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Ewé : Verger and Plants

simbolo ewe

The botanical garden Verger dreams of never comes to fruition, but today it is enough to look at the piece of land surrounding his house, the current seat of the Pierre Verger Foundation, to notice that in its small space Verger managed to include the essential. Wherever he went he was interested in plants and never hesitated to ask for cuttings. This interest was born "at the beginning of the 1950s, when I was initiated as a babalaô, for I had the right and the duty to learn with the African masters the use of the medicinal and liturgical plants".

In Africa, Verger collects information about 3,549 plants used by the Yoruba, of which about 200 are known in Brazil under their African name. His interest focuses on their invigorating and calming use, "that occurs possibly in candomblé to help the persons to get into trance and also to come back to their normal state, but as the information I collected on their other uses could be of interest to other researchers, I also took note of them". Verger then makes a discovery of prime importance: "plants work in synergy, in combination with each other".

With only little space available, Verger gathers the plants to study them before donating them. In 1969, he gives 1,210 specimens to the Natural History Museum in Paris. In 1976, he sends 150 plants from the Bahian flora to the Biology Institute of the Federal University of Bahia. In order to gather and classify the plants, Verger receives support from institutions such as the Botanical Services of Ibadan, from researchers such as the biologist Alexandre Leal Costa, and from candomblé priestesses in the person of Mãe Senhora and Olga do Alaketu. His first writings on the subject are published in the late 1960s, especially looking at the memorizing of the use of plants through liturgical verses and at the plants classification system established by the Yoruba.

In 1995, the book Ewé is ready. It presents 2,216 recipes based on leaves, barks, seeds, fruits, flowers and roots used for the most diverse ends: skin problems, impotence, lack of money, nightmares... In addition to the identification of the plants with the formulas, in both Yoruba and French languages, Verger provides the words that must be pronounced during the rituals, a fundamental point in Yoruba liturgy. As Verger explains, "in candomblé, the most important thing is the matter of which leaves and plants are used during initiation. Nature is always present during the ceremony. Before it starts, a bath in water infused with herbs must be taken in order to gain axé, the essential force they contain"