“Sacred baobab tree, lost her children to the sea. Taken to strange lands many rains ago.”  I’ve never forgotten those words, but I’ve forgotten the name of the song as well as the album I heard it on. The song is a reference to the African holocaust and the splintering of our people to distant lands. 

But since Africa gave birth to humanity, in a sense we are all children of the baobab.  In this section, I’ll introduce you to remarkable people I’ve met along the way, and we’ll also do some traveling. I’ve begun with David Hinds of Steel Pulse and poet Senya Darklight.  But stay tuned, more profiles are on the way.  In the meantime, let’s get back to our discussion of the baobab. 

Jamaican-born anthropologist, Dr. John Rashford, says the baobab is perhaps the most revered tree in Africa.  Rashford teaches at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and he’s been on the baobab trail for some 20 years.  He’s an ethnobotanist, a scientist who studies the myriad ways we interact with plants in our environment, and he says St. Croix has more baobab trees than any other Caribbean island he’s surveyed thus far. 

And why is the baobab considered sacred? Dr. John Rashford believes the baobab is highly regarded because it has so many uses.  According to Wildwatch, an organization dedicated to African wildlife and conservation, the bark of the baobab can be “shredded into strands of fiber for use as rope, baskets, nets, snares and cloth.  Tonics and cosmetics are derived from the roots, and spinach and soup from the large palmate leaves.  The seeds may be ground into a coffee-substitute or eaten fresh and the white pulp is used as cream of tartar for baking.  The hollow trunks of living trees have served as homes, storage barns, places of refuge or worship, and even as prisons or tombs.” 

Ecologist Olassie Davis says, “African folklore maintains that the baobab was planted upside-down when the world was created, and this accounts for its strange appearance.  There is a widespread belief that the tree is the abode of powerful spirits.  Since an essential aspect of religion is to establish contact with the spiritual realm, the baobab frequently serves as a natural shrine or altar.”    

The baobab is one of several trees being researched by Davis and his colleagues in a fascinating study called “Remarkable Big Trees" of Cultural Interest in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”  Some of the other trees being studied are: gri-gri, silk cotton, West Indies locust, ficus, genip, royal palm, mamee apple and rain tree. 

Our discussion of trees will continue in future updates.  In the meantime, here’s another interesting link I think you should explore: Gnarled Upside-Down Giants.

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