend here to stay?

Photo credit:

We noted in a previous post that sales of male grooming products are increasing. However, that is not the sole trend in cosmetics these days.

One other trend is the increasing awareness by consumers of ec0-friendly products. The conscious consumer is directing his/her money on products that are “morally” correct.

For example, the consumer today wants to buy organic, eat locally, recycle, etc. The consumer wants to “do no harm” to our planet, to our society, to ourselves. (We will discuss “conscious consumerism” in another post.)

What does this mean for cosmetic purchases?

First, it means sustainability of ingredients. Does the cosmetic contain ingredients made from animals or plants that are endangered or cannot be sustained? Is the technology that produces these products itself eco-friendly? Does the use of green technological raw materials guarantee high levels of quality, sustainability and longer lasting performances?

Second, eco-friendly purchases are very difficult to make. In fact, consumers are at the mercy of product marketers. For example, just because a label says “natural” or “green” or “organic” does not mean much. No one regulates the use of these, and other, terms. Thus, we have “green washing” – marketing of terms, rather than ec0-friendly products.

Still, the consumer wants to be part of the eco-friendly movement, spending his/her dollars on “good” products. Elizabeth Nichin, in her blog post in the Feminist Beauty Project ( recommends three ways that consumers can be vigilant in their purchases: buy small (e.g., look for artisans offering hand crafted cosmetics), read labels (how often have we said that!), and contact the companies that manufacture your favorite products. Ask them questions. Get the information you need.

The eco-friendly trend may be short lived, as the problems might be too overwhelming for the average consumer. Still, manufacturers are very aware of trends and need to adjust accordingly. Several large companies are slowly moving in that direction (perhaps more from an economic perspective than moral), while others (e.g., Dr. Bronner, Lush, American Provenance) have maintained their commitment since their beginnings.

Other trends will be discussed in upcoming posts.

Botwana Sunrise

Another beautiful morning here!

We found a blog post done by Liana Mehring back in 2012 (, while she was a student at Georgetown and studying in Botswana for a semester. Her comments are very enlightening and offer anyone, with an interest in knowing more about this lovely country, an insight to its many aspects.

The blog post is printed in its entirety here:

“What can language tell us about a country? Botswana means “place of Tswana.” The Tswana are the dominant ethnic group in Botswana, and the citizenry of Botswana are referred to as Batswana, or the Tswana people. Setswana is the language of the Tswana people and the dominant national language. To recap, you have the Batswana people living in Botswana and speaking Setswana.

The prefixes change the meaning of the word Tswana, with bo referring to the land, ba to the people, and se to the language. The term Batswana, however, bears a double meaning. In official government rhetoric, Batswana is an all-inclusive term for the entire country’s citizenry. Ironically, the word contradicts this rhetorical inclusiveness by specifically referring to the ethnically Tswana people as distinct from the country’s various other ethnic groups.

This double meaning highlights a tension in Botswana between an official narrative of national unity on the one hand, and the reality of a diverse population dominated by the Tswana people on the other. This double meaning also perpetuates the dominant, albeit debatable, assertion that Botswana’s success and stability as a multiparty liberal democracy is rooted in its having a ethnically homogeneous population. Although this homogeneity is certainly a contributing factor to Botswana’s national success, I would argue that the responsible management of the country’s valuable natural resources, including its diamonds, is an even greater source of stability.

Linguistically supported fictions perpetrated by the government, however, contribute to the myth of a non-ethnic society despite the presence of minority ethnic groups, such as the Kalanga, Kgalagadi, Herero, and Yeyi. In the 1990s, these groups challenged the Tswana majority for both recognition and influence in Botswana. At its worst, the Tswana majority’s non-ethnic rhetoric is superficially harmonizing and ultimately supremacist in effect. At its best, however, such this language could be a means to realizing a genuine ideal of civic participation being open to all individuals regardless of their ethnic identity. Thus it is clear that double meanings abound in Botswana.

Pula is also a word saturated with meaning and symbolism. It is most immediately the Setswana term for rain, but it is also the term for the country’s currency. As a landlocked nation covered largely by the Kalahari Desert, rainwater is a scarce and extremely valuable commodity in Botswana. Pula is also a term for blessing or luck. As such it is the national motto of Botswana and is featured on their coat of arms. A single word encapsulates the rain that nourishes the country’s crops, as well as the wealth and blessings that follow from this rain.

Names in Setswana also bear a multilayered significance. Nicknames are common here, running the spectrum from the clever to the absurd. So far, I’ve either met or heard of people named Reptile, Touch, Oral, Laptop, Danger, and Swimming Pool. Nicknames like Kelly and John are often a Westernization of traditional names, mercifully offered for the benefit of foreigners like me. This is despite my best efforts to pronounce the guttural g’s and rolled r’s in Setswana, which are usually cut short with, “You can just call me Kelly.” But beneath every nickname and anglicization is the Setswana name given by someone’s parents, each one with its own unique significance.

For example, everyone knows one of my friends as Double O. Sitting with him on the benches outside the dorms, I’m likely to hear “Double O” shouted at random across the quad, identifiable amid a stream of rapidly spoken Setswana. Double O’s name is derived from his first name Omphemetse, which means “I saved you.” His second name, Mogomotsi, translates to “someone who offers comfort and solace.” These names fit his personality as someone who is a loyal friend to those who know him. The second “O” comes from his last name, Oneile, meaning, “he has given.” This fulfills Double O’s designation as a caregiver: Omphemetse Mogomotsi Oneile, a savior who has given comfort.

While talking about the significance of names in Botswana, Double O said that he believes names sometimes function as self-fulfilling prophecies. For example, he knows someone named Kenosi who is an old man without a wife or kids. His sole caregiver is someone who, in Double O’s own sympathetic words, “isn’t even a relative.” Kenosi in Setswana means, “I am alone.” Double O also has an uncle named Senatla, which roughly means, “someone who works hard and does that work perfectly.” Senatla’s name embodies his work ethic, and he is beloved throughout his village for working hard to plan weddings, funerals, and other important life events.

Double O was quick to add that these examples were merely his own observations. But now that I’m aware of this unproven yet intriguing phenomenon, I’m eager to discern the meaning behind every name. As for me, a couple of my local friends spontaneously gave me a Setswana name, Keitumetse, which means, ‘I am happy.'”

Sixth mass extinction: The era of ‘biological annihilation’

We read, with no small concern, a recent CNN article by John D. Sutter, columnist. He notes several statistics that should not be ignored, such as, “three-quarters of all species could disappear in the coming centuries.”

That is a scary thought.

For those of us with DLG Naturals, who live and work in Botswana, home of some of Africa’s most majestic animals, including the elephant, the idea of losing elephants, for example, is depressing.

Anthony Barnosky, executive director of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve at Stanford University, “On the one hand, you can say, ‘All right, we still have around 400,000 elephants in Africa, and that seems like a really big number. But then, if you step back, that’s cut by more than half of what their populations were in the early part of last century. There were well over 1 million elephants (then). And if you look at what’s happened in the last decade, we have been culling their numbers so fast that if we kept up with that pace, there would be no more wild elephants in Africa in 20 years.” (Emphasis added).

And that is just elephants.

Already gone:
In 2008, the Chinese River Dolphin.
In 2000, the Pyrenean Ibex.
In 1989, the Golden Toad.
And earlier in the recent past: Tasmanian Wolf, Bubal Hartebeest, Quagga Zebra, Cape Lion, Caribbean Monk Seal.

Probable upcoming extinctions:
Javan Rhinoceros, Snow Leopard, Tiger, Asian Elephant, Vaquita Porpoise, Mountain Gorilla, Sumatran Orangutan, Leatherback Turtle.

Several well recognized animals are at high risk, including the Panda, Polar Bear, Wolves, Jaguar. and others.

“…there is little disagreement among scientists that humans are driving an unprecedented ecological crisis. And the causes are well-known. People are burning fossil fuels, contributing to climate change. They’re chopping down forests and other habitat for agriculture, to the point 37% of Earth’s land surface now is farmland or pasture, according to the World Bank. The global population of people continues to rise, along with our thirst for land and consumption. And finally, but not exclusively, poachers are driving numbers of elephants, pangolins, rhinos, giraffes and other creatures with body parts valuable on the black market to worryingly low levels.”

The article concludes that time remains to remedy the situation. However, a desire to find solutions is required, and that desire is in question.

Butylated hydroxy…what???

Photo credit: Tyla’75 via Flickr.

Ever been to the store to buy a bottle of shampoo or lotion? How about a cosmetics counter at the local mall for a lipstick? Ever try to read the label for the ingredients? Oh, you need your glasses, you say? The font is so small as to be nearly illegible?

Or, worse, the list contains ingredients that are hardly pronounceable, much less recognized as commonly used words:

Butylated what???

If you are curious enough to continue reading here, we will provide a wee bit of useful information about butylated hydroxytoluene (also known as BHT) and its cousin, butylated hydroxyanisole (if you guessed BHA, you win the prize!).

Those two cosmetic ingredients sound like something from a chemistry lab belonging to Dr. Frankenstein, which is fairly accurate. Both are synthetic antioxidants used in cosmetics as preservatives, particularly in moisturizers and lipsticks.

No one likes moldy, slimy, unpreserved lipstick!  Bacterai, mold…. Yuck!

Unfortunately, neither ingredient is considered totally safe to use. BHA is often found in foods but is a possible human carcinogen. BHT is also a food additive but is also found in household products, industrial additives, pesticides, and plastic and rubber. BHT may interfere with hormone balances, affect kidney, lung, and thyroid function, as well as alter blood coagulation ability, and cause behavioral problems in children.

The European Union prohibits the use of BHA as fragrance ingredient, while California requires warning labels on products with BHA, as a possible cancer causing agent.

Maybe you are wondering if an antioxidant in your lipstick is worth the risk. You should wonder.

The David Suzuki Foundation notes, “U.S. researchers report that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors. Many products include plasticizers (chemicals that keep concrete soft), degreasers (used to get grime off auto parts), and surfactants (they reduce surface tension in water, like in paint and inks). Imagine what that does to your skin, and to the environment.”

We recommend reading the list of ingredients for all your cosmetics. Knowing what you are putting in your hair, on your skin, on your lips and eyelids can make a difference in your life.

We will be looking at p-phenylenediamine in a future post.