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EL ESPECTADOR

Colombia Postcard: Native Plants And Caribbean Values

Older people in San Basilio de Palenque know 64 edible plants native to the region. Their grandchildren, about half. How can the agriculture past of this region not become history?

Fruit sellers in Cartegna
Fruit sellers in Cartegna
Mariana Escobar Roldán

SAN BASILIO DE PALENQUE“Everyone needs to eat from agriculture. The pope, the bishop and the priest. Silversmiths and cabinet-makers, clothing clerks, storekeepers and the farmer, too. Who can take care of us — who, if the farmer doesn’t sow?”

Domingo Rocha, a farmer in San Basilio de Palenque, in the Bolivar region of northern Colombia, is singing the nostalgia brought on by the ever-decreasing importance of his lifelong profession. Like many other older people in this town south of Cartagena, Rocha — who is known locally as Mingo — is worried that the younger generations have lost the local peasant traditions. Worse, he says, they don’t even know the names of the different plants and fruits that grow in this inland stretch, 50 kilometers from the Caribbean coast.

In fact, a recent study showed that older people in Palenque know, on average, 64 edible plants native to the region — while their grandchildren only know of 36, and the majority of those they don’t ever eat because they consider them unappetizing.

Young people in Palenque admit their ignorance when it comes to the plants that grow in the hills and dry forests in this small town, which were analyzed by the Interdisciplinary Center of Development Studies (Cider) of the University of the Andes as part of research on edible plants in Afro-Colombian history.

Palenque is an important town in that history. It was founded in the 16th century by escaped slaves, and is considered the first free town in the Americas. The residents of Palenque were able to live relatively isolated — and thus free — from outside influences for centuries, and most residents today are of African heritage.

Margaret Pasquini, the research director, said that, “rescuing the knowledge and culinary traditions is of vital importance, if you keep in mind that these plants can bring food and nutritional security to the communities, and in addition, contribute to the creation of a cultural identity for the descendants of Africans in Bolivar.”

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Two Ukrainian soldiers at a military base on the outskirts of the separatist region of Donetsk

Lisa Berdet, Lila Paulou, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Halito!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where the first war crimes trial against a Russian soldier since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine gets underway in Kyiv, Kim Jong-un slams North Korean officials’ response to the coronavirus outbreak and Mexico’s National Registry of Missing People reaches a grim milestone. Meanwhile, Ukrainian news outlet Livy Bereg looks at the rise of ethnic separatism across Russia’s federal regions.

[*Choctaw, Native American]

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