Road Trip! (Pt 2): Lessons in Jamaican History

A lateral view of what is possibly the largest cotton tree in the island.

A lateral view of what is possibly the largest cotton tree in the island.

Hiiiiii! I’m a tad ashamed to say that this post has been several days in the making, (OK, maybe longer), but for some strange reason the inspiration wasn’t quite flowing for me to finish it. Anyway, little over a week ago I had the privilege of accompanying my friend Ayanna and her uncle George on another of his adventures (you can read more about the first Road Trip here). This time we had a bit more company as I had invited my cousin Jhenelle, and uncle George took Shashu, another of his nieces, along for the trip as well, so I was very excited about how the day would unfold.  For this excursion to St Catherine, he had earmarked The Cotton Tree at Cottage (which is believed to be the island’s largest since Tom Cringle’s Cotton Tree collapsed), an abandoned Anglican church in Guanaboa Vale called St John’s (assumed to be Jamaica’s first), and the historic community of Juan de Bolas, named after a Maroon leader.

Making the trek to see the tree... woot!

Making the trek to see the tree… woot!

The gang!

The gang! (from left: uncle George, Ayanna, Jhenelle, and Shashu).

Meeee! Can you say excited?

Meeee! Can you say excited?

The day promised to be a lesson in Jamaica’s rich history, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, too, as we all welcomed the distraction. Alas, as fate would have it, we never actually made it to Juan de Bolas due to time constraints, but the other two stops proved interesting indeed so I’ll share a bit about those with you.

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A closer look…

First up… The Cotton Tree at Cottage (which was HUGE)!!!

I really wish the photos could do it justice, but they were once again taken using Ayanna’s BlackBerry, so you won’t get a full idea of its magnitude. Here are the preliminary measurements taken two years ago, just so you’ll have an idea… it stands at approximately 70 feet above sea level, with a circumference of 58 feet and diameter of 17.8 feet. WOW! You should see its roots! While there uncle George shared a number of factoids about cotton trees, and the history of the area and surrounding communities with us, (VERY interesting stuff)! He also had us do a libation – a tradition aimed at appeasing the spirits when visiting cotton trees. Shashu actually filmed this and other bits and pieces of the trip so I’ll place her video at the end.

and another...

and another…

This man is a walking encyclopaedia  on Jamaican history, culture and environment. I kid you not!

Sharing factoids: This man is a walking encyclopedia on Jamaican history, culture and environment. I kid you not!

I'm not sure what this is called, but I found it growing by one of the roots. Beautiful!

I’m not sure what this plant is called, but I found it growing by one of the roots. Beautiful!

I was asked to lead the libation so this is the empty bottle after we'd finished. Incidentally, that brand is made by Worthy Park Estate, which plays a key role in the community's history. Cool stuff!

I was asked to lead the libation so this is the empty bottle after we’d finished. Incidentally, that brand is made by Worthy Park Estate, which plays a key role in the community’s history. Cool stuff!

Getting ready to perform the libation.

Getting ready to perform the libation… (from left: uncle George, Ayanna, me and Jhenelle in the background).

Shashu :) I wonder what she was thinking?

Shashu 🙂 I wonder what she was thinking here?

A few interesting facts and local superstitions about cotton trees (courtesy of uncle George):

  •  In parts of Jamaica it is called “God Tree”, and is often regarded with awe, reverence and fear
  • In Haiti, offerings are placed in straw bags and hung on its branches
  • Duppies (a Jamaican term for ghosts) are laid down (‘planted’) under cotton trees. It is also linked with the spirit world because it is frequently located in graveyards here. Cotton trees in graveyards are particularly feared and called ‘worship cotton trees’ as they are regarded as tombs for the dead. Birds, snakes, lizards and mice that live in cotton trees are thought to be spirits of the dead.
  • Jamaican folklore believes cotton trees move around at night and assemble together. Like humans they are thought to have an inner soul and intrinsic spirit.
  • Cotton trees can grow to over 70 feet with the branch canopy (crown) extending up to 140 feet in diameter.
  • Traditionally rum libations must be given before cutting a cotton tree down or bad luck will follow, particularly if the tree is to used to build a canoe. 
  • Cotton trees were once used to hang convicted persons, slaves or otherwise.
  • Its leaves are made into linen, and calico cloth is made from the actual cotton.
  • The shoots can be trampled, crushed, and mixed with water for the stinging of vipers, scorpions, and other venomous creatures, and the stalk, when crushed and powdered, cures ulcers if placed upon.
  • Its seeds and tops of the twigs were used by the Indians against fevers, diseases of the breast, and poisons that corrode the stomach.
The church.

The church.

From there we went on to the St John’s Anglican Church in Guanaboa Vale, not very far off. We looked around for a bit outside, then went inside to read the inscriptions on the aisle (LOTS of people are buried under there)!!! I was very disappointed to see the deplorable condition of the church and premises, and it sparked quite a discussion between us regarding charitable efforts to restore it to former glory, and which government or church body would be responsible for doing that.

An old house close by as seen from the church grounds.

An old house close by as seen from the church grounds.

Some of the old graves in the church yard.

Some of the old graves in the church yard.

It was certainly an interesting day, another of which I certainly won’t forget, and I’m grateful to uncle George and Ayanna for the experience. I learned a lot, we all did, and I also had a chance to clear my head and breathe some fresh country air into my lungs… sweet! Can’t wait for the next one! I hope I managed to paint a vivid enough picture of this road trip, but just in case I haven’t, go ahead and check out Shashu’s video… it’s pretty awesome!

Thanks for reading!

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3 thoughts on “Road Trip! (Pt 2): Lessons in Jamaican History

  1. Ornella says:

    Oh this is great. I actually do something like this on my blogs as-told-by-nella.blogspot.com and kingstonianheartbeat.blogspot.com. This sounds like a great adventure. 🙂

    Like

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