EDITOR: Many are wondering, “how we survive in Union Island?” It is no secret. Certain opportunities are available to those who are willing to work. Salt picking, sea moss harvesting, tamarind picking, prickly pear harvesting, coals burning, fishing, hunting, and gardening are some to the things we do to survive.
Salt is picked from the Salt Lake in the north of Union Island at certain dry seasons when most of the water has evaporated. This, if it is a simple scientific process, should happen every dry season but it does not. We need to find a way of predicting the years when salt would bear. When these white crystals of sodium chloride appear, almost the whole shallow lake is covered and people walk in, scoop off the crystals, being careful to leave the mud behind. Many sacks can be filled, which are later drained and transferred to barrels for storage. The crystals vary in size and can be sold locally or overseas.
Sea moss cultivation was introduced here by Mrs. Ann Harvey and the Young Striders 4H Club some years ago. Pieces of the plant were tied onto ropes, submerged about a foot below the surface of the sea and allowed to grow for about three months when they are harvested and replanted. Some sea moss seemed to have escaped and now grow in the wild. From time to time, sea moss would become dislodged and wash ashore. People walk along the shore line and gather this sea moss, dry it and market it. Some farmers continue to cultivate sea moss.
Except for the swamps and mountain ridges, the lands in Union Island are privately owned, having been purchased by descendants of slaves on concessionary terms as part of their reparation. Tamarind trees grow on some of these lands and some owners allow the public to harvest the tamarind. It is then sold to people who make tamarind balls, tamarind stew, and juices. Tamarind is a component of bitters, and the green ones are used in seasoning.
The prickly pear bears an oval shaped fruit filled with a delicious pulp that makes an attractive red juice that is in demand by customers of the local juice makers.
The very fine prickles on the fruit are difficult to remove from the hands and great care must be exercised when harvesting and cleaning the fruit.
Coals burning is a specialized technique that must be learned for those getting into the business. Appropriate wood must be selected to produce good quality coals. Most landowners allow wood to be cut, but care must be taken to prevent deforestation and erosion from over cutting.
Fishing, and diving can be done with simple tools. Fishing rod, hooks, fish pots, seine, and a small fishing boat may be useful. Certain species like the parrot fish are now on the protected list together with sea turtles. Care must be taken with Spear gun fishing to prevent damage to the coral reefs. The Tobago Cays Marine Park is out of bounds so the available fishing ground must be noted. Training in scuba diving is avail able from Glenroy Adams at Grenadines Dive. This will allow for deep sea diving to access conch and lobsters in season.
Manicou, and iguana may be hunted during the open season which may change depending on the population. Goats, sheep, cattle, poultry, and pigs on the loose may not be hunted because they should have owners who should keep them tethered to prevent soil erosion from overgrazing.
Union Island used to have a resident agricultural officer who advised the farmers on the growing of crops. The land is very fertile, and with proper management of the water shed and waterways, can be very productive. Large crops of corn and peas were traditionally stowed in drums. Cassava was made into farine.
Peanuts, ochro, sorrel, and sand potatoes, complemented the traditional crops.
A plate of wangoo (corn coo coo), ochro, and fish make a nutritious meal and represents the island’s ‘national dish.’ These together with our grateful heart to God, and cultural practices make up “good” living in Union Island.
Anthony G. Stewart, PhD