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Taino Indians Still Thrive in Cuba

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Author Topic: Taino Indians Still Thrive in Cuba  (Read 22069 times)
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« on: February 26, 2008, 07:39:01 pm »

                                                 The Way of the Yerbas

Three older women, all grandmothers of extended families, discussed herbal traditions with me.
"Green medicine," as their traditional knowledge is now called in Cuba, is of great interest to
the government, which is presently testing herbal substances in medical laboratories in San-
tiago and Havana.

The tropical fecundity of the region generates a lush plant life, much of which is named with
Indian words. The grandmothers. were slow at first to reveal their knowledge, but warmed to
the subject as we established mutual respect. Walking with Dora Romern around her bohio in
Guirito, I noted what I could as she pointed out small herbs and specific trees with medicinal
properties. With each plant, she explained when and how to pick it, and what part of the plant
to use and how to use it. No longer an active midwife (government doctors, who provide free
medical care even in these remote parts, have pushed aside the traditional midwifery), Romero
claims to have delivered more than 200 infants in her time, mostly cousins, daughters, and grand-
daughters of her extended family. I asked both Romero and Aleida Hernandez about the
source of their herbal traditions. "From my mother," Romero said. "From the grand-mothers,"
Hernandez responded. It was Hernandez, too, in Los Arados, who first pointed out the wild
tobacco plant growing on a trail behind her house.

The tobacco was most important to me, in that it is a peculiarly American plant, used by many
Indian people in spiritual ceremonies. I asked her if she used the tobacco in any way.

She looked away. "My father smoked tobacco," she said. "He liked the cigar" (el tabaco).

I said, "Not just to smoke, like anybody does. Many people smoke tabacos in Cuba. But the
tobacco plant itself, do you use it as a connection?"

"For the collection of the little leaves from the plants," she said quickly.


"An offering," she said (una ofrenda). "To the mother plant. We give her the little seeds of the tabaco.~'

"So. you offer it to the plant or herb you are going to pick?"

"Yes, that is to ask the permission," she said. "So the cocimiento does you good."

These responses indicated the perpetuation of a rather ancient indigenous practice of the
Western Hemisphere: the use of tobacco, leaf, seed, as a communication to spirit beings or
the Creator. Often the tobacco is burnt or is left, wrapped in small bundles, in designated
places. In Aleida Cobas' case, it was a "leaving" of small tobacco seeds to the mother" plant.
The grandmother asserted that the "plants know" and can "help you or hurt you," depending
on how you approach them.

Later, with Dora Romero at Guirito, and in yet another instance, with the old couple by the
Rio Toa, both Hartmann and I would hear of a similar use of tobacco as a spiritual gift to the
medicinal plants.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2008, 12:57:06 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.

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