Conucos are Living Entities!
What to some may look like a pile of "dirt" is actually an intricate web of the living and "the dead". Living components are of course the plant life, the fungi, microbes, worms, centipedes, slugs, snails, and many more, including the ground hog! Other components of the Conuco's life are the Deer, Sheep, Goats, and multiple other mammals and birds who eat off the Conuco and contribute their manure to the Conuco. The "dead" components are bone, blood, shell, stone, sand, gravel, silt, clay and any other non breathing or non photosynthesizing element. Some we have consciously added, others were added as part of the soil and trees that we contributed to the Concuco.
Here we look at a Conuco's progression over the time frame of a year.
The above photo shows the freshly formed conuco last Fall (2014). Top soil from below has been placed on top of branches and logs. We consciously created a relatively flat area because we knew that there would be a Batey formed here. Below is a photo from this past Fall (2015). It shows the upper conuco with the soil settled and the lower conuco with the settled soil and a border of stones (which will be discussed later in this article). The form of the Batey can be seen taking shape, and this was the space we used for the Day of the Dead 2015. The Batey has an elaborate bilongo in it, and the conucos have their bilongos as well.
Reviewing once again the process of building the Conuco, we start with whatever dying, rotting trees we have. Below is the pile of logs that will form the lower Conuco. These logs are perfect due to the state of decay and their abundant fungi. (Without fungi wood would never decay to soil and we would be perched on top of a huge pile of sticks rather than fertile soil). Old cotton clothes are included as they will also decay to soil.
The next step is to cover the logs with soil. We use the topsoil from below this Conuco to cover it. Clumps of grass and other plants are in it which decay and further enrich the soil. This particular soil was very good because of the horse manure, as it had previously been a horse field.
We had planted corn, sunflowers and peanuts on it last year, which were eaten by the deer, which assisted in stabilizing and nourishing the soil.
Last November we planted our garlic for our 2016 harvest and rye grain. The purpose of the rye grain is to stabilize and nourish the lower half of the Conuco, preventing erosion, decreasing evaporation and feeding the microbes. The purpose of the garlic is to eat. The garlic is not a plant that the deer like, although we do expect the deer to mow the rye at some point. Our garlic has been one of our most successful crops and has enable us to not buy any garlic for 7 years. We are selecting a hard neck, soft neck and elephant garlic over the years that will be perfectly suited to our ecology here.
The blue stones are not just the edge of the Batey. They are local stones that we acquired from a local construction project at least 8 years ago. We placed them on the edge of the Conuco for a number of reasons. They define the edge of the Conuco and Batey. They reduce erosion of the Conuco. They provide a seat when someone needs to sit down. They also are facing east where they absorb the early morning sun, warming up the soil more quickly than it would otherwise warm. This is especially good for winter and early spring crops that can benefit from that extra warmth. Each stone is a Spirit that also brings an important presence to the Batey and Conuco.
Other Conucos were utilized to grow hundreds of bare root native shrubs and trees. We have 25-50 of each: Winterberry Ilex verticillata, Sweetbay Magnolia Magnolia virginiana, Virginia Sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus, White Pine Pinus strobus, Witchhazel Hammamelis virginiana, Southern Arrowwood Viburnum dendatum, Canadian Serviceberry Amelanchier canadensis, Black chokeberry Photinia melancarpa, Red Osier Dogwood Cornus sericea, Common Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius, Red Bud Cercis canadensis, Siberian Crabapple Malus baccata (Not native to our area but has naturalized), Common Persimmon Diospyros virginiana.
The Conucos have worked well for the bareroot plants not only because the fertile loose soil (above) allows easy root growth but also because it is easy to remove the bare roots and transplant them. Each variety has a very different growth rate. The most vigorous are the Redbud trees (below) which must be transplanted after the first season. They are very beautiful trees with bright pink-lavender blooms later in spring and heart shaped leaves. They also "fix nitrogen," take nitrogen gas from the air and ground it in the soil thereby increasing soil fertility.
We are using some of these many trees and shrubs to create a new hedgerow which will extend along a fence that separates our fenced in Conucos (deer proof Conucos!) from the driveway. The hedgerow will feed multiple birds, as well as the ducks, guinea hens and chickens who will eventually be allowed to clean up any fallen fruit or stray bugs below it. It will provide bee food, increasing the pollination rate of our Conuco crops. It will separate the vehicle exhaust from our growing area. It will be a windbreak to protect the Conucos. It will also provide beauty, increase biodiversity and provide wildlife habitat. The Sweetbay Magnolia is evergreen and has beautiful, fragrant white summer flowers. These trees and shrubs will also provide spiritual baths!
While the hedgerow looks insignificant now, within a year or two it will become apparent and in about 5 years it will be unrecognizable! Based on our experience, it is amazing how quickly bareroot trees grow.
Looking back to the original Conucos that we formed here, we can see the evolution that has taken place. This evolution has been a direct effect of the multiple Ceremonies and the multiple offerings to Mother Earth. Vital inside of this evolution has been our willingness to take Action and listen carefully to the Spirit. It has been through the sacrifice of sweat and effort and many, many hours of labor and observation. We have learned equally from those things that grew wonderfully, exceeding our expectations, and those things that shattered our expectations! Weeds turned into allies, and the plants themselves spoke to us about the importance of selection and choice.
"Wampana nsengo, kunkambi kwe ngatu bwe isadila yo ko"
He translates this to mean: "If you give me a hoe don't tell me where or how I should use it. Don't stifle my field of activities and my normal development by pretended assistance."
(Fu-Kiau, K. K. Bunseki. African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo: Principles of Life & Living, New York, Athelia Henrietta Press, 2001. p. 103.)
We began forming smaller rounded Conucos, and utilizing Mexican river stones to energize them, giving them offerings and so on. As time passed, following the voice of the Misterios, these Conucos evolved to long, snake like Conucos which we placed "on contour" to harvest rainwater, to increase our water table, and stabilize our water spring further down the hill. Within our Ceremonies, we continually invoked to the Spirits that we needed solutions for Earth Changes, that we wanted to enrich and vitalize our relationship with Mother Earth. We invoked that our roles of care taking this land here would be enhanced, strengthened and vitalized. We consciously connected our Ceremonies with the global crisis of Earth Changes in particular, and the multiple historical crises of our people, as well as the global crisis of injustice. The essence of Ceremony is progression. Progression must be palpable- something that manifests in a physical way, that reflects evolution of the Community- both Human and our wider Life Community!
There is so much taboo and also fantasy present in too many of today's so called ceremonies. On the one hand a rigidity towards, and hoarding and manipulation of, traditional wisdom. On the other hand, there is fantastical inventos created for emotional stimulation rather than spiritual progression. The quote above is a beautiful teaching that allows the Ancestral creation of a "Hoe" to dance with an individual. The "Hoe" is a magical Ancestral tool that revolutionized the lives of entire peoples and birthed cereal agricultural. It is a quote that acknowledges the sacred relationship of a person to their Spirit and to their Spiritual inheritance. We need to remember that "hoes" were placed in the graves with Bantu people because of their importance! Here we consecrate our hoes because of their Ancestral importance specifically in the Kongo Traditions! We had a hoe present at our "Day of the Dead" because of its importance.
A ceremonially consecrated Hoe with a ceremonially empowered Conuco and a Tata or Yayi Nkisi are the ingredients that will surely lead to spiritual progression!