Baobab Myths and Stories

baobab, adansonia digitata, upside down tree, monkey bread tree

Branches like roots reaching for the sky

There is much more to the baobab tree than its physical appearance, properties and mystical qualities. It is also the inspiration behind several myths and stories.

Upside Down Stories

Legends abound as to why the tree looks like it has been stuck upside down into the ground.

One story goes that the god Thora did not like the baobab growing in his garden, so he plucked it out and threw it out over the wall of Paradise. It fell on the Earth below, landing upside down and simply continued to grow.

Another story goes 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.

A third story holds that when God was planting trees on earth, he asked the animals to help him and gave every animal a tree to plant. The hyena was given the baobab, but was so disgusted by the tree, it simply shoved it in the ground upside down.

My favourite

The first baobab grew next to a small lake. Taller and taller it grew until it started noticing the other trees. Some were tall and slender, some had brightly coloured flowers and other others had large leaves. Then one day it saw a reflection of itself in the lake which shocked it to its root hairs: There in the mirror of the lake it saw a huge fat trunk covered in bark that looked like the wrinkled hide of an old elephant; small, tiny leaves and pale, creamy flowers.

Flame tree, flowers, flame tree flowersl

Flame Tree Flowers
Bidgee [CC BY-SA 3.0 au]

Very upset, the baobab complained bitterly to the Creator. ‘Why did you make me so ugly?’ it wanted to know. ‘Why couldn’t you make me elegant like the palm tree with its straight and slender trunk? Why did you have to make me so big and fat?’ the baobab protested.

‘Look at the masses of bright and beautiful flowers of the flame tree! What about me? Why couldn’t you give me flowers like that?’

On and on the baobab went, wailing and bemoaning the bad deal it had been given. When it spotted the fruit on the fig trees, its indignation knew no bounds.

God was becoming more and more exasperated with the wailing and complaining of the baobab until eventually, determined to silence the baobab forever, he came down, yanked it out of the earth and replanted it upside down. From that day on the baobab could no longer see its reflection or complain. Since then, it has been working in silence, paying off its ancient transgression by being the most useful and helpful tree around.

Variations on this story are told across Africa to explain why the baobab is so unusual and yet so helpful.

Pips n Flowers

The flowers of the baobab bloom at night. Bushmen believed that any person who plucks the flowers will be torn apart by lions, because there are spirits in the flowers.

They also believed that if you drink the water in which pips from the baobab fruit were soaked, you will become mighty and be protected from crocodiles.

The Loving Baobabs

The Baobab Way, Baobab, Baobab Amoreux, loving baobabs, Madagascar, Adansonia za, Olivier Lejade

Baobab Amoreux by Olivier Lejade
CC.BY.SA.2.0.

In Madagascar, home to six species of baobab, you’ll find the famous Baobab Amoureux – two Adansonia za trees twisted together.

Legend has it that centuries ago, a young man and young woman from two nearby villages fell in love and wanted to be together forever. However, this was not to be because, as was tradition, both had already been assigned a partner and had to marry separately in their respective villages.

Despite this, the impossible couple continued to dream of a common life and having a child together.

They secretly asked their god to help them and so the two baobabs were born and grew together across the centuries – together as one for eternity, as the couple always wished.

Other sayings

This one is not a story so much as a metaphor.
A metaphor is a figure of speech or phrase that is used to make a comparison between two people, things, animals, or places.  Like stories, metaphors make great teaching devices because it can explain a concept in a flash, like this African quote:

Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it.

5 Responses to “Baobab Myths and Stories”

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  1. Su Ayres-Thomas says:

    Love the baobab stories–& those trees! I use baobab-based shampoo & conditioner. Great trees, & great products.

  2. Bobert says:

    This is really cool!!! Baobabas are one of my favorite trees!!! I didn’t know all of these amazing myths and legends!!! great job with this!!!!?????????????????

  3. Judit smits says:

    Wow – I certainly hope these trees are not being harvested so we can have yet another hand cream, shampoo or protein powder?!? It takes about 1000 years for them to mature to the magnificent, strange trees we know, they are very rare . … and the young trees are already being decimated in parts of southern Africa by great over population of elephants which eat them.

    • Riana Avis says:

      They ARE fantastic trees. Each part of the tree is useful in so many ways. Baobab powder is cropping up in health food stores and there are already plenty of baobab skin products around – in the West that is; not sure about the East. You are right about young baobabs not being as sturdy as their much older counterparts. I know, from research, that indigenous people don’t really go in for deliberately growing these trees. Whether companies like Aduna do anything about planting new ones, I don’t know – good question to ask.

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