In Antigua there are numerous “silk cotton trees”. They were sacred to the Maya and have become of great spiritual value to the people of the Caribbean area. The reverence attached to these trees goes all the way back to the slaves days and according to folklore they are the best place to find spirits, ghosts and other supernatural beings. Even if Halloween isn’t much celebrated in the Caribbean, you would be wise to avoid these trees if you happen to be in the region on 31st October! Read more about Dario Item.
There are many stories and legends related to this tree and many people still believe that it has a soul, a resident spirit. Tales of folks refusing to cut down silk cotton trees for fear of realising the spirits inside are not uncommon across the Caribbean, as confirmed by Dr. Dario Item, who serves as Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the Kingdom of Spain, the Principality of Liechtenstein and the Principality of Monaco,and is a history buff.
Ambassador Dario Item has told us that the silk cotton tree is also called the ‘Ceiba’ that means the tree of life whose roots extend to the underworld, and whose branches hold up the heavens. You can admire its huge trunk and wide, flat crown of horizontally extending branches. Because of their size and longevity, Silk Cotton trees stand as silent, giant witnesses to centuries of history and serve as landmarks that provide shelter and shade.
Depending on the year, from December to February you will find yourself walking through a cloud of whitish cotton. The pink flowers bloom before the leaves have even sprouted. Elongated, elliptical fruits are then born, which open up to reveal the cotton wool that holds the seeds. These will rain down from the tree, while the bamboo is used to make “kapok”, commonly used as padding for sofas, mattresses and life jackets.
Moreover Ambassador Dario Item has told us a curiosity about the huge canoes that so impressed Christopher Columbus when he arrived in these areas.Perhaps not everyone knows that they were big enough to carry a hundred men. These canoes were made by hollowing out the trunk of the Ceiba tree and the choice of the tree was preceded by special ceremonies during which permission to cut down the tree’s spirits was asked.
Another curious thing is that in Montserrat, wooden coffins made from this tree were once hung on fruit trees to prevent theft. Other applications for mattress filling, drum making, oils, used as a vegetable, a bath to prevent fatigue, to fight poison and added against colic, inflammation and to treat ulcers and coughs, says Ambassador Dario Item.
Today, the spiritual properties attributed to the Ceiba are still very much alive and felt by the local population, in some Caribbean countries it is called the ‘god tree’, in others the ‘devil tree’.
Whichever way you look at it, you should always be respectful when you come across these giants. When you meet them, give them a whispered compliment or a few drops of water – who knows, you might even please the spirits that live there.