The connection between culture and nature
What´s the ceiba tree? Here we´ll answer this question
The ceiba tree can be a clear example of how nature has inspired all the cultures that have flourished on Earth. The Maya Culture is the best example, which adopted countless animals to endow them with great power and respect; from the mighty jaguar to the snake.
For the Maya, the ceiba tree was responsible for holding the universe, and it was called Yaxché, which means “green tree” in the Mayan language. It is in the book of Popol Vuh where we find the first reference to the importance of this tree since the gods planted four of them in each of the cosmic points of the universe: the white ceiba to the north, the yellow ceiba to the south, the red ceiba to the east and the black ceiba to the west.
The Chilam Balam book of Chumayel also refers to the ceiba tree in this fragment:
The red flint is the sacred stone of Ah Chac Mucen Cab. The Madre Ceiba Roja, her Hidden Center, is in the east. The chacalpucte is their tree. Theirs are the red sapote and the red vines. The red-yellow-crested turkeys are their birds. The red and roasted corn is their corn.
The white flint is the sacred stone of the north. Madre Ceiba Blanca is the Invisible Center of Sac Mucen Cab. White turkeys are their turkeys. White beans are their beans. White corn is their corn.
The black flint is the stone of the west. Madre Ceiba Negra is its Hidden Center. Black, caramelized corn is their corn. The black nipple sweet potato is their sweet potato. Black turkeys their turkeys. The black night is their home. The black bean is their bean.
Yellow flint is the stone of the south. Madre Ceiba Amarilla is its Hidden Center. The yellow pucté is their tree. Yellow is their sweet potato. Yellow is their turkeys. The yellow-backed bean is their bean.
This tree is the bridge that binds the earth with the sky and the underworld. Each of these plains is formed by several levels; thirteen for heaven and nine for the underworld or Xibalbá, thus earning the name “Axis Mundi” or the center of the world.
The ceiba tree is part of the legend of Xtabay; this was the tree where she took the men she managed to enchant with her charms, to end up thorned among the bark of the majestic tree.
The importance of the ceiba tree transcends culture to the ecosystem of which it is part of. In Mexico, we can find it from Tabasco and Chiapas to the entire Yucatan Peninsula. In some places, the ceiba tree can reach more than 120 feet in height, and its diameter can reach several meters. This tree flowers between January and March, when its capsules open and release a silky white or silver fluff, which surrounds its seeds.
Something curious about the growth of this tree is that it seems to grow its branches always pointing towarsd the four cardinal points, as the Popol Vuh book states.
One of the most famous ceiba trees today is found in Solferino near Holbox Island in Quintana Roo. It is known as the Ancient Tree; which is believed to be over 700 years old and it is said that whoever hugs it, can feel its healing power.
The healing powers of the ceiba are also found in its bark, which, when boiled, can be used to heal wounds, rheumatism, as well as a diuretic antispasmodic. The resin can be used to relieve intestinal discomfort and its leaves help wound healing by containing high concentrations of camphor.
If you’re visiting us at Xcaret from Playa del Carmen, you will realize that the ceiba tree will guide your way to this Mexican paradise. The Playa del Carmen – Tulum highway was reforested with several specimens of this ancestral tree in an effort to rescue this majestic tree which is part of our history.