By W.H. Bacheler, M.D
Among the many luxuriant and magnificent forest trees of equatorial West Africa, none can surpass, for general beauty and symmetry, that which is called by the natives the "aba." When growing alone and undisturbed, its conical outline and dark green foliage remind one very much of the white maples of the northern United States, by a distant view, but, on a nearer approach, a dissimilarity is observed. Wherever, in ravines or near the banks of rivers, the soil is moist the most part of the year, there the aba chooses to grow, and during the months of June and July the falling fruits permeate the atmosphere with a delicious fragrance not similar to any other. This, in form, size, and general appearance, is very much like mango apples, so that the natives call mangoes the "white man's aba;" but the wild aba is not much eaten as a fruit, one or two being sufficient for the whole season. The kernel, or seed, is the important and useful part.
When the fallen fruit covers the ground, much as apples do in America, the natives go in canoes to gather it, and the number harvested will be in proportion to the industry of the women. The aba plum is about the size of a goose's egg, of a flattened, ovoid shape, and, when ripe, a beautiful golden color. It consists of three distinct parts: the rind, the pulp, and the seed. The pulp consists of a mass extensively interwoven with strong filaments, which apparently grow out of the seed and are with great difficulty separated from it. The seed, reniform in shape, is bivalved, and constitutes about two-thirds of the bulk of the entire plum, and the inner kernel two-thirds the bulk of the seed.
In consequence of it being such a high tree and growing in such inconvenient places, I have been unable to procure a specimen of the flowers.
As soon as the fruit is brought to the village, all the inhabitants assemble with cutlasses and engage in the work of opening the plums and removing the kernels. The former are thrown away as useless. The seeds are evenly spread on the top of a rack of small sticks, under which a fire is built in the morning, and subjected to the smoke and heat of an entire day. Toward evening the heat is greatly augmented, and in a couple of hours the process is completed. The kernels are now soft, and the oil oozing from them, and while yet in this condition they are thrown into an immense trough and throughly beaten and mashed with a pestle.
Baskets, with banana leaves spread in the inside to prevent the escape of the product, are in readiness, and it is put into them and pressed down. The next day these baskets are suspended in the sun, and at night are brought into the houses to congeal. The process is now finished. The cakes are removed by inversion of the baskets and "bushrope" tied around them, by which the pieces are carried. As thus prepared, odika is highly esteemed by the natives as an article of food, being made into a kind of thick gravy and eaten with boiled plantains.
While at an interior mission station on the Ogowe River, I made some experiments in soap making. With palm oil I succeeded very well, using for an alkali the old-fashioned lye of ashes. But I was disappointed with the odika, though I learned some peculiar characteristics of it as a grease. By boiling the crude odika, I was unable, as I hoped, to separate the oleaginous from the extraneous matter, of which it contains a large proportion, but when the above-mentioned lye was used instead of water, the mass, instead of saponifying, merely separated; the grease, resembling very much in all particulars ordinary beef tallow, rising to the top of the caldron, while the refuse was precipitated.
After clarifying this, it answers instead of oil of theobroma very nicely, and I have used it considerably in making ointments and suppositories with pleasing results.
Gaboon, W. Africa, Aug., 1882. - New Remedies.