Kenyan Village Mourn the Loss of a 320-Year-Old Historic Acacia Tree

Balambala's Acacia had witnessed more than humans ever will.

Anita Ritenour/Flickr

The acacia tree has an expected lifespan of 15 to 30 years. So when a 320-year-old tree fell in the village of Balambala in northeast Kenya last week, locals were understandably distraught. Now, they will begin a 30-day mourning period in its honor, Xinhua News Agency reports.

Given its extensive lifespan, the tree had been present for numerous landmark events in the village’s and country’s histories. The people of Balambala had, thus, used the tree as a meeting point for decision-making and community gatherings. Decisions about self-determination, for example, were made under the tree. And, as recently as December 12, there was a national function under the Acacia to celebrate the 52nd anniversary of Kenya’s independence from British rule. Simply enough, it was also a serene natural presence for people who live with high temperature, near-desert conditions. Said Dr. Ismail Arte Rage, a nutritional manager with UNICEF in South Sudan: “The acacia tree had big branches and offered very cool shade.” The photo of a Kenyan acacia, at top, gives you an idea of the tree’s build.

An acacia tree in Kenya's Nakuru National Park.

Güldem Üstün/Flickr

The mourning period means the locals will not use the tree’s branches. They will leave the Acacia, which suddenly “split in the middle and collapsed in a heap,” intact. Adan Yusuf Bute — an area councilor and former local official — elaborated:

“People have agreed to mourn the ‘death’ of the tree for the next 30 days starting today. The mourning will be done different from the one usually observed when someone dies. It would involve offering respect to the tree by not using its branches as firewood.”

Balambala’s honoring of its fallen friend is an example of local unity, as well as appreciation of a natural phenomenon. Many offered “condolences” on social media. The tree existed far longer than any human being, or any two. It represented the village. It was a landmark, as well as an important community center. The respect that the Balambalans are showing for the Acacia is remarkable in one regard. Then again, when an organism that has stood since before the year 1700 finally keels over, a month of mourning seems more than justified.