Thursday, December 20, 2007

Before They Disappear: An Old Cape Verdean Farmer Talks Traditional Plants

“You used to be able to find all types of plants,” says Joao Sanches, a seventy-one year old farmer from Serra Malagueta. “Lingua-de-vaca, Tortolio, Eucalyptus…But the rains gave out…and people have gathered so much wood. Now the plants are gone.”

Born in Tarrafal but residing in Pedra Comprida most of his life, Sanches has witnessed first hand the degredation of Serra Malagueta's forested mountains. But even as the plants become scarcer, their unique, traditional uses come to life when he recounts them.

“When I was born”, he says, “I saw that my father lived without kerosene…He never had kerosene and he never had a match.” For fire, oil could be extracted from the Pulgeira (Jatropha curcas) seed and could be used like kerosene. But its usefulness did not stop here: “Pulgeira gives you oil, kerosene soap or milk….if you drank the milk when you were sick it would make you well.”

Indigo (Tinta indigofeira) could be pounded and soaked to create a dye. This dark dye was used to color the renowned pano de terra, the traditional cloth of Santiago. Cotton (Gossypium Barbadense), woven on looms to create the panos, also grew abundantly on the island when rain was more plentiful. “It was all made here,” he says.

Karapatus (Forcraea foetida), one of the park’s most aggressive invasive species today, was perhaps easier to control, when it was used for such a wide variety of purposes as Sanches describes: “You could cut it, pass is through a machine, and make thread. With the thread you could make bags.” Alternately, it could be dried and used for roofing, or woven into a bit to keep a young coat from nursing too often.The bits, Sanches joked, were not just for goats, though. “If you had a really annoying son you could use it on him, too.”

Hearing his stories breathes life into the landscape. The ingenuity with which Serra Malaguetans fulfilled most of their basic needs through plants they grew and harvested is awe-inspiring, especially given our own reliance on modern conveniences. But most of all, Sanchez’s stories remind us of the importance of preserving Serra’s endangered flora, which offers us beauty---as well as utility--if we protect them.


Post a Comment

<< Home