PROSE: The Tree Story

PROSE: The Tree Story

The tree pose


Out ran a lizard, to seek shelter in a tree. The first picture you see is the modified tree pose (that is the easiest one), and the second picture is the advanced tree pose or Vriksasana. The third is the leaning tree pose. This is what usually happens when the wind blows a tree to one side. My balance is a bit better on my right leg than on my left. How’s your balance? In my dialect, trees are generally called ‘Eto’, which also means stick or wood. However, the native name of a fruit is used to refer to its tree. For instance, ‘Eyob’ or palm fruit (commonly called Banga) is used to refer to an oil palm tree, instead of saying, ‘Eto Eyob’. The coconut palm tree is referred to as ‘Isib Mbakara’ or ‘Isib Eyob’, (which is also used to refer to palm kernel). I love palm trees. They help to produce precious oxygen for us. They embody the word ‘tropical’. Remember those times we travelled to our hometowns as children? Anytime the vehicle sped through a long stretch of road in a rural area, we looked out of the window. What did we see? I know we saw bushes, but we also saw palm trees, especially the oil palm. To me, they looked like tall green umbrellas opening themselves to the warmth of the sun…that is until they are washed by the rains and fanned by the winds. Wikipaedia tells us that the palm tree family (Palmae) has over 2500 family members…Oh sorry…species. There is the acai palm (which produces acai berry), bottle palm (which is a short tree of about 10 to 12 feet and has a trunk that looks like a bottle), king palm, queen palm etc.  Just like humans, trees also have different heights and sizes. I have always wondered why tall people are referred to as Iroko trees. According to Wikipaedia, the late Robert Pershing Wadlow was the tallest person ever recorded at 8 feet 11 inches! Whereas, an Iroko tree can grow up to 162 feet on average….see the difference?  The tallest palm tree is the Quindio Wax Palm, which grows between 148 feet to 200 feet and is the national tree of Columbia. The oil palm grows up to over 60 feet tall. Some of its products are the palm oils in our soups, the palm kernel oils in our creams and soaps, and the brooms in our houses. Let’s not forget palm wine or palmie (it is called ‘Ukod Nsung’ in my dialect).  Mmmm… the day I drank palmie with roasted chicken at Akwa Ibom State….Mmmm!

Okay…Back to palm trees.  My favourite coconut palm tree product is the oil… and let’s not forget the rice! Wikipaedia tells us that the dwarf coconut palm tree grows up to 20 to 60 feet tall, while the tall variety grows up to 98 feet.  One of my aunts has some dwarf coconut palm trees in her compound, which explains why there was plenty of coconut rice during the time of my visit! The Ghana coconut I have seen and tasted is smaller compared to the Nigerian coconut. It is also crunchy and sweet. Mmmm! The raffia palm tree grows up to 52.5 feet tall. I remember the first school bag I used when I started secondary school. It was made of raffia. My classmates laughed at the bag because it was unusual…Ouch! Now, locally woven handbags are considered unique. The date palm tree grows up to 75 to 80 feet. The former compound I lived in had two tall date palm trees in it… (That was how I met them). I had no idea that there are male and female date palms, both of which yield flowers. The ones in the compound were male and were used for residential landscaping. It is the flowers of the female date palm that become dates after being pollinated with the flowers from the male date palm. My only quarrel with the Date Palm Brothers…(that’s what I called them)…was that they were too messy. During rain storms, they would take turns to shed a fresh…and heavy…palm frond, and I was usually asked to drag it all the way to the refuse pile on the street. The dry palm fronds were easier to dispose of because they were lighter.  In addition, the long pods or spathes that contained the flower stalks of the trees would mature, by softening and changing from green to brown, before splitting and falling into the compound…and yes…you guessed who had to dispose of most of them! This chore was messier because the tiny, whitish flowers would litter the ground as I dragged it out, which meant extra sweeping. Ironically, what I saw as trash would have been a date palm tree farmer’s treasure. Dates are rich in vitamins, and provide food sources for desert travellers because of their long shelf life. I love eating them with groundnuts or cashew nuts or I blend them in smoothies…Mmmm!

According to Wikipedia, in the pre-Christian times, the palm branch represented victory, peace, and fertility. Early Christians used the palm branch to symbolize victory of the faithful over enemies of the soul – The Palm Sunday Festival. The Romans rewarded champions with palm branches, and in Judaism, the palm represents peace and plenty. In Kabbalah, the palm symbolises the ‘Tree of Life’, and palms also appear on flags and seals. Every tree is a great asset and life force that plays multiple roles on this earth as it teams up with its shorter siblings and surrounding shrubs. One fascinating quality about palm trees is their longevity. Most of them outlive humans.  The cells in the trunk of a palm tree have been found to live for more than 700 years! The date palm tree can live up to 200 years. Amazing! Trees also express detachment by shedding their fronds and allowing new ones to grow, which gives them a fresh and ageless look. No wonder the Date Palm Brothers were so messy!  They were just shaving their ‘beards’. Trees are contented with the nutrients their roots can reach, which is why they can survive in almost any habitat. They flourish with Mother Nature’s gifts, and weather her storms and trials with great perseverance and bravery. Every tree stands firm and independently, but only leans towards the direction that the wind blows it. As a windbreaker, it spreads the cool air and keeps the evenings enjoyable and peaceful. It is only a stubborn tree, which tries to battle with the wind’s direction that loses more branches in the process! Trees also embody selflessness and unconditional love because they provide shelter for insects and birds. They also provide a cool shade for us in spite of our characters, asking for nothing in return. Have you ever heard a tree ask you for some water, money, food, clothes, or even shelter? Trees are content with Mother Nature as their provider. But let’s face it, if trees could talk, they would be brutally honest with us and the insecure humans among us would cut them down just to shut them up! Trees can bring out the humility in us. As the saying goes, ‘Tall oaks from little acorns grow.’ Every tree was once a little plant. They grow to great majestic heights and they leave behind a productive legacy for the benefit of mankind.

My greatest lesson from my love for palm trees is that the qualities that I have just described are embodied by the great men and women that have lit the torch of immense value that shines through me. They teach me to be contented with life’s gifts and grow to majestic heights. They teach me to weather life’s storms by being the leaning tree that perseveres and flows with the wind instead of the stubborn tree that fights the wind. They have shown me unconditional love by providing a cool shade whenever I need one.  When they shed their fresh palm fronds and spathes (a.k.a. hard lessons) for me to dispose of, they teach me to be humble, helpful, responsible, and detached. Thank you Date Palm Brothers! These are just a few of the precious palm fronds of wisdom that these men and women have dropped into my grateful hands. They are my palm trees and I am their equally productive product! Who are your palm trees? So…in conclusion, if I call you my palm tree, please take it as a great compliment!

 Watch out for the Bridge story in our next edition


 By Inemesit Umofia, Ph.D

Dr. (Miss) Inemesit Umofia is a graduate of the Rivers State University and the University of Port Harcourt.  She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Adult and Community Education as well as a Master’s and Doctorate degree in Community Development.  She is also a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Rivers State Chapter and holds a certificate in Creative Writing from the Elechi Amadi School of Creative Writing.  She has also undertaken creative writing workshops facilitated by Sefi Atta and Eghosa Imasuen.  She is a one of the authors of ‘The Beggar’s Story and Other Tales’, which is a collection of short stories edited and published by the late Captain Elechi Amadi.  Her poem ‘Shed a Tear’ written as a tribute to the late Captain Elechi Amadi has been featured in RivAna Magazine and ‘In a Blaze of Glory: Creative Tributes to Elechi Amadi’, which was edited by Adiyi Martin T. Bestman and Priye E. Iyalla-Amadi.  Dr. Inemesit Umofia has co-authored publications in academic journals and her prose articles are published in Supreme Magazine.  Her thought-provoking prose articles are published under the section, ‘Food for Thought’ and borders on highlighting life lessons in an educative and entertaining manner.  She also posts thought-provoking articles on her blog, ‘Life’s angles’.  She is an ardent believer in continuous self-empowerment, life-long learning, and development. She hails from Akwa Ibom State, and lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

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