The Sacred Ceiba at the Centre of the Earth
The ancient Mayas of Central America believed that a giant Ceiba tree, Ya’axche (Maya) stood at the center of the earth, connecting the terrestrial world and the spirit-world with the long thick vines hanging from the canopy, thus providing a connection to heaven for their souls. In Africa, due the widespread shade it provides, this sacred tree is used as the central meeting place where many ancient traditions are passed from one generation to the next.
There are several species, and the best-known, the Kapok tree, can reach up to 70 metres, growing as much as 3 meters per year with a trunk as wide as 3 meters. The Kapok tree towers over most rainforest vegetation and this sacred tree are often spared when forests around them are cut down to make space for agriculture. Ceiba trees are found from southern Mexico to the southern Amazon and parts of West Africa.
In tropical areas, these enormous trees are home to complete ecosystems with colourful epiphytes, a variety of birds, monkeys, spiders and even frogs raising tadpoles. The white and pink flowers emit a foul odour that attracts bats to facilitate the pollination process, one tree can produce between 500 to 4,000 fruits and each fruit contains over 200 seeds spread over large areas of forests.
The tree and all its parts have may uses: the wood is smouldered to fumigate huts and clothes, the bark is used to make hut walls, the leaves and shoots are used as fodder for livestock, the flowers and fruits are cooked in sauces, the seed oil is used in soap making and the seeds are eaten roasted or cooked in soups. In traditional remedies all parts of the tree can be used: the roots are used to treat diarrhoea, the stem-bark treats toothache and mouth problems, the leaves can be used against fatigue and heart problems, the leaf sap is applied on skin infections, the flowers are taken to treat constipation, the seed fibre is used for cleaning wounds while the seed oil is rubbed in for treatment of rheumatism.
It is not until you stand underneath one of these giants that you truly appreciate the sacred status of this incredible tree.