One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Originally: the palm Raphia farinifera, which is native to Madagascar and tropical Africa and is a principal source of the fibre raffia. In later use: (in form Raphia) a genus of tropical African and American palms which are noted for their enormous leaves and are a source of fibre, wax, wine, beads, and other products; (also raphia) any palm of this genus.
Late 18th century. From French raphia. Compare scientific Latin Raphia, genus name.
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