A Chagga holy plant

Dracaena photo courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr

When the Roaming Parkers were in Tanzania in January 2018, our guide showed us a Dracaena fragrans (Masala) plant and told us a story about the Chagga people who regard the plant as holy.  It seems that if you come upon four Dracaena growing in a rectangle, you can bet that there is an ancestor buried beneath them because the Chagga use Dracaena as grave markers.

In an interesting twist of fate, we happen to have a Dracaena growing in a pot inside our home!  A friend gave it to us when my father died several years ago, but we had no idea about the significance of the plant in Chagga funerary tradition.

Chagga also use Dracaena as a sort of engagement ring.  When a man wants to get married, he takes a Dracaena leaf and ties it in a certain origami-like knot and throws it at the feet of his bride-elect, signifying the beginning of something new for them.

So the Dracaena is a symbol of both death and renewal.  That makes it a pretty interesting plant to contemplate at Easter time.


(Adapted from our article that appeared in the Enterprise-Journal March 24, 2018)



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