History Items of the Canal Zone

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Flowers and Obeah

An old woman from the West Indies, Barbados to be specific took care of me when I was a child in the Panama, Canal Zone. It was rumored she was an Obeah princess, and a master of the British Island voodoo use of herbs and potions. She became frustrated when the doctors were unable to deal with my semi-annual bouts with tonsillitis. Her use of herbal teas to shrink my inflamed tonsils baffled the medical profession but sure saved me a lot of pain. All the maids in our neighborhood were convinced of her skills and she taught me so much.

As an example, I want to share with you her answer to my kindergarten age questions concerning why her skin was black and mine was white. On one occasion, she thought for a moment; then with a deep sigh said to me, "My son. Please bring me all de flowers you can reach and put dem here on dis table."

An eight feet high hibiscus hedge bearing hundreds of different varieties surrounded our back yard in which we sat. With a quickness that could only be equaled by another seven-year-old, I deposited 25 flowers of different sizes and colors in front of Miss Georgia.

"See the milk," she asked pointing to the weeping sap. "Flower blood. De stems, dem, dey bleed. Now see the center," pointing to the stamen. "Dem all have yellow powder on dem. Count the petals, dem. On every one der be five. Now boy, pull off the petals and get to the center, de heart."

In every flower I found the same sticky, banana like, quarter-inch length 'thingy' in its center. The one some kids stuck to the end of their noses in church to embarrass their parents. Georgia nodded knowingly as I finished the last flower.

"My son. All dese flowers, dem have white blood. Dem all the same shape. Dem all have a long point with yellow on it in front. Dem all have de same heart. Five petals grow on all de flowers. But, my son, de petals dem all be different colors. Dat is why your skin be white and mine be black. We be like flowers -- we have the same blood, de same shape, de same heart -- we just be different colors."

Was she an Obeah princess? I think she was.


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