Boababs trending in capital

2012-07-09 00:00

BAOBAB mats from the mystical trees Adansonia digitata have become a means of survival for a foreign trader who use the mats’ rustic appeal to sell to local home decorators.

Petrus Sithole is a Zimbabwean trader and his main item for sale is the striking baobab mats on the Victoria Bridge crossing into the busy CBD.

The woven mats are made from the tough bark of the legendary baobab tree. The bark is stripped off, boiled and beaten into malleable fibres, and Zimbabwean women plait the tough fibres into mats with their nimble fingers, choosing fibres of different colours to make patterns.

Sithole, who comes from Chiredzi, in the south-east of Zimbabwe, says he makes his living selling the mats to people for between R200 and R250. But most of this money has to go home to feed his family and pay school fees. He says that sometimes he sells 10 mats a month and other times only five.

Sithole stays with a group of other Zimbabweans in Imbali township.

He has managed to obtain a temporary visa, but in the past he always had to watch out for the police and immigration officials.

The baobab mats are a useful addition to any home needing an authentic African safari look. They are hard wearing and they last longer than traditional straw or reed mats.

The baobab tree is a mystical tree and is the source of many legends on the African continent.

The spreading branches from the thick trunk look like roots and it has been described as the “upside down tree”.

When the bark has been stripped off the tree, instead of dying like most others trees, this tree can form new bark and continue to grow.

When they do die they rot from the inside and then suddenly collapse, leaving a heap of fibres.

Ecologist Marcus Havenga says the baobab supports an entire ecosystem, from the large elephant that eats the bark to the tiny insects.

Havanga said: “The elephants which used to eat the baobab bark have been gradually poached and destroyed by army militia and villagers in the past 20 years. This has allowed the unusual trees to proliferate in certain areas giving villagers an excuse to harvest the bark and fruit.”

Certain tribes believe that when the world was young, the baobabs were upright and proud, however, they became boastful and the ancestors taught them a lesson by tipping them over. They believe evil spirits now haunt the sweet white flowers and anyone who picks one will be killed by a lion.

The African bushmen say that the god Thora took a dislike to the baobab growing in his garden, so he threw it out over the wall of paradise on to Earth below, and although the tree landed upside-down it continued to grow. It is not surprising that such a strange looking tree should have superstitions linked to it.

The trees can live thousands of years according to carbon dating done on certain specimens.


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