This is a song about the extraordinary loko tree of Ginen, West Africa. The tree commands attention because of its grand stature. It can grow to 130 feet high, making it taller than coconut trees. It's trunk can be 5 feet wide. Its wood is prized for its durability and it does not rot in water. It has deep roots making the tree resistant to strong winds. These attributes attracted the attention of the inhabitants of Ginen and they viewed the tree as extraordinary. The Nago word for extraordinary and for grand is gidi and this s used in this song in the phrase Azagon gidi e. Azagon means forest and the word is a variant pronunciation of the Ewe word Azungbo. Today, in Benin, formerly Dahomey, there is a forest known as the Lokoli Forest. It is possible that Azagon Loko is a reference to the Lokoli Forest.
The loko tree is so majestic that the Ewe and Nago people regard it as the king of trees. In other words Loko is to the forest what the elephant is to the animal kingdom. They are the grandest of their respective domains. Among the Nago people the word de is a short form of alade which means king. In the song, Loko is called the robust king. This is said as Loko miwa de.
Numerous songs in Haiti portrays Loko as king. One song states va Loko, Loko va lade (alade). Loko is also remembered in Vodou as a tree and this explains such songs as Anba bwa Loko, hounsi yo dyaye meaning below the loko tree, the worshippers rejoice. It is indeed because loko is the name of a tree that there is a popular Vodou song that attributes the wind to Papa Loko. The song states Papa Loko ou se van...meaning Father Loko you're the wind. This is said because the wind was once thought to be produced by trees. In this frame of mind, the largest contributor to the production of wind would be the grand loko tree.
All over the world natural wonders are objects of religious worship. In the United States the Grand Canyon is a traditional religious site. In Canada, Niagara Falls is also such a site. In Ginen, the Lokoli Forest, Azagon Loko, is such a site. Azagon Loko is a sacred site because we humans consider the spectacular to be a reflection of the divine. The Nago people believe that a spirit called the Iroko Man is the patron spirit of the Loko tree. In Haiti that spirit is called Papa Loko. The Ewe-Dahomean name for Papa Loko is Atisougwe. Ati means tree. Sou means male and gwe, also pwonounced as gbe, means person. In the absence of the Loko tree which does not grow in Haiti, Papa Loko has become associated with Haiti's biggest tree, the mapou tree, a substitute for the African loko tree. This substitution is commonly said as the mapou tree is a repository for Papa Loko: Pye mapou se repozwa Loko.
This is song follows important cultural practices with regard to what is said about Loko. As Loko is the name of a tree in Ginen, songs about Loko often speak of things related to trees. For example, Ayizan whose name is derived from the Yewe word azan meaning palm ferns is believed to be the female counterpart of Loko. Even conceptual ideas about Loko is derived from analogies with trees. In Haiti, Papa Loko is best known as the guardian spirit of Afro-Haitian traditions. This is because as a tree, loko is anchored by its roots while its branches fan out like a family tree. The roots are analogous to the ancestors and the branches are symbolic of us the living. The trunk or the link between us and the ancestors is culture. Loko represents the connection between us and the ancestors and this makes him the guardian spirit of heritage.
Miwa is a variant pronunciation of the Nago word Miran or Omiran which means robust. It also means stout and tall. This word, miwa, is indeed descriptive of the Loko tree. In the Ewe language, e means this one. Here in the song, the letter e retains its Ewe meaning while also providing lyrical embellishment. The o used after Loko in the last phrase helps to prolong the name loko to better reflect the long length of the tree.
This song to Loko is symbolic of our roots as it is sung using West African words alone. The song is sung without one word of Creole. It is composed in the language of the Ewe and Nago Nations (Nanchon). These two ethnic groups had a profound influence on the making of Haiti. The Ewe people were part of the Kingdom of Dahomey and the Nago people were part of the Oyo empire. People from these two Empires and their immediate surroundings accounted for 35% of the Haitian population around the time of the Revolution and of the independence. Initially, Haiti was a melting pot of Ginen ethnic groups. This cultural melting pot contributed to the song having both Nago and Ewe influences.
This is a song that once served to remind Africans living in Haiti of the great African flora they forever left behind. That flora was lost from their sight but not from their memory. They preserved their memories in songs that have been passed down to us. Today, through these song we know about the extraordinary tree called Loko by the Ewe people and Iroko by the Nago people. This tree is really grand it is truly gidi e.