The Ceibo or Seibo tree with its beautiful red blossom was declared the national flower of Argentina on the 24th November, 1942. This Guarani story tells of where the Ceibo came from.
On the shores of the river Paraná there once lived an ugly old woman called Anahí. Ugly she might have been, and old she certainly was, but she was much loved in the tribe and still sang with the voice of an angel. In the summer evenings she would often delight her tribe with her songs; songs of the tribe, of the gods and of the land in which they lived. Life was plain and uncomplicated, and good for her and her people.
And then one day the white people arrived and took away their lands, their gods, their freedom. Many of the tribe, including Anahí, were taken captive, and spent several days locked up while their captors decided what to do with them.
Anahí did not lose hope and bided her time, keeping her eyes open for any chances of escape. Her luck came when one of her guards had had too much to drink and fell asleep close to the bars of her cage. Anahí was able reach the keys which he had hanging on his belt and she used these to free herself. As she opened her cell door and tiptoed to freedom the guard was lying on the floor, moaning and groaning in his sleep.
He must have noticed her, because he suddenly started shouting and the noise alerted other white men, who came to investigate. Anahí could hear the sound of voices and footsteps approaching, and although she had wanted to free the other prisoners she felt this was not now an option, and that it was better to get away while she could and see later what she could do to help the others.
Anahí hobbled out of the prison and stumbled through the prison garden, through the fields, through the woods, across streams, until she reached the thick forest. Tired and frightened, she rested there. But luck was against her; the white men had brought dogs who could smell her presence. They took little time to find her, and the men dragged the old woman to a clearing where they tied her to a thorny old bush.
Some soldiers gathered dry wood and built up a pyre around Anahi’s legs. The wood was slow to burn but eventually the fire took, and flames began to encircle the poor old woman and then climb up her frail body. This was to be her fate.
What happened next was a miracle. As she stood there, unconscious, her aged body sagging against the ropes and her head twisted to one side, her limbs slowly began to meld into the tree which she was tied to, and the two became one. And the bush did not burn, in fact it seemed oblivious to the fire, or rather it seemed to relish the flames as it grew greener and stronger.
The flames slowly died out as all the wood the soldiers had gathered was consumed, and there, in the place where a wizened old thorn bush had propped up Anahí’s body, had sprung to life the most magnificent tree, in full green bloom and all ablaze with bright red flowers. The shrivelled bush and the ugly old woman had fused into a beautiful, colourful tree that before long, with help from the birds and animals, multiplied itself and can be found today throughout the land.