Island Wisdom Part 1 – Everything Counts

AFI [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Botanical Garden, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

I’ve been reflecting on this blog and what secrets to share as the year draws to a close, and one of the key pieces of wisdom I can share with you now. Here it is: I learned from a quiet shopkeeper in Puerto Plata, the Dominican Republic, that whole cultures  are made and supported from art scraps.

Puerto Plata is a city on the north side of the island and just a few hours from the Haitian border.  Christopher Columbus settled in Puerto Plata,  founding the first European-American colony in this very region. So as a traveler I walked on historic ground and wondered deeply about how cultures survive for centuries…

Coconut Bowls and Larimar:

I was looking in the back of the store in Puerto Plata for art treasures, and found some art bowls made out of coconut shells, carved and highly lacquered into smooth surfaces. The shop owner was quietly following me around his shop like my shadow, so I said to him,

“Cocunut bowls are so lovely. Who would have thought of this…”

The shop keeper replied quietly:

“Oh yes, you see we use everything on the island. Everything.”

That is all he had said about art. But it was enough to set my imagination into hyperdrive. It is such a poetic sentence!

An island is  indeed a wonderful symbol of an ecosystem and society. Indigenous folks of the islands have survived for centuries by using “everything.”  Did you know they’ve been surviving hurricanes for hundreds of years? In additions to hurricanes, this island suffered the terrible earthquake of 2010. It centered in Haiti but rippled all the way through the island. How many times have buildings fallen down and palm trees ripped to shreds by storms and earthquakes? How many times have the people rebuild this city? How many coconuts turned into bowls?

… At least two thousand years. That fact blows my mind. In the middle of the island, cave art has been found that predates even Columbus. Take a look at these ancient cave paintings. The Pomier Caves are north of San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, and hold the largest collection of 2,000-year-old rock art in the Caribbean:

"El Pomier - Cueva numero uno" by Tom Crawshaw , Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia - File:El_Pomier_-_Cueva_numero_uno.JPG

Moving along, I started seeing what  the Purto Platan people considered “everything” in the world. I visited the amber  “museum”, cigarette factory, and Larimar mine “museum” of Puerto Plata…  the townspeople consider these their most precious and natural resources. Here is picture I snapped in the amber mining “museum”:

amber museum, Puerto Plata. Photo by Irene Rowley 2015

amber mine museum

The museum also explained to me the semiprecious stone named Larimar. Larimar, meaning Laura by the sea, is a pale blue beauty…This pale blue stone comes from only one plot of land in the whole world, in the Dominican Republic. Here are pictures I took of the Larimar mine museum and the Larimar ring I bought there:

I have thought a lot about this trip this week, and how I could bring a few symbols of the Carribean home with me, by bringing home a coconut bowl and a Larimar ring.

I love that out of the scraps and the rubble, people can rebuild with what they have. I like how it’s called “everything” to them. I like that the coconuts and local stones can be polished and turned into new pieces of art, to keep an island economy going!

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