Ninety years ago today, a government forester with the Colonial Office named Richard St. Barbe Baker (St. Barbe) held the inaugural ‘Dance of the Trees’ with the Kikuyu tribesmen, in celebration of their first tree planting event recognising the importance of trees in our world.
This was the start of St. Barbe Baker’s vision to educate people about the value of looking after our forests and woodlands, and the beginning of a worldwide tree planting network that has grown to become the International Tree foundation, today working throughout Africa and the UK to realise a world where trees and forests flourish and where their vital role in supporting life on earth is fully realised and valued.
Where it all began…
During his pioneering research as a forester in Kenya, St. Barbe identified the importance of trees to our environment and wellbeing long before the current debates on climate change and deforestation. St Barbe found devastated forests where the native Kikuyu people practised ‘slash & burn’ agriculture. This had a hugely detrimental affect on the environment, the crops, and the people’s livelihoods.
The Masai people called the Kikuyu ‘the forest destroyers’. By working with the Kikuyu people, St. Barbe was able to convince them of the value of replanting & regenerating the land and caring for their environment. The Kikuyu tribe enjoyed many ritual dances, such as one for when they planted beans and one for when they reaped the corn, so St. Barbe said “Why not a dance for tree planting? A Dance of the Trees!”
And so this first Dance of the Trees attracted 3,000 Moran warriors, from which St. Barbe chose 50 volunteers who would become the first ‘Watu wa Miti’ – meaning ‘Men of the Trees’. These men took a solemn oath to uphold and share with their communities the principles and values of planting and caring for trees to save the land from desertification and the people from starvation.
Today, the International Tree Foundation continues the invaluable work that Richard St. Barbe Baker started 90 years ago through the protection, promotion and planting of trees throughout the UK and Africa, focusing on community based forestry. Having planted in excess of 1.5 million trees in the last two years alone, working across the UK and nine African countries last year and delivering direct benefits to over 46,000 people last year – ITF is a modern NGO with a truly unique history. ITF’s Director, Lorraine Dunk says:
“The work of ITF today is at the forefront of community based efforts to establish sustainable forestry and thereby address the devastating impact of our ever-decreasing demand for forest resources. The inaugural ‘Dance of the Trees’ led by our founder St. Barbe is a fascinating reminder of how this work began and of the value of community based partnership working that continues to underpin our work today”.
If you would like to help ITF continue to build upon the pioneering work of St. Barbe you can get involved in a number of ways including following us on Twitter and Facebook, making a donation, volunteering with us.