Deep in the rain forest of western Kenya, there lived a special tree that many considered mystical. Once upon a time, her dwelling place was part of the great Equatorial African forest that once spanned the continent from east to west like a magnificent green belt that went through present-day Guinea. Her name was Mama Mutere, “mother” of a remnant called the Kakamega Forest. Her vibrant ecosystem was shared by various primates (including the Colobus and Sykes monkeys); beautiful tropical birds (such as turaco, hornbills and parrots); around 400 different plants and species of butterfly; and other crawling, slithering, etc. specimens of life.
Not only was she the oldest tree in the Kakamega Forest, but Mama Mutere and her offspring (many exported abroad) provide medicines that are said to cure ailments such as stomach pain and prostate cancer. According to George Ayimo, Kakamega Forest Station manager, the Kakamega Mama Mutere tree was accorded special significance “because all Mutere trees in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania got their seeds from this tree.” Although the mother herself was preserved in the heart of this rich and verdant forest full of other medicinal plants, the Mama Mutere tree became endangered as a species because of her highly valued timber. A place of pilgrimage, this mother tree was revered as a shrine and recognized as an abode of the Abaluhya ancestors who prayed before her about their community and personal needs… for rains, guidance, protection, and to find mulembe (meaning “peace” = traditional Abaluhya greeting). When this giant mother tree fell in June, 2014, She was widely mourned. (See article: “The Three-Centuries-Old Matriarch Tree Dies“) …Mama Mutere ~ ever sacred.
Trees have been connected with the heavens and mystical forces in nature from ancient times. Buddha attained enlightenment under the Sacred Fig or Bodhi Tree. In ancient Egypt, the Sycamore, which was sacred to Hathor – “Mistress of the Heavens”… “Celestial Nurse”… “Queen of the Dance”… and “Mistress of Music”… among her many attributes as mother, wife and lover – was revered as the Tree of Life. Various groups of native Australians recognize trees such as the Matchwood or the Yarrando as their Dreaming Tree of Life. Recently departed souls climb this ladder between the visible and the invisible (Earth and Sky worlds) to join the ancestral realm, the place that continues to in-form the ongoing process of Creation through the Dreamtime. The paths the ancestors traveled are marked in their oral-aesthetic traditions through Dreaming tracks and Songlines, also inscribed in Aboriginal paintings and carvings…
This brings to mind the movie Australia, starring Brandon Walters as Nullah (a young Aboriginal child who became one of Australia’s “stolen generations” in the movie); and David Gulpilil as King George (Nullah’s grandfather, a tribal elder who eventually guides his grandson into an initiatory phase of his traditional hero’s journey known as the “walkabout”). Time-honored oral-aesthetic cultural sensibilities regarding the Dreamtime and Songlines are apparent in the call-response use of “Over the Rainbow” between Nullah and Lady Sarah (played by Nicole Kidman) – also expressed in one of the movie soundtrack pieces entitled “By the Boab Tree”:
The other movie that comes to mind as I write this post is James Cameron’s Avatar, in which Eywa – the fictional deity of the Na’avi who inhabit Pandora – connects the Omaticaya clan with Her healing powers, Her guidance, and their ancestors through the “Tree of Souls” and the “Tree of Voices.” That is, until greedy and unscrupulous outsiders set out to mine Pandora’s “unobtanium,” spelling destruction for the Omaticaya’s Hometree, ecosystem, and way of life. Sounds all too familiar…
On this note, it is my pleasure to announce that next week’s guest blogger will be James Bonnet, internationally known writer, teacher, and story consultant who conducts seminars and workshops around the world. James Bonnet began his career as an actor on Broadway, but since landing a writing job at age 23 for the TV series entitled It’s A Man’s World, he has been creatively driven by one thing: to discover the secrets that underlie great stories. Bonnet has acted in or written more than 40 TV shows and features, and has been elected twice to the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America. He is author of the acclaimed book entitled “Stealing Fire from the Gods: The Complete Guide to Story for Writers & Filmmakers.”
Mulembe (Peace)… Malaika
P.S. Click to learn more about the Green Belt Movement founded in Kenya in 1977 by Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner – a first for an African woman.
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