Silk Cotton Tree to be murdered after all – Transport Minister of Barbados reneges promise made in March 2011 (Update Via John Webster on Facebook)
The Future of the Silk Cotton Tree at Warrens On Friday 25th November, 2011, at 10.00am, I attended a meeting, to which I had been invited two days earlier, at the Conference Room of the Ministry of Transport & Works. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Silk Cotton Tree at Warrens and enlighten us, as representatives of the general public and organizations that had expressed concern about the tree, as to the decision the Government of Barbados had made with regard to its future. The meeting was chaired by Minister (Transport & Works) John Boyce.
In attendance were the following members of his team: Lionel Nurse – Permanent Secretary for MTW; Steve Devonish – Natural Heritage Department – Ministry of the Environment; Mark Brathwaite – Landscape Architect Consultant to Natural Heritage Department, Ministry of the Environment; Dave Scantlebury – Project Manager for The Warrens Traffic Safety Improvement Project, MTW; Mr Archer – Admin Officer for the project, MTW; Nigel Jones – Dendrologist, Ministry of the Environment; Evonda Scott – MTW; Abdul Pandor – Consultant Engineer to the contractors for the project, C.O Williams Construction; From the general public: Nicole Garofano – Future Centre Trust; Kammie Holder – Future Centre Trust, PRO (aka Agyeman Kofi on Facebook) David Spieler – Flower Forest; Reginald Medford – Medford’s Mahogany Creations And myself, as a Horticultural Consultant and Landscape Designer; Also invited but unable to attend: Professor Sean Carrington, UWI; Professor Henry Fraser & Lani Edghill, Project Coordinator for the Green Business Barbados Programme (GBB) This was actually the second meeting of this type , the first having been held about a week earlier and invitees included Dr Karl Watson, President of the Barbados National Trust, and Ms Mia Mottley.
The main purpose of the meeting was to advise us that further to the commitment given by Minister Boyce during his site visit to the area on March 25th, 2011, that government would reconsider its decision to remove the tree, that the tree would in fact have to be removed. The final decision has been based primarily on costs. The MTW did instruct the Contractor/Consultant Engineers to produce an alternative set of plans in which the roadway would have been diverted around the Silk Cotton tree, thereby preserving the tree. I know this to be a fact as I personally saw such plans several months ago.
Once the plans had been produced, then the additions to the project were costed and were of the order of Bds$1.4M, not including the additional land that would have to be compulsorily acquired, on which to locate the diverted roadway. The Minister explained that government had already taken over a substantial portion of the adjacent private property to expand the highway, and the owner argued, quite rightly in my opinion, that if they wanted more, then they would have to buy over the entire property as it would end up being very cut up and almost unusable for its original usage. The estimated cost of this additional acquisition was expected to be of the order of Bds$2M, thereby bringing the total increase in cost, to save the tree, to about Bds$3.4M. In these tough economic times, where there are so many demands on the already stretched funds government has available for such projects, this additional cost was just too large for it to be possible.
So the Silk Cotton tree has to go!! The date of removal is unclear at this point, but is likely to be in the mid to late January 2012 timeframe. Replacement Trees, The Minister has advised, however, that at least two replacement trees will be planted in the area in an effort to replace the one that must go, the exact locations of which are still being determined. Once the locations have been selected then there will be a public ceremonial planting of the replacement trees. Additionally, Government has accepted, in principle, the proposal put forward by Kammie Holder, that the area from where the tree will be removed, be renamed “Centenial Pass” and that a suitable monument be erected, the precise location to be determined later, upon which the names of Barbadian Centenarians be inscribed. Use of Silk Cotton tree wood There was considerable discussion on whether the trunk of the silk cotton tree could be carefully removed as complete as possible, dried and cured and then perhaps used for the carving of some type of monument for the area. This however is not likely to be practical as the wood is a softwood, not a hardwood, has low durability and hence very susceptible to decay, and is readily attacked by termites.
The trunks of Silk Cotton trees have been used for centuries in the construction of canoes by the Taino and Amerindians. It has been reported that Christopher Columbus in 1492, and Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo in 1526, were both impressed by the size of the canoes that the Indians in the West Indies and coastal Central and South America made from the Silk Cotton tree. These canoes were hollowed out of tree trunks all in one piece. Some were 10 to 12 spans wide (a “span” measures 9 inches or 1/8th of a fathom), and could carry more than 100 men. The wood is exceedingly lightweight (specific gravity = 0.23), and is easily worked. Dugout canoes are still made today in some areas from Silk Cotton trees. The wood has also been used in making coffins and cricket bats. My Suggestion & my personal suggestion here, is that since the most major use of the Silk Cotton tree wood was in the creation of canoes by the Amerindian people, the first inhabitants of our island, then perhaps a suitable monument could be created from the trunk of this tree by carving a canoe, as large as the trunk will allow. This canoe could then become the focal point of the Centenial Pass monument, suitably treated against termite infestation and protection under a structure from decay, and placed on an attractively designed pedestal on which the names of all Barbadian Centenarians would be inscribed.
There would also be an inscription on the pedestal describing the purpose of the monument and some of the history behind the project. There will be several challenges involved here which can be discussed separately, but I am throwing this out as a suggestion. We are of course assuming that the trunk will be intact and free from decay and termite infestation. Concerns Nigel Jones, Dendrologist with the Ministry of the Environment, raised a valid point in that with the rapid expansion of the Warrens area into a major town/city area, resulting in greater numbers of people in the area, that government should be responsible in choosing an appropriate location for planting the replacement trees, since the pollen from the flowers is well known to cause a number of respiratory problems and seriously impacts asthma suffers. Also the silk or Kapok from the seed pods is readily blown around by the wind, getting into people’s eyes and respiratory systems, and generally making quite a mess in the surrounding area. Spirituality and the Silk Cotton Tree.
The following notes have been extracted from the book “In Search of The “Sacred“ Silk-Cotton tree – An Investigation into the Folklore, Origins, Biology and Distribution of the Silk-Cotton Tree” by Winston and Kofi Small…
1. The Silk-Cotton tree figures prominently in the folklore and traditional religions of West Africa as well as of the Caribbean and Central America. Such trees were revered as “Gods” by both the original African and Amerindian societies in their respective homelands.
The tree and its occult reputation is well known in the Caribbean, except Barbados, but the reverence for the tree in most countries has now been corrupted to regarding it as being an abode of duppies and a primary icon of the occult rather than being a traditional deity;
2. In the occult it is believed that duppies as well as loogaroo or soucouyan or aseyma live in the Silk-Cotton tree during the day and emerge at night to prey on the unwary. To protect oneself against these denizens of the Underworld, One has to place lots of grains of sand, or rice or other grain around the house. The soucouyan has to count all the grains before it can get in and as long as a large enough quantity is offered daylight catches it counting and it has to leave and return to the Silk-Cotton tree;
3. Ligon in his “True and exact history of Barbados” does not report any Silk-Cotton trees in Barbados. However, Schomburgk, Maycock, Watts and also Hughes list Silk-Cotton as one of the indigenous species growing here before the European settlement;
4. Most Silk-Cotton trees were felled in the relatively indiscriminate clearing of land by the settlers between 1627 and 1665.
However, it seems likely that, following this, specific orders might have been made here for the destruction of Silk-Cotton trees to deprogram slaves from expressing their traditional religion.
5. Sinckler, in his “Legends of Barbados” manuscript, tells the tale of Sir William Robinson, a Governor of Barbados between 1880 and 1885, who refused to listen to advice from his Staff and had a Silk-Cotton tree at Government House cut down. Retribution followed swiftly thereafter and his Wife died four weeks after the deed and was buried at St Leonard’s Church Before cutting down a Silk Cotton, the Tainos needed a sign that the tree spirit was amenable to being transformed. According to Taino myth, the tree would talk to the woodsmen and tell them if it was all right to cut it down. The tree spirit would also specify how it would like to be carved and painted. Those who were involved in chopping down these trees would then have a life-long responsibility to care for the transformed spirits and to make offerings to them.
It seems therefore, from the historical record that the threat of death or misfortune accompanies the indiscriminate destruction or removal of Silk Cotton trees. I would therefore not want to be the one signing the “death warrant” for the removal of this tree, without first seeking the approval of the tree spirit!! The Future of the Warrens Area …and beyond On the brighter side, however, Minister Boyce revealed that this experience with the Silk Cotton tree and the protests that surrounded it in the beginning, sensitized the MTW, and Government as a whole, on the necessity to focus on the greening of areas of new construction and roadworks.
This has given birth to a new approach at MTW, termed “Beyond Asphalt and Concrete”. Under this principle, the MTW, in conjunction with the Natural Heritage Department, Ministry of the Environment, has moved to “Greening Warrens” through the planting of significant amounts of foliage across this project. We were shown a slide presentation and landscape plans of how they the plan to achieve this objective and I must admit that it was quite impressive. The Minister has requested the help of the public to lobby the numerous private businesses in the Warrens area to give up strips of land between the roadways and their properties, along the edge of carparks typically, and work with the MTW to provide additional green spaces through the planting of trees, palms and shrubs in these areas. Some businesses have been quite forthcoming in this respect, and he specifically identified and thanked Barbados Shipping and Trading for taking the lead here. The meeting ended shortly afterwards.
In Closing … I will stick with my original comments on this matter, made on Facebook back in March. I consider this specimen to be not a particularly healthy and vigorous tree as compared to the dozens of other Silk Cotton trees that exist across the island – there are in excess of 100!. I will not oppose the decision to remove it, in the interest of trying to keep the project cost down, whilst providing greatly improved traffic movement in the Warrens area.
I will however insist that at least two replacement Silk Cotton trees be planted in sensible locations in the general area, at locations still to be determined. As a member of the Council of the Barbados National Trust, I can confirm that this is also the position of the Trust. I would like to thank Minister Boyce, and the Government of Barbados, for showing sensitivity in this matter; in paying attention to the “Voices in the Street”, thereby giving us an opportunity to be heard and express our thoughts, concerns and suggestions in shaping the future of development of the Warrens area, and hopefully in bringing more green spaces to an area that is expanding so rapidly that we are truly being threatened with a major concrete jungle and increased levels of pollution. Trees and green spaces are vital to maintaining the ecological and environmental balance as we erect more and larger concrete structures and pave over greater expanses of our small blip in the ocean.
I believe the time has come for greater controls to be placed on the amount of Green Spaces that MUST be included in every new development, down to the level of the types and numbers of trees and palms that must be included in every project. I assume that such controls would be placed in the hands of the Town and Country Planning Department, but to get it right, then a subsidiary department may need to be formed with appropriately qualified Horticulturalists and Landscape Designers/Landscape Architects who will oversee compliance.
Additionally, real penalties need to be in place for use against those that do not comply with the regulations. Such planning and control of our Green Spaces is important for the health and sanity of our future generations and NOW is the time to implement it. In closing I would like to offer my congratulations to the Future Centre Trust, and other organizations who have been dedicating so much time and effort in preserving and managing the future, for the generations to come. On their behalf, I say thank you.