The Baobab: Afrika’s Oldest Museum

“Wisdom is like the Baobab tree. No one individual can embrace it.”

This one day, I must have forgotten who I was for a second and I started googling tattoo ideas- mainly the areas where people are most likely to get a Baobab tree tattoo. Bon, my friends why oh why did good ol’ Google have all the results of white people with Baobab tattoos? I must have scrolled down for about a minute before I found a Black person with one. So I was really out here asking myself, is it because no Black people have Baobab tattoos but I doubt or is it that we don’t know its significance in the Black (Afrikan) culture?

The Baobab- like many things Afrikan and just like dream-catchers- has gained popularity through mainstream lifestyles and have been culturally appropriated in many ways. Most/ many Afrikans who express their deep connections for the Baobab were associated with backwardness and sometimes accused of practicing witchcraft or devil worshippers. However, overtime a white person could have a shirt, dress or tattoo of a Baobab and this would later grow to be seen as hip. But today’s post is not about cultural appropriation (I was just on an intro rant). This is about simply reclaiming our power through tapping into colonized history.

It is really not hard to find the meaning of the Baobab in Afrika. Many Afrikan bloggers have done this- even though Google always tries to Europeanize it. Very few people understand how the Baobab got attached to witchcraft and we’ll look at this later.

The Baobab is a tree with so much history in many Afrikan societies. It is the embodiment of life in many ways.

Firstly, the Baobab is the tree of sustenance. The Baobab carries 32, 000 galloons of water in its trunk to sustain itself during droughts or famines. It is even more the tree of life because it has the ability to go through 10 years of drought. Moreover, the Baobab lives long. The oldest one is presumed to be 6000 years old residing in Madagascar. All over Afrika, the Baobabs are between 800- 6000 years. Scientists, however, say that the Baobabs existed over 200 million years ago.

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These trees carry history with them. They are the natural museums of Afrikan ancestry. Every community with Baobab has its own cosmology, which can be understood through the tales of the creation of the Baobab. Some commonly known stories include explanations of why the Baobab is the upside down tree.

The Baobab was taking a walk on earth one day. For the first time it saw a lake. While walking over to the lake, it was looking at the beauty of the other trees. It admired their elegance and magnificent beauty. When it got close to the lake, the Baobab took a glance into the lake and saw its reflection. It became furious and ashamed. It started telling the gods how unfair it was that it was the only tree with such dull appearance. It wished for better-crafted branches, flowers and leaves. To keep it quiet, the gods planted it upside down so it would never see its reflection. The gods wanted the Baobab to learn to appreciate itself for its other qualities rather than its appearance. The gods taught it to feel how strong it was, how it fed and sheltered the animals and how wise it was on earth.Spiral trunk of baobab tree, between Morondava and Belon'i Tsiribihina, Madagascar, Africa

The Baobab is a tree of love. There is an ancient story about a forbidden love. A young woman and man from two different villages fell in love. They wanted to
get married but could not do so as it was forbidden to marry outside the villages. The young woman and man prayed to the gods that they would some day be allowed to be together in love. The gods granted them their wish when they died; their spirits grew together as the crossed Baobab.

The Baobabs not only store our ancestors’ stories but they are the trees of our ancestors’ spirits too. Back in the day, the Baobab was the area where the community’s collective meetings took place, engagements and marriages and exchanges of gifts happened under the Baobab. Furthermore, mourning and funerals took place under the Baobab. The Baobab was the center of the community. The people came to the tree to ask their ancestors for advice, as they believed it stored their spirits as well as their wisdom. It is for this reason that many people who expressed gratitude to the Baobab were associated with witchcraft. The Baobab was believed to be, by many, a medium through which the community could call upon the help of their ancestors.

Additionally, the Baobab is the tree of healing. The fruit and bark of the Baobab help to cure so many diseases, strengthen the immune system and keep the skin proper. Because of this, the Baobab was associated with witchcraft for those who were unfamiliar with the natural ways of improving the health of a person. Many people in these villages chose to use the Baobab’s natural provisions over the missionaries’ and European medicine and food.

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