Baobab myths and legends

A very, very long time ago, say some African legends, the first baobab sprouted beside a small lake. As it grew taller and looked about, it spied other trees, noting their colourful flowers, straight and handsome trunks and large leaves. Then, one day, the wind died away, leaving the water smooth as a mirror and the tree finally got to see itself. The reflected image shocked it to its root hairs. Its own flowers lacked bright colour, its leaves were tiny, it was grossly fat and its bark resembled the wrinkled hide of an old elephant.

In a strongly worded invocation to the Creator, the baobab complained about the bad deal it had been given. This impertinence had no effect: following a hasty reconsideration, the deity felt fully satisfied. Relishing the fact that some organisms were purposefully less than perfect, the Creator demanded to know whether the baobab found the hippopotamus beautiful, or the hyena’s cry pleasant - and then retired in a huff behind the clouds. But, back on earth, the barrel-chested whiner neither stopped peering at its reflection nor raising its voice in protest. Finally, an exasperated Creator returned from the sky, seized the ingrate by the trunk, yanked it from the ground, turned it over and replanted it upside down. With his mouth now buried in the ground, the baobab couldn’t complain anymore. And, from that day since, the baobab has been unable to see its reflection or make a complaint; for thousands of years it has worked strictly in silence, paying off its ancient transgression by doing good deeds for people. All across the African continent, some variation on this story is told to explain why this species is so unusual and yet so helpful.  

Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus
 
According to a related African legend, the baobab wanted to become the most beautiful tree of all. When it realised that this was not possible, it put its head into the ground, so only the roots pointed heavenward. Today, the tree with the root-like branch structure has become characteristic of the African grasslands.
 
Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus
 
Along the Zambezi River, many tribes believe that the baobad once grew upright, but it considered itself so much better than the lesser trees around it, that eventually the gods decided to teach the baobab a lesson. They uprooted it and planted it upside down in order to stop its boasting and teach the tree humility.
 
Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus
 
In other areas, specific trees have stories attached to them. Zambia's Kafue National Park is home to a particularly lage specimen, which the locals know as Kondanamwali (the tree that eats maidens). According to the legend, the tree fell in love with four local girls, who shunned the tree and sought human husbands instead. In revenge, the tree pulled the maidens into its interior and kept them there forever.
 
Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus
 
Elsewhere, it is believed that washing a young boy in a tree where baobab bark is soaked will help him to grow striong and tall; while others hold the tradition that women living in a boabab area are likely to be more fertile than those living in an area with no baobabs. 
 
Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus
 
Legend also holds that god Thora took a dislike to the baobab growing in his garden, so he threw it over the wall of Paradise on the earth below and, although the tree landed upside down, it continued to grow.
 
Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus
 
Another legend holds that, when the baobab was planted by God, it kept walking, so God pulled it up and replanted it upside down to stop it moving.
 
Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus
 
The Creator is said to have initially planted the baobab in the rainforests of the Congo Basin, but the tree complained that the dampness made its trunk swell. So, the Creator moved it to the high slopes of the Ruwenzori range, East Africa's Mountains of the Moon. But, the baobab continued to grumble about the humidity. Angered by the incessant wailing, the Creator took the swollen trunk and tossed it into a dry part of Africa. The tree landed upside down with its roots in the air.
 
Pildiotsingu baobab tree tulemus

Another legend says that, when God made the world, he gave each animal a tree. The hyena got the baobab. The foolish hyena, instead of planting it the right way, planted it upside down!