The Tree of Ténéré stood for many years in the Sahara desert. Joshua Leo and Liz Waid examine how the tree survived, and what it can teach us today.
Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Joshua Leo.
And I'm Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.
The Sahara Desert is the world's largest hot desert. It stretches over most of Northern Africa. It covers an area almost as large as the United States. The Ténéré region is in the South Central part of the Sahara. This is in North East Niger. Dunes, large sand mountains, surround this dry, hot area. Travellers through this place have to deal with hot temperatures, little water, and long stretches of sand. But, for many years, there was one place of hope - a sign of life - in this area. It was the Tree of Ténéré.
Today's Spotlight is on the Tree of Ténéré.
For many years, the Tree of Ténéré stood alone. It was the only tree for hundreds of kilometers in every direction. Writers who had seen the tree described it as about three meters tall. But people travelling through the region could see the tree from very far away. For hundreds of years it was a special stop on the journey for traders. Traders travelled across the desert to trade grains, salt, and date fruits. The travelling caravans often stopped at the tree as a traditional part of their journey. Michel LeSourd wrote about the tree in 1939. He wrote about the traditions of these traders.
"Each year the traders gather round the Tree before facing the crossing of the Ténéré. This Acacia tree has become a living lighthouse. It is the first or last landmark for the traders leaving the city of Agadez for the city of Bilma, or returning."
Michel also wondered that none of these traders had ever harmed the tree. They had kept it safe from their animals. They had never used its branches for fire wood. Instead, it was as if they showed the tree respect because it was a symbol of life.
No one knows exactly how old the tree is. Some people believe it could be more than 300 years old. But without further studies we can never know. Experts believe the tree used to be part of a large forest. The group of trees grew in this area when the desert was less dry than it currently is. But over time, the trees around it all died. All that remained was the single Acacia.
Niger became a French colony in 1922. The French government controlled the area. And the French were also amazed by the Tree of Ténéré. In 1934, one writer, Henri Lhote, described the tree like this:
"The Tree is an Acacia with a wasted trunk. It looks almost sick. However, the tree has nice green leaves, and some yellow flowers."
In the 1930s the French soldiers decided to build a well near the Tree. They knew that the tree had to be getting water from somewhere. In 1938 they began to dig near the tree. The builders discovered water over 33 meters below the surface of the desert! The tree roots reached even farther. They stretched down 35 meters under the ground. This small tree was stretching very far underground to reach life-giving water. French soldiers finished the well in 1939. But this was not the end of the story of the Tree.
In 1959 writer Henri Lhote again visited the Tree of Ténéré. But this time, he noticed a difference in the tree.
"Before, this tree was green and with flowers. Now it has no color, flowers, and no leaves. I cannot recognize it. It had two separate trunks. Now there is only one, with the roughly cut remains of the other trunk next to it. What has happened to this unhappy tree? Simply, a truck going to Bilma has hit it."
The Tree was hit again in 1973. People believe that the driver had been drinking too much alcohol. He hit the tree with his vehicle. But this time, no part of the Tree could remain standing. Many people were very sad to see this symbol of life in the desert die. So the Niger National Museum took the dead tree. It is now in that museum, in the capital of Niger, Niamey.
Today, the tree is no longer standing. But in its place there is a metal sculpture - a piece of art representing a tree. It is made of old pipes, fuel containers, and car parts. The metal sculpture marks the place where the Tree of Ténéré stood for hundreds of years.
The story of the Tree of Ténéré is encouraging, even though it is sad. How can such a small tree survive for so long in the middle of a dry, hot desert? It is because of the Tree's long deep roots and the fresh water deep underneath the surface.
Water gives life. It is important for all living things. Nothing can live without water. In the Christian Bible, as in many religions, water is often used as a symbol of life. Christians believe that just like water, God's law supports life. God's law helps people live. The Christian Bible says that God's law is like a river of water that people can drink from. A person who drinks from this water receives life. Psalm 1 is a song from the Bible. It says:
Blessed is the person who obeys the law of God.
He does not follow the advice of evil people.
He does not make a custom of doing what sinners do.
He does not join those who laugh at God and his law.
Instead, he takes joy in the law of God
He thinks about his law day and night.
He is like a tree planted near a stream of water.
Its leaves do not dry up.
The Tree of Ténéré is no longer standing. All that remains of it is a simple man-made memorial. People and time could destroy it and it could not last forever. But the tree can still help people remember the life-giving power of God's law.
The writer and producer of this program was Liz Waid. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes have been adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. Computer users can hear our programs, read our scripts and see our word list on our website at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called "The Tree of Ténéré."
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