It’s a year since Nature and Supernatural Nature hit the internet so after a slice of birthday cake, a sip of rum and a blowing-out of candles, on to this month’s post. This entry focuses on Martha Warren Beckwith’s take on how Jamaican plants got their names
Beckwith wrote: “Most of the local plant-names here collected are evidently English – some applied by the whites, like ‘Rosemary’, others are used to name a plant to which they bear a fancied resemblance, as in the case of ‘Dandelion’, or ‘Batchelor’s-button’… Color, or leaf-shape, or seed-pod suggest the analogy for ‘Milk-tea’, ‘Bat-wing’, ‘Rattleweed’.”
“Other names derive from the disease which they cure, such as ‘Fever-grass’, ‘Worm-weed’, ‘Snake-weed’, or ‘Consumption-weed’.”
She noted how plants with ‘duppy’ or ‘spirit’ in their name were used to ward of unwelcome entities (see duppy-pumpkin).
Some flora was named by what Beckwith described as a ”riddling form” known as “Cromanty talk”. These plants include See-me-contract and Dead-and-wake. Other plant names had more obvious links to Africa, for example, Guinea-weed. African names for children born on particular days of the week (see below) can been found in plants such as Juba-bush and Quaco-bush.
Beckwith’s list of African day names
Day male female
Sunday Quashe Quasheba
Monday Cudjo Juba
Tuesday Cubena Benaba
Wednesday Quaco Cooba
Thursday Quao Abba
Friday Cuffee Fee-ba
Saturday Quamin Mimba
I look at the criminal-catching properties of Broom-weed.
Martha Warren Beckwith, “Jamaica Ethnobotany” in Martha Warren Beckwith, with music recorded in the field by Helen H. Roberts, Jamaica Folklore (New York: The American Folk-Lore Society, 1928), pp. 6-7
list of African days names in 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. 59