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Book: Ritual, Personhood and the New Animism

Chapter: The Ritual Use of Plants in the Caribbean

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.45200


This chapter will explore the history and current role of plants in ritual, and as people ,in the Caribbean and related areas (including Africa). Work has been done on plant use in indigenous ritual and through the lens of plants as persons, in a number of colonialized countries, notably Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, and North America, but the Caribbean remains a somewhat marginalized area of study particularly in the area of

Religious Studies. By drawing on archival material combined with scholarly work on ethnobotany, this chapter aims to explore the relationships between Indigenous and enslaved African peoples in the region, and ritual plant use, both in colonial times and into the present day.

With a focus on the island of St Vincent and the Botanical Garden there, the first in the Western hemisphere established in 1775, it will think through the use of abortifacients to enable enslaved pregnant females to send their foetuses home to Africa before being birthed into slavery, the act of geophagy or pica (dirt eating) that, drawing on African traditions, would enable enslaved people to die at their own hand, and again allow their souls to return to their homeland. In regard to Indigenous peoples, the use of Bixa Orellana, known as achiote, was employed as a protectant by the people now known as Kalinago, then Island Caribs. Today, plants are used by Jamaican Rastafarians to connect with Jah, in Cuban Santeria healing rituals, as protective charms in the Guianas, and to release the souls of the dead in Haitian vudu.

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