TEACHINGS OF THE GRASS
Plant ecologist Robin Kimmerer’s 2013 book Braiding Sweetgrass, highlights the indigenous practice known as Mishkos Kenomagwen from the Potawatomi indigenous American tribe. The following quote summarises this custom:
“We are destined by biology to take lives in order to sustain our own, aren’t we? And that utter dependence on the lives of others sets up certain responsibilities which are simultaneously practical and spiritual. This is known as the honourable harvest. There are rules of sorts for our taking. It's a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the living world. A very sophisticated protocol”.
THE WATER HYACINTH
The water hyacinth is an invasive aquatic plant that thrives in natural waterways. It is considered a pest because it forms thick green mats, infesting rivers and depleting the water’s supply of oxygen to fish, ultimately harming marine life and depleting biodiversity. Governments spend millions annually to remove the noxious weed from waterways to prevent the added flood risks during the rainy season. One of the fastest-growing plants known; water hyacinths can double populations in two weeks. This tropical flora can be used for making fertiliser, methane, as bulk for animal feed etc.
More interestingly, the fibre from the water hyacinth plant can also be used to manufacture textiles and paper. A case study is the manufacture of Lokta paper in Nepal. This artisanal paper is made from fibre stripped from the Daphne bush native to the Himalayas. For centuries, communities of this region have handcrafted the paper which is often used for sacred and religious texts. This is an example of an honourable harvest sustainably practised by indigenous people.
THE KING OF CROPS
This destructive flora has the potential to be the King of Crops, a term borrowed from Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart which documents the pre-colonial life and customs of an Igbo community in what is now known as Southern Nigeria. The communities spiritual, cultural and political activities centre around the harvest cycle of the yam crop— a symbol of wealth, social status and masculinity. For example, in the lead up to the planting of the new yam seedlings, there is a week of peace where no blood is shed, no voice is raised in anger and debts are forgiven. This practice is carried out to appease the Town’s deities and to ritually purify the land.
Inspired by German film artist Hito Steyerl's exhibition The Power of Plants, the animation includes 3D animation and motion image as tools for story-telling and world-building. The sci-fi imagery centres on an indigena/afro-futurist community that sustains itself from the produce of the water hyacinth plant. From the bloom of the flower to the use of the paper as part of the community’s cultural and religious customs; the animation depicts the rituals surrounding the harvest— libations and ablution. This speculative fiction will depict a community steeped in tradition, liturgy, reciprocity and making.