Field Journal – Tamarind Tree Inspires

Singer and songwriter Tia, along with backup singers Letitia, Janney and Umojah - William and Bobs - perform under the tamarand tree by the fort in Christiansted, St. Croix.
Singer/ songwriter Tia, along with backup singers Letitia, Janney and Umojah – William and Bobs – perform under the tamarind tree by the fort in Christiansted, St. Croix.

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There is just so much here I hardly know where to start, so I just will. This is really about a tamarind tree, you can see it there behind these musicians performing under its shade. I love this tree, every time I pass I think about all that tree has seen, been a part of. It sits an equal distance from the Caribbean sea on one side and a Danish colonial fort on the other, surrounded by a rolling green lawn, in Christiansted, St. Croix. It is a gathering place, the tree even has a hexagon of park benches to encourage gathering.

Recently I began photographing the tree, writing about it and researching its history and significance in Caribbean and African culture. I’m all over this tree. I’ve been reading about the lore that mischievous jumbies live there, that archaeologists have found several burial grounds near tamarind trees and the working assumption is that the spirits of the dead could get to the tree easier if buried close by. I’ve read about the duality of the Tamarind tree – that it nourishes and shades on the one hand, yet haunts and causes trouble on the other. And for me, this provides ample inspiration for a tale giving this tree in particular its due.

Earlier today, my daughter and I were scootering along the boardwalk and ended up by the tree. Actually, my daughter gravitated toward it because there were four men and women doing extreme yoga – you know the kind, where people hold each other up by their feet and hands and stay in these intense positions for as long as possible. It looked pretty difficult and cool. They did their moves under the shade of the tamarind tree and seemed very at peace with things. My five-year old daughter was of course fascinated and took some pictures of them, and just watched in awe. I watched but was pretty fixated on the tree and I took out my notebook to continue my story about the tree.

Trying to maintain the integrity of the lore, I tried desperately to find mischief in the tree, I came up empty every time. But I forged ahead, even speculating that it grew its branches just out of our reach to make the tamarind harder to taste – I was reaching really.

Not long after the yogis packed up, this group of artists showed up, beaming full of light. They got right into their jam session under the tree and it was magic. An organic sound with natural, soft tones from lead singer Tia, multi-rhythmic harmonizing from backup singers Letitia and Janney, and light guitar riffs from Bobs and William, of Umojah.

I got my camera and phone ready, signaled to Tia to see if I was cool to chronicle, and started a live video while shooting some stills with my Nikon D500. It was brilliant – the birds chimed in, the wind got through, but it all worked together. It was just this beautiful, natural moment where all things aligned, creative energy flowed so freely through us all that we just created amongst one another.

I realized then that I wasn’t writing about mischievous jumbie, I was writing about inspirational ones – my story is changing and I like where it’s headed.

Stay tuned!

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