The Baobab: Symbol of Power, Presence, Strength, and Grace

A baobab
A baobab

The symbol of my secondary school in Douala, Cameroon, was the Baobab tree.  In the old days, there were baobab trees everywhere in the school yard… by the time I arrived, there were only two left, and by the time I graduated, only one could be seen among all the mango trees that filled the school’s playground.  Found in African savannahs, the baobab is a tree which can grow as tall as 30 m, have a diameter as large as 15 m, and live for over several thousand years. I believe the ones in my school were at least a thousand years old. It is leafless during the dry season. A common description of the baobab is that it looks like it has been pulled from the ground, and re-planted upside down. It actually looks like this for a good reason: during the rainy season (wet months), the water is stored in the thick, corky, fire-resistant trunk to last throughout the dry and harsh season. The baobab flowers are white and luminous, and bloom for only a few hours, after which they fall to the ground leaving pods which are feasted on by baboons, monkeys, antelopes, and elephants. There is a tale about the rabbit and the baobab… which is very funny.

Fruit from baobab tree (source: Wikipedia)
Fruit from baobab tree (source: Wikipedia)

The baobab’s leaves, bark, fruits, and trunk, are all very useful. The bark is used for clothes (just like the obom tree) and ropes, the leaves as seasoning in food or medicine, while the fruit (also known as “monkey’s bread“) is eaten directly or in porridge, or sold in some parts of Africa in a sugary mix as a snack; It is very rich in vitamin C and its fruit pulp is used to make juice. Its trunk will provide shelter for people as well as animals.

Baobab forest in Madagascar
Baobab forest in Madagascar

In parts of Zambia and Zimbabwe, local traditions state that God was so displeased with the taste of the fruit of the baobab that it turned it upside down such that its roots were on top. I am not sure if I believe this, but in Cameroon, the baobab is a symbol of strength, power, grace, and presence! No wonder the Disney’s Lion King used the baobab as the tree of life… it is what it is: the tree of life, older than Christ and maybe even older or as old as the Egyptian pyramids! I think my school really embodied just that, it was the oldest secondary public school in the city of Douala, with the strongest records!

The video below is about the alley of baobabs in Madagascar: Enjoy!!!

8 thoughts on “The Baobab: Symbol of Power, Presence, Strength, and Grace

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  3. Yuonne

    Stephen: I’m interested in your Letters in the Mail subscription. I am a high school English teacher, and i assumed this might be a superior way for getting my students to write responding for the letters. Having said that, I’ve to be certain that the topics with the letters is going to be appropriate for my students 9, 10, and 11th graders. Will you please comment on what the topics will likely be in general? Thank you.


  4. Robin Bayiha

    I would love to follow up with you (Dr. Y) about your secondary school in Cameroon if that is possible!! I currently live in the United States however, my husband is from Douala Cameroon and shared with me that the northern part of Cameroon is more populated with the Baobab Tree presence. For me, it would be special to me to capture the history of Douala as it pertains to the Boabab Tree. I am working on a project pertaining to the Boabab tree and could really use some help PLEASE AND THANK YOU!! Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂


  5. Pingback: The Baobab Tree: What Gulliver Missed – Yiayia's Apothecary

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