Palm tree and the old ecological wisdom on the upper Nile

David Acaye, John Sampers, Sabine Becker, Ekkehard Doehring


Few objects of nature appear to the observer as southern and as tropical as the palm tree. From the white beaches of Mombasa and Zanzibar to the hills of Jamaica and Trinidad, they stand tall and proud come rain come sun. In the gentle winds of the tropics palm trees become the dominant component of the music of the countryside. In the wind their fan like leaves and scaly trunks become musical instruments played by the wind.

On the banks of the upper Nile in the Murchison Falls Park area, and within miles of its proximity there are many palm trees. Miles and miles of this area was in past populated by large colonies of elephants that are still there in large numbers even today. Palm tree fruits are hardy stuff that are washed and dispersed by flood waters. But in this region the activities of elephants were the leading cause of their dispersal. Palm trees are beloved of elephants who swallow whole their big yellow fruits and disperse it by defecation. This is the reason why in areas where the forest has not been tampered with palm trees appear planted together in a series of concentric circles.

Children love palm fruit. Few things are as picturesque as a fruiting palm. Literally scores of fruits gather high up at the base of its huge umbrella like arrangements of the leaves. The fruits come out tinny and green at first, gradually yellowing as they grow bigger. Once the fruits are ready they drop down of their own accord. Hungry and desperate World War II soldiers passing in the area shot down several of these fruits only to learn that palm fruits are no good unless they drop of their own accord.


Unlike the soldiers children knew the secrets of palm fruits and waited patiently for the fruits to ripen. Once ready they know the fruits will drop down in droves without their having to lift a finger. Children are attracted by the color, shape, size and above all by the aroma and sweet flavor of the fruit.  Adults love palm fruits too. These days with so much cheap candy available children regretfully are losing interests in palm fruits on account of the effort it takes to get at the fruits by breaking through is tough outer cover.

In the area around the Murchison’s Park we learned that the palm tree was in the olden days regarded virtually as the tree of life. Roots of the palm go deep. It is the reason palms are not affected by the vagaries of the weather. In the olden days, the whole palm tree was made use of and palms were harvested sparingly.

Its fruits were delicious to the taste; its rough bark is edible and is eaten once processed by soaking in water for prolonged period. Its leaves are woven into mats and baskets and become pure works of art in themselves. The leaves are also handy as items of clothing and roofing materials. While the durable termite resistant trunks of the palm make some of best building materials and are even today still in use as rafters.

Today when our world is ecologically threatened by mindless activities of human beings, the palm tree in its seeming permanence stands as the symbol of eco green. The great qualities of the palm were long ago discovered and made use of by the inhabitants of the Murchison Falls Park area in Northern Uganda who understood and practiced the wisdom of sustainable consumption.