Have you ever heard of a forest plant, believed to make a woman barren or force her into premature menopause?
How about its leaves having magical potency to charm a woman into a relationship against her will, in addition to aid abortion?.
Well, the age-old myth about the plant, known scientifically as Dalbergia Lactia, and why it is a shrine for worshippers at the Bobiri Forest and Butterfly Sanctuary in the Ashanti Region, is what this feature story seeks to look at.
It is known in Akan as ‘Homakyem’, believed to have mythical features for which locals worship it as a deity. It is one of few plant species found only in forest reserves and therefore receives proper attention.
Many tourists and foresters love visiting the Bobiri Forest and Butterfly Sanctuary to catch a glimpse.
According to principal technologist of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of Forest Research Institute of Ghana and Manager of the Bobiri Research Centre, the plant is more than 35 years old and more than 50 meters long.
Mr Christian Opoku-Kwarteng, in an interview with Joy News, said it is associated with a lot of spiritual and superstitious beliefs and worshipped as a lesser god.
“It is believed to be a deity and a being in itself,” he stated.
In order to slash a portion of it, the necessary rituals must be performed: three eggs produced by a local fowl should be offered to it by a traditional leader or fetish priest.
Also, a bottle of schnapps should be poured as a libation to seek approval from the ancestors and the spirit being behind the “HomakyԐm”.
“It should not be cut completely, only a slash should be taken. If one cuts it completely or in an unworthy manner, he/she may die,” Mr Opoku-Kwarteng further revealed.
According to him, such death has been reported.
It is recommended that slashing should be made early in the morning or in the evening because the person’s shadow will be on it in the afternoon.
Hence, that person would be cutting his/ her own soul in the process of slashing the “HomakyԐm” and may die as a result.
“HomakyԐm” according to Mr Opoku-Kwarteng, is perceived as a human being because its sap is as red as the blood of humans.
Women are however advised to avoid touching ‘HomakyԐm’ for its magical powers and implication on fertility and childbirth.
“Traditionally, females are not permitted to touch it nor harvest any part of it. If a female touches it, she may not menstruate again. Hence may never give birth afterward,” Mr Opoku-Kwarteng added.
Some women who spoke to Joy News disagreed with the assertion.
Nancy Karikari thought it is discriminatory to not allow women to touch the “HomakyԐm” and urged something to be done about such beliefs.
“Why would you bring us here and say we as ladies shouldn’t touch it,” she quizzed.
She is among many ladies who are protesting against the beliefs and feels that only men should be sent to that portion of the forest if they can’t touch it.
Although Nancy and her friends protest the beliefs, they told Joy News they would not dare touch it. One of her colleagues had to struggle for herself when one of the guys pushed her towards the plant.
The leaves of the perennial plant are hard to come by because they literally hide from people.
“The leaves also possess magical properties in hypnotising females that a man may be interested in.” Mr Opoku-Kwarteng stated.
Evelyn, another lady who was in the forest thought it was unnecessary for men to seek help from the plant to charm women.
“I believe that the tree respects women that is why it hides its leaves from men,” she said.
The tree’s back is believed to be sedative. It can, therefore, be used to cure severe depression.
Mr Opoku-Kwarteng disclosed, “few drops into the nose will cause the patient to sleep for about 8 hours. He/she will become sober after waking up.”
Slashes of it are placed in water for the patient to bath with afterward to complete the healing process.
It is believed that any forest with “HomakyԐm” also has dwarfs (spirit beings) in it. Hence, no timber harvesting nor heavy-duty activities are performed on Fridays.
Fridays are considered taboo days in the Bobiri Forest because traditionalists commune with the ancestors.
According to Mr. Opoku-Kwarteng, “if one breaks this taboo, he/she may die, get severely injured, translocated, disappear, etc. through the agency of these dwarfs/ spirit beings.”
People may or not believe in such a myth, however, it is necessary, perhaps, to show greater respect for the genius of nature’s designs, rigorously tested and refined over millions of years.