The Baobab: a Source of Life for Senegal
The name “Baobab” comes from the Arabic word that means “father of many seeds.”
Nowadays Dakar, The Senegalese capital, is a vibrant port city on a peninsula rich with history, and bustling life. Modern apartment buildings are rising beside the hidden courtyards of traditional villas. Local business people and diplomats lunch at seaside restaurants next to artists and surfers. The Corniche winds up the Atlantic coast where international five-star hotels alternate with chic surf cafes and French patisseries, and where fishers bring in their catch on shores as they have for centuries. Europeans have drawn for years to Senegal’s windy sun-drenched days and the graceful beauty, purity, and health of West Africa. Generations of Lebanese and French culture casts its influenced the traditional West African architecture, cuisine, and fashion.
None of this dynamic culture would exist, however, without the presence of the ancient baobab tree. For beyond Dakar, the Sahel region is a semi-arid band of grasslands, savanna, steppes and thorny shrubs that span over 3,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. In these harsh conditions, the baobab was a source of life for desert people and weary travelers for thousands of years.
The baobab, offering solace, is still considered sacred today; the hardy tree is a revered presence, an oasis of life offering water, fruit, and respite from the relentless sun. Without this tree and its almost magical nutrients, centuries of trade, the Muslim influence, the French colonial era and the contemporary flowering of culture would not have been possible.
At first glance, however, it might be hard to understand its reverence. With its bare trunk and gray, awkward presence, the baobab is simply an odd looking tree. The base of its trunk—wide enough for a car, or even several cars, to pull into—tapers to branches are thick and stout. The branches are bare of leaves nine months of the year to reduce water loss. Coming upon a grove of baobabs, they seem like deformed elephants from another planet or sinister trees in a children’s story. But what seems at first glance weird and threatening, soon become real presences. With time, they become stately and royal.
Today, Dakar’s busy streets are carefully built around baobabs that can live for over a thousand years. As the people of the region have for centuries, the Dakarois still convene under baobab to socialize and negotiate. Life in Senegal is changing swiftly, but the revered presence of the ancient baobab stands firm and robust.