My Roots: “The Isale Tree” by Lauwo George

On May 4, 2019, we welcomed an enthusiastic group of emerging Vancouver writers to our My Roots Free Writing Workshop for immigrants who shared their stories on belonging & home with author and facilitator Aislinn Hunter. We’re thrilled to share a selection of these pieces with you. 

“The Isale Tree” by Lauwo George

Onesmo grew up around the Isale–a common tree in Kilimanjaro where he came from. He loved the rich green color and the soft texture of this plant. It is through this sacred plant that his father and the clan elders communicated with the ancestors.

One day when he was young, he saw his father pour milk and Mbege (a local brew) on the earth around an isolated Isale tree at the back of the house. He was mumbling inaudible words.

“What are you saying to the tree, father?” Onesmo asked. He was standing behind the fence of Isale shrubs surrounding their house.

“I’m praying to the ancestors to bless and protect our home,” his father, a barrel-chested man, said.

“From what?” Onesmo walked towards him.

“From evil spirits and danger, and I’m asking for prosperity.” His father put his large arm around the young Onesmo.

When Onesmo became a man, his father cut him a piece of land and used the Isale for demarcation.

“Before you build a house on this land that I have given you, you must plant the Isale tree first where you’ll erect the house,” his father told him in a baritone voice. “It’s a symbol of hope and protection.”

Later when Onesmo got a chance to go to study in Canada, his father, as was the custom, invited the clan elders to their house and poured libation at the Isale tree. He invoked the name of the ancestors in gratitude and asked them to protect his son. And so Onesmo moved to Canada with the blessings and protection of his ancestors.

In Canada, he settled at the students’ accommodation at the University Campus. When he moved into his room, his new home, he found a plant, the Isale, in a clay pot on the floor. The plant was withering and its soil was devoid of water, dry like the desert. He quickly poured two cups of water into the soil, which were absorbed immediately. He added some more until the soil was saturated. Then he saw a note written on a small card attached to the plant. He pulled it out and read it. Hi. I had to leave in a hurry. I had no space for my little plant in my bag. I hope you don’t mind watering it twice a week. Feel free to discard it if you don’t like houseplants. Cheers!

Onesmo was happy. He felt the presence of his ancestors at his new home through this sacred plant. Although he was perplexed by the mystery of finding an Isale in a foreign country, far away from home, he felt protected. But when he placed the plant on the windowsill, he noticed a small white sticker on the side of the clay pot with the words Dracaena written on it.


Lauren Dembicky