Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Wakwak Tree

The Vaqvaq or Vaq Tree is said to be located near Mount Qaf in Muslim literature. This fabulous tree is described as having fruit in the form of heads that talk and make prophecies. The tree is also known as Wakwak, Waqwaq, Wak, Waq, etc. and is located in the Bilad al-Wakwak, the 'Isles of Wakwak.'

Instead of heads, the Wakwak Tree is also said to have fruit in the form of beautiful women that hang off the tree by their hair as mentioned in the Arabian Nights.

Every morning at sunrise these heads cry, ' Wak-wak! Praise be to God, the author of all this tricktrack!' By this cry we always know when the sun has risen. The very same thing occurs at sunset. For the rest, the inhabitants of that island are, as here, women, who do not suffer any men to live among them. They are subject to the great king of the genii, who has under his command an innumerable host of genii, demons, devils, and goblins of all sorts.

As can be seen, the Isles of Wakwak relate well to the Island of Women or the Kingdom of Women discussed earlier in this blog.

The various myths related to the Wakwak Tree appear to conflate aspects of the Fusang Tree, the talking tree, the tree of knowledge, the coconut tree and other motifs. The coir of the coconut husk resembles hair and the coconut fruit itself has a head-like shape. In India and Southeast Asia, the coconut is often used as a substitute for the head in religious rituals.

According to Indian myth, the sage Visvamitra created the coconut as a substitute for the head to replace human and other sacrifice. In India, the coconut fruit is seen as having facial features including eyes, a beard and plaited, long hair.

In China, the coconut was once known as "head of the king of Yueh":

Chi Han writes that a popular name for the coconut was Yueh-wang-t 'ou, "head of the king of Yueh," a designation explained in terms of a feud a king of Yueh supposedly had with the king of Champa (southern Indochina). According to the tradition, an assassin was sent to kill the king of Yueh and hang his head on a tree, and when he did so, it immediately turned into a coconut. The king of Champa, angered, had the coconut cut open to use as a cup, as still done by southerners in Chi Han's day. The Li of modern Hainan have a story vaguely resembling this one, but it entails decapitating the heads of prisoners and planting them, with coconut trees then springing up and bearing head-shaped fruits that yield a tasty juice which ferments into a delectable wine. (Frederick J. Simoons, 1991:289)

Solar Tree

Muslim literature states that the Wakwak Tree announces the rising and sometimes also the setting of the Sun, possibly hinting at a link with the Fusang Tree. Like the Fusang, the Wakwak was located in the extreme East of the world.

The goddess Xihe is said to have bathed her sons, the Ten Suns, before they perched in the branches of the Fusang Tree prior to sunrise. These Ten Suns had in addition to solar and anthropomorphic form, also a bird form as the Sun Crows.

Alfred R. Wallace believed that the legend of the Wakwak Tree arose from the morning cry of "Wak wak!" made by the Bird of Paradise from its tree homes in the Aru Islands.

In the Philippines, the crow is called Wakwak in some languages, and in others this is the name of a mythical crow-like bird whose cry of "wak wak" or "wuk wuk" is thought to be a foreboding omen. Another possibility is the name for the Wakwak Tree comes from the Sanskrit word vaq "to cry (as a bird or animal)".

John Mandeville in the 1300s mentions a Tree of the Sun and Moon located in the islands of Prester John that spoke to Alexander foretelling his death. This theme is borrowed in part from the 12th century Roman d'Alexandre in which Alexander visits the Kingdom of Women at the end of the world where he encounters the talking tree.

Alexander visits the talking tree on the Island of Women, where the tree prophesies his death. From a late 15th century manuscript of Shah Namah.

Musa ibn al-Mubarak visits the Queen of Wakwak from a manuscript of al-Qazwini's Aja'ib al-Makhluqat. Notice the Wakwak Tree in the foreground.

Alexander visits the Island of Women from Nizami's Iskandarnamah (1501 CE).

Paul Kekai Manansala


Arnold, Thomas. Painting in Islam. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. (reprint), 1965.

Simoons, Frederick J. Food in China, CRC Press, 1991.

Wallace, Alfred R. "The Birds of Paradise in the Arabian Nights," IN: Jenks, Edward and Charles Roden Buxton. The Independent Review, T.F. Unwin, 1904, 379, 561.