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Olive Senior- Using Nature as a Theme in Her Book Gardening in the Tropics

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Olive Marjorie Senior is regarded as a distinctive voice in West Indian Literature and many critics have praised her reproduction of authentic Jamaican Creole in her written work, as well as her insightful exploration of such issues as identity, cultural nationalism, class stratification ant the oppressive impact of religion on women and the poor. In the poems ‘Anatto and Guinep, Guava/2 and Paw Paw’, by Olive Senior portrays different themes and styles through Nature. Senior uses nature in these poems to portray historical, mythical and cultural references to the Caribbean.

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In the poem Anatto and Guinep the use of these two seeds has been carried out for a long time in the Caribbean. Senior makes reference to this through her historical link to the Arawaks who used the seeds to make dyes to put on their bodies. The poem speaks about history in the Caribbean, as it talks about the Sun’s use of the red dye and the Moon’s use of the guinep to dye its face black.

This legend of the Sun and Moon can be heard in a story where Brother Moon tries to commit incest with his sister Sun but she leaves a black mark on the face of her attacker which later identifies him.

This is why Sun and Moon are forever chasing each other across the sky. This link between the Sun and the moon shows how nature has been a necessary part of the Caribbean from the beginning of time. The reference to the Arawaks shows the many uses of the Anatto and Guinep; hence it was shown that for the Arawaks, the seeds were used as dyes while for present day inhabitants of the Caribbean it was used for food. Historical reference is also made in the poem Guava/2. In this poem the poet remembered when she visited Barbados during Guava time.

She recalls how uncomfortable she felt because of the excess quantity of guava and makes reference to a Taino (Arawak) Zemi of the dead Maquetaurie Guayaba (Lord of the Guava). Her reference to the Zemi God is an historical reference because it links back to the time of the Arawaks and this shows the longevity of guava. The fact that guava had been present during the time of the Arawaks also shows how nature has endured. The poem Paw Paw also has a historical reference. This can be seen through the poet’s words “an ol’ lady told me that. It shows that the superstition behind this paw paw tree was something that had travelled from the past. The belief in the old lady also indicates the importance of the tradition dealing with nature. The poem also illustrates how humans in the Caribbean utilize nature buy using paw paw leaf to tenderize meat. However the way the poet uses this to confirm the superstition would be illogical. Therefore, the use of historical reference in Anatto and Guinep, Guava/2 and Paw Paw assists in showing how Nature marks the Caribbean.

The three poems also make reference to the belief of myths which is an important tradition in the Caribbean. In the poem, ‘Anatto and Guinep’, mythical reference can be seen when the poet spoke of the Arawak’s use of dyes as a means to mark the entrance into adulthood. It is also shown when the poet spoke of the Arawaks’ belief that the red dye would make the sun shine. These mythical beliefs are important because it highlights how Caribbean natives have believed in the power of nature and how nature affects their lives.

Mythical reference is also made in the poem Guava/2. This is seen in the poem when the poet spoke of the belief that the zemi god Maquetaurie Guayaba controlled the amount of guava which bore each year “so that the incoming soul will have enough of the fragrance of guava to feed on. ” This myth is important because it shows how nature affects the Caribbean. The poet was uncomfortable because of the excess guava and the myth shows that nature is a force that man is continuously contending with.

Moreover, in the poem Paw Paw, there is the belief that if a paw paw tree is planted too near to one’s house, the paw paw would “sap your strength… draw you down…” which highlights Caribbean inhabitants’ tradition of the belief that nature can directly affect them and their view that nature can be a threat with which they have to contend. In the poem Anatto and Guinep, cultural issues are highlighted when the poet reveals that although guinep was eaten by everyone in the past, which has become only a tradition by a few adults and all children.

The poet indicates that adults have stopped eating guineps and by doing this she highlights an important point, which is the change in culture of Caribbean inhabitants. The fact that adults in the present day Caribbean dislike guinep and the use of annatto and guinep to make dyes is no longer practiced shows how culture has changed in the Caribbean. The poem Guava/2 also has cultural references which are shown when the poet illustrates how they utilized the excess guavas.

The poet showed that they made guava jelly and guava cheese which is still a part of Caribbean cuisine in the present day. Guava can be found throughout the Caribbean and it is used in many dishes. The poem therefore, shows how guava has continued to be a part of Caribbean culture through food. Additionally the poem Paw Paw, culture is highlighted through nature. The poet shows how the culture of the folklore is an important part of the Caribbean culture. It can be widely seen in the Caribbean where folktales are passed down from one person to another ant the poet makes reference

Senior uses Nature as a central theme to portray historical, mythical and cultural references to the Caribbean in her collection of poems Gardening in the Tropics. Her use of the theme nature seems to be in keeping with the area in which she grew up (Cockpit Country), which is an area surrounded by a vast amount of vegetation. Moreover, Senior’s parents were famer’s which could be a reason her book is entitled Gardening in the Tropics. Also, her parents being farmers also brings in the theme of nature as farming indicates that her parents has had some amount of experience with nature.

The title of the collection of poems Gardening in the Tropics is symbolic in the sense that Senior is using Gardening as mode of experiencing the diversity of the “Tropics” in terms of Caribbean lifestyle. This diversity can be seen through nature, because nature has a variety of ways to run its course. Throughout Gardening in the tropics Senior uses the elements of poetry such as diction, tone and mood to bring life to her poems. The diction that that Senior uses is indicative of her being a Caribbean person.

Though she uses the universal language which is Standard English in her poems it can be seen where she injects some Caribbean flavor by using Caribbean dialect so as to remind us that she is a Caribbean person and also to give the reader the feeling of being in the Caribbean. A conversational tone is used in Senior’s poems which gives her poems a warm and light-hearted atmosphere. This level of warmth and light-heartedness could be Senior’s way of illustrating the nature of Caribbean people as Caribbean Nationals are known for being friendly and hospitable people.

Cite this Olive Senior- Using Nature as a Theme in Her Book Gardening in the Tropics

Olive Senior- Using Nature as a Theme in Her Book Gardening in the Tropics. (2016, Oct 27). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/olive-senior-using-nature-as-a-theme-in-her-book-gardening-in-the-tropics/

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