The Indiscriminate Felling of Trees; the Sanctity of the Udara Tree

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In some parts of eastern Nigeria, among the Igbo tribe, the Udara tree was considered sacred. Some communities actually worshipped the tree while some built a shrine at the base of the tree.

It is not uncommon in these parts to come across an Udara tree with pieces of cloth tied around it. Most often the pieces of cloth are red and white in color. There could be wooden carvings too or sculptures around the tree with ropes walling off a little square area around the tree.

Even in communities where the Udara tree was not exactly worshipped, there were still rules, spoken and unspoken surrounding these huge trees.

The Udara Tree

The Udara tree is usually very big with branches spread out very wide and ripe yellow succulent fruits hanging onto it. It was common to have children playing under the shade of the tree though most often when the fruit is in season, they simply are patiently waiting for the fruit to fall. When the fruit falls, it becomes a race for the swift as only the fastest child will get to the fruit first. You could be lucky and be standing right next to the point where the fruit falls and then there will be no need to run.

Social gatherings would also often be held under these trees. They are used as geographical locations, so the community members would be found scheduling meetings to hold under the Udara tree, usually the biggest one nearby.

If the tree is located in someone’s compound, the person does not stop outsiders from coming by to pick fruits from the trees and it would not be surprising to find children from the household staying out very late under the tree and possibly sleeping under the trees so they can have as many of the fruits as they can.

Spoken rules about the Udara tree

These rules generally involved physically trying to bring harm to the tree or reach its fruits

1.        Do not climb an Udara tree

2.        Do not stone at the fruits of the Udara tree

3.        Do not cut any part of the Udara tree

Unspoken rules about the Udara tree

1.        Do not plot evil under the tree

2.        Do not attempt to touch or remove any pieces of cloth tied around the Udara tree or the wooden carvings and sculptures around it.

The Udara trees over the years

Unfortunately, the Udara tree has lost almost all of its mysticism and I would blame this largely on the advent of Christianity.

With the arrival of Christianity came the beginning of the end of the sanctity of the Udara tree. Shrines were brought down and idols destroyed as the traditional worshippers moved towards Christianity.

Following years saw the felling of Udara trees as people began to cleanse their families of all traces of traditional worship. A prophet would pinpoint an Udara tree and proclaim that it was the source of bad luck to the family or community and the people will gather in prayers and perform obliteration on the tree, thereafter cutting it down completely.

The sadness on the faces of the children who played under the trees and spent all day waiting and running after the falling fruits was palpable.

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