Fig Trees (Ficus)

When considering the diet of duppies, Martha Warren Beckwith  wrote that the restless spirits fed upon:

“bamboo root, ‘fig’ leaves, and the gourd-like fruit of a vine called ‘duppy pumpkin’ .”

Jamaica has a variety of fig trees. However, in the context of duppy lore, Beckwith only referred to the parasitic type which frequently grow around the trunks of cottonwood trees (Ceiba). An article from the Natural History Society of Jamaica  describes how such “strangler figs” find a host plant:

“Strangler figs which can be seen in woodlands across the island, start growth from a seed blown or dropped by a bird which has lodged in a crevice in another tree. If there is sufficient moisture and organic matter the seedling puts out roots and the shoot which produces green leaves to nourish it. The roots spread down over the trunk of the supporting tree and in time form a network over the trunk and reach the ground.”

The roots of fig trees also provide a home for duppies. Again, these seem to be the parasitic type of fig as Beckwith mentions them when writing on cottonwood trees being abodes of duppies.

256px-Strangler_fig_on_a_tree

Because of their tendency to live in trees, the American folklorist MacEdward Leach described duppies as being “parasitical”. Therefore, there is a certain appropriateness that such spirits choose to inhabit the strangler fig, a plant which itself is a parasite.

 

Next time…. The somewhat charmingly named Old Woman Bitter Bush

 

Sources (in order of appearance in the text)

Martha Warren Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life (reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, of orig. edn, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929), p. 89.

Eric Garraway (ed.), “Some Common Trees of Jamaica”, The Natural History Society of Jamaica, pp., p. 30: http://naturalhistorysocietyjamaica.org/Some%20Common%20Trees%20of%20Jamaica.pdf

MacEdward Leach, “Folklore of Jamaica: A Survey”, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde = Archives suisses des traditions populaires, vol. 59, (1963), pp. 59-81, p. 77.

Image credits: Photograph of strangler fig on tree by Vinayara – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Strangler_fig_on_a_tree.jpg [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0]

 

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Malus, Musa, or Mushroom – what was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Regular readers will know that somewhere south of Halloween I started to look at the lore surrounding the God Wood Tree (Bursera simaruba aka Birch Gum) which Zora Neale Hurston encountered when she spent time researching the folklore of the Accompong Maroons. Hurston stated that the tree as so-called because it was “the first tree that ever was made. It is the original tree of good and evil.”

I found this intriguing as based on the Biblical description in Genesis and depictions I’d seen of the Garden of Eden, I’ve always assumed that the original Tree of Good and Evil was either the apple or the fig. In my Good News Bible, Genesis 3, v. 7, once Adam and Eve have eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge:

“they were given understanding and realized that they were naked: so they sowed fig leaves together and covered themselves.”

However, as the Good News Bible never actually names the fruit produced by the tree of Knowledge, it appears that the fig was just a suitable provider of clothing rather than necessarily being the producer of the fruit forbidden by God.

The other contender which features in much Western art is the apple. Carolyn Roth points out in her blog on plants of the Bible, that the Latin name for the domestic apple tree is Malus domestica whilst malus is the Latin word for “evil” or “unlawful”. As for many centuries the Bible was written in Latin, the two forms of malus may have become linked in people’s minds.

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After reading Hurston, I started to wonder which other plants had been suggested as the Biblical tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It turns out there are quite a few ranging from pears, pomegranates and even mushrooms!

256px-Banana_1.png

One intriguing candidate, although strictly speaking not a tree, is the banana (genus Musa). This idea appears to have developed from early medieval Christian and Islamic beliefs which posited that the Biblical Tree of Knowledge was the banana plant. This theory continued to have an influence down the centuries. In the Dictionary of Plant Lore, Donald Watts writes that in the 16th and 17th centuries, the banana was “a candidate for the tree of knowledge of good and evil.’ For example, writing at the end of the 16th century, the English herbalist John Gerard called the banana “Adam’s Apple Tree”. Carl Linnaeus the 18th century Swedish botanist also believed this as he felt that banana leaves would have provided a more suitable amount of coverage with which Adam and Eve could hide their nakedness than the more traditionally muted fig leaf.

Trying to find out exactly what kind of plant the Tree of Knowledge was is an impossible task, especially as the Tree and the story of man’s Fall are most likely symbolic or allegorical. Nevertheless, I can understand why believers have tried to work out the exact species of tree as grounding the Genesis account in physical reality is one means of proving its veracity.

Next time… Nature and Supernatural Nature leaves Eden for Jamaica but still gets figgy!

 

Sources (in order of appearance in text)

Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (reprint, with a new foreword by Ishmael Reed, New York: Harper & Row, 1990, of orig. edn, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincourt Inc., 1938), p. 26.

Good News Bible: Today’s English Version (London: Collins/Fontana, 1976), p. 6.

God as a Gardener blog edited by Carolyn Roth – https://godasagardener.com

D. Watts, Dictionary of Plant Lore (Amsterdam and London: Elsevier Academic Press 2007), p. 22.

John Gerard, The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants (London: John Norton, 1597). p. 1332.

Image credit no. 1: apple charm by H.R. Sparkes

Image credit no. 2: Banana – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banana_1.png from Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia

Rollin’ Calf: part 2

Whilst there are plenty of Jamaican plants which have been utilised over the years to keep duppies at bay, I haven’t been able to find any plant remedies specifically used to prevent a Rollin’ Calf attack. However here some other tips on how to keep the fearsome Calf from molesting you.

1.) If you have to go out in the evening, make sure it is a moonlit night as the Rollin’ Calf is afraid of the moon. Frank Cundall was told by informants for a collection of African-Jamaican folklore, that the Calf will sit looking at the moon asking it not to:

“fal dun pa me, no go wak under me, a de holy night. If you fal dun pa me nancy me kin.”

However, in “Folklore of Jamaica: A Survey” MacEdward Leach noted an exception to this rule. If the moon is directly above you then you are still vulnerable to a burst of Rollin’ Calf’s toxic breath.

Picture 704.JPG

2.) Make the sign of the cross ten times with a knife. Leach noted that people can ward off the Calf:

by ‘cutting ten’ (making the sign of the cross ten times with a knife). The calf must go ten times around the place where its intended victim cut ten, thus giving him [the victim] time to escape.”

3.) Avoid rural areas. According to Zora Neale Hurston the Rollin’ Calf “keeps chiefly to the country parts”.

4.) Beat the Calf. Thomas Banbury wrote that using a whip held in the left hand or a “tarred whip” would scare the creature away.

5.) Keep a dog. Banbury also wrote that dogs are the “bitter enemies of Rollin’ Calves… and will compel it to retreat when they encounter it.”

6.) Run away. Martha Warren Beckwith  was warned by her informant George Parkes that if you do manage to frighten the Calf away, then “you must instantly leave the spot, for the creature will gallop away, then return to the same spot, and if it finds you there will blow ‘bad breath upon you’.”

 

Next time…. I return to my search for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Sources (in order of appearance in text)

Frank Cundall, “Folklore of the Negroes of Jamaica”, Folklore, Vol. 15, No. 1. (Mar. 25, 1904), pp. 87-94, p. 91.

MacEdward Leach, “Folklore of Jamaica: A Survey”, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde = Archives suisses des traditions populaires, vol. 59, (1963), pp. 59-81, p. 69.

Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (reprint, with a new foreword by Ishmael Reed, New York: Harper & Row, 1990, of orig. edn, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincourt Inc., 1938), 27.

Rev. Thomas Banbury, Jamaica Superstitions; or the Obeah Book: A Complete Treatise of the Absurdities Believed in by the People of the Island (Kingston: Mortimer Co. De Souza, 1894), p. 17.

Martha Warren Beckwith, Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaica Folk Life (reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969, of orig. edn, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1929), p. 100.

Image credits: moon photograph by Simon Noel

 

 

 

Next time…. I return to my search for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.