Authors and Book Reviews  

December 07 - 13, 2007


 Coastweek   Kenya

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compelling icon of the African landscape

Coastweek - - Just in time for the festive season comes a really fascinating Africana 'coffee table' book: Rupert Watson's excellent and beautifully illustrated book 'The African Baobab'.

The baobab is surely the botanical symbol of Africa. Instantly recognizable from afar and a compelling icon of the African landscape.

This age-old 'upside-down tree' invariably inspires wonder, awe and mystery, and has intrigued travellers for hundreds of years.

In an absorbing, inspired account, author Rupert Watson explores the life and times of this fascinating tree, from its early Madagascan beginnings to its present status on the continent' and its nature in a changing Africa.

He effortlessly mixes natural science, history and personal experience, drawing on extracts from the journals of early explorers who, on encountering these extraordinary trees, measured and sketched them for a skeptical audience back home. 

Coastweek - - Rupert
Watson's excellent and
beautifully illustrated book
'The African Baobab'.

He presents intriguing and detailed accounts of the baobab's eccentric growth and reproductive habits, its present-day distribution, and its wide impact on everyday African life.

The author takes a close look at the myriad uses of baobabs over the ages: their hollow centres have served as prisons, toilets, wells and bars, and some specimens have even been used as a refuge in battle or as burial sites.

Their fibre, seeds and fruit are credited with hundreds of applications, both practical and medicinal.

Many locals feel a spiritual connection to these trees - believing them to possess mystical powers - and use them in rituals to promote healing or luck.

Watson  observations include:

"Baobab trees are living monuments, the oldest natural things in Africa, outlasting every plant and animal around them.

"These trees have evolved formidable resilience in order to survive in some of the driest, rockiest areas of this continent.

"Yet, for all the hostility of much of their habitat, African baobabs live longer and grow larger than most other trees in the world.

"That is the great paradox of their existence.

"The baobab tree is some things to many people, and many things to some.

"It is food for humans and their animals, a pharmacy to treat tropical sickness, and a provider of raw materials for almost limitless uses."

In the April 1962 issue of Notes Africaines from Senegal, J G Adam concludes that 'in reading of the variety of uses for the different parts of the baobab, a wise man would almost be tempted to take up the life of a hermit in its shade; he will lack for nothing in his life if he chooses his subject well'.

Other relationships between humans and the baobab are explored too, often illustrated by delightful anecdotes.

The rich and enthusiastic text is complemented by evocative, colourful images that show the curious baobab in all its many stages, moods and guises - and sometimes in the most unlikely places.

This book cannot fail to inspire.

Author Rupert Watson was born in England, but has lived in Kenya for nearly 30 years, where he practices sometimes as a lawyer and mediator, and always as a naturalist.

Rupert has authored two previous books - one on brown trout (The Trout-A Fisher man's Natural History) and the other on the Salmonidae family (Salmon, Trout and Charr of the World).

He has also written natural history and travel articles for a wide range of publications including New Scientist, London Times, Independent, Geographical Magazine, Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

'The African Baobab' is published by Struik Publishers (a division of New Holland Publishing Ltd.) and is now available in local book stores.

For further information visit: www.struik.co.za

or 'for an African experience' log on to their photographic website:






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