Use and Cultural Significance of Raphia Palms

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The genus Raphia (Palmae / Arecaceae) contains 22 species and represents a major multiuse resource across tropical Africa and Madagascar. Raphia species provide goods that range from food to construction material and medicine. Its species play a vital cultural role in African societies. Despite its importance, the taxonomy, ecology, and ethnobotany of this genus remain poorly understood. Here, we review the multiplicity of uses, products and cultural importance of Raphia species across its distribution. We provide a near exhaustive list of all products derived from Raphia species, classified by species and major use categories. We record nearly 100 different uses, traded and commercialized at local, regional, and national levels. Most species have several uses. Raphia wine is the most important product, followed by grubs and fiber extraction. Our review improves our understanding of the uses and cultural importance of Raphia species. If Raphia resources are managed responsibly, they will contribute to alleviate poverty, fight against hunger and conserve tropical biodiversity, especially in Africa.

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