The soul tree or Nyame Dua of the ancient Akan of Ghana was a sacred tree that served as the village shrine connecting the community to the Goddess Nyame through the ancient ancestresses of the clan. The ancestresses were worshiped and fed at this shrine and served as intermediaries between the clan and Nyame, the genetrix Goddess of the original fire.
This shrine was tended to by the Queenmother as this tribe was matriarchal. The Queenmother was the one who facilitated the relationship between the ancestral realm and the living by making offerings to the tree shrine and carrying out her divinatory work.
The soul tree or fire-tree, gya dua, was often a fig. The fig tree was seen to be a representation of Nyame. The red fruit represented her original fire. The women must have either carried the tree from the former location or used its branches or seeds to maintain the continuous connection with the roots and medicine of original tree.
Fig trees were also worshiped out in sacred groves removed from the village. There, together with her priestesses, the Queenmother performed sacred and special rituals for the good of the community. Initiations and group “soul washings” also took place out in this grove.
As time progressed, the palm tree also became a symbol of Nyame and her original fire.
In The Akan of Ghana, Eva Meyerowitz writes of how at later dates, when the encroaching patriarchal worldview and European colonization was already taking place, in every compound except the Queenmother’s, there was still kept an altar dedicated to the Supreme Being, Nyame. It is called Nyame Dua (Nyame’s tree). These shrines are active and honored in many tribes in West Africa yet today. The shrine is constructed of a tree branch placed into the earth with three or four cut branches at the top creating a basket shape in which is placed a vessel containing water and Nyame’s axe, “a symbol of strength and power. The people in the compound bless themselves with this water, praising Nyame and also give her thank-offerings as protectoress of their dwelling.”*
The astounding part about this information is that I have the exact shrine in my shrine room. In the West African tradition I am initiated into, it is called a Nyur shrine. Nyur is translated to soul rootedness and the installation of the Nyur shrine is a ritual to root the medicine deeply into the earth for the good of the community in which a diviner works. This is clearly an Nyame Dua, Nyame’s tree, a fire tree or soul tree. It is clear that the Nyame Dua and the Nyur shrine are continuation of this ancient practice of soul trees carried out by the Queenmothers of the ancient matriarchal Akan.
Soul rootedness and rootedness of a medicine lineage can only happen by being rooted to source, original fire, as well as deeply in the earth. When we understand our place in the vastness of the cosmos, our deep connection with that which gave birth to all, and are able root this connection to the earth plane for the good of our communities, only then are we truly rooted. Understanding that this is a tree dedicated to the Goddess of original fire, Nyame, has only deepened my appreciation for this ancient medicine.
~Theresa C. Dintino
* The Akan of Ghana, Eva Meyerowitz, Faber & Faber, London, 1958