Historical note about The Provision Ground

Historical note about The Provision Ground

This grass piece was once the main farmed area on the Bight Road South, and therefore one of the three main reasons for the creation of the road (footpath) in the first place:

a) to reach the south side, climb down and search for useful items that floated ashore on the south, which is the windward side (bamboo, rope, bottles, wood and so on);

b) to harvest coconuts from trees which had been planted on the southern lowlands. Coconut was partly processed into several useful trade items but primarily to ship the “meat” to Palmolive in the USA. The disease called Lethal Yellowing, in or around the 1920s, ruined the coconut industry;

c) to reach the “grounds” where many foods were raised — yam, cassava, banana, plantain, sweet potato, hot peppers, ackee, sorrel and anything else one wished to attempt to grow.

The history of grounds such as these is a cautionary tale. Without inputs (meaning fertilizer) the land wore out after a very few years’ use. “Slash and burn” was used to prepare the land. A farmer exploring for a site would note some “red mould” and would then to chop down all the trees and fire them (burn them). First he’d wait three weeks for the wood to dry, and then set the fire from the downwind (west) side, so the fire had to work its way against the wind, doing a more thorough job of burning the trees and heating the limestone rocks. The rocks could then be knocked apart, giving more space. Holes were retained for banana suckers.

I said “he” and this preparation work was indeed generally for men. But subsequent tending was for men, women and children!

The first year’s crop was probably pretty productive if the land was well tended. (Usually Saturday was the day for this work). Watering was the biggest problem since the drought season is at least five months long every winter.  The second year the land was probably burned again, and it would produce less, the third even less and finally only the fruit trees would bear, the remainder of the land reverting to grass. At this point it was only good for cattle; or if one waited for 20 years, the cycle could be repeated but less successfully. So cattle were run, with makeshift provisions to catch rainwater. BUT the Bight Road area never saw cattle until the vehicular road to the lighthouse was created, which was in the 1980s.

The cautionary tale is not ended. The final use of much of our cleared land and forest is house or commercial development. There’s an unfortunate tendency to CLEAR EVERY TWIG AND BLADE OF GRASS before building. Thus all of the beauties of nature are lost. In the barren tract surrounding the eventual house or office, someone will likely plant imported flowing plants, the same plants that you’ll see in every part of the sub-tropics around the world with nothing distinctive of the Caribbean, let alone of Cayman Brac.