Trans-Atlantic Diaspora Ethnobotany: Legacies of West African and Iberian Mediterranean Migration in Central Cuba



This chapter explores variance in ethnobotanical knowledge based on parallel documented uses between Cuba and its two main centers of mass migration: West Africa and the Iberian Mediterranean. Based on 12 months’ fieldwork, it explores the link between medicinal plant-use knowledge, land use, and migrant history at selected sites in central Cuba. Employing natural and social science methods, it seeks to offer a geographical perspective to the study of trans-Atlantic diaspora ethnobotany and New World religious syncretism. Results demonstrate that second-generation residents of selected sites with extensive African immigration (sugar cultivation zones) demonstrate a more detailed knowledge of West African-derived medicinal pharmacopoeia than those in areas with stronger Mediterranean immigration (tobacco cultivation zones). Knowledge derived from the Iberian Mediterranean is more widespread between both agricultural zones and marginally stronger in tobacco cultivation zones of smaller settlement types. This chapter concludes that various strands of diaspora plant-use knowledge thrive in distinct ways in different parts of Cuba, which runs counter to official discourse that portrays traditional medicine as largely derived from Spanish communities. In reexamining religious syncretism in the context of ethnobotany, it advocates a stronger recognition of the important role that African-derived ethnobotanical knowledge has played in Cuba’s colonial and postcolonial history.


Afro-Cuban religion Syncretism Mediterranean West Africa Medicinal plants 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jesus CollegeOxford University Centre for the Environment, University of OxfordOxfordUK

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