The Fromager/Kapok, also known by its scientific name, Ceiba pentandra, is a species of the Bombacaceae family and of the Ceiba genus. Its local name in Diola is Houdioufeii. In Africa, it can be found in tropical zones, in dense and rainy forests but also alone by itself. It can live up to 600 years through ensuring its self-defence throughout its life. When it is very young, the trunk and the branches are covered with thorns that protect the tree from animals. Once grown up, the trunk becomes smooth and develops strong buttress roots to become storm-proof. This tree can grow amongst many other species like lianas (long-stemmed, woody vines) and parasitic plants. The propagation of the species is assisted by the kapok it produces. This cotton-like fluff envelops the seeds and allows them to be carried away by the wind. Because of its huge stature, the fromager is often chosen as a resting place by migrating bird species.
The fluff of the ripe fruit (kapok) is used to fill cushions, pillows and small mattresses. Emptied trunks become pirogues or musical instruments. The buttress roots are used to make doors as well as coffins. Cattle can feed on the leaves from the tree. And the tea brewed from the bark is renowned as a treatment against headaches, dizziness, constipation, mental troubles and fever.
Because of its size, its strong resistance and its longevity, the Fromager is believed to keep all the villages’ stories. It is also called the “Sacred Fromager”, shelter of the genies who protect people from malicious spirits. By the animist Diolas, a Fromager can be used as a house for a fetish (a dwelling place for a spirit).