It’s a three-meter-high sculpture made entirely out of weapons such as AK-47s, pistols and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. It’s an embodiment of 600,000 weapons collected by former child soldiers of Mozambique over a period of nine years.
The Tree of Life is a war memorial built by four Mozambican artists to exemplify the courage of the people of Mozambique who handed over their guns for peace. Whereas war memorials often glorified the bravery of soldiers and political figureheads, the Tree of Life represents the spirit of the people who stood against the ravages of war and its afflictions and triumphed.
The half-tonne sculpture was designed by four artists Kester, Hilario Nhatugueja, Fiel dos Santos and Adelino Serafim Maté in Maputo, in a thought-provoking message of never again will a people of common destiny pick arms against one another.
The afflictions of Mozambique began immediately after it gained independence from the Portuguese in 1975. Instead of the new nation to galvanize the hands of her people to push her developmental agenda, those hands were rather immersed in a protracted civil war that conscripted children and women.
The country, according to the British Museum, became a pawn between global superpowers advancing the Cold War agenda. The war turned Mozambique into a dumping ground for millions of weapons sent by the global powers.
The civil war which lasted for over 16 years claimed the lives of an estimated 1 million people with 1.7 million fleeing Mozambique to neighboring countries and several million more internally displaced.
After the war ended in 1992, there were fears that the thousands of guns buried by Mozambicans may make the post-civil war peace treaty volatile. The weapons posed a threat to the fragile peace being enjoyed in Mozambique.
In a bid to address this, founder of Transforming Arms into Tools Bishop Sengulane established the Swords into PloughShares project in 1995 from the biblical perspective of beating the swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. The project later was dubbed Transforming Arms into Tools.
According to transcripts of the project documented by the British Museum, people were encouraged to turn over their weapons for bicycles, sewing machines and ploughs.
The Tree of Life is now what has become of the weapons that were cut into pieces and turned into a spectacular piece of sculpture by the four artists.
Bishop Sengulane noted that his message to those who have buried cache of arms in their homes and farms is that sleeping with guns in their bedroom is like sleeping with a snake, it will bite the occupant when it is displeased.
This project was important to the development of Mozambique because it’s one of the poorest places in the world and many households live below $2 dollars a day.
The Tree of Life project, which was sponsored by the British Museum, was a result of a collaboration between Christian Aid, the British Museum, the Christian Council of Mozambique and four artists.