We asked our development workers to collect stories, myths and legends from the countries in which we work. They reveal the close connection between the forests and the communities who rely on them.

The Amate Flower

A tale from El Salvador

The Amate is a tree that does not bear flowers or fruit. Legend has it that amongst its misshapen branches lies a secret. At 12pm sharp, a beautiful white flower blooms out of the top of the tree, which then falls to the ground. The person who finds the flower will be given all that their heart desires: love, money, health and fame.

But getting hold of the flower is not easy; the flower belongs to a devil. They say that in order to get the magical power of the flower you have to fight the devil to the death. If the devil wins, he will keep your soul, but if you win, then fame, fortune, love and health will be yours for eternity.

The Bewitching Tree

A tale from Honduras

In Intibucá there is a fossilised forest. The legend goes that in the forest there is a tree that looks like a rubber plant but with longer leaves. It is called 'the scabies tree' or 'the bewitching tree'.

If you cut it down, cut a branch, or even walk past the tree, your entire body will be filled with scabies.

José Matías, of San Miguelito (Intibucá) told our Development Worker, Nuria Zayas, that he had experienced this when he mistakenly cut down this tree in order to grow corn. As a result, three days later he was so full of scabies that you could barely even see his eyes.

He was desperate. He went to the doctor, but the doctor said that there was nothing he could do: the medicine he gave him did not work.

José, like everybody in this area of Honduras, knew that there was only one way out of his predicament, and he did not hesitate in doing what was necessary: he went down on his knees and begged the tree for forgiveness.

It did not take long for the scabies to clear and he was cured of his illness. Now everybody asks the tree for permission before walking past it.

It is said that when this tree (the Anacardiaceae) is flowering, many people suffer from an allergy that results in a rash (rather than actual scabies).

Himno hondureño al árbol
Honduran Anthem to the tree

Lyrics: Rafael Coello Ramos
Music: Froylán Turcios

Hands of children over the native land
lavish open the fertile seed
and the beautiful vernal crop
flowers vibrate in the soul of the world.

Let’s sing to life
And take a journey into in its magic trail and let’s plant a gentle tree to its immortal offer of love.
And its trembling summit tomorrow
amongst aromas and gentle zephyrs
under the radiant sky April
birds will sing their love.

Now lets plant the resonant tree

that with its scented breath the air perfumes,
and its offers beneficial allure to the land if the fire overwhelms it;
attracting the merciful rain,
blessing the peasant household.
Long live to the tree in peace and love
and that it pleasantly surprise pilgrims.

From Silent Forest to Exasperated Savannah

A tale from Haiti

In the Artibonite department in Haiti, there is an area called the Exasperated Savannah (Savane Désolée). According to popular myth it was named after an event that occurred there many years ago.

People said that in this area there was a thick, dense forest called The Silent Forest. It seemed as if the wind did not exist and had never blown through the trees. It was permanently dark; the thick canopy blocked out the sun’s rays.

Birds, reptiles and mammals seemed to have abandoned the area as if they were forbidden. The inhabitants of the area felt a fear that compelled them not to enter The Silent Forest.

The region had serious water shortages that killed many of the plants and animals. Life was tough for the people who lived there.

There was a family whose youngest child, a very inquisitive boy, started thinking how the community could be saved. Fear had stopped people considering The Silent Forest as a source of water, but the small boy saw that the trees were alive and there was never a single withered leaf to be seen.

The little one entered the woods and his thirst grew as he walked into the forest moving forward with his light steps.

Suddenly a voice from within the forest boomed, "What do you want my son? Do you want water to drink?" and the boy – although he was scared of the invisible voice - responded, "Yes sir, for me and my family; we're dying of thirst and hunger". The voice rumbled again, "Take enough water and bring something to your family; the only thing I ask is that your people don’t come over here to cut down trees or put their mouth directly into the water source".

The boy ran back to his family to carry the message and the offer of water from The Silent Forest.... "Incredible!" the people shouted excitedly. “Let's go and see if it's true; nobody has dared enter the forest before".

And so groups of strong men well prepared with sharp machetes went into The Silent Forest. They did not encounter any difficulties: the Forest opened its branches and the bushes gave way to the men guided by the small child.

But on arriving at the water fountain, the men forgot what the boy had explained to them and started drinking directly from the spring and dipping their heads and their bodies. They then cut down many trees for their wood. After a short while they had consumed all the spring water and they began cutting down the bushes and digging in search of the source of the water.

Suddenly, the same commanding voice shouted from within: "Enough! Enough! Men are now forbidden to return to this forest to continue destroying it".

The tops of the trees opened once more for a brief moment so that the villagers could see how the reptiles, birds and mammals had always lived and played in The Silent Forest, a majestic wonder now denied to them forever.

This is how the area became a savannah almost completely without trees and with no water and from then on it was known as the Exasperated Savannah.

Author: Gabriel Petit-Homme – a Progressio development worker in Ouanaminthe (Haiti)
Edited by Vita Randazzo – a Progressio development worker in Jimani (Dominican Republic) June 2011

Photo: Honduran forest. Dave Tanner/ Progressio