Baobab: How One Tree Gives Life Mystery and Hope

This week we are sharing with you the story of the Baobab tree. This unusual tree looks like it has been planted upside down, and has many African tales associated with it. Today it’s being used for many different things, it is even considered a superfood. However, like many other species of plants in Malawi, the Baobab tree is endangered. The pressures of poverty force many Malawians to burn these increasingly rare trees for fuel.

Knowledge is like a Baobab tree, one person’s arms cannot encompass it.
— Ghanaian Proverb

Super Food, Super Fruit, Super Tree

Not many people know about the African Baobab tree or where it came from. These trees are some of the oldest in the world, with some living for more than 2,000 years.  It can reach up to 75 feet in height and it’s trunk can grow more than 60 feet wide. The tree is valuable in many African communities; its lumber is used for storage, its bark creates fishnets and clothing, and its fruit is considered a superfood.

The baobab fruit is a pod that basically resembles a slimmed down version of a watermelon, it also contains six times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, and plenty of B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and antioxidants. People can also make glue, soap, rubber and medicine from this tree. Every inch of the tree is used; nothing goes to waste.

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Every inch of the tree is used; nothing goes to waste.

Because of the tree’s ancient presence, the Baobab tree has many myths surrounding its appearance; the tree looks as if it is growing upside down. Many African communities, from Ghana to Malawi, have passed down their stories for generations. Here’s one of the many myths, that is commonly associated with how the baobab tree came to be.


As the story goes, when God created the earth the animals came to him and asked if they could be participants in the remaining portion of the creation. Since He was nearly done he advised them that the only thing remaining was to create the trees. The animals were excited because they could participate in this work. They asked God to let them plant the seeds for the trees. God reluctantly agreed. He then started giving out seed, one particular seed to one particular group of animals. Another group of seeds to another group, and on and on until He got to the last seeds and the last animals. It was the seeds for the baobab trees that remained and the only animal left were the hyenas.

"Now everyone knows how stupid the hyena is," he observed.

"Well, when they went out they planted all of the baobab seeds upside down. Stupid animals. That is why the roots look like they are growing up in the air and the leaves are buried out of sight in the ground."


The Baobab tree has many myths surrounding its appearance; the tree looks as if it is growing upside down. Many African communities, from Ghana to Malawi, have passed down their stories for generations.

Challenges of Keeping the Ancients Alive

Despite its importance in many African communities, the Baobab tree is at risk of becoming extinct. Many are being cut down at a faster rate and being used for lumber and fuel. In Malawi, electricity and fuel are expensive commodities and are not provided reliably by the government. As a result, people burn forests of Baobab trees so that they can cook food, light lamps, and live normal lives.  However, these practices are not monitored, meaning that relying so heavily on these trees is ultimately unsustainable. More must be done to ensure that this species will be around in the future.

  A Story Time Volunteer examines a tree

A Story Time Volunteer examines a tree

There are many initiatives aiming to preserve forests throughout Africa, especially ones focused on the ancient Baobab tree. If you want to help out the Baobab tree, there is a way! This initiative from EcoProducts plants seedling Baobab trees and assigns them a Baobab Guardian, in the hopes that in 200 years, Baobabs will still be around to benefit their communities.

Despite baobab trees being incredibly hardy and long-lived,  few seedlings are able to survive livestock eating them in inhabited areas. This is why the EcoProducts foundation exists, to enable baobab guardians to take care of the seedlings until they can survive on their own.
— EcoProducts Foundation

 

Protecting the few natural resources, like the forests, of Malawi is a challenge with the pressures of both prevalent poverty and poor government oversight. Yet the communities are still hopeful. Community input guides Story Time’s Community Needs Program, which addresses community concerns and initiatives. To learn more click the button below.