That Governor Plum Tree: That See-wees Tree in the La Plaine Valley
By Dr. Emanuel Finn
Over the weekend, I watched a video of Mr. Sam Raphael introducing the Governor Plum tree and its plums at his Jungle Bay Resort compound at the southwestern tip of Dominica just outside Scotts Head. During the short video, when he said that the Plum tree is called the See-wees tree in Dominica, I instantly travelled back in time to my simple and adventurous rural childhood in the La Plaine valley in the southeastern 'Au vent' region.
I must admit I did not know See-wees' common name is Governor Plum, and its scientific name is Flacourtia Indica, a tree native to Africa, especially Madagascar and Asia. I spoke to Sam about his short video and thanked him for the nostalgic memories it brought back. I told him that his tree was much smaller than the one in my boyhood neighbourhood, which was a huge tree. He said it is a hybrid and is much smaller. The fruit is small, red to purple on the outside, with yellow or white flesh. It is eaten raw, cooked into preserves, or fermented into a wine.
My next-door neighbour 'Anty Zouzoul' (the late Juliana Jno. Baptiste-Colaire (who every kid in the Valley called Anty), who cared for her elderly father, Papa Whitney, had a big See-wees tree on the side of the small wooden house. Anty's only son, Mr. Angelo Matthew, retired as Dominica's Deputy Fire Chief in 1999.
My friends and I literally lived on that See- wees tree picking the plums—before school, after school, on Sunday and Saturday mornings and afternoons, August, Easter and Christmas holidays, rain, sunshine. It seemed like we had round-the-clock daylight shifts 365 days a year, climbing this Governor Plum tree and picking and eating the plums.
Under this tree was like our headquarters and the meeting point for the boys in the Valley.
Sometimes Papa Whitney would threaten us with his stick to leave his See-wees tree 'alone', but we did not bother with him. He was well into his late 80s and blind. Anty would only quarrel, but we paid her no mind. She would then threaten to report us to her brother, Sgt. Gabe when he visits La Plaine. Often Sgt. Gabe was stationed on the other side of the island in the north or far northeast, sometimes taking months to visit. Sgt Gabe was a gentleman, and we had such respect and high regard for him and his authority as a senior police officer.
Also, Anty would forget to report us to Sgt. anyway. We would atone for ignoring her with some odd tasks like fetching drinking water from the Laronde River or washing plates outside at her request. This was before pipe-borne water was available to La Plaine residents.
Anty Zozoul's husband, Mr. Glenis (who we called Head), often had his bad guard dog, Jessie, waiting for us at the tree's base. Sometimes, he would pelt us with stones. Of course, we would wait him out and never climb down. If we did, Jessie (constantly fed a dose of locally made potent dog liquor) would have us for dinner and lunch.
After Head withdrew from the See-wees tree base to tend to other chores like his cattle in Felicte and his crayfish pots in the Sari-Sari River, we made a mad dash for home. Our biggest fear was that if Jessie ever caught up with us, it would be judgment day for us.
Last summer, during the La Plaine reunion, I visited Sister Mary Jno. Baptiste (Checko's mom) who has built a beautiful home in the exact spot where the small wooden house was. After greeting her, I walked a few yards to see the See-wees tree- unfortunately, it was not there.
I wondered if it died naturally after so many productive decades, feeding so many generations of La Plaine's children. Did it succumb to hurricane winds or fade away like an old soldier who had stood the test of time? Or did time and old age finally catch up with it, and it had no choice but to say goodbye?
I stood at the spot where the big Governor Plum tree served as a monument to my boyhood days for a few moments. I could not help the deep (good) feelings and moments of nostalgia. I could not help but reminisce how life was simple, less complicated, and honest back then in the Valley and what that See-wees tree meant to me.
I remember saying to our daughters and wife who were watching me- the See-wees tree back in the day was my Instagram, Facebook page, WhatsApp and Twitter (now called X) account. I could not do without that Governor Plum tree.
But today, time has marched on, and it seems like our very being and every facet of our lives are franchised. Where is the TV remote? And did you see where I placed my cell phone? I have found the remote cell phone, but I don't know if they can replace that See-wees Tree for so many reasons and benefits.
I have been away and far removed from that Valley many, many full moons ago- but when things get rough and I need a place to "hide", I "climb "that Governor Plum tree and eat sweet plums.