Tropical plants symbolize appreciation of the natural world as a form of knowledge. In contrast to white slaveholders like Susanna Endicott, who stays indoors and eats only imported foods, Tituba embraces the vegetation in Barbados as a source of solace and power. And just as the tropical plants themselves are fundamentally nourishing—from the bright red flamboyant trees to the lush “patches of yam and furrows of cassava”—the medicines that Tituba (and Mama Yaya before her) are able to create from them are similarly healing. In addition to demonstrating Tituba’s knowledge and medicinal skill, therefore, the recurring motif of tropical plants also illustrates one of the novel’s central maxims: that “nature changes her language according to the land,” and so flourishing, Caribbean vegetation leads to a particularly joyful natural “language.”
Tropical Plants Quotes in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Mama Yaya taught me about herbs. Those for inducing sleep. Those for healing wounds and ulcers. Those for loosening the tongues of thieves. Those that calm epileptics and plunge them into blissful rest. Those that put words of hope on the lips of the angry, the desperate, and the suicidal.
Mama Yaya taught me to listen to the wind rising and to measure its force as it swirled above the cabins it had the power to crash.
Mama Yaya had taught me the sea, the mountains, and the hills. She taught me that everything lives, has a soul, and breathes. That everything must be respected. That man is not the master riding through his Kingdom on horseback.
At one moment the rain fell in soft whispers, drenching plants, trees, and roots, unlike the hostile, icy rains I recalled in the land I had left behind. Yes, nature changes her language according to the land, and curiously, her language harmonizes with that of man. Savage nature, savage men! Protecting, well-meaning nature, open hearted and generous men!
My first night on my island!
The croaking of the frogs and agua toads, the trill of the night birds, the cackling of the chickens frightened by the mongooses, and the braying of the donkeys tied to the calabash trees, the spirits’ resting place, kept up a continual music. I never wanted the morning to come.
The reader may be surprised that at a time when the lash was constantly being used, I managed to enjoy this peace in freedom. Our islands have two sides to them. The side of the masters’ carriages and their constables on horseback, armed with muskets and savage, baying hounds. And the other, mysterious and secret side, composed of passwords, whispers, and a conspiracy of silence. It was on this side that I lived, protected by common collusion. Mama Yaya made a thick vegetation grow up around my cabin and it was as if I lived in a fortified castle. An inexperienced eye could only make out a tangle of guava trees, ferns, frangipani, and acoma trees, specked here and there by the mauve flower of a hibiscus.
Sometimes I become a fighting cock in the pit and the clamor of the crowd sends my head spinning […] Oh how I love to give this slave the excitement of winning! Off he goes, dancing and brandishing his fists, a gesture that will soon symbolize other victories. […] Sometimes I become a goat and caper around Samantha, who is no fool. For this child of mine has learned to recognize my presence in the twitching of an animal's coat, the crackling of a fire between four stones, the rainbow-hued babbling of the river, and the sound of the wind as it whistles through the great trees on the hills.