For the love of poyo

Also referred to as the drink that came from God to Man, palm wine (or poyo) has many Sierra Leoneans go wild. Poyo is tapped from the high tops of palm trees and is a mildly sweet and sour sap that is loved by many.

Palm wine is not unique to Sierra Leone. It can be found all over Africa, the Carribean, South America and even Asia. The taste and preparation style however, vary per country. This depends mainly on the type of palm that the sap is extracted from. In Sierra Leone, palm wine is tapped from coconut palms, giving it a sweet tang.

Although it is generally sweet, poyo has a distinct taste that can be a bit challenging for foreigners, especially if does not come straight from the tree. The longer poyo ferments the more intense the taste (and the alcohol percentage) becomes, and when poyo is sold in Freetown chances are that you buy a batch that has been fermented for a while. So make sure you sample the poyo before you buy an entire gallon.

The tradition

Poyo is tapped by a highly skilled tapper, who climbs into the tree with a bamboo climbing device called a mbaré in Limba. He then makes a cut in the top of the tree, hangs an empty jerry can or a gourd underneath the incision, and allows the liquid to seep out of the tree for a couple of hours. As soon as the liquid leaves the tree the fermentation process starts due to natural occuring yeasts. When the tank is filled with poyo, the tapper removes it and sells it. If the poyo is of lower quality some sellers add sugar to make it sweeter, but real good poyo is naturally sweet. Poyo is then shared amongst many and traditionally served in bamboo cane cups.

The tribe that prides itself in being the best palm wine tappers are the Limba, the third largest tribe of the country. In fact, spots where you can buy poyo are called Limba corners. If you want to impress a Limba, ask him or her where you can get Mampama from God to Man. The Safroko Limba are the absolute kings of poyo. Local belief is that when the (unbreakable) stick on which the poyo is carried breaks, the wife of the poyo tapper is or has been cheating on him.

How to get poyo

In the provinces, where the trees grow in abundance and the soil is clean and vertile, the poyo is considered the sweetest. If you happen to be in the provinces ask anyone where to get fresh poyo. They can then scout for a suitable tree and tap the poyo for you, ensuring that you get the freshest and best poyo there is. If you want to get ready-made poyo, you can find sellers along main roads or at beach bars and local bars. Poyo is cheap compared to other alcoholic beverages, and can be bought from 15.000 to 30.000SLL per gallon (2-4$). Poyo also lends itself perfectly for cocktails. If you want to go wild, mix some Malimu with poyo. Guaranteed coconut party.

Did you get thirsty and feel like you want poyo right now? You can go to the Limba Corner at Mile 42. Here you can buy poyo for 15.000 per gallon. Mile 42 is located between Masiaka and Lunsar, on the road towards Makeni.

About the author

Esther Kamara is a Dutch-Sierra Leonean that was born and raised in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam she moved to Freetown, where she now works as a freelance writer and artist manager. Her brainchildren are otherworldly short stories and peculiar drawings of non-existing characters. Her contributions to the blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Visit Sierra Leone. Although she tried to be as accurate as possible, these observations are always momentarily and therefore subject to change.

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