Uncommon Buy: Handmade Wild Tamarind Wares in Antigua
Most uncommon travelers wouldn’t spend a minute in the crafts market that fronts Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. That’s because most of what you see on offer here leans way more toward crap than crafts.
You know the cheesy t-shirts, hats, magnets, and other assorted knick-knacks that have come to define the shopping experience in the more touristy corners of the Caribbean? At first blush, that’s all you see here.
Lucky for me, I didn’t stop at first blush.
Again, I had the sage advice of the great folks at the Sugar Ridge hotel on my side. Their recommendation:
Look for a lady they call Victoria. She makes jewelry and other things unique to Antigua.
I did look for, and eventually did find a woman named Nelly who prefers to call herself Victoria. Her handiwork – jewelry, coasters and other wares made of wild tamarind seeds – carries on an old Antiguan tradition that, according to Victoria, originated right there in her home village of English Harbour many generations ago.
I’m 63 years-old and have been making these for over 40 years.
It’s a painstaking process, as you might imagine, which involves collecting the seeds, boiling them in rainwater for five minutes (not “from the pipe water” as Victoria explained it turns the seeds white), and allowing them to dry before bottling them. This keeps the seeds soft so they’re easier to string together with needles and thread.
An old pro like Victoria can string together a bracelet like the one pictured up top in an hour. Larger necklaces she showed me might take her up to three hours, all of it done by hand.
It’s a labor of love upon which Victoria has made a living since her teenage days. Sadly, though, it’s also a dying art. Victoria told me that she’s among the last to practice the wild tamarind arts.
There’s like me and two others – the same age group – but the younger ones don’t have no time.
That just makes it all the more important for you to get down to Antigua and venture to Nelson’s Dockyard to find Victoria now before wild tamarind wares are no more.