Sacred Scents from Mother Earth
Frankincense from Somalia (Boswellia carterii)
Frankincense from Somalia, Boswellia carterii, is one of the most famous types in all of Africa. We import top grade (Aden), first and second grade.
Latin name: Boswellia carterii
Harvest location: Somalia, Puntland
Scent: intense citrus aroma with light, subliminal balsamic and earthy nuances
The most widespread population of frankincense trees can be found in Somalia, where up to 2500 tons of frankincense are harvested every year. Along with goats, the export of Boswellia carterii frankincense is the most significant source of income in Somalia. Unfortunately, the high level of exports, particularly for manufacturers of essential oils, has resulted in deterioration of the country’s frankincense trees. We import our frankincense from the Bari region in Puntland, where the trees are still thriving and the resin obtained is rich in essential oils and beneficial properties. The high proportion of alpha-pinene found in carterii oil is partly why frankincense is also popular in the cosmetics industry.
The Frankincense Business in Somalia
Although frankincense trees grow in many areas of Somalia, distribution and harvest is primarily centered in two special regions: the Sanaag region in Somaliland and the Bari region in Puntland.
The land bearing the frankincense trees is passed down across generations of the country’s various tribes. A clan system still largely predominates in Somalia, as in some other African countries. The tribes organize and manage the harvest in the frankincense regions of Somalia. The most common varieties are the Boswellia frereana and the Boswellia carterii.
Harvesting Frankincense in Somalia
The harvest season of Boswellia carterii spans from August to January. Boswellia frereana is mainly harvested from May to February (similar to myrrh).
With a scraping knife called a manqif (known in other countries as mangaf, menqaf or mingaf), the bark of the tree is removed so that the tree’s fine capillaries are exposed. The resin surfaces and, depending on the month and temperature, dries out and hardens within the first 3 weeks. This process is repeated and the resin is collected and dried by the harvesters, primarily in the caves and rocky outcrops of higher regions. The incense is then stored and dried out for another 6 weeks.
As straightforward as it may sound, the incense harvest is grueling work. The men (only men harvest in Somalia) are separated from their families for up to six months. The frankincense trees often grow in dangerous rocky areas or desert landscapes with hardly any shade — the weather is extremely hot and dry.
The harvesters are usually financed in advance, or the families may not survive the long months. Unfortunately, the payment isn’t regulated and the clans are generally uncomfortable talking about money. Sometimes, especially when the incense has to be harvested cheaply and in large quantities, the harvesters receive food and clothing instead of money. That’s why it’s essential to promote a sustainable and fair harvest! When the harvesters do receive money for their work, the pre-financed salary is offset against the actual resin harvested.
After the frankincense resin has dried, it’s brought to the city to be sorted in special plants. There, women peel the incense by hand, before cleaning and sorting it into different quality levels or grades.
In Somaliland, the incense is primarily sorted in Burao and then brought in trucks to Berbera, the port city in northern Somaliland. In Puntland, the incense is sorted in the port city of Boosaaso. From there, some is shipped in containers via sea freight, and some in fishing boats to middlemen in Oman, Dubai or Yemen, who have superior transport options.
Frankincense takes a long journey before it reaches the customer and the price increases accordingly. Before the frankincense even leaves the country, two middlemen place their hands in the business; the harvesters themselves are the weakest link in the chain. Countless companies in Somalia are trying to make a profit from the frankincense business. An estimated 200,000 people in the country are involved in the frankincense business, directly or indirectly.
Subscribe to our newsletter and receive regular news about the fascinating world of frankincense and other aromatic raw materials. You can unsubscribe from the newsletter at any time.