Friday, July 31, 2009

Upside Down Tree, Gambia, 2006

On the way back from Banjul, we cross the Gambia River and visit a fort at the mouth of this body of water as it exits into the Atlantic Ocean. We happen to be the only ones and a young man approaches us to act as our guide. He tells us of its history, its transition from protecting the slave trade to helping end it.

When we first arrive, a small van is parked underneath this tree. We move along with the tour and then decide to get back on the road to Dakar. Just at that moment, I notice that the van is gone. The portrait of the 'Upside Down Tree' is made against the backdrop of history.

As our generous guide explains, the British soldiers thought this tree to be a bit odd, with its branches lacking leaves for much of the year. The named it the 'Upside Down Tree' because its branches resembled the roots of a traditional tree. Whether he is telling its history or merely entertaining us matters little, we enjoy his company.

He makes one more point, with the life of this very tree perhaps being over five hundred years old, it stands as a witness to the entire slave trade as it moved in and out of the Gambia River, from its inception to its decline centuries later.

How many lives passed by this tree? How many faces did it bear witness to over the centuries? Was this the last tree that the slaves might have been able to see as they were removed from the continent?

Only this most beautiful of life forms has the answers.