Which TREE? A love-a-tree Question

Deutsch: Apfelbaum

Deutsch: Apfelbaum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

FAMILY TREES:  THE APPLE and  The  BAOBAB

I recently accepted an invitation for coffee with a photographer who singled me out from a crowd of mourners last year during  South Africa’s iconic photographer Alf Khumalo’s memorial service.  It was a moving service – and he was moved by my intensity and unkept (afro) appearance. We got a little carried away talking about photography and if one can be taught how to take a “good” photograph, is it  training, hard work or a more serendipitous event?

Soon it was morning and we walked to a local fish and chip shop in Klipspruit –Soweto to buy Amagawinya ( fat cakes) for breakfast.   While waiting for our order, I noticed a beautiful, weathered tree and took a picture of it with my mobile phone.  The image grew and much later reminded me of my own family tree.  One on  which I sat watching people come and go from my home in Phefeni  Orlando West,  in my early years of life. It was an apple tree.  My favourite. I would watch as the afternoon maroon and gray train coaches hummed past, spilling hurried workers like ants back to their homes from work.  My grandmother would be one of those, an  unexpected visitor perhaps  would be walking down the Phefeni station steps towards my home I would imagine. And then I would wait in anticipation for the black painted corrugated iron gate to loudly announce a new comer.  Relatives would see me climbing down quickly from the tree to embrace them and pose my many questions while peering through their bags for a treat.  Strangers would be observed curiously from the tree.  Never approached.

After many years   I returned to the home of my ancestors, and found that my favourit tree had been severed. A  short –sore –stump now the only reminder of my best childhood memories.

It is said that  it is common practice for  some  African families to bury the umbilical cords of their newborn children under or near  their family trees. This symbolic planting plants their roots firmly in the ground with the hope that the children will never forget where they come from once all grown up.   A part of them would always be buried there, calling them back to their home.  Of course I asked why the tree had been cut and the answers were not satisfactory for me – though very legitimate for those relatives in whose care the tree had remained.

The pain was not far from losing a beloved family member. I started thinking with my photographer friend through what, if anything, that means for me.   Perhaps a part of me had died with that tree? Perhaps now my soul is looking for a new place on which to plant it’s roots ? Perhaps there is no such thing as a  home in a physical sense – home is where the heart is.   My heart is in my chest, so naturally I carry home with me where ever I go right?

It is interesting to note that Apple Trees are said to be the first fruit-trees in known history to be cultivated – for mass production. They are said to be an import from Europe and Asia. Colonisers brought the Apple tree to Africa – it is believed – along with the  it’s Euro-Christian religious mythologies.   The great fall.  Adam and Eve the first humans to inhabit God’s paradise , according to the Bible, ate  the forbidden fruit – an Apple from an Apple tree – and were made naked and punished to a life of hard labour and suffering as a result.

So while I am pained by the trees’ loss I now think ( after mourning it for so long) that perhaps it was for the best.  Because there is another tree – The Majestic Baobab tree –  known as  the TREE of LIFE among Africans. Not only is the Baobab the national tree of Senegal my home away from home. Some of the oldest Baobab trees can be found right here in South Africa, and the oldest in my paternal  ancestry home of Limpopo province.  It is said to be the tree of life because is it larger than life, and has a life span of over a thousand years, its healing properties are immense – its fruit is said to have the some of the highest concentration of  vitamin C more than that found in citrus fruits.  It can be used for shelter, it’s leaves are can be eaten and are as good as spinach, it is hallow and has been used as shelter etc from time immemorial.  Scientists are catching on the hype of the Baobab, and are calling for more research to be done, from cosmetic products, to medicine  Imagine being born of such a tree?

The tree of life indeed, not a bad trade-off at all I imagine.

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