Guardian mystery – If someone is to tell you that there is a tree in the middle of a road in Guyana, that will somehow kill anyone who tries to cut it down, what would you say?
Utter nonsense, farce, rubbish, foolishness, mythical crap, untrue, unbelievable, and all of the other words that would amount to rejection or disagreement with such a claim.
But whether you would want to accept it or not, there is a tree in the middle of the road at Mahaicony, on the East Coast of Demerara that has been credited for supposedly killing more people in Guyana than rattlesnake bites.
Widely claimed to be a tree where slaves had once encamped after being bought from Dutch plantations in neighbouring Suriname, it is claimed that African incantations were made by slaves who were killed there, and who transcend their spirits to the tree.
While there are hardly any historical documents to back this claim, – during a brief research that I had conducted for a book in 2015 at the Centre for the Study of International Slavery – University of Liverpool (in England), I stumbled upon a diary entry that was made by an English Slave Master who had mentioned “an unexplained loss of lives by slave drivers who were attempting to clear a group of trees on a pathway leading to Berbice on the Coast of the then British Guiana, – circa 1758.
Other remnants of the notes seem to suggest that slaves became visibly afraid of the trees when they were instructed to cut them, and would rather die by the barrel of the slave master’s gun, rather than even attempting to clear the trees.
There is no other known historical record that can point to the cluster of trees often referred to as “the tree” at the middle of the road at Mahaicony.
What we do know, is that from between 1975 to now, every person who had attempted to cut down that tree has died under gruesome and sometimes unexplained circumstances, while others were either crippled or in one case, was suddenly unable to speak; – and dying years later without ever communicating with anyone.
From former President LFS Burham right through to Janet Jagan, at least four governments made attempts to remove the tree. But in each case, almost all of the men who operated the machinery to cut it down has died or had been seriously injured at the site under mysterious circumstances.
In the end, the government under former President Bharrat Jagdeo made a decree to leave the tree alone, since there might probably be some sort of spiritual annotations to the tree, compounded by the fact that no one in modern Guyana was willing to undertake a contract to cut it down.
Today, after more than two centuries, the tree is still standing in the middle of the road with several warning signs and traffic directives along with a split roadway directing road users to go around on either side of the tree.
Some people are so afraid of the tree that they refuse to even take a photo of it, while others refuse to look at it.
Tourists who have come to Guyana to see the “Tree in the Middle of the Road” in the past, have posted pictures on Trip Advisor of the eerie tourist attraction, while indicating that they took the pictures several hundred yards away from it.
In another posting, dozens of potential tourists were actually asking if there were guided tours to the site of the tree. But checks with sources at the Guyana Tourism Authority revealed that there was none.
Nonetheless, the tree seems to serve as a mystery to some, but as a risky spiritual piece of nature for others.
In our case, this publication’s photographer refused to take a picture of the tree, forcing another staff to stand more than three hundred yards away before taking a pic.
It now begs one to wonder whether this is just an overreaction to a myth or a case where the spirits of slaves are actually embalmed into the life of that tree.
But whatever it is, Guyanese seems to accept the fact that the tree ought to be left alone.