N Touch
Tuesday 16 July 2019
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Poui poetry

Culture Matters

Poui! Poui!

– The cry of approval by stickfighters over an impressive move in the Gayelle

THE RAIN has been trying to come.

As heavy rain clouds darken the brilliant blue of our skies, and sparse drops tease us, we watch and wait, almost willing the promised rain to descend. In the midst of it all, the poui blossoms as if to assure us – wait, be patient, the rain is coming.

It is said that in the future, wars will be fought over water. Looking at the cracked surface of our dried-up Icacos Lagoon and listening to pleas for water in various parts of our country, the warnings seem too real and that version of the future, alarmingly close.

Sadly, as with the majority of natural wonders in TT, we ignore the potential of the poui to do more than herald the end of the dry season. Of course, we associate it with Easter, kite flying and even exams. And, as far back as 1969, a one-dollar stamp was created with a yellow poui tree in full bloom. But given our decades-old talk about diversification, the beauty of our poui is another opportunity that we continue to miss.

In other countries of the world where flowers bloom during spring, a great deal of fuss is made over the panoply of colour and smells that they bring. Apart from the visual appeal, the flowers contribute to national income and a sense of well-being for citizens.

Perhaps the most famous of spring flowers are the cherry blossoms of Japan. For the Japanese the trees are an integral aspect of their diplomatic strategy, as they have made gifts of the trees to governments around the world. The blooming of the cherry blossom has been made famous through movies and Japanese popular culture, inspiring songs and even poetry.

Incredibly, cherry blossom leaves are edible, and may be used as a garnish for certain dishes, in sweet dishes or brewed in traditional Japanese sakura tea. In Toronto, tens of thousands of people go to High Park to enjoy the few days when the cherry blossoms are open. In fact, the area gets so congested that vehicular parking is restricted to emergency vehicles only.

I also discovered that in Washington there is a National Cherry Blossom Festival. It lasts for three weeks between March and April, in commemoration of a gift of the trees in 1912 from the then mayor of Tokyo. On the website for the festival (yes, there is an entire site), participants are asked to enjoy the blossoms but not to pick them, because, if you can believe it, “it is against the law” to do so.

The poui that we enjoy in TT is said to be native to Central and South America. Research indicates that it may be found in countries as far afield as Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica. “In Ecuador the trees are known as madera negra and in Peru, tahuari...in Suriname, it is called greenheart...in Venezuela, flor amarillo...”

However, the beauty of the poui goes beyond its surface. The wood is remarkably strong and is used in construction, for example “on Coney Island for their boardwalks.” Poui is also used to build boats, indigenous people used it for medicine by boiling its bark and it is the preferred wood for the sticks used by our African martial artists or stickfighters.

In school, we were asked to write poetry or prose celebrating poui trees. Teenagers rarely have appreciation for such matters, and I was typical in that regard.

This week, walking through the soft yellow leaves, I wondered if this kind of exercise was given to students today. I envisioned a time when a progressive teacher, moved by the beauty of the poui, would decide to move class outside of restrictive walls and onto the bed of flowers.

You see, harnessing the power of the poui is not just about financial gain. The beauty of the tree gives us another opening to teach respect for our environment. Creating poetry or prose inspired by nature also serves to encourage literacy and promotes the value of reading.

I no longer have my poem from school, so I will leave you with some new verses instead: The parched earth gasps/ And nature recedes seeking watery refuge/ The poui bears witness/ resolute in her beauty/ Immune to the sharp sting of the sun/ She releases her petals/ The carpet of colour at her feet/ Cushioning a promise to the weary/ Despair not/ The rains will come...

Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN

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