Sierra Leone’s iconic cotton tree felled by storm
A towering cotton tree which has stood for several hundred years in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, has been brought down by a heavy storm.
President Julius Maada Bio said the tree fell after a downpour on Wednesday night. He described it as a “great loss to the nation”.
He said the tree was a symbol of liberty for early settlers. It also appears on Sierra Leone banknotes.
But some Christians hailed its demise, saying it was used for witchcraft.
A heavy rainstorm a week ago caused one of the tree’s branches to fall, but it had been thought it would survive.
However, in another storm on Wednesday, the entire tree came down, leaving just part of the trunk still standing.
The city’s skyline has changed dramatically as a result – some would say, for ever.
The 70m (230 ft)-high cotton tree was said to be the oldest of its kind in the country – a government statement estimated it to be 400 years old.
Just 300m away are the Freedom Steps, climbed by newly arrived freed slaves who offered prayers at the tree before making Freetown their home.
As the city grew over the years, it expanded around the ancient tree at its heart.
President Julius Maada Bio and other officials are expected to visit the site to determine what to do.
“We will have something at the same spot that bears testament to the great Cotton Tree’s place in our history,” he tweeted.
“All voices will be brought together for this.”
The trunk and roots remain in place, suggesting that new shoots could grow into a new tree.
Other suggestions include taking a piece of the tree to the nearby national museum or making a carving out of it.
Many people feel sad about the tree’s fall, with some describing the incident as “horrific”.
Sierra Leone poet Oumar Farouk Sesay wrote a poem about the tree, describing it as the country’s Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Big Ben and other major world landmarks.
But some Christians are celebrating.
Influential Pastor Francis Mambu, who heads the Faith Healing Bible Church, believes the tree’s roots were used for witchcraft and that it was frequented by witches and wizards.
The pastor, who has a huge following in Sierra Leone, was heard in church in recent weeks saying that the tree would fall.