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‘Hwenteaa’ is Ethiopian pepper (Xylopia aethiopica)

Sun, 12 Jul 2015 Source: Pacas, Idris

‘Hwenteaa’ as the Akans call it is the fruit of the tree called Xylopia aethiopica. Reportedly, the Ewe people call it ‘etso’ and the Ga people ‘so’. The Waala people of the Upper West Region call it ‘samaamdabile’ meaning small pepper stick. The fruit and/or the tree has numerous trivial or English names, with Ethiopian pepper being the commonest. Uses of the tree range from its termite resistant timber to its herbal use.

Containing 5 to 8 seeds (known as grains of salim), the dry fruits or pods appear dark brown to dark. The fruits resemble cowpea pods: they have constrictions along their length with each segment containing one seed. However, Ethiopian pepper pods are much smaller and are indehiscent (never split-open to release their seeds as cowpea pods do).

The fruits contain monoterpenes, which impart the spiciness onto them. The most common use of the fruits is for stews and porridge; the seed pods are either added to porridge whole or crushed. They reportedly speed up the healing of the uterus (womb) after childbirth and are recommended for women during their puerperium (1 to 2 months after labour). For other dietary and nutritional benefits of the fruit, just google with its name and you will see enormous info.

Now, we look at the botany of the plant. The genus name Xylopia derives from the Greek words ‘xylon’ and ‘pikron’ meaning bitter wood. Ending in the letter ‘a’, Xylopia is a feminine noun (read on gender of Latin nouns). The species name (technically the specific epithet) which derives from Ethiopia is Latinised and declined into aethiopica to agree in gender with Xylopia. (Compare Solanum aethiopicum: here, Solanum is neuter. Thus the Latinized name of Ethiopia is again declined to agree with its antecedent). All English nouns borrowed from Latin maintain their gender. For example, alumna is feminine, alumnus is masculine and bacterium is neuter.

The above info on gender may be exploited to teach both English language and botany. In English language, for example, feminine nouns are pluralized by adding ‘e’, eg, alumnae, formulae & antennae; masculine nouns by replacing the ‘us’ with ‘i’, eg, fungi, radii & umbilici and neutral nouns by replacing the ‘um’ with ‘a’, eg, bacteria, media & fora. Watch out for exceptions!

In botany, any species name that is an adjective must agree in gender with its antecedent noun. Compare these: Oryza sativa, Pisum sativum and Raphanus sativus. Here, the species name derives form a Latin adjective meaning cultivated, which is then declined to agree in gender with the nouns. In some cases the gender is not obvious from the spelling, eg, Manihot esculenta (cassava), Tylosema esculentum (morama bean), and Cyperus esculentus (tigernut). Here too, we notice that any plant with esculen- as part of its species name is edible. All the preceding info tells us that botanical names are both systematic and informative.

Returning our crop—Ethiopian pepper—we still focus on its ecology and botany. Despite having its centre of origin or diversity in Ethiopia, the tree currently grows in many African countries. In Ghana, Ethiopian pepper proliferates along lowland and coastal forests. The tree is now more abundant in Ghana than in most other countries, including Ethiopia herself.

Ethiopian pepper can grow up to 20 m or more. It is in the custard apple Family Annonaceae. Some other popular members of its family are soursop (Annona muricata), sweetsop (Annona squamosa), custard apple (Annona reticulata), wild or African custard apple (Annona senegalensis). Wild custard apple grows lavishly in Northern Ghana. Except African custard apple, all the above fruits crops are commonly sold in most road-side groceries.

Albeit having the word pepper in its common name, Ethiopian pepper is unrelated to pepper (Capsicum spp.). Pepper is in the nightshade family Solanaceae, which comprises herbaceous to low growing shrubs. Pepper or chilli owes its spiciness or pungency to a compound called capsaicin. The amount of capsaicin in the fruit, based on the Scoville scale, is used to classify pepper as sweet or hot.

Sweet pepper is any of the pepper varieties with low capsaicin content. Low in capsaicin and therefore less pungent, sweet peppers are served as salads. These peppers are incorrectly called green peppers: some ripe yellow and others red. Some people called them bell peppers because the fruits are bell shaped. Botanically, sweet pepper is known as Capsicum annuum. The specific epithet annuum tells us that the varieties of this species are typical annuals (ie, they die at the end of the growing season).

Conversely, hot pepper is any of the pepper varieties with high capsaicin content. High in capsaicin content and tasting hot, varieties of this species are typically used as spices. The fruits are usually smaller and come in wide variety of shapes. Botanically, hot pepper is known as Capsicum frutescens: the species name frutescens means subshrub. The word subshrub shows the ability of these varieties to survive from season to season. That is, when left uprooted, hot pepper plants establish as perennials.

Yet another crop with the word pepper in its name is black pepper. Black pepper is botanically called Piper nigrum. Being in the Piperaceae family; black pepper is unrelated to both pepper (Capsicum spp.) and Ethiopian pepper (X. aethiopica). Black pepper owes its spiciness to the compound called piperine.

Despite being botanically unrelated, all these ‘peppers’ have similar culinary and herbal uses. So next time you hear the word pepper, never conclude that it refers to only capsicum or chilli. Ethiopian pepper is particularly used in Muslim and/or Hausa communities where it is added to the morning porridge especially ‘baby porridge’. When drinking such porridge, expectorate not any black spicy substance for it might be the much relished Ethiopian pepper (Xylopia aethiopica).

The technical aspect of the above information is excerpted from an integrated science dictionary written by the same author. WHY NOT ASK whether this information in integrated science book for JHS and/or SHS is not ‘nan-sylla’. And your answer is NO! The aim of education is to let people understand their environment. All teaching syllabuses are designed to achieve thus.

Teaching syllabuses are time-bound. Unfortunately, untrained persons think that the teaching syllabuses DICTATE what to teach. This thinking is ERRONEOUS. The syllabuses are a guide and never provide the details of every concept. However, they ALWAYS specify a given objective to achieve when the learner goes through a given lesson. This objective from the syllabus is recopied into the teacher’s lesson notebook.

Educational authorities, parents and the general public must not read a teacher’s lesson note to see which objectives the said teacher has achieved. Instead, they see BEHAVIOURAL CHANGES (BCs) exhibited by the learner. These BCs are the key factor in designing curriculum: the expected BC determines exactly what to teach under each topic/concept and not what is explicitly stated under suggested activities in the syllabuses. Therefore, teaching syllabuses contain both EXPLICITLY STATED CONCEPTS and IMPLICITLY STATED CONCEPTS.

Narrowing the argument back to my dictionary, we notice that the Integrated Science Teaching Syllabuses demand students at both JHS and SHS to study crop production, under which they must learn to classify crops based on their uses. One of such classes of crops is FRUITS. Fruits are mature and ripe ovaries which are eaten fresh and/or as desserts. Because the objective of education is let PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THEIR ENVIRONMENT, my dictionary gives A LONG LIST OF GHANAIAN FRUITS first before adding foreign or Western fruits.

Thus, under the word FRUIT IN MY DICTIONARY, you will see avocado (locally called ‘paya’), Ashanti plum (= ‘atoaa’ or ‘Akosua kokoo’), African velvet tamarind (= ‘yoyi’), African star apple (= ‘alasa), African blackplum (= ‘efor’ by the Ewes, ‘sho’ by the Ga people, ‘abisain’ by the Akans and ‘haaraa’ by the Waala people of Upper West Region) and many more. These are fruits are true Ghanaian fruits: they are the fruits our children will eat first before they see the Western fruits. These local fruits are cheaper and are more nutritious. And letting pupils know them earlier in life means these students will study them and come up with research findings to let us cultivate the said fruits on large-scale plantain basis.

But what do we see in nearly all the other integrated science textbooks on the market? —a tall list of Western fruits such as apple, pear, grape, blackberry and plum (Prunus spp.). More annoyingly, some authors use the name pear (Pyrus communis) to mean our avocado (Persea americana). Do you expect a European pupil to mention shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) or oil palm (Elaies guineensis) as oil crops? The answer is NO! S/he will mention olive and some others. Thus, if the Govt of Ghana has the use of made-in-Ghana goods at heart, then domestication must start with the contents of our textbooks from the lower primary through to SHS. And here comes my integrated science dictionary.

Another class of crops based on their uses is HERBS AND SPICES. Under this category, ‘no’ mainstream textbook will mention Ethiopian pepper, a typical herbal and medicinal plant. Thus, my to-be integrated science dictionary covers all that is contained in mainstream textbooks and plus…what? Just read it!

WHY NOT ASK WHERE you may get a copy of this ALL-IN-ONE Integrated Science Dictionary! The said dictionary is as soft as this article you are reading. WHY NOT ASK WHY the dictionary is still soft! The author is still looking for a PUBLISHER; so if you are one or you know one who might be interested in being the producer of this science dictionary, you may contact me as shown below.

Long live concerned teachers, long live Ghana!

Idris PACAS

020 9101533 & 0501394611 & iddrisuabdulai12@yahoo.com

Columnist: Pacas, Idris