Baobab Myths and Stories
Baobab might be a native of many areas around the world but it’s in Africa where it found a home and a lot of uses. In Africa alone, the baobab tree is spread among 31 countries with others having introduced it in the recent past. Madagascar has a number of varieties of the tree but all other African countries have the Adansonia digitata species only. The baobab tree is not just an affirmer of life and enormous but large enough to spot from very far on any horizon in Africa.
In one of the driest of places in Africa where the baobab is found, Namibia, one of the largest of the tree has a diameter of 36 meters. The immense benefits of the baobab fruits have made it in the western world and ostensibly believed to offer nutritional, health, diet, wellness and organic benefits in its raw and manufactured form in products such as chocolate, smoothies among others.
But there is something about the baobab that has withstood the test of time hedged in the mystery of the gigantic tree. Baobab doesn’t have tree rings thus determining its age is another matter. It’s believed to live between half a millennia and five millennia. In a continent where the elders are revered, the baobab is definitely one of the elder plants still alive and when it dies, drums are played in mourning, especially in such countries as Burkina Faso, a rite reserved only for the revered of chiefs.
It’s believed that once God had created the baobab, it did not stop walking and thus He uprooted it and had it replanted upside down; it couldn’t move again and thus has always kept its fruits delicious and nature useful.
Another myth has it that as God planted trees across the planet, he requested different animals to aid him and offered every animal some type of tree to burry on the ground. The hyena was mandated to plant the baobab but the tree disgusted the scavenger of Africa and he pushed the tree into the soil, upside down.
Plucking the flowers of a baobab tree was frowned upon and advised against. A tale was coined to this effect where picking a baobab tree flower was believed to anger the ancestral spirits so much who lived inside the tree; you were doomed to be devoured by a lion. For the Bushmen, the fact that the flowers of the ancient tree blooms after dusk means that picking them is a sure way of attracting the wrath of the terrible African lion. In another story it is believed that if you soaked your water in seeds of the tree and gulped it down crocodiles would be very stupid to attack you.
In the heart of Madagascar are many baobab species of which six are well known. Two of the gigantic Adansonia za species are twisted together as if in an embrace meant to last forever. To explain this mysterious phenomenon, a story is told that a young man and his young sweetheart fell in love and lived in different yet nearby villages and sought every avenue to remain together for eternity. Traditionally, both of them had been betrothed to other partners from the moment they were born in their own respective villages but hardly stopped dreaming of living together and starting a life as couple. One day, they approached God and asked for help. In their place two mesmerising baobabs appeared and twisted on one another for a lasting embrace that would last eternity just like the way they wanted.
Growing close to a small creek the baobab tree continued to grow in height and soon started seeing other trees from the slender ones to the tall ones. There were trees with flowers with very bright colours while other trees had huge leaves. It so happened that one day the baobab looked into the water and noticed its ugly reflection; a fat trunk with lots of bark, wrinkles including very pale and small flowers. The tree was not amused. As a result it turned to God and complained arguing that the creator made it so ugly and compared itself to others such as the palm tree.
The beauty of the flowers of other trees did not help the situation and the bemoaning and disgust of the giant tree did not stop. As the creator became infuriated by the complaints and howling, he decided it was time to silence the giant tree that was not content with itself. The creator left his place and came to earth, yanked it out and immediately replanted the massive tree upside down. As a result the baobab could not see itself anymore and the complaints stopped. As a result, the tree has continued existing in silence and blessed with a long life, immense usefulness and benefits that have been enjoyed for centuries. This story appears mostly in various variations to try and explain the tree’s unusual shape and its immense benefits.
The sacredness of the baobab is obvious even in modern times. In most African communities, the tree was seen as one of the deities that had decided to live around humans. Its gigantic yet gentle nature has been spoken about for ages to the effect that even most Christian communities across the continent in areas where there are no churches hold their religious services under its shadow. It’s also a very resilient tree considering it succeeds in dry areas where other trees have failed and flowers even after having been knocked down or burned while harvesting honey.
Metaphors around the baobab also exist and speak mostly about its larger than life status. For instance, wisdom is believed to be as the baobab and cannot be embraced by a single person; the tree has a thick and large diameter around the trunk and has for centuries sustained lovebirds, weavers, parakeets, owls, hawks to bats apart from offering humans with food and medicine.