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The Mythical Baobab


Many cultures claim to remember a time when great and ancient trees cloaked vast areas of the earth. The enchanting original forests and foreboding gigantic trees were of mythical dimensions and proportions.

The African baobab is a living embodiment of timeless affinities with nature common to many peoples throughout the continent. It serves as a metaphoric window into Africa’s real or imagined past, through which we may view practices said to be of great antiquity.

Visitors to Sukur are warned not to approach a certain ancient baobab tree because, villagers say, it turns people into hermaphrodites.

Several myths that use the baobab as a backdrop for teaching moral lessons are told by the Bushmen or Hausa people of Northern Nigeria. One tale involving the baobab which is used to explain a phenomenon of nature as well as teach a moral lesson is the myth “The Tale of the Superman” In this story a husband boasts to his wife that he is the strongest man alive. He learns of another man who claims to be “superman”, and goes to seek him out.

This second “superman” is actually an extremely powerful superhuman who kicks up wind wherever he goes and eats men for dinner. While trying to escape from “superman”, the husband comes across the “Giant-of-the-Forest” sitting under a baobab tree. The giant offers to help the husband, and enters into a terrible fight with “superman”. In their struggle to free themselves from each other’s grasp, they leap to such a height they disappear into the heavens. As a result, their struggle can be heard as thunder.

The moral of the story is summed up by the wife who says, “Never boast about your achievements again. However strong or clever or rich or powerful you are, there is always somebody more so.”

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