Sierra Leoneans Mourn Colossus “Cotton Tree”, National Symbol of Freedom.

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Sierra Leone’s colossus tree which towered over the country’s capital Freetown for centuries and symbolized freedom to its early residents tumbled down overnight after a heavy thunder and rainstorm. Sierra Leoneans mourned the toppling of the beloved ancient tree as it stood as a national symbol and had a historic connection to the liberated slaves who founded the country.

The giant 70-meter cotton tree represented what is said to have been the first place of contact between Canada and Africa. It has a history of where the 1,200 freed African American slaves who traveled from Halifax to Sierra Leone held a prayer meeting to give thanks for their safety and then named their new home “Free Town”. 

Because of the significance of the tree and how revered it is to Sierra Leoneans, people have been trekking to the location to homage to it. The picture of the tree was used on the country’s banknotes, medals, and stamps and is celebrated in the children’s nursery rhymes. 

Ali Bangura, who took pictures with his phone as workers removed the remains of the tree with chainsaws said “This is like New York losing the Statue of Liberty, or if the Eiffel Tower in Paris fell”.

Julius Maada Bio, the President of Sierra Leone visited the site and called the toppling of the famed tree “a great loss to the nation”. He promised that the tree will be preserved in some way in a museum. “For centuries it has been a proud emblem of our nation, a symbol of a nation that has grown to provide shelter for many”, the president said.

The cotton tree was an important landmark in the West African Country and was regarded as a symbol of liberty and freedom by early settlers according to the president.

“We have to see what we are going to do to make sure that we keep the history of this tree here. I want to have a piece of this history wherever I find myself, at the state house, the museum, or the city hall”, he said.

The kapok tree stood in the center of a roundabout in central Freetown, its topmost branches extending above the neighboring tower blocks, until the storm snapped its 70-meter-tall trunk near the base. It has endured lightning and fires for many years. Sometimes, people gathered under the tree to pray for the nation.

The tree, whose base was roughly 20 meters wide, is thought to be 400 years old. Although the cotton-like fuzz on the seed pods of Ceiba pentandra, a kapok tree, gave rise to the nickname “Cotton Tree.” Slaves who had been set free would have been familiar with cotton grown on Southern American farms.

“For us,” the President tweeted, “the Cotton Tree wasn’t just a tree, it was a connection between the past, present, and the future and we must strive to immortalize it.”

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