The Ubuntu Garden is MoCADA’s outdoor extension dedicated to art, wellness and climate justice. As a community green space, visitors of all ages are invited to learn about the flowers in our garden, explore our permanent public art installation and new murals, attend workshops and special events. “Ubuntu” is a South African Zulu term meaning humanity to others. It reminds us that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’.
To celebrate the spirit of ubuntu, the shared values and cultures of Africa and the diaspora which is a core tenet of our organization, we intentionally sought out 20 plants, flowers, and trees that have a direct relationship with the African diaspora. To uplift this rich history, as well as the sacred wellness and foraging practices found within our community, we are sharing some of the things we learned as we conducted our research for the garden through lessons, recipes, and experiences and more. We call this series of sharing, 20 Stories: From the Ubuntu Garden.
PLANT: Roselle, a flowering type of hibiscus plant
PREFERRED REGIONS/CLIMATES: Native to West Africa, tropical regions
BENEFITS / HEALING PROPERTIES: Therapeutic healing
HOW TO USE / CONSUME IT: Flowers can be eaten raw, bud can be boiled, and its stem fiber can be used for making twine, rope, or woven into sacking or matting.
RECIPE: Bissap / Sorrel, click HERE
THE RED DRINK
written by Amanda Reynolds
Across the diaspora, the hibiscus plant is used to make a tart red drink that you might know under many different names: agua de Jamaica, Jugo de Jamaica, or rosa de Jamaica in much of Latin America; bissap or jus de bissap in Senegal; sobolo in Ghana; zobo in Nigeria; jus choublak in Haiti, sorrel in Jamaica, or simply, “red drink”… and it’s not your Kool-Aid variety.
In African American culture this hibiscus drink is called the “red drink” or “red drank” and it’s not your Kool-Aid variety. It’s connected to Juneteenth actually…
“Why are red drinks linked with Emancipation celebrations? No one knows for sure, but West African hospitality traditions provide some clues. Before and after European contact, West Africans welcomed and entertained their household guests with red-colored beverages — more accurately described as teas — made from hibiscus flower petals or kola nuts, which are indigenous to that part of Africa. These drinks had such strong cultural resonance that these botanical ingredients crossed the Atlantic Ocean with humans in bondage. Additionally, it’s widely believed that the color red symbolically represents the blood shed by enslaved African ancestors.” – Adrian Miller, How Red Drink Became the Official Beverage of Juneteenth and author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time
The African variations of roselle could not survive on American soil, so enslaved people sought to recreate the drink in other ways. In the 1930s’ Federal Writers Project, “Red drink” is referenced numerous times as the favored beverage at celebrations on plantations. Some used lemonade flavored with strawberries, sumac, or tartaric acid as a substitute for the ruby-colored drink’s original ingredients, until sorrel was eventually brought to the US with Caribbean immigrants before World War I.
We pay homage to the West African tradition of bissap, by raising our glass as a shared drink of empowerment. Through it we connect the dots of the diaspora and vow never to let our history and culture — those of their ancestors — perish.
In celebration of our garden, which was intentionally designed as a sacred cultural space for rest and refuge, we honor who we are and who we will become as we inch closer to one another.
We invited Louise Yeung and Anooj Bhandari, residents of The Bandung Residency 2023 (an opportunity designed by MoCADA and the Asian American Arts Alliance to support artists working to foster solidarity between Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) and Black communities), to combine their artistic practices in exploration of contributions of NYC immigrants as inspired by the flowers in our garden.
Together they served FREE wild seed flower and hibiscus flower tea, and designed and created FREE seed and tea packets for our community. Enjoy!
“These seed and tea packets, designed by Bandung residents Louise Yeung and Anooj Bhandari, offer a way to extend a part of this garden to you. The plants we have included grow in community with one another. The wildflower seeds will grow deep taproots and blossoms that provide shelter and nectar for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators, while the hibiscus tea nourishes our hearts.” – Louise Yeung and Anooj Bhandari,
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Made possible thanks to generous gifts from NYC Council Member Chi Ossé, and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with City Council.
MoCADA is committed to giving wings to artists by bringing dynamic, contemporary African art to a broad audience through a series of highly visible artists’ projects, new commissions, installations, and exhibitions in public spaces, like this virtual gallery. Your support goes in a long way in helping MoCADA create exhibitions and other special programs that benefit the community. Click GiveMo to give a gift today.