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Why Death Is Like the Banana Tree

Based on a folk tale from Madagascar. Other versions appear in The Moon in the Well by Erica Helm Meade; African Myths and Tales, edited by Susan Feldmann; and The New King by Doreen Rappaport.

Long, long ago when God made the first man and the first woman and prepared to put them on the Earth, God asked them if they would rather die like the moon or like the banana tree.

The man and the woman did not understand. They did not know how to answer God's question. They wondered what it was to die. What would it be like to die like a banana tree? What would it be like to die like the moon? They asked God these questions.

God explained, "The moon dies every month. It slowly but surely gets smaller and smaller in the sky until it is only a tiny silver sliver. But then it is reborn and grows bigger every day until it is round and full in the sky. Every month it is the same—the moon grows smaller and then bigger in exactly the same way over and over again forever."

The man and the woman thought about this. They weren't sure they liked the idea of getting smaller and smaller until they died, but it was reassuring to think they would always be born again.

"What would it be like to die like the banana tree?" the woman asked.

God answered, "The banana tree must die. It will never come back. But first it puts out green shoots that grow up to be a new banana tree. Before dying the banana tree helps to create a new life. Which one will you choose?" God asked.

The man and woman considered this for a very long time. Which should they choose?

(Leader: Pause here and ask participants what they would choose. After a brief discussion, return to the story.)

They talked about it all night long, looking into the sky to watch the moon, which was beautiful and full. If they chose the moon they would never die—but life might get boring and lonely. They would only ever have each other for company. There would be no one else. If they chose the banana tree they would have children to love, but, in time, they would grow old and die.

Finally they decided. They would rather experience the joy and miracle of bringing new life into the world—even if it meant they would not be reborn like the moon. They told God they would rather die like the banana tree. And so it was that the first man and the first woman chose love. They had many children together, and their children had many children. Their children filled their hearts and lives with love and joy for all of the days of their lives. Finally, when they were very old, the time came for the first man and the first woman to return to the Earth, never to come back, just as the banana tree does when it dies. Since that time, all humans must die and make room for new life to grow.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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