By Chrispin Inambao OUTAPI THE colossal baobab tree at the heritage site at Outapi is the stuff of legend and many a jaw of a wonder-stricken tourist and visitor alike has flung open on impulse at first sight. The gawking and that said, this wonder whose outer circumference is a gigantic 38 metres previously gave refuge to Aambalantu people fleeing from the chaotic tribal wars that saw the Aakwaludhi and the AaKwambi ganging up against them in a long bygone past. It is so wide it requires a digital equipped with a wide-angle lens to take a decent close-up. Aambalantu tribesmen also used this monumental tree as a lookout point from other marauding tribes who relieved them of their livestock and other earthly belongings. The circumference of its trunk is so wide that it will need 25 people holding hands to encircle it and though its age has yet to be determined scientifically, Monika Mayer a freelance tour guide who frequently takes busloads of European tourists to this tree, estimates its age to be 2000 years and she says there is no tree as big as it is in Namibia. Mayer, who was with a group of elderly but awe-struck tourists, said she has seen a number of baobab trees but this "impressive" tree has no equal and is in a super-category of its own. Some baobab trees are known to die out once they have been stripped of their bark by elephants that have a huge appetite for its bark, but this tree despite its trunk enlarging at the height of the tribal wars in the north, has stood the test of time and outgrown others. It is even the subject of the learning material for a primary school textbook for pupils. Elders well versed with folklore about this giant baobab tree estimate its age at 1000 years. It is said some baobabs date back to the time of Christ, making them one of the oldest relics from a long bygone but not forgotten Biblical era. During spontaneous outbreaks of bouts of tribal wars the Aambalantu used to be holed up in the tree's huge trunk that can now still easily seat tens of people and is 5m high. When white missionaries came clutching leather-bound Bibles they kicked out the natives and saw it as an ideal place for a chapel from where they spread the Gospel with vigour. After the mission accompli by these Bible-thumping missionaries, came those who conquered through the barrel of the gun whose generals are said to have used it as a planning centre for the formulation of war strategies against PLAN, the then military wing of the liberation movement Swapo. The South African army also used it as a chapel. It previously also doubled as a coffee shop, a post office and a police sub-station, according to Gebhardt Shiimbi employed at the Ombalantu Baobab Tree Heritage Site as a caretaker. When you enter its wooden compartment it is when you realize how big its trunk is. Its hollowed out trunk is big enough to accommodate 30 people, leaving space for legroom. It has three wooden pews and a weather-beaten old Bible rests on a lectern made from cement and solid rock. While several rusty iron bars nailed into the tree lead up to the ceiling of this giant tree trunk. Natural light from the sun filters through its entrance where there are some natural steps that lead in and out of the trunk. The walls surrounding the chamber taper to a point, giving one the impression of a celestial cathedral. And the numerous scars deeply imprinted on the tree, intriguing as they may be, also leave the impression that the people who made these scars were very proud to have touched the legendary living botanical wonder. Though traditionally the legendary Ombalantu baobab tree was a place of refuge for Aambalantu, today this landmark has come to their rescue providing a means of survival. Its economic potential is being realized by Shiimbi and a group of other community members employed at the campsite established in 2004 with seed capital of N$500 000 from the Namibia Community Based Tourism Association (NACOBTA). These funds were used to erect a wall fence, a campsite complete with toilets and a craft sales outlet from where tourists buy tribal artifacts made by Kingstar Mayumbelo. Though, Shiimbi the caretaker is worried, saying: "This tree is a source of income but it is dying," as he points to some branches that have been stripped of their bark by a mysterious infection that is slowly spreading to the other branches on the tree. He says at the onset of rains in September and October, wormlike insects could be seen and he believes they are the culprits behind what could be the slow death of this historical tree. How to Get There It is located in Outapi, opposite the town council, behind the open market, adjacent to the former South African military base. Outapi is situated between Oshakati and Ruacana along the C46 road. From Oshakati, Outapi is a 90-km drive over tarred road.
2008-05-13 00:00:00 10 years ago