If trees and forests would somehow talk to us in this land, they would probably share a very painful story.
Imagine you are walking on a dirt road facing east, south-East. There is a small plateau t at a distance to your left, and a series of mountains at a distance to your right, so that you appear to be walking in a valley between the two ridges which meet ahead of you to form an inverted letter V.
But at the point where the two ridges meet, another volcanic hill sprouts out from the ground and rises to about one kilometer and a quarter high.
All these hills around you have scanty patches of trees struggling to survive. These little trees have a very sad story about their parents long gone. They have a very heart breaking story about human devastation, about human folly disguised as development. Let be, they want to say, but they can't talk. They are trees, and trees don't talk.
It's a bit late in the afternoon, on this clear, sunny day as you walk toward the foot of the lone mountain ahead of you; it's about 4.00 PM. There is only an isolated white cloud in the sky as the sun burns from behind you. The sun is shining brightly on the village township at the foot of the hills ahead of you--which is where you are going.
After a steep slope, you will cross a small river called Titi. You will then rise and walk another flat expance for a kilometer or so then descend another steep slope. You will cross another river – river Rwanda--then climb a gentle hill to reach the village township you were seeing from a distance.
The bustling village township is awash with people on foot, on bicycles, on an occasional pickup truck or even a large truck. They have dukawalas here, guest houses and even hotels--even if the only thing they sell in these hotels will be buns and black tea. A cluster of residents are playing bao at the veranda of one of the buildings. They are laughing, cursing and booing the loser.
You have reached an ancient village township which is refusing to grow into a major town. The southern highlands British administrator built a rest house on a hill at this village, to occasionally help him get away from the rigors of colonial administration duty.
In 1965, the rest house was still standing, quiet and peaceful. The only disturbance at night would be the melody of the crickets, the whispers of the wind, and the rattling of the leaves of the tall Miyombo trees surrounding the rest house. An Abyssinian Nightjar would probably sing from a distance in the thickets. Nature was still undisturbed in Mbozi at this time.
The rest house lay above the township village, so that the village could be seen at the bottom, toward the north. Located about one quarter of the distance towards the top of the hill, the rest house was surrounded by a forest of tall Miyombo trees, except for the front porch where the trees were cleared to enable the British administrator to see the village below, and to see the moon and the sun rising from the east--from behind the Uporoto ranges; And to see the red sun setting behind the kingdom of fiery Chief Nzunda of the Nyiha, toward the west.
This rest house no longer exists. The tall Miyombo trees around it have also been chopped down for firewood, for charcoal, for mud house construction twigs and trusses. The rest house is now history--like the Tower of Babel, like the ancient city of Pompei buried by a volcano in 79 AD. The location is completely cleared of its large trees and the rest house is replaced with a forest of brick and mud houses.
Like many other locations in Tanzania, between 1965 and the year 2010, the village township has gone through a development process by chopping down all the big trees in the neighborhood and the pulling down of an important historical monument. The nation is being developed.
It's so unfortunate little trees and shrubs don't talk; because if they did, they probably would have told us who chopped their parents down. They probably would have also asked Tanzanians to consider making electricity, gas and coal the default source of energy in the land—even at village level, instead of trees. Trees want to stay alive on the face of the earth, too, even when chopped to near extinction by the humans in their quest for development.
Kiwira coal mine has the capacity to make coal briquettes which work so much better than charcoal. The mine is shut down as villagers continue to chop down trees for energy around the country; and there is nothing to making briquettes; it's simply a mixture of coal dust with mud, and you have your modern charcoal! All the nation would need in this shift of attitude would be to direct charcoal traders to Kiwira coal mine and our trees would all of a sudden be safe! Briquettes, briquettes, briquettes guys. This is all we need.
And briquettes shouldn't be considered the only option, either. We have had gas in the ground for all these years, we have electricity. Sometimes I wonder whether Tanzania's problem is the lack of resources or the lack of brains.
I am a proponent of political intervention to force briquettes, gas and electricity prices completely down on the floor to make them affordable to low income earners who relay on charcoal. It is only this kind of thinking which will save the environment. Energy price hikes do not serve this nation well. They damage the nation both in the short term and the long term. It is possible to direct business toward saving the environment, not destroying it.
May somebody with good enough brains figure out a way to pull energy prices down please, and fast. The low prices should include electricity prices before charcoal makers take their axes back into the woods.
Back in 1965, I learned how to trap rats, birds, rabbits, squirrels, wobblers, kwale and even large game like antelope using traditional animal traps of the Nyiha: ubulimbo, inyagulo, amaliba, iyonde and the giant ditches where you'd place sharp stakes to kill any large animal which fell into it. But I also learned how to respect plants and forests as a valuable companion of man.
I watched my father till the land around large trees. I watched him even protect a little wild songwa tree in his coffee plantation, giving it space to grow. I watched him chop off only branches of the large wild trees in the shamba to enable the sun reach his planned undergrowth-- which would be anything from coffee to maize, from beans to peas. And he was not the only grown man to respect trees. Protection of nature, and particularly the trees and forest was like a tradition of the old.
Trees were almost worshiped. And Indeed the gods of old were known to listen to prayers especially when said under a large trees. An occasional large tree would be chopped down to make a wooden door or a beehive box, but there was a lot of selectivity and care out there deep in the forest.
Chief Mwembe, Chief Nzunda, Chief Mwamengo, Chief Mwamlima, Chief Nzowa and all those other chiefs never allowed the wanton destruction of trees and forests. There was something very worshipful about the forest and the trees before the advent of the missionaries you'd think Christianity and Islam should blame for the wanton destruction of the environment we now see. Christianity and Islam brought a strange culture which has no respect for nature. Trees and forests were so much safer when our grandparents worshiped gods under the trees.
Well, I may not be exactly as much a heathen, as you might have already started to think. Is it true the God of churches and mosques compels us to destroy the trees? I know the answer to this question is NO. Our problem is this word development. Somebody is not managing this development thing properly.
I have read the Bible a great deal and a little bit of the Kur An to know the God of churches and mosques is probably crying right now, in pain, as we decimate the forests in the name of charcoal trade and development. God created the trees and the forests to be a permanent companion of man, so that the decimation of the trees and the forest would amount to decimation of man himself. On the third day of creation, the Bible says, God created the oceans, the dry land, and vegetation:
"And God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.' And it was so. God called the dry ground 'land', and the gathered waters he called 'seas'. And God saw that it was good.
"Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.' And it was so…And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning-the third day." (Gen. 1:9-11,13).
Thus, on the third day, God the Great Designer, created the oceans and the rivers, along with thousands of different types of trees and plants, each with its own fruit and seeds. What a delicious variety of foods God made: mangoes, bananas, coconuts, melons, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, rice, millet, peanuts, and thousands of other kinds of food! And God said, concerning everything that He had created, "It is good!"
Everything that God makes and does is good, wonderful and perfect! There is only one thing that God cannot do. God cannot do that which is bad, like chopping down a trees. He created the trees on the third day to perpetuate human life; in his plan, according biblical evidence, the trees would be the main source of food, medicine and shelter. Without trees-life is impossible.
Poets, thinkers and other humans of reason have for centuries revered trees and the forest. Try the healing power of the forest. Look at a tree today and say to yourself: it is good! And let be.