President Bio visits site of the fallen centuries old Freetown Cotton Tree
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 May 2023:
Sierra Leone’s most globally recognised and iconic landmark – the Freetown Cotton, succumbed to heavy rains and ferocious winds two nights ago. With only its stem now standing proudly as if taking its final bow before leaving the stage, after centuries of battering from the monsoon rain and dry harmattan winds, questions are now being asked about the future of the site.
The centuries old Freetown Cotton Tree was an historic monument, gifted by nature to the hundreds of freed Trans-Atlantic Slaves who arrived on the shores of Sierra Leone from USA, Canada, the Caribbean, and mid Ocean, following the abolition of slavery.
The new arrivals to the shores of Sierra Leone in an area christened – “the Land of the Free” – FREETOWN, became known as the Krios. Thousands of acres of land – “the Land of the Free” – bought by the British colonial government from local chiefs for the settlement of the new arrivals became home to the Krios.
A new Sierra Leone was born with the arrival of the Krios and the creation of Freetown the capital of the nation, and the Cotton Tree – at the heart of the capital.
With its roots and branches representing all the diverse people, cultures and languages of Sierra Leone, the death of the Freetown Cotton Tree has left behind not only its stem standing but questions about the country’s political and economic future.
Survived by over 7 million people, the Freetown Cotton Tree has not only witnessed generations of political leaders that have come and gone but has served as the only living thing standing right next to the seat of power – just yards away from the country’s Law Courts Building – to have witnessed centuries of human rights abuses, poor governance and bad leadership that have brought so much misery to the people of Sierra Leone – a country classed as one of the poorest in the world.
But as the saying goes – “where there is life, there is hope”. And this was poignantly captured yesterday on social media by Idris Elba who said this about the fallen Freetown Cotton Tree: “This is very sad. The roots remain. Sierra Leone.”
Speaking just hours after the Cotton Tree had fallen, President Bio said: “The iconic Cotton Tree has fallen due to the heavy downpour of rain in our capital this evening. A great loss to the nation. It was regarded as a symbol of liberty and freedom by early settlers. We will have something at the same spot that bears testament to the great Cotton Tree’s place in our history. All voices will be brought together for this.”
Yesterday, the President went to the site as though to pay his last respect to a fallen hero. After his visit, President Bio said: “Today, I visited the site which has hosted our historic Cotton Tree for over two centuries in the centre of Freetown. It was a surreal sight to behold as I walked past the fallen Big Cotton Tree.
“The Cotton Tree is engrained in the rich cultural heritage of Freetown. To preserve this legacy for future generations, the relics of the fallen Cotton Tree will be taken to the National Museum by the Monument and Relics Commission. The preservation efforts will be spearheaded by the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs to serve as a reminder of our shared heritage and history.
“For us, the Cotton Tree wasn’t just a tree, it was a connection between the past, present and the future and we must strive to immortalise it. We also take solace in the knowledge that when a tree falls naturally due to extreme weather, a new life spring forward.
“Thank you to all the patriots who came out in solidarity. I implore all Citizens to respect the rich cultural heritage of the iconic Cotton Tree by applying restraint to tamper or demolish the fallen Tree. Together, we will preserve the legacy of unity, freedom and liberty of our iconic Cotton Tree.”
So, what will now stand on the site of the fallen Cotton Tree as an edifice befitting of its rich history and in memory of the new arrivals to the shores of Sierra Leone to whom the tree gave hope of a new beginning in “the land of the free”? A memorial garden featuring a newly planted, young cotton tree perhaps.
Source Sierra Leone Telegraph.