Boabab, The Tree of Life


Miguel Braganza

Do you remember the tree of Rafiki, the monkey in the Disney film ‘Lion King’, or the ‘Tree of Souls’ in Avatar? Can a tree tell us the story of human slavery? Trees do not speak but the Boabab tree stands a mute testimony to the slave trade in Goa during the colonial era and perhaps, even the pre-colonial era. The most majestic specimen of the Baobab or Adansonia digitata is located in front of the Quepem Police Station and Jail in what was once the kingdom of Sondekar Raja on the other side the River Kushavati from Chandor, the capital of the Kadamba kingdom before the Sultan of Bijapur and Portuguese came in. The other specimens of the Baobab tree are found at Pilar and Ribandar or Rai-bandhar, once the royal port on the River Mandovi.

The River Kushavati has its source at the Don Bosco Farm in Sulcorna, passes through Quepem and behind the Menezes-Braganza house in Chandor to drain into the river Zuari at Xelvona. Agashe or Agacaim was the port of Goa long before Old Goa became operational as a port. It is not for nothing that we have Goa Velha and Velha Goa on the two ends of the Rajbheed or royal road that may soon be no more. The stories of Sindbad the Sailor in the Arabian Nights relate to the Arab trade along the Arabian Sea. There is mention of slaves from the time of Abraham, Sarah and Haggai through Solomon and Sheba. Slavery was not a European invention. The Baobab tree may well have pre-dated the Portuguese in Goa as had Christianity through the Syrian churches in Antioch and St Thomas.

The Baobab tree sheds its leaves in the winter and dries the fruit on the tree during spring and summer. There is no need of post-harvest processing except for removal of the seeds. The fruit contains ascorbic acid or Vitamin C that serves as a natural preservative and prevents scurvy. Baobab fruit powder and soda is perhaps the tastiest health drink children would love to drink. It is also good for glowing skin, rejuvenating a tired person in summer and building immunity against infections and diseases. It kept the slaves healthy during long voyages with little food or drink. Just imagine what it can do for us!

Baobab trees possibly pre-date the splitting of the continents and may have come to peninsular India with Gondwanaland. Today, Baobab grows in 32 African countries. Each tree can live for up to 5,000 years, reach up to 30 metres high and a girth of fifty metres, instead of the eight metres at Quepem. It stores water in its trunk, can grow in the driest of regions and still produce nutrition dense fruits. Baobab trees can provide shelter, food and water for animals and humans, which is why many savannah communities have made their homes near Baobab trees. It is not for nothing that it is called the ‘Tree of Life’. Surprisingly, 95 per cent of the world’s population has not heard of the Baobab tree and its tasty, edible fruits.