The Baobab Tree.
The Baobab Tree.
A searing white ball rising slowly from the horizon, cut through the eyelids of a sleeping vulture sitting monk-like on top of an ancient Baobab tree. The bird stretched his long neck and looked around. After releasing a long screeching call to the morning, he bent his powerful legs and unfolded his huge wings; he filled them with air and pushed off from the treetop. A clan of hyenas sleeping in their den near the tree cackled in complaint. The newly awakened sky, red-eyed and embarrassed by the mocking hyenas, blushed.
The rippling reflection of the sun, climbing high, shimmered on the lake surface. Rolling waves unfolded as they ran across the water. Glistening red and gold, they whispered encouragement to each other as they raced to the shoreline.
The two thousand year old Baobab stretched her roots into the lake and drew deeply. She relished the familiar feeling as the cold water flowing into her root systems invigorated her. Her branches strengthened, and her leaves stretched to catch the warming rays of the sunrise.
She mused on the strong rhythmic beating of a bull elephant's heart as it wallowed in the cooling water. The light paddling and the lapping of zebras quenching their thirst at the lakeside lulled her almost back to sleep. The roll of the waves as they hushed the noisy pebbles to silence mellowed the aches of her near two thousand year existence...Her soul lightened at the exhilaration of newly hatched fry as they darted back and forth just below the lake surface.
The sounds of feet stomping, and of bells jingling, the high pitched piercing laughter and the crack of hands slapping together, ripped the silence to shreds. The irritating vibrations of stomping feet permeating through the earth grated on her roots. The roar of displaced water being thrust aside by the huge legs of the bolting elephant, and the sun flashing blindingly white from the water running off the back of the panicking and trumpeting animal as it burst from the lake, wrenched the tree into the present.
A bald, caped medicine woman, with a grotesquely painted face, was standing with her shaking arms and legs wide apart, she opened her mouth wide and began to sing in a high pitched squeal.
“Great Baobab! You who have the wisdom of the earth mother..."
As she sang she jumped high into the air. At the peak of her jump, she lifted her gnarled old digging stick to the extent of her right arm. The chirping of shells and hollow beads hanging from her necklaces and armlets, the ringing of bells from her long earrings and anklets, accompanied by howling from her followers, assaulted the senses of the great tree.
The medicine woman’s eyes rolled and her long red tongue extended as she threw her head back at an impossible angle down between her shoulder blades. She emitted a leaf splitting saliva filled wail, a drawn out and piercing ululation, which tore at the air itself. The sound waves sliced through the bark of the tortured tree, disorienting, and shaking the Baobab to her ancient core.
The medicine woman’s neck muscles bulged now as she forced her head forward. Her blazing adrenalin filled eyes glared at the tree. Her cape, billowing dramatically behind, framed her head in a bright yellow flame. Her knees hit the ground, the old Blackwood digging stick lifted the dust from the earth as the witch-doctor smacked it with all her strength onto the hard packed surface; cold knives of electricity shot through the ground. The probing, tingling fingers of energy travelled quickly along the Baobab’s roots. The great tree began to lose control of her senses as the alien pulses scattered her consciousness.
Spinning in a swirling mist, she attempted to ground herself back to normality. A bull elephant, trumpeting loudly charged towards her, as she prepared herself for the crushing impact, the beast dissolved. A fire rose right in front of her. The medicine woman and her manic followers began pulling and snapping at her lower branches. They waved the torn limbs in the air like trophies before throwing them into the blazing flames.
A cold wind arose fanning the flames, the fire grew hotter and hotter and the twisting and writhing flames grew taller and taller. The constricting fog blackened, and as the foul reek from the fire enveloped her. The old tree closed down her defences and succumbed to the onslaught.
Lost amidst her fears in the terrifying gloom, the Baobab sent tentative senses to assess the damage to her trunk and branches. Her leaves and fruit were healthy, her trunk and bark were also intact. There was no fire, and no snapped branches.
The medicine woman began again. This time, she wrapped her arms around the Baobab's water filled trunk, and with her cheek pressed flat to the sponge-like bark, she sang in a low secretive drone.
“I am Busisiwe of the Shabangunu Zulu people. Tell me great Baobab, where are the juiciest berries and roots? Where are the choicest seeds and grubs? Where are the medicines I need to help our sick? I know you know great Muti.
The women linked hands, and while singing and stomping their feet, they circled the old tree. The shaman continued to hum her song.
“There are many in my village that are ill. I am the Sangoma of my people, Where are the N’ganga who came before me great Baobab? Where are the souls of my ancestors whose bones have rested for generations among your roots? Reveal them to me great Muti. I have need of their council.”
The bark of the tree began to shift and pulsate below her cheek. She tried raising her head from the tree, but it was so heavy. Her breathing became laboured, her eyes rolled back and her chin fell to her chest.
To be continued.