It is ‘fantastically … twisted and bulged and smoothed away by age into the likeness of a great-bellied woman’ (23) and represents their matriarchal goddess, Oa. Liku transports the root wherever she goes and she uses it for comfort and a toy. Lok remembers finding the little Oa and now ‘where Liku is there is the little Oa’ (23).
When Liku is captured by the ‘New People’, she clings to the little Oa, and Lok and Fa find it a symbol of hope. She is befriended by Tanakil, one of the ‘new’ children, and Liku shyly shows her the tree root and lets her play with it. Liku looks at her with ‘adoration’ as Tanakil gently places the little Oa in a cave of twigs.
In the devastating conclusion to the novel, Lok finds the little Oa abandoned.
The big toe bored and gripped and the toes folded round an object that had been almost completely buried in the churned soil. The foot rose, the leg bent and presented an object to the lowered hand. The head came down a little, the gaze swept inward from that invisible point and regarded what was in the hand. It was a root, old and rotted, worn away at both ends but preserving the exaggerated contours of a female body.