The capulana, or sarong, is one of the lovely things of Africa and especially here in Mozambique. They are lengths of brightly coloured cotton usually about 1.2 metres long and are useful for all sorts of things.
Women (and men) tie them around their waists and use them as cool and comfortable sarongs; you can also hang them up as curtains to brighten a room, use them as bedspreads or wear small pieces on your head like a turban. I wear them too, as well as using them to make covers for my kapok cushions.
The first time I came across a mention of the uses of the kapok tree ((Ceiba pentandra) was in a book I read a long time ago. The book, by Alistair MacLean, was a totally absorbing war story about a ship called ‘HMS Ulysses’ and one of the characters (if I remember correctly – because it was a long time ago!) was a young sailor called the Kapok Kid. This was because he had lined the inside of his jacket with kapok fibre to keep warm.
Some years ago, we planted several kapok trees around our house and these are now quite large. The small black, round seeds all have to be removed from the seed pod, of course, before using the fibre and we use nose masks to do this. The creamy-coloured fibre is very fine and silky and tends to head straight towards your nostrils when you breathe in, just like iron filings to a magnet!
Dal, one of the Trees4Moz team, has bad memories of kapok. When she was young and living on the family farm, she had to sleep on a mattress filled with kapok and it was quite horrible, she says. The kapok mattress went lumpy, flattened out and was terribly uncomfortable.
Despite Dal’s bad memories, this is a great tree when it comes to bees and all sorts of birds, especially our lovely sunbirds. At the beginning of summer, when the pretty white flowers open up, the kapok trees hum and heave with busy insects and birds.
This tree was widely cultivated for its fibre and was introduced into Southern Africa from tropical America, India and Africa. Its trunk has a greenish tinge and sometimes the seed pods grow in such abundance that their weight breaks the branches they are growing on.