For close to 150 years, the Gold Coast – present day Ghana – served as the hub for the transatlantic slave trade in West Africa, especially for the British.
It is estimated that 10 million people were captured from their hideouts and homes into slavery during the transatlantic slave trade, at rates of up to 100,000 persons per year, to work on plantations in the Americas and Europe, reports the Tracing Centre.
In the face of the arms and ammunition and threats posed by the slave hunters and the merchants, the locals resorted to different tactics to escape the ill-treatment and dehumanizing trade. The Mimosa plant was a major player in the escape plot.
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The Mimosa plant served as an indigenous alarm system because of its unique features. The Mimosa pudica – its botanical name – is a creeping flowering plant, which folds its leaves inward and droops when it comes into contact with humans or other objects. Within seconds it dies and re-opens after some minutes.
Due to its sensitive nature, the Mimosa plant gave out ‘signals’ to fugitives or cave dwellers anytime slave hunters and their merchants were approaching. Others also believe slaves used the leaves as tracking or navigation to freedom.
“The leaves of the Mimosa plants drooped anytime they come into contact with slave hunters who were busily scouring through the thick forests to capture the natives who have fled their homes to hide in caves and the bushes,” Roland Annor Quarcoo, a site supervisor at the Assin Manso Slave River Site in Ghana, told Face2Face Africa.
He continued: “Our ancestors made sure they had their caves around places where the Mimosa plants were located. The miracle plants served as alarm systems. Before coming out of the caves, our ancestors check from afar [from their caves] the status of the leaves.
“Anytime they realize that the leaves had folded or were fast asleep, it was a clear signal that an intruder had just passed or was around hence they need to stay indoors until the danger is cleared.”
“The Mimosa plant saved a lot of our people from being captured. You can’t tell the story of human slavery, especially in Ghana and other parts of West Africa without the Mimosa plant story. However, that aspect of history is hardly told,” Quarcoo added.
Conversely, other school of thought also believes the slave merchants rather used the miracle plant to pursue people running from captivity.
“While in Jamaica, a tour guide shared that slaves used the leaves as tracking or navigation to freedom, whereas another tour guide indicated that slave hunters used the leaves to track or follow slaves. I further did research and the narrative on slave hunters using the plant to follow slaves seemed more accurate,” a visitor at a Jamaican slave center once wrote.
Nevertheless, biologists have established that the mimosa plant, which is very common in modern day South and Central America – can learn and remember just as well as it would be expected of animals.
Their conclusion gives credence to the fact that the plant due to its sensitive features might have played a significant watchdog role during the slave trade.