“Primacy of Plants” by Johnston Review
“Primacy of Plants” is a profound Anishnabeg parable simplistically illustrating the essential relevance of plant life to man’s existence. Anishinaabe scholar, language teacher, story teller, ethnologist and essayist, Basil H. Johnston, recounts the tale in his classic Native American anthology, Ojibway Heritage (1990), an expose on Ojibwa culture (beliefs, values, ceremonies, etc.). Residing in the United States and Canada, the Ojibwa surpass the Navajo and Cherokee in population.
They represent the third largest group of Native Americans-First Nations living north of Mexico. In Native American culture, according to Johnston, plants have a healing power which in turn affects not only man’s physical body but his spirit/inner being and senses. With the title as the thematic underpinning (primacy, first, foremost, supremacy, etc.), Johnston purports the story’s fundamental theme in the sentence prior to the narrative.
“Plants can exist alone; but neither animals nor men can exist without plants. Without plants, or when their balance is disturbed, the quality of life and existence declines”.
Such is the delicate relationship between man and plant life.
The fable’s focal plant is the rose. Initially the rose was
“the most numerous and brilliantly colored of all the flowers”
yet despite their abundance, “richness” and veritable color, “no one paid much attention to them; their beauty went unnoticed, their glory unsung” The only animal to realize their significance was the rabbit for they consumed abundantly. Animals such as the bear, bee, and hummingbird began to notice the scarcity of the rose and sensed something was wrong. Subsequently the tribe noticed the scarcity as well but it was too late for the rose ceases to exist.
When a single rose is found the astonishing revelation, via the rose’s narrative, comes to light. Upon hearing that the rabbits had consumed all the roses, the other animals with the consent of the tribesmen, want to attack the rabbits. Yet such attack is unwarranted for the rose reveals
“Had you cared and watched us, we might have survived. But you were unconcerned. Our destruction was partly your fault. Leave the rabbits be.”
This revelation supports the belief that the true value of something unfortunately only comes to fruition and appreciation after it is no longer in the midst.
“Primacy of Plants” reverberate the intrinsic dynamics of this relationship between man and plant life or surroundings, an ideal which has its roots in Biblical scripture via the Genesis Creation account. Man was not created first for light, the firmament, plant and animal life, etc., preceded him.
He was given sovereignty or dominion over the earth in that he was to care for it and that his existence depended on such care. To not do so endangers him and all in his midst – “the quality of life and existence declines.” As the fable concurs, when the rose became extinct all was affected and such lack of care laid the foundation for future adverse effects.
“While the rabbits wounds eventually healed, they did not lose their scars which remained as marks of their intemperance. Nor did the roses ever attain their former brilliance or abundance. Instead, the roses received from Nanabush thorns to protect them from the avarice of the hungry and the intemperate. Nanabush, in endowing the roses with thorns, warned the assembly, “You can take the life of plants; but you cannot give them life.”
In essence treasure that which is given, for once lost it can never be regained.