Baobab Reflection: The Mama Leona Trilogy, Part 3

The huge baobab tree at Grove Place on St. Croix has four separate trunks. (Source photo by Gail Karlsson)
The huge baobab tree at Grove Place on St. Croix has four separate trunks. (Source photo by Gail Karlsson)

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a three-part tribute to the late Leona Watson, Virgin Islands culture bearer and legendary Cariso master.

Too many to recall, so I cannot give you a number. So many have sat below me, listening to her, basking in her emanation. Some of my neighbours and acquaintances are known as shade, palaver or offering trees; I became known as The Mentor Tree.

So many learnt self-affirmation; left here with a new bounce in their step. She taught them of the root of chant, introducing ancient choreography. Showed them the way to keep the head held high, under this word “Crucian.” I listened and was glad to be the tree she’d chosen. Listening to her, I learnt about my kind also, far away in homeland Africa. That we feature in Creation Stories; are the homes of ancestral spirits; symbols of strength; residence of forest guardians. Like the younger learners, I felt pride also. All this time, I thought we were solely sources of food and medicine, but we carry spiritual significance also.

I liked to see her and her little entourage, coming towards the Adansonia Classroom, eager to engage with ancestry. Mama Leona was like the Heritage Oracle, sprinkling the present, with the beauty of the past.

— Due to the dearth of provision in Oxford, England, in 2009 Natty Mark Samuels set up the African School, offering African Studies to the general public. Teaching has taken place in a wide range of settings; schools, community projects, museums, colleges, youth clubs, universities, libraries, carnivals and botanical gardens. It has a specialism in African and Caribbean folklore. He is author of The Birago Diop Trilogy and The Papine Tales; the founder of Rootical Folkore and Birago Day: African and Caribbean Folklore Day. Visit the African School website to learn more.

— Editor’s Note: Part 1 of the Mama Leona Trilogy can be found here, and Part 2, here.