Fall and Fallow


Plants Used As Clothing And Shelter


A well-known instance of plants being used for clothing, is recorded in Chapter 3 of the book of Genesis in the Holy Bible. The writer stated that Adam and Eve were forbidden by God to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The devil disguised himself as a serpent and deceived Eve into disobeying God’s command. So, Eve ate the fruit and offered it to Adam who also ate it. This opens their eyes, and they become aware that they are naked. Thus, being ashamed of their nakedness, they sew fig leaves together to cover themselves. Fast forward to modern times, and we see that the fig leaf has grown to represent something used to cover up what someone wants to remain hidden.

To me, what is significant about this bible story is that Adam and Eve made use of the nearby flora that they found growing in their neck of the woods. There is a plethora of reasons why they used a plant to conceal their nakedness, including there were no local department stores where Adam could purchase a pair of jeans, or where Eve could go to buy a dress to use as a cover-up. Of course, this is partly because department stores were not even conceived of yet, and even if merchants or traders sold the appropriate garments, they had no way of getting to the exchange/marketplace, since they lived in a remote area.

Regardless of whether you believe this biblical story, it demonstrates the challenges faced by people who dwell in remote areas, and who often lack access to many things that city dwellers take for granted. Tasked with accessing the necessities of life, which according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are food, clothing, and shelter, the residents sustain themselves by adapting to living off the land. Of necessity they learn about the native plants in their environment and how to unlock their many uses. In making their habitat hospitable, these communities largely use plants and plant materials found in their environment for food, and/or clothing and to construct dwelling areas.

The Mauritia flexuosa also known as the Ite palm is one such very versatile plant. Its many uses include providing food, clothing, and shelter for the indigenous people of Guyana, and it’s pivotal to their survival. It goes without saying that if the areas where indigenous people live, become deforested due to over harvesting, and their resources become depleted, society will see them migrate into the towns and the cities, since their livelihood has been destroyed.