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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!