While travelling around Senegal all the locals were constantly trying to point out something out of the window and kept murmuring “Baobab….Baobab”. Since I don’t speak French or Wolof so I could not ask what exactly they were trying to tell me. During one such journey with my trusted taxi driver Pape, he stopped his taxi and pointed out of the window towards this humongous odd shaped tree and uttered “Baobab”. This is when I came to know that Baobab was like a national tree of Senegal. Baobab tree (Adansonia) grows in abundance around the whole country and with a little more research I came to know that this tree was quite common to Western Africa. Later some net searched revealed that this tree can also be found in and around Madagascar, Arabian Peninsula and to my surprise Australia also.
On asking the locals I was told that Baobab trees produces are used in various edible products like Juice, Jam, Lalo (millet type porridge) etc. Leaves of some species of this tree can be eaten also as a vegetable while seeds of some species can be used for producing Vegetable Oil.
Baobab is to the Senegalese what Coconut is to the Indians, its use can baffle you. This I learnt fist hand when I was offered a glass of while milky juice which I initially thought was made of yogurt but with a sip I knew it was something new and that I never tasted this before. This was a glass full of Baobab fruit juice. It tasted sour – sweet but nevertheless was enjoyable.
While having breakfast at a restaurant in St. Louis I also had the opportunity to taste Baobab Jam, it was bit sour but tasted good with freshly toasted bread.
Baobab trees are unique in its look, a full grown tree usually has a humongous tree trunk up to 35 feet and very few branches and leaves on the top. Some of them grow up to 100 feet in height making them look like giant mushroom.
97% of the land in Senegal is owned by the state this in turn means that most of these tree actually grow on government land. I asked a Senegalese friend as to how the locals manage to collect the fruits without any dispute amongst each other since most of these tree do not actually belong to anyone as they are growing on government land. My friend answered that Senegalese people have an unwritten code of conduct, they will usually only collect the fruit and other produce of Baobab tree from their own vicinity and will only take what is needed from them and not in excess. This ensures that everyone had equal opportunity to enjoy the benefit of the Baobab tree. This was a real stunning revelation which I can never think of in India.
There is also a famous Baobab tree in Western Australia known as Baobab Prison Tree. In 1890’s this tree was used to impression Australian Aboriginals. This tree was used as a holding cell before the trial.
I wanted to bring a Baobab sapling back to India which was being sold for around 1000 CFA (approximately 100 INR) but I decided against it citing custom requirement to declare live plants on my way back. But I did bring back a packet of dried Baobab seed which I will use to make Baobab Juice and make my friends and family taste a slick of Africa, till then Cheers!!!.