The roofleaf is actually two things. The roof leaf is first the leaf that the Olinka use for constructing their hut roofs. The roofleaf is secondly the deity that the Olinka people worship in the belief that the deity keeps them safe from violent storms. In a famous quotation from the Walker's novel, the Olinka people explain that while they know the roofleaf is not Jesus Christ nor equal to Him, they think that in a small way the roofleaf is itself a bit of God:
"we know a roofleaf is not JesusChrist, but in its own humble way, is it not God?"
The story of the roofleaf stems from an African legend told by the Olinka people. The Olinka use the large leaves from roofleaf plant to create roofs that protect them in their homes. A greedy Olinka chief wanted to farm his fields more so for cultivating crops that could be sold for profit, instead of growing roofleaf plants for his people. A severe rainy season destroyed all the roofs in his village, and there were not enough roofleaf plants to fix all the damaged roofs. When the heavy rains came, many villagers became sick and died from exposure.
It took five years before the roofleaf was replenished, and many more Olinka people died or left the village during this time. The replenished crop is celebrated and worshiped for protecting the villages from further harm. The roofleaf legend characterizes the yin and yang of Mother Nature by what she provides and what she can also take away from mankind. The legend also demonstrates how the greediness of a single man can impact a given society and affect the lives of many people both on a short or long-term basis.