The majestic and sacred ceiba

The majestic and sacred ceiba

Heritage & Traditions

By Alina Gomez

The ceiba, a steep and majestic tree, native to the tropics, is more than a plant in Cuba; It is practically a whole temple for the practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions and even a source of great respect for non-believers.--- With a height that can reach 60 meters, up to a diameter of two meters and colossal roots that extend profusely around it, the ceiba is found in the most dissimilar Cuban landscapes, both rural and urban. --- Its fruits, inedible, are composed of a cottony fiber, which can serve as insulation and filling material; fertilizer, animal feed and artisanal oil are obtained from its seeds, and the plant's utilities also include the contribution of wood. --- However, very few in Cuba dare to cut it, or burn it, due to its sacred character, which means that the most varied offerings are frequently found upon its roots. ---- According to scholars, in the ceiba, due to its characteristics, the slaves brought from Africa found a kind of representation of the baobab, an imposing tree venerated on that continent. --- For the followers of Afro-Cuban cults, all the orishas (divinities), ancestors, Catholic saints and various spirits settle in the ceiba, and she herself is honored as orisha Iroko; in her ceremonies, people dance with a colorful cane covered with necklaces and a broom decorated with red and white beads. ---- The planting of a ceiba tree, usually on November 16, the day of Argayú - San Cristóbal in the Catholic Church - is quite a ritual and believers who participate in it make a commitment for life. ---- Precisely on that day of 1519, the town of San Cristóbal de La Habana was founded under a ceiba tree, powerful and resistant to hurricanes and immune to the impact of lightning. ---