Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Four duppies

The silk cotton tree--called the ceiba in the Spanish Caribbean--is traditionally associated with duppies and jumbies, spirits who inhabit its vast, buttressed trunk, and who exact their revenge on anyone foolish enough to take an axe to the tree, or otherwise inflict damage.

On the island of San Andres--a little fragment of Jamaica that broke off and floated towards Nicaragua, and now belongs to Colombia--there is a small freshwater lagoon that locals call Big Pond. Not far from the lagoon is an ancient silk cotton tree with a hollow trunk, big enough for a dozen people to stand inside.

There were just four of us there that day, last Friday, playing hooky from the Caribbean Studies Association conference. We hopped in a taxi and let the driver give us an improvised tour of the island. At Big Pond we met Francisco, who lives nearby and serves as a tour guide for the lagoon and caretaker for the placid, near-tame caiman who bask on its banks. He took us to see the old silk cotton tree, its top snapped off by a storm a few years ago, but new branches and leaves sprouting everywhere; he posed us inside the hollow trunk and artfully photographed us with the sky shining through the broken trunk far above.

four csa duppies

That's me on the left, of course; then Andrea Shaw, of Nova Southeastern University; Leah Rosenberg, of the University of Florida; and Ivette Romero-Cesareo, of Marist College. A magazine editor and three literary scholars, standing in for the duppies of Big Pond. We left with handfuls of small yellow mangoes and went in search of Morgan's Cave.