Posted by: drjamm | November 4, 2008

Wangari Maathai

wangari maathai

“I remember my mother telling me not to collect any firewood from this tree called a fig tree, the so-called strangler fig tree. And when I asked her why not, she told me, ‘That is a tree of God. We don’t cut it. We don’t burn it. We don’t use it. They live for as long as they can, and they fall on their own when they are too old.” (Wangari Maathai’s recollections, from and interview with Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith, 24 April 2008)

When I need an extra source of inspiration to carry on in this world, I turn to the story of Wangari Maathai. This Nobel Peace Prize winner is one of my all time heros. The story of how she changed the African landscape, politics, and even the weather by planting trees is truly remarkable!

I am in awe of how Dr. Mathaai has combined her expertise in biology, blended her ancestral Kikuyu traditions with her Christian faith, and steadfastly applied her feminist principle of empowering women to help bring about the Green Belt Movement that is radically changing parts of Africa and stopping — and in some places reversing — the encroaching desert. Her tremendous success would not have been possible without such a broad multi-disciplinary, multi-faith, and literally down-to-Earth perspectives and practices. From her Kikuyu tradition, Wangari Maathai learned that all people have an inseparable bond with the land. If the land is troubled, the people, also, will be troubled. If the people are fighting, she asks us to look to the land and natural resources to discover why the people may be fighting. And during her childhood years with the Christian sisters and missionaries, Wangari learned that being of service to others was one’s highest calling. Wangari Maathai has triumph through adversity, political struggle, and physical beatings, to become a world leader and icon for wisdom, strength, equality, and ecological common sense to people in Kenya –and around the world.


Wangari remembered her mother’s story about the fig tree being the “tree of God.” Why would this tree be so special? The fig tree has very deep roots that can break through underground rocks and bring up water from the underground aquafers. The fig prefers to grow in the highlands and, thus, is a critical protection against soil erosion. In areas where fig trees have been cut down, the de-nuded land has suffered devastating soil erosion. Wangari’s mother may not have understood the technical reasons for protecting the tree, but clearly her warning to protect the “tree of God” was valid. In a very real sense the fig tree protects and enriches the soil, provides natural habitat for wilderness creatures, holds moisture in the surrounding air, and in many other ways literally supports and enriches the lives of people. Wangari’s mission is to plant one billion trees this year to restore forested areas that have been devastated by clear cutting and construction.

So, if you are like me and need to dip into a well-spring of Hope and Renewal to stay balanced in this environmentally challenged world, check out the various books, podcasts, videos, and other sources listed below. I highly recommend listening to Wangari Maathai’s very eloquent and powerful speeches.

Credits and links:


Unbowed: A memoir by Wangari Maathai

51h39qyz6cl_sl500_aa240_The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the approach and the experience by Wangari Maathai


Planting the trees of Kenya: The story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola


Listen to Wangari Maathai at: (1) Speaking of Faith:, (2) Here Wangari Maathai gives and excellent talk about her remarkable story (KVSC feature podcasts): and (3) Treehugger Radio offers 2-part interview of Wangari Maathai

Watch (1) Wangari Maathai’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize here: (2) Wangari Maathai: Unbowed and (3) a video documentary here

Read about Wangari Maathai here: Profile: Wangari Maathai

Read about the Green Belt Movement here:

Photos of Wangari Maathai can be found at Nobel Prize website http:/ and Rhino Ark Photo of the fig tree from The Learning Company, Inc, 1997.

(bright heart singing, copyright 2008 – jamm. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)


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