Iroko

(Chlorophora excelsa) A large deciduous tree of African forests and savannas, and a sacred tree throughout West Africa (Parrinder), often marked with a piece of white cloth tied round the trunk. Sacrifices were often made to it in Yoruba practice, for they not only held it to be sacred, but to be inhabited also by some powerful spirit. Men fear having the tree near their dwelling, for the spirit that inhabits it makes terrible noises. Furniture made of its wood can also make disturbing noises in the house, and doors made of its wood can fling open of their own accord (Awolalu). The surroundings of such a tree were often meeting places for the religious guilds (Tampion).

It is called Loko in Dahomey, and is the centre of one of the most ancient cults, Men and women, it is said, descended to earth from the branches of a huge mythical Loko. If a shoot grows in a compound or street, it is taken as a sure sign that the god wishes a cult to be founded there. But it is believed that an iroko will not grow if planted deliberately. Anyway, it is unlucky to plant a tree, for the planter will not live to see it grow (Parrinder). And in Nigeria, as Talbot said, nearly every Ibo compound has its sacred tree, more often than not an iroko, called there Ojji (the other sacred tree is the Oil Bean, Pentaclethra macrophylla).

The souls of the dead are thought to live in the tree while awaiting reincarnation. When in the course of time it falls, the family to whom it belongs carefully marks the place where it stood; no garden may be made on that spot again. These are "ghost trees"

then, but it is only the souls of good men who await reincarnation in these trees. The ghost of an evil man would be driven away from the tree by the souls of the good men already there. It is believed that no storm can ever damage them, so that the souls continue to live in peace (Talbot).

The small masks called 'ma' made by the Mano of Liberia were the especially sacred ones, and some of their sanctity seems to derive from association with iroko trees. It is not said from what wood these masks are made, but before being worn they had to be washed in water containing iroko bark. Whether to be worn or not, the washing had to be done every new moon (Harley).

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