We were delighted to find that one of the many amazing things about working in the Maasai Plains of Simanjiro District, south of Arusha, is the indigenous baobab trees.
The baobab, Adansonia digitata, is native to Africa, and classes as one of the biggest trees in the world. Whilst they “only” reach 25-30m in height, the trunks can reach diameters of up to 15m. That’s big! That means an average sized house could fit completely inside the trunk.
They use those tremendous trunks to store water in, to survive the dry season. Baobabs can store more than 120 tonnes of water in their trunks, depending on their size! They also produce highly nutitious food, which dries on the branch, and therefore can be stored for up to three year without spoiling.
But some of the larger baobabs across Africa have been dying in the past 10 years. No-one is quite sure why – there is no obvious disease reason. Researchers think the most likely cause is climate change, with increases in temperature and changes in rainfall pattern. If you’re having to carry 120 tonnes of water in your truck, we can imagine that significant changes in temperature and humidity might cause a degree of structural failure. But we’re happy to see that there are still of more modestly-sized specimens around the communities where we are going to be working.
In Africa, there are all sort of stories about baobab trees. Sometimes they are known as the “upside down tree”. Here’s one story about why that is…
Long long ago, the gods made the world. They made the sea and the land, and the mountains and the rivers. They made the plants and the animals. One day, feeling lonely, they made a talking tree. And they called it Baobab.
The tree delighted them. They watered it with the rains, they sent the sun to warm it. And the tree talked and talked and talked and talked.
But it didn’t talk about the warm sun or the gentle rain. Oh no! Instead the Baobab tree complained and moaned all day long. It always found something to be unhappy about. If it was hot weather, the Baobab tree wasn’t happy; when the cool breezes came, the Baobab tree grumbled; if it was wet, it was too wet; if it was dry, it was too dry. The Baobab tree always found something to complain about.
And the gods could not finish their work of making the world without interruption. When they grew a forest of tall trees around the Baobab, it whined and wanted to be taller too. When they made the jacaranda and tulip trees with beautiful blue and orange flowers, it shouted about being so plain and green.
“Why did we ever make that tree?” The gods were furious. “If you don’t stop complaining, you’ll regret it,” they warned the Baobab. And then they made the mango tree and the jackfruit…
“I want soft juicy fruit,” yelled the Baobab. “Are you listening? I want fruit like that too.”
“STOP. We cannot stand it any longer,” cried the gods. “Stop talking.” And they grabbed the Baobab tree, and pulled it out of the ground. They turned it upside down, and stuffed the tree back into the earth, head first. The Baobab’s mouth was so full of soil, it could not say a word. So for the first time since it had been created, it was silent.
And nobody has ever heard the Baobab make a sound ever since.Southern African legend
Other stories tell of how the tree kept walking around, until the Gods turned it upside down (West Africa), or how the God Thora threw the tree away, over the wall of paradise, and it landed upside down on the world below (San tribe). Some people say that if you pick a Baobab flower you will be eaten by a lion, but drinking water in which Baobab seeds have soaked will keep you safe from attack by crocodiles. It’s such an amazing looking tree, it isn’t surprising there are so many stories and legends relating to it. We’re just pleased to be making its acquaintance!