IN a devastating turn of events, a towering giant tree that had stood as a symbol of freedom for centuries in Sierra Leone’s capital came crashing down overnight during a severe rainstorm. The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, expressed deep sorrow over the toppling of the renowned ‘Cotton Tree,’ referring to it as ‘a great loss to the nation.’ Curious crowds gathered to witness the wreckage of the fallen trunk.
The Cotton Tree held tremendous significance as the most prominent landmark in the West African country, which was founded by liberated American slaves. Legend has it that when these former slaves arrived by boat in the late 1700s, they congregated under the tree’s majestic branches to offer prayers before embarking on their new lives.
The president took to Twitter to convey the historical importance of the tree, stating, ‘It was regarded as a symbol of liberty and freedom by early settlers.’ He further announced plans to commemorate the iconic Cotton Tree’s place in Sierra Leone’s history, stating, ‘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.’
The kapok tree stood at the centre of a roundabout in central Freetown, near the national museum and the president’s office. Victor Tutu Rogers, a passerby, recounted witnessing the tree’s fall around 9:40 p.m. (2140 GMT) on Wednesday. ‘The wind was blowing, and the rain became heavy. I hurriedly passed by the Cotton Tree on my way from work, fearing that its branches might collapse,’ he recalled. ‘Shortly after that, there was a powerful lightning strike, followed by a loud crash—the sound of the tree falling behind me,’ he told Reuters.
By Thursday, the branches and debris had been cleared away, leaving only a stump. Festus Kallay, the Chief Administrator of the city, lamented the loss, remarking, ‘As a municipality, it held immense symbolism, serving as the site for our annual thanksgiving in November, where prayers were offered and various events took place. The Freetown skyline will scarcely be the same again.’
The demise of the historic Cotton Tree has left a void in Sierra Leone’s capital, erasing a significant piece of the city’s cultural and historical fabric. However, the determination to honour its legacy and preserve the spirit of freedom and liberty it embodied remains unwavering. Efforts will be made to ensure that a fitting tribute is established in the same location, allowing future generations to connect with the rich history tied to the great Cotton Tree.