Facts

• African blackwood is the primary material used in the manufacturing of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, oboes, flutes, recorders and bagpipes.

• Between 7,500 and 20,000 trees are felled for musical instruments each year.

• Its fine timber is used for traditional carvings such as those made by the Makonde tribe in Southern Tanzania and Mozambique.

• One of the most expensive timbers in the world.

• Global trade in blackwood is estimated at 150 – 200 cubic metres per year, mostly from Tanzania and Mozambique.

• Approximately 10% of world consumption is in the UK and Eire, by far the greatest proportion of this is used for highland bagpipes in Scotland.

• More timber goes into the construction highland bagpipes than any other blackwood instrument. Four to five times more than for a clarinet or oboe.

• Woodwind instruments are hollow tubes and, as such, around 60% of the timber ends up as dust and chippings on the floor. One company in Europe makes use of this co-product, ground up and bound into a resin to make other instruments.

• As well as these trade names – East African Ebony, ebbehout, ebene de Mocambique, ebenier du Senegal, ebony, grenadill, grenadilla, grenadillo, Mozambique ebony, palisandre de Senegal, schwarzholz, Senegal ebony.

• A large volume of blackwood harvested is wasted at the saw mill when it is made into billets for export to make musical instruments. The amount of wood that is wasted varies between 80 and 95%.

• The best estimates are that it takes between 70 – 100 years to produce a tree of the minimum size of value to a sawmill – around 35cm diameter.

• African blackwood is in the same genus of trees as the rosewoods (Dalbergia sp.), many of which, such as Brazilian rosewood, Indian rosewood, Honduras rosewood and cocobolo, have been highly prized in musical instrument making.

• Like many rosewoods, it has a high oil content, which protects woodwind instruments from the degrading effects of spit and moisture carried in the breath of the player.

• Some locals say the sap burns like petrol. Many don’t use the wood for fires as being full of oils it burns so hot that it damages the pots.

• Although the word ebony is thought to have originally referred to blackwood, today true ebonies trees are in the genus Diospyros.

• African blackwood is amongst the heaviest timbers in the world, those whose extreme density mean that they sink in water.

• African blackwood is one of the strongest woods available. Of 87 timbers assessed in UK instrument making, it holds the top rank for bending strength.

• African blackwood grows in most African countries south of the sahara and has something like 100 different names. Common ones include: ebony, mpingo, mugembe, pau preto, poyi & zebrawood.

• African blackwood has many uses in traditional medicine:

1) In childbirth: During labour mpingo leaves are pounded and used as an antiseptic on the hands of the midwife. Traditionally newborn babies are washed in an infusion or immersed in the smoke of its leaves. For seven days after the birth the baby must also be given one teaspoon of pounded mpingo leaves mixed with cold water to drink. This medicine makes the baby strong, and is believed to prevent any deformities and stop future stomach problems.

2) Relief of menstrual cramps: Pounded blackwood leaves are mixed with cold water and taken a few days prior to the start of a period.

3) Relief of tooth ache: locals chew the bark.

4) Reducing swelling: Leaves are boiled and placed on the affected area.

5) Treating cuts and wounds: the leaves and wood are used to do this.

6) Stomach ache: roots and leaves are used to alleviate stomach pains.