Saturday 6 November 2010
Dylan Jones: 'One ancient hollow Baobab tree in Zimbabwe is so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside it'
Oh dear. I have fallen in love again. This time with a tree. A deciduous tree. The African Baobab (Adansonia digitata) is often called the upside-down tree, as its branches look like enormous roots. Others have called it the Tree of Life as it's capable of providing shelter, food and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the African savannah regions where it grows. But it will always be the upside-down tree to me.
Some bushmen have 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. Alternatively, you can subscribe to the myth that when God made the world he gave each animal a tree. The Baobab was given to the hyena, who threw it down in disgust – with the tree obviously landing upside down.
Yes, its cork-like bark is fire-resistant and is used for cloth and rope. Yes, the leaves are used for condiments and medicines. Yes, the fruit, called "monkey bread", is rich in vitamin C. And yes, the tree is capable of storing hundreds of litres of water, which is tapped in dry periods. But I'm shallow – it's the way it looks that I love. As do others: it features as the Tree of Life in The Lion King, and is even the centrepiece in Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park. One ancient hollow Baobab tree in Zimbabwe is so large that up to 40 people can shelter inside its trunk. Others have been used as a shop, a prison, a house, a storage barn and a bus shelter.
Some of these trees are over 2,000 years old – as old as time itself. Which is why there are so many superstitions among native Africans regarding the powers of the tree. Anyone who dares to pick a flower, for instance, will be eaten by a lion. On the other hand, if you drink water in which the seeds have been soaked, you'll be safe from a crocodile attack. How, I don't know, although it's sometimes best not to argue about these things.
Because when all is said and done, and the day is falling over the savannah, and I have a sundowner in my hand, all I want to do is stare at my beloved.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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