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The Sacred Baobab Tree

February 15, 2009

Baobab Tree

In the centre of Republic Square is a garden, surrounded by the Governor’s Palace on one side, the Santa Isabel theatre on another, and the Palace of Justice on a third side. The fourth side faces the river. The garden was once the site of the Friburgo Palace (1642) and the first Brazilian zoo and botanical garden, all built by the Dutch ruler, Mauritius van Nassau. Later it had other uses and became Praça da Republica in 1889. The gardens there today were designed by Emile Beranger in 1875 and Burle Marx in 1936.

It is in one corner of the square that visitors can find a large Baobab tree. It is a species of tree that can live several thousand years, and an African legend suggests that the soul of anyone buried under the Baobab will live as long as the tree does. In Senegal, the tree is considered sacred.

The age of the tree in Republic Square is not known for sure, but writers have been talking about it for a long time. There are three theories about how this African tree came to be here. One theory is that is was brought deliberately for inclusion in the botanical garden, another suggests seeds were brought by migratory birds, and the third suggests that African slaves brought the seeds with them. As the trees can be found in several locations in Recife and its suburbs, the migratory bird theory is most likely.

Whatever the truth of all these stories, the tree is considered to be an important feature of the city, and in 1986 the Environmental Protection Agency (Ibama) ordered it protected.

The tree can be seen during the Recife Guide Walking Tour 1: The Splendor of Recife.

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