Fatima's story

How I became a Frankincense tree guardian

My name is Fatima. I am 21 years old and was born into a family of frankincense harvesters. Alongside harvesting, my family graze camels and goats. 

My life has always been rooted in the forest and the frankincense trees. I started venturing to the forest when I was a young shepherdess. It is an adventurous job and when you start it very young, you learn to love nature and the outdoors. I now spend most of my day outside: I know the forest inside out; I know where to find water; where to take shelter; and where to find wild fruits and roots. 

When my grandfather died, I didn’t inherit frankincense trees, as they can only go down to male members of the family. But I am not unhappy about that because I inherited the one thing I always wanted, my grandfather’s monocular.


My cherished monocular

I loved my grandfather’s monocular from an early age. I used to go on long walks with him up and down the hills of Siraadley, where he went every morning to oversee his trees. He would let me play with his monocular and taught me to use it. I don’t know how the monocular came to my grandfather’s possession, but he had it as long as I can remember. My grandfather knew how much I loved the monocular and trusted that I would treasure it, that’s why he left it to me. 


Threats to Frankincense trees

I haven’t only inherited my grandfather’s monocular, I have also inherited his role of observing and protecting the family trees. Observing the trees is hugely important to monitor for signs of diseases, bugs infestation, storm damage, animal damage, and decreasing resin output.

In recent years, resin production has been decreasing due to the high demand for frankincense essential oils leading to overharvesting. Additionally, the decline of wild leopards in the region – a natural predator – has caused an increase in the population of monkeys and other animals that damage the trees. 

I observe a large area of the forest and it is a job that involves a lot of walking, but I am used to it as I have been doing it since my early childhood. It can be lonely at times, but the trees have become my best friends, and I don’t feel alone around them.


Frankincense trees; resilience, gratefulness and spirituality

Frankincense trees are sacred. They grow on hard rocks and have the power to break and split them. They also grow on the edges of cliffs in dangerous places. When I look at them, I can feel their power and divine energy. I take every opportunity to pick fresh resins and chew them like gum. It refreshes me and fills me with energy and power.

Their strength and determination to grow in such a difficult environment is hugely inspiring, these trees hang on to life, sometimes for hundreds of years, on the edges of cliffs high above. The hills are dangerous, but they are also beautiful, and I understand why these trees choose to grow there, overlooking huge areas of pristine land with magnificent trees, waterfalls, grasslands, animals, and our community. 

I do not only observe the trees, but I look after the young trees and saplings by fencing them with stones and thorn bushes to prevent them from being eaten by grazing animals. Baby trees are best nursed in their places of birth. 


The blessed queen of all trees

We have some big mother trees that give birth and shelter many young trees in our nurseries. These mother trees are majestic, but vulnerable, and it’s important that I observe and check them every day.  Two years ago, we lost six big trees to theft. We rescued one after the thieves hid it under some bushes, expecting it to lose moisture and weight so that they could carry it. We replanted it in Farxiya’s tree nursery in Siraadley, and it has now blossomed.  

Frankincense trees are the queen of all trees. Their determination to grow, live and hang on to life is unbelievable. Even though they cling to perilous cliffs, they never fall. It’s a miracle that they keep growing and thriving. It saddens me that exploitative corporations fail to see the power and importance of these frankincense trees, and only see the pennies they can pocket. Allah has given these trees so much purity, but exploitative corporations are destroying them in the name of greed.


Frankincense fair trade and sustainability go hand in hand

There was a time when our ancestors didn’t sell the resins for money because they believed that doing so would disrespect their sacred trees. Instead they exchanged the resins for payers, blessings, and goods of necessity like dates, grains, and herbs.  They believed disrespecting the trees could bring a curse. I agree with their belief that these trees have healing powers when treated with respect, but will not heal if disrespected and exploited. It’s absurd that these businesses selling wellness/ wellbeing products are lying to unsuspecting customers misrepresenting their sustainability and fair trade credentials.  How can they believe that their oil will heal, when they obtained it through exploitation, devastation, and destruction?


Beeyo Maal Frankincense Cooperative

My role is to protect these trees and I will keep doing this as long as I live. I am grateful to the Beeyo Maal Cooperative for standing up for our community and fighting the exploitative corporations. I also send my special thanks to the good people supporting our cooperative, and to our buyers who have given me the opportunity to obtain a new binocular to carry on my job efficiently. I will treasure both my old monocular and my new binoculars.  My dream is to get a drone with GPS and a video camera so that I can widen my observation of the forest. I want to share the beauty of our trees, hills, and landscape with the rest of the world. By raising awareness of the success and challenges of our harvesting community and our cooperative, Beeyo Maal benefits both its workers and the customers who enjoy Frankincense based products. 

Please demand transparency from your favorite brands and manufacturers.

When you are a shepherdess, you learn to appreciate everything nature offers.  If you are lost and cannot find your way, you gather your goats and take shelter in the safest place you can find. You know you have Allah to protect you and your goats to keep you company. The only difference between the goats and the trees is that goats are always on the move, but the tree stay in the same place!