Baobabs are the true giants of the African bush and a symbol of life on the African plains. Baobabs belongs to the genus Adansonia, a group of trees consisting of nine different species. Two of the species are found in Africa, Adansonia digitata and Adansonia kilima, six in Madagascar and one in Australia. We are blessed at Malilangwe to have this tree of life which one simply cannot miss when driving around.
Our guests are always intrigued by them, so here are a few facts:
They are often called upside down trees because of the root-like appearance of their tangled branches.
They behave like a giant succulents and hold a tremendous amount of water in their trunk and branches.
Their hollow centres, often accessible by a hole in the trunk, provide shelter to man and beast. The tree itself provides food and shelter for a myriad of species, from the tiniest insect to the elephant.
The bark and flesh are soft and fibrous and can be used to weave rope and mats. The bark and the leaves are collected for traditional medicine. Baobab fruit are filled with big seeds surrounded by tart, powdery pulp. The fruit pulp is often soaked then blended into a drink or used to cook porridge. It has high levels of calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin C. Young leaves can be cooked and eaten as an alternative to spinach. Other baobab products include rubber, glue and soap.
I enjoy telling my guests about the local beliefs and customs that surround baobabs – and there are many! They include:
Washing a young boy with water that has been used to soak baobab bark will help him to grow strong and tall. Women living in an area where baobabs grow are likely to be more fertile than those living in an area with no baobabs. (This may be scientifically proven if the women gain extra nutrition and vitamins from the tree, and are healthier as a result.) Burying a tribal chief beneath a baobab is a sign of great respect and protection.
In my community the baobab is used as a gathering place for ceremonies and rituals.