Island insight, local knowledge, transcendental wisdom regarding native Aruban millenarian heritage, upholding the native cultural identity in each of our weekly episodes, sharing awareness and education, and encouraging each reader to experience a true and authentic island state of mind.
This episode is about tobacco, a magical plant of the Caribbean that grows fast and enchants many with its scent. Pollen evidence suggests that over 3,000 years ago, it was commonly cultivated and used in religious ceremonies among the indigenous peoples of continental America as well as on the islands of the Caribbean. The use must have been triggered or discovered after a bush fire, we guess. Since its origins, tobacco has been smoked, smelled, prepared in medicines, used in divinatory ceremonies, and placed in front of altars. Tobacco leaves represented the sun, energy, and confidence in the farthest reaches of our continent.
The indigenous people used tobacco to relieve pain, heating its leaves and applying them to the affected parts. They say that they rubbed their teeth with a cloth dipped in macerated tobacco leaves to disinfect the teeth and tighten them; that they boiled the leaves, made syrup, smoked them, ground the green leaves, mixed them with oil or vinegar, smoked through the mouth or nose, or put the juice of the plant on a scar to soften it.
Joe Bear Werleman, a native of Aruba, used to say that if someone got bitten by a rattlesnake, they should eat all the tobacco they carried. This will provoke vomiting, so the victim will vomit all the venom out. We don’t know if this is true or if the method works as claimed. We don’t wish anyone to eat their tobacco.
When the Spanish arrived in the Caribbean at the end of the 15th century, they observed that the indigenous people of our islands smoked tobacco using a pipe-shaped cane or a ceramic funnel called Tobago, which gave rise to the name of the plant.
The Spanish were unaware of tobacco, which by then had conquered all the farmlands of America and was widely distributed from northern Argentina to southern Canada.
The tobacco plant is fast-growing; in just two months, it will go from being 15 centimeters tall to almost 2 meters tall when it blooms. During this time, care is constant; labor and watering follow one another to accompany the vegetative development.
Because tobacco originates from tropical regions, the plant vegetates better and the harvest is earlier.
Tobacco belongs to the genus Nicotiana tabacum, but its evolution required thousands of years to produce the plant we know today.
During the 20th century, tobacco consumption habits underwent great changes that laid the foundations for the transformation, composition, and geographical origin of agricultural production.
A practice known here as “huma paden,” or “reverse smoking,” widely used among women, was customary among our Aruban ancestors. In this practice, the lit end of the cigarette is held by the lips or by the teeth and introduced into the mouth, where combustion occurs. Subsequent studies determined that “reverse smokers” are much more likely to have patches and red areas on the roof of the mouth, as well as leukoplakia and carcinoma. During those years, it was normal to see tobacco plants grow everywhere after the rains, but with the development that Aruba has had and is having; many flora and fauna have disappeared or become extinct.
If you love to explore and know everything about Aruba, we encourage you to do something outside the tourist grid by visiting the exclusive museum called Etnia Nativa, where you will be able to admire native art collections, archaeological artifacts, and historical furniture, while the lecturer will transform your mindset from that of a simple observer into that of a conservator. Since 1994, Etnia Nativa has been the private residence of our columnist, native artist, and island’s Piache, Anthony Croes, who enjoys sharing personally with tourism an authentic view of Aruba, guiding each guest step by step during the visit through his unrepeated residence. So take some time away from the beach scene and book your appointment to experience the real native effect!
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