A sacred spring, resting under a ceiba tree, home to various elemental guardians, including “la india de las aguas,” “Anaísa” and “Oshun.”
The Caribbean was named as such by Christian colonial conquistadores and settlers. Its name refers to the name the Spaniards gave to the Kalinago people, Carib. In truth, there were hundreds of tribal communities spread throughout the Caribbean at the time of contact, and following. This included Kalinago, Lucayo, Ciguayo, Arahuac, Iñeri, Macorixeño, and many, many other peoples. The area itself was developed through movement, trade and economic expansion of Arawak peoples from the south and other indigenous peoples from the mainland in the north and to the west. Following Christian colonial settlement and the development of the slave trade, peoples of African descent from the Iberian peninsula and from across the African continent were brought to the islands as enslaved labor. Their first sites of labor included gold mines; then, sugar plantations, and in some cases, cattle farms. The unification of indigenous and African peoples fomented marronage – or maroon cultures: cultures produced by those who ran away from the plantations to form independent communities in the mountains and thick forests of the Caribbean islands. Marronage took place all over the Caribbean and the Americas, producing new understandings of agriculture, spirituality, food, and relationships.
When we decided to start this project, we had to make choices about where to do our work. This is what is called a multi-sited research project, because we’ve interviewed people in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Pacific Northwest. But, there’s an additional dimension to our work: many of the people we interviewed have either been where they are for generations OR they are recent migrants. Abbebe Oshun migrated from Cuba to the Dominican Republic; Jannes migrated to the PNW from Miami – and her parents migrated to Miami from Cuba. RaHeni and Myrna are transnational and move continuously between Puerto Rico and the mainland. Tuwaliri returned to the place of her birth after 40 years in the capital city. And Adela, Luis Fidel and Daniela are several generations in their regions in the Dominican Republic, their families having settled either as runaway maroons during slavery in the 18thcentury/early 19thcentury, or having settled in these communities following emancipation and nationalization in 1844. Milady and Amelia are two generations removed from slavery in Cuba, their grandparents having been born into it, and with at least one great grandparent who was born in Africa and sold into slavery in the mid to late 19thcentury.
In most cases, the folks we interviewed also tend to gardens (most, not all) or to specific plants, even if they aren’t herbalists. Plants are vital beings in all of the Caribbean traditions that our elders are a part of. Plants are part of the being-world that sustain our elders’ well-being and their communities. They provide shade, wood for houses, food, and medicine. They also help elders attend to the spirits, to the dead, and to the ancestors. In some cases, we were lucky enough to be invited into our elders’ gardens or forests. There, they would share with us the various plants that they tend to, and have tended to over decades, and sometimes, generations.