The Story of our Palm Crosses

Father Alan Talbot was an Anglican priest who served six year in Masasi, in the mid 1960’s. In 1965 he started a palm cross project. Here in his own words is how it all started.

I was sent by the Bishop to a place called Namakambale. I tended to receive mail about once a month and on one occasion I received a copy of the Church Times and read that they were finding it hard to get Palm Crosses for Palm Sunday in England. Church suppliers were purchasing palm leaves from Spain and having the leaves plaited into crosses in England as a cot- tage industry. This was proving very expensive.

I decided to pay some people to cut down the miwaa (dwarf palms) and plait them into crosses. Then I wrote to a parish priest in England and told him I was going to send him some palm crosses and asked him to see if any of the churches near him would like to buy them. The crosses arrived and he had no difficulty in selling them. In fact they were very glad to buy them. One of the young teachers I had met said that his mother would like to take on the work of selling them in England and I arranged for her to take over. She expanded the sale of the crosses selling them not only to individual churches, but to church suppliers and shops, etc.

In Masasi the rains come in late December and last until late March - not heavy rain, but about 32 inches, which is not much in a tropical climate. Maize is planted in late December and begins to mature in February/March. But once the rains had stopped and the maize had fully matured, baboons would come and break up the maize, which meant the people needed to guard their crops. However, once we had started the palm cross work people would sit and plait the crosses while they were guarding their crops. They would bring their palm crosses to the shop and be paid for their work - so many shillings for a hundred crosses, which meant they had extra money to spend in the shop!

‘African Palms’, as the business became known, sells 3 million palm crosses worldwide every year. The work of making the crosses does not interfere with the villager’s normal work of subsistence farming, and provides valuable additional income.

The profits of the limited company, which imports the crosses, are given to a Charitable Trust, which has supported many projects in the Masasi Region. These include water projects, hostels and safe houses for girls fearing FGM, helping to build dispensaries, provide books, desks and classrooms for schools, as well as toilets for the special needs school. Currently there are plans to provide clean water to the eight villages involved in making the crosses, which will make a significant change to the lives of the farmers living there.

Father Alan died in August, last year, but he has left an enduring legacy for the people of Masasi.