By Dian Hasan | October 9, 2009
Love thy tree.
The movement to better appreciate the environment around us is showing us innovative ways the world over how this new-found sense of nature’s importance is put into practice.
Take trees, for example, they play different roles in different cultures (curious? See below). In some they are revered, in others feared. They are also given names and prayed to, while in others they are bestowed with awards and named “Tree of the Year”. An Oscar of sorts for our green friend that without fail always provides us with shelter from the elements. Worthy of a recognition. And we’ll universally agree that any tree is a giver of life. That’s what they do in Czech Republic’s heartland, the rich agricultural land and wine country of the Czech Republic, Morava. The Czech Environment Partnership Foundation (Nadace Partnerství) holds an annual “Tree of Life” competition for communities to nominate their favorite tree.
Here’s how it works exactly (taken from Czech Environmental Partnership Foundation website):
Through the “Tree of the Year” contest we want to draw attention to the value of trees for the environment. Through a simple and easy to understand symbol we try to lead people to pay more attention to the environment they live in.
Anybody (individual, school or municipality) could nominate their favorite tree.
A jury composed of experts and celebrities then choose 12 finalists from all the proposals. The public determines further order of finalists from 1st August to 11th October by donation SMS messages, whose yield goes to tree planting
Every year on “Tree Day” which falls on October 20, the winner is announced and an award is presented at the annual “Concert for the Trees.” The winning tree also gets expert treatment from professional tree specialist.
And back to the first point about the role of trees in different cultures. In most countries across Asia, and in parts of Africa and South America, the tree is inseparable from the culture, folklore and customs. In Western Cultures, trees play a significant role and symbolize many things as well, however they seldom take on a mystical role.
In Central Java, the banyan tree is directly linked to the Kraton (Royal Palace) of the Sultan, playing a protective role and referred to as “the revered wise man” that is believed to dwell in the tree. And there’s one particular large banyan tree in the Kraton’s courtyard that is not to be disturbed, members of the Kraton are accustomed to giving regular offerings to this banyan tree.
There is a similar tradition in Bali, trees are considered living beings and should be respected. And the banyan tree ranks high as the most “senior” of all trees with divine powers. Daily offerings are placed at the foot of the tree to appease the spirits who dwell in them. It’s interesting to note that the predominantly-Moslem Javanese have not waned from such practice to this day, as for the Hindu Balinese it’s a daily rite. This custom of course derives from ancient times when Hindu and Buddhist Kingdoms ruled much of Indonesia, an influence that stems from India.
As with everything, there are those wanting to analyze logically, arguing that a banyan tree is a hardy species, with a very long life-span and they generally outgrow other types of tropical trees, except those deep in the rainforest. Hence banyan trees have been around longer than other trees. But mere logic does not explain the customs passed down generations that revolve around the tree.
In Hinduism, the banyan tree is considered sacred and is called “Ashwath Vriksha“. God Shiva as Dakshinamurthy is almost always depicted sitting in solitude under the banyan tree. It is thought of as perfectly symbolizing eternal life due to its seemingly unending expansion. The tree is also called kalpavriksha meaning “wish fulfilling divine tree”.
And Buddism is no different, as Buddha is believed to have achieved enlightenment in Bodhgaya in India while meditating under a banyan tree of the species Sacred Fig, more popularly known as the Bodhi Tree.
In both the Philippines and Guam, the Visayan and Chomoros tribes, respectively, believe that Banyan Trees are the abodes of spirits of past generations that protect the people. Therefore a Banyan Tree seldom felled, and is always the last tree to go. If indeed such fate is unavoidable, then the local tribes would hold a special ceremony to “ask for permission” in disturbing the tree’s “slumber”. In Cambodia it’s no different. You’ll see banyan tree vines “swallowing” buddha statues in Angkor Wat complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Whereas in some cultures in the Amazon Rainforest, trees are both respected – as source of food – and feared, for being the natural habitat for various wildlife, ie. pumas, snakes, and other “less friendly” creatures.
There are even books written about this very subject, such as “Tree Cultures: The Place of Trees and Trees in Their Place”, by Paul Cloke & Owain Jones
Whatever the case may be, we all recognize the value of trees on our planet, and the sense of urgency needed to take better care of them. Morava has one bright ‘tree-loving” idea indeed. Worthy of an Oscar for the government environment agency that created this commendable program.