Tell Me Guavaberry: A Tribute to Leona Watson

A prized orange guava berry tree grows on the North Side of St. Thomas. (Source photo by Sian Cobb)
A prized orange guavaberry tree grows on the North Side of St. Thomas. (Source photo by Sian Cobb)

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

I hope to see you there Mama Leona, where green is multiplied by green, the butterflies herald you and hummingbird, evidently happy to see you, performs a dance of welcome. Who better to guide me through Crucian orality? To introduce me to tradition. While we sit in green jasper land, take me via Johnny Cake Junction, down Scratch Band Street, to sit awhile in Serenade Square, next to Guavaberry Gardens. Tell me of Guavaberry. Ahhh, Mama Leona, I’ll be happy as a grinning boy, if we meet by the evening fire in St.Croix.

Let me listen to wisdom. Let it permeate, like the aroma of berries that the nasal system salutes. Entrance me with talk of fire dance, the time when costume competes with rainbow for colour. Yes, take me across Callaloo Crossroads, through Lime Punch Lane, along Sorell Stream, to stand awhile on Black Cake Bridge. I’ll ask for a tale of Anansi and a ploy, if we meet by the evening fire in St. Croix.

Tell me of holiday time, speak with me of jubilation. Of musicians and their bubbling entourage. The Three Kings and the Children’s Parade. And always, the blessings of Mother Earth: potato pudding and coconut tarts. Tell me of guavaberry. Onward, through Fire Dance Farm, across Ginger Beer Green, passing Maubi Market, to lean awhile against Mockie Jumbie Monument. Believe me when I tell you Mama Leona, it will give me the greatest joy, if we meet by the evening fire in St. Croix.

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.