“It’s the last thing any Tobagonian think would have happened in 2020, because of the tree’s history and how strong and long it stood.”
These were the words of one of the island’s cultural stalwarts on Wednesday evening after the famous silk cotton tree in Golden Lane came crashing down. Despite landslides and other trees falling owing to heavy rain over the past few days, many Tobagonians were still shocked on Wednesday.
Historian Dr Rita Pemberton was stunned when Newsday told her what happened.
The tree was said to be over 100 years old, with hundreds of mystical stories tied to it. Silk cotton trees are associated with jumbies. The road in and out of the village was impassable on Wednesday, even by foot.
The Tobago Emergency Management Agency said the tree brought down utility lines, damaged two cars, and trapped villagers of Culloden.
Cultural activist Jesse Taylor told Newsday the event signified an approaching change in the spiritual and physical realm.
The tree was part of the Tobago Heritage Festival for decades.
According to legend, Gang Gang Sarah, an African witch, climbed the tree hoping she would be able to fly back to Africa. But she fell to her death, having violated one of the rules of the underworld by eating food with salt.
Strange events have befallen a number of locals and visitors who tried to tamper with the tree. Taylor said its fall “signifies the end of what we celebrate. It will change Tobago’s heritage. Something is happening.”
He added, “This year has already triggered by a lot of strange happenings. We have not been able to control it. But the falling of this tree is historic. I’m cautioned by this and I’m not sure what it means but I strongly believe in the ancestor and the spirit world and what may stem from this.”
He said Tobago must decide how to mark this occasion.
“What could be taken as an omen, not the fact the tree just fell, but the timing...how do we treat with it on an ancestral/traditional point visited time after time to do rituals, and as a storehouse (for) ancestral spirits.
“...So I am hoping the intellectual people would do something to facilitate safe departure, so spirits don’t roam the land of Tobago.”
A Golden Lane villager known as Tanty Grace told Newsday residents she noticed the tree leaning about a month ago.
“But it was never expected it to fall. We had lots of rain and that tree grew from the ravine and all that rain could have weaken the roots.
“We used to refer to it when heritage happening, because all kind of ritual used to happen at the root of the tree. ‘Doh do me nothing or I go for down by de silk cotton tree for yuh’ are sayings we used to have. People would get scared when anyone promises to go to the silk cotton tree for them. It was a saying that we believe but one could confirm it.” She said before Tobago had electricity villagers would be scared to pass under the tree.
“It was a tourist attraction because it was so big, it was a land mark of what Tobago is. We have lost something not only for the community but for the whole island.”
She called on the THA to preserve the history of the tree.