A Legend from Africa
In the mystical land Africa grew a beautiful tree called Baobab. Although tall and mighty, the Baobab was not satisfied with what it was and it complained to the Great Spirit who ruled the land, the wild open plains and the animals. The Baobab still wanted to be taller, have blossoms and fruits. At first the Great Spirit ignored the tree, but when the complaining continued the Great Spirit got tired, reached down from the heavens, yanked the tree out of the earth and stuffed it back into the ground with force upside down. All the animals on the great plains noticed this and were reminded of the power and omnipresence of the Great Spirit. After that the Baobab grew only leaves once a year. For nine months of the year it stayed leafless and it seemed like as if its roots are growing into the air. And this is how it still is today.
This is an African legend of the Baobab tree. There are many more legends from other countries. The Baobab – Adansonia Digitata – grows on the savannahs of Africa and India, mostly around the equator. It can get up to 25 meters in height and it lives for thousands of years.
Each product of the Baobab is used. From the bark clothes and ropes are made, the leaves can be cooked into a sauce or used as traditional medicine and the fruit often called ” monkey bread ” is eaten as well. Apart from being one of the most beneficial and wondrous trees on this earth it is a mystical tree that attracts spirits.
In the “Cercle de Nara” the Baobab was highly valued by the people. Every year a group of young men left their villages and traveled with donkey carts to areas in the Sahel where the Baobab grew to gather the leaves and bark. Sometimes they would stay away from home for two or three weeks. But with every new year the journey became longer and harder and the harvest less. The Baobab leaves had become scarce. This “mini migration movement” for the beneficial products of the Baobab tree took place every year and the scarcity of the trees and the adventures encountered by the men on the trip were a topic in many a conversation.
In Narai, I was told the spirits of the ancestors visit the trees often and stay a while if it pleases them. In the branches of a Baobab one can feel the ancestors.
As part of our “multisectoral holistic village development programme” that supported self-help initiatives in the Cercle of Nara we had started researching the history of the Baobab ( Adansonia Digitata) on a local level. Under the framework of our agroforestry programme that aimed at planting, growing and re-introducing indigenous trees, we suggested to the people in the village to plant and grow the Adansonia Digitata close-by. This would eventually with time lead to the availability of Baobab leaves, bark and fruits, contribute to re-forestation in the Sahel and reduce the necessity of traveling to remote areas to collect the products. It was an idea that had been well thought through and reflected on from a point of planning and organization. And it was possible to grow the Baobab. I had done several test at my house.
But during several hot afternoon meetings in different villages the men listened to the projects suggestions with great secptism. There was great reluctance.
One afternoon I received the visit of a village chief who had come to the market in Nara to do business.
” Why is it difficult to grow the Baobab” ? I asked him over tea.
” You can live close to a Baobab tree, but you should not plant a new Baobab tree in your yard. You will die before you see it grow big and it is absolutely not sure how the spirits of the ancestors would react to such an action.”
I believe that in most things that are said in Africa, there is truth!