BARWOOD (Pterocarpus angolensis)

A Central African tree, and the best of African timbers, very durable. Both the bark and roots are used medicinally, the bark by hot infusion mixed with figs, and used as a breast massage to induce lactation. The bark on its own is used as a cure for nettle rash, and the infusion for stomach upsets, headaches and mouth ulcers. One of the Mashona witch doctor’s medicine for a persistent cough in adults is to take a piece of bark from the east side of the tree, and a piece from the west side, and crush them with the inner part of a waterlily (Nymphaea caerulea) root. The result is soaked in water and given in thin porridge. Or they cook the roots with a chicken, and take the resultant soup as a cough medicine. Elsewhere, a root decoction is used to cure malaria and blackwater fever. The sap of this tree is red and sticky, hence the name Bloodwood, or Bleedwood. It is this red gum that many people compare with blood. So it (or the wood) is used in rituals in which blood flows -boys’ circumcision rites, hunting rituals, and in rites concerned with menstrual disorders, and childbirth. After a boy’s circumcision, he is made to sit on a log of this wood, the belief being that this will cause the cuts to stop bleeding, in sympathy with its coagulative qualities. In all the hunting cults, this wood represents blood, in particular the blood of animals. So it also stands for their meat.