Men of the Trees was founded in Kenya on 22 July 1922. Richard St Barbe Baker, a forestry officer in the colonial service, was employed to issue timber felling licences. But he had a conscience about the forests. He undertook long safaris through the rain forests to assess the annual increment of the trees with commercial value. He would never issue licences that allowed the forest to be cut other than on a sustained yield basis.
His research took him to the great bamboo forests and then eventually into the northern highlands of Kenya. Here he found a devastating situation. Instead of the lush tropical forests, he found sparse scrubland. Here the native Kikuyu people followed the practise of ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. The land soon ceased to produce crops and the people would be forced to move on, clearing more scrub to grow their food and not restoring the cleared areas.
St Barbe held conferences with the tribal elders and eventually they agreed that trees were valuable and that the way to improve their land and avoid mass starvation was to revegetate. This great work began with a great Dance—the Dance of the Trees. That first great dance drew the participation of 3,000 Moran warriors. But before he would allow the dance to proceed St Barbe chose 50 volunteers who would become the first ’Watu wa Miti’ – Men of the Trees. Each member took a solemn oath to serve the principles of planting and caring for trees in order to save their land from desertification. Each upheld that promise, and the secret password ‘TWAHAMWE’ meaning “we are all one”.
Today, this idea has spread worldwide. Men of the Trees is now active in many countries including two mainland states in Australia. In Western Australia the Society has been active since 1979. Today more than 2000 members and volunteers collectively grow and plant more than half a million trees in a season. In Western Australia we dedicate our greatest efforts to improving biodiversity and combating salinity & soil erosion by planting native tress and understorey.