Former villager Pentecostal pastor Rawlins Bacchus and villager Samuel “The Red Hat Man” Charles is warning anyone involved in removing the legendary silk cotton tree at Culloden Bay Road, Golden Lane, to do so while performing rituals.
Information on the tree’s legendary powers is transferred through the island’s oral tradition annually through the Heritage Festival.
One famous legend is of Gang Gang Sarah – a witch from West Africa, climbing the tree to fly back to Africa. She fell off and died.
The tree was “uprooted” just after midday on Wednesday, following heavy rainfall.
It blocked the roadway, cutting off the village of Golden Lane and damaging two cars, Tobago Emergency Management Agency’s (TEMA) Director Allan Stewart said.
Villager Lovern Stewart-Charles said, for weeks, there was a cracking sound near the tree.
“We heard this long crack, crack, crack, crack, crack, and when we look our the tree was on the ground, and when we look down by the roots, it came out from the roots. That is how we knew it was the tree making the sound all the time,” the villager told Guardian Media.
Another villager, Charles, who grew up and remained in the village, claimed he has seen spirits asleep under the tree.
“Things like this (cutting the tree) will interrupt them so you have to talk to them by giving them rum and water. The workers, cutting the tree, taking it for kicks. They might cut the tree now, and nothing happens, but bit by bit they will get sick, some might get blind, cripple, all kinds of things could happen to them.”
Pastor Bacchus made similar comments.
“Although I am a Pentecostal, I have seen things growing up there. Men like Waldron Phillip and Bobby Quashie performed rituals there. They would dance to the tree and writhe their bodies after they had invoked the spirit. I remember seeing a man dancing in fire and putting a cigarette into a crapaud mouth and telling it to stay where it was. The crapaud did not move,” the pastor told Guardian Media.
“Even now, people are said to visit the tree to perform rituals. The people cutting the tree, or living elders, must talk to the spirits and offer something. They can’t just cut the tree and go about their business,” he said.
For years Bacchus, who no longer lives in the village, has documented the legends and activity associated with the tree in books and films.
Meanwhile, TEMA’S director Allan Stewart told Guardian Media removing the tree will take many hours.
He said TEMA, other Tobago House of Assembly divisions, and the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission’s workers would work until it is removed.
He did not wish to comment on whether any rituals were taking place at the site.
According to the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries, and the Environment, the uprooted tree is one of 106 rainfall-related incidents on the island for November.