Monday, November 1, 2010

The magnificent Baobab tree

No tree in Africa embodies the spirit of Africa more than the Baobab
The Mighty Baobab

No tree in Africa embodies the spirit of Africa more than the baobab with its bulbous branches and gnarled bark. Otherwise known as Africa's 'big tree', the baobab is revered in African culture for many different reasons.

Baobab or Upside-Down Tree grows in Africa and Australia. The legend says that after it was planted by God it kept moving, so God replanted it upside down. These trees can reach heights of 5 to 30 metres (16 to 98 ft

In ancient times kings, elders and leaders would hold meetings under huge baobabs to discuss matters of great importance. Not only did the trees provide shelter, but the tribal leaders also believed that the spirit of the baobab would always help them make wise decisions.

Today leaders and decision-makers from all corners of the globe come to Limpopo to take advantage of the province's unique conference, meeting and incentive resources and settings. Perhaps they know the secrets of the baobab too.

Adansonia digitata, as the baobab is known in scientific circles, is one of the trees in Africa with the longest lifespan. Some baobabs in the province are already over three thousand years old but on average, baobab trees found particularly in the northern parts of the province are between three hundred and five hundred years old. Near Sagole, a rural village in the northeast, is a baobab specimen that is three thousand years old and that measures 43 m in circumference at its base.

Baobabs are actually succulents and consist of 80% moisture, making them among the most useful plants to both animals and humans. With their own distinct ecosystem, baobabs swarm with life as they provide shelter and sustenance for various creatures.

Elephants browse the leaves and strip the bark for food and moisture. Baboons feast on the fruits of the tree and birds and bees nest in the holes of the trunk since most of the old trees are hollow inside. Fruit bats and bush babies pollinate the flowers that only last for twenty-four hours before falling to the ground to become food for various antelope species.

The Largest Baobab tree in the world is the Sunland's Boabab situated in Limpopo which has been turned into a railway sleeper pub and accommodates up to 60 people. The tree is one of Limpopo's prime attractions that offers magnificent views during the first bloom in spring.

Native legends
Along the Zambezi, the tribes believe that when the world was young the Baobabs were upright and proud. However for some unknown reason, they lorded over the lesser growths.The gods became angry and uprooted the Baobabs , thrusting them back into the ground, root upwards. Evil spirits now haunt the sweet white flowers and anyone who picks one will be killed by a lion.

One gigantic baobab in Zambia is said to be haunted by a ghostly python. Before the white man came, a large python lived in the hollow trunk and was worshipped by the local natives. When they prayed for rain, fine crops and good hunting , the python answered their prayers. The first white hunter shot the python and this event led to disastrous consequences. On still nights the natives claim to hear a continuous hissing sound from the old tree.

In the Kafue National Park in Zambia, one of the largest Baobabs is known as 'Kondanamwali' - the tree that eats maidens. This enormous tree fell in love with the four beautiful girls who lived in its shade. When they reached puberty, they sought husbands and made the tree jealous. One night, during a raging thunderstorm, the tree opened its trunk and took the maidens inside. A rest house had been built in the branches of the tree. On stormy nights, it is the crying of the imprisoned maidens that make people inside tremble - not the sounds of the wild animals.

Along the Limpopo, it is believed that when a young boy is washed in water used to soak baobab bark, he will grow up into a big man. Some native beliefs have proven to have a scientific basis. Natives believe that women living in kraals where baobabs are plentiful have more children than those living outside baobab zones. They eat soup made from baobab leaves, which is rich in vitamins. This compensates for any deficiency in their diet. Doctors have confirmed that this indeed brings about a higher fertility rate.

The African bushman has a legend that tells of the god Thora. He took a dislike to the Baobab growing in his garden, so he threw it out over the wall of Paradise on to Earth below, and although the tree landed upside-down it continued to grow. It is not surprising that such a strange looking tree should have superstitions linked to it.

Some people believe that if you pick a flower from a Baobab tree you will be eaten by a lion, but if you drink water in which a Baobab's seeds have been soaked you will be safe from crocodile attack. Certain tribes in the Transvaal wash baby boys in water soaked in the bark of a baobab. Then, like the tree, they will grow up mighty and strong.