Inkcubeko Nendalo collects seeds for a bio-cultural project in Mozambique:
South Afria's leading ethnomusicologist, Prof Andrew Tracey, writes the following:
Sneezewood and music in Mozambique
Without their sneezewood keys, the xylophones of the Chopi orchestras in Inhambane province in southern Mozambique would give a mere whimper rather than the roar usually expected from them. No other wood sounds quite like sneezewood.
But the Chopi people have been living in their country for at least the five hundred years of recorded history, and by now their region is nearly denuded of the wood, which they call Mwenje*. To make new xylophones these days they have to search for it way north around the Buzi River, and this has contributed to a severe decline in this famous African music.
The Mozambique government has this year attempted to ensure the future of sneezewood, and thus of the Chopi xylophones, by sponsoring a programme of planting. The motto on posters at this year’s Xylophone Festival at Quissico in August was:
PLANTEMOS MWENGE PARA PRESERVARMOS TIMBILA
(Let’s Plant Sneezewood to Preserve our Xylophones)
Although not a fast grower, the timber should be usable within fifty years under good conditions, a remarkably forward-looking project for one of the poorest countries in Africa. Whether sneezewood will grow under mass cultivation remains to be seen.
*spelled MWENJE in English, MWENGE in Portuguese.
Inkcubeko Nendalo collected several hundred sneezewood seeds for this project.
Mwenje (Pateroxylon obliquum) flowers