Ooralhistory has it that the city of Tema in the Greater Accra Region was initially a village that was nestled around a baobab tree where the now defunct Meridian Hotel is sited.
The well-preserved broad-trunked tropical tree referred to by the indigenes of Tema as shajotso formed part of a forest that was created by the early settlers in Tema to signify the settlement of the area after they had migrated from Israel.
The tree believed to possess some mystical powers has long been a part of the town’s cultural and historical heritage.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic about the historical significance of the baobab tree, the Tema Shipi and Stool Secretary of the Tema Traditional Council (TTC), Nii Amarh Somponu II, said the government of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President, in an attempt to develop Tema into a modern harbour city, forcefully relocated the Tema people from their original place of abode to the present Tema Manhean.
He said the people believed the tree had mystical powers and since it was planted, the place had become an ancestral home which the elders visited to perform special rites.
The Stool Secretary of the TTC indicated that prior to the construction of the defunct Meridian Hotel, several attempts were made to uproot the tree but anyone who attempted to cut the tree died.
He indicated that the Wulomoi (traditional priest) at the time who was leading the people told those constructing the Meridian Hotel that the shajotso could never be uprooted and that any attempt to cut the tree would lead to calamities.
Nii Sompunu II said based on the advice, the site for the hotel was moved a few metres away from the original site but the Wulomoi further insisted that they stopped the project since that entire enclave which was then a forest was the “navel of the town” where the city of Tema was founded.
The Tema Traditional Council has developed a plan to preserve the Shajotso
According to him, the Wulomei cautioned that going ahead with the project would be like planting corn on a rocky ground; the plant would wither.
“My Grandfather who was one of the Wulomei told us this story when we were in middle school.
He told us we should see if the hotel would flourish.
Today, what do we have? The Meridian Hotel has become a cement monument.
“They were warned by the Wulomei that the land is a sacred land which was forcefully taken away from the people of Tema and as far as we are concerned, it must be preserved,” he said.
Nii Sompunu said the TTC had developed a plan to preserve the shajotso, which has become more on less a shrine symbolising the heart and soul of the people in the Tema community.
He said preceding the homowo festival celebration each year, the people led by the traditional leaders embark on a walk from Tema Manhean to the shajotso site to perform some rites, including pouring of libation to pacify ancestors and ask for good fortune in the years ahead.
The walk, he explained, was also aimed at exciting the feelings and passion of the people with their ancestors.
Nii Sompunu said the council had prepared an architectural drawing to help develop the sacred shajotso site into a tourist attraction, adding that the TTC was ready to partner stakeholders on the Great Meridian Tree concept towards the development of the shajotso and other tourism potentials to attract more tourists into the metropolis.
The vision to promote the tourism potential of the city is one that is also shared by the MCE for Tema, Yohane Amarh Ashitey.
Mr Ashitey, in an interview, said a committee on tourism had been established by the assembly, with the aim of developing a blueprint for the Homowo and Kplejoo festivals of the people of Tema that could be packaged into a tourist attraction.