Brown Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

Slave Garden

The Slave Garden

In small spaces beside their cabins and huts on the plantation, along marginalized hillsides, in swamps, gullies and forests, and in outdoor sanctuaries created to honor their dead and contemplate that ancestrality, enslaved Africans and their descendants throughout the Americas “stole” back their own time and labor in snatches of the night, on Sundays or “holidays,” to plant garden plots of use, beauty, and spiritual and physical refuge. The Center for Study of Slavery and Justice slave garden and an accompanying seed assemblage, both designed by Prof. Geri Augusto, draw on that history to render imaginatively a small part of what the slaves knew and wrought; and what they might have thought, as they created new landscapes against all odds. It is a work of cognitive justice and contemplation. The garden has four key elements: a stone cosmogram, a stone bench of contemplation, a bottle tree, and a grassy flowered terrace.

Dikenga dia Kongo
– a Kongolese cosmogram in stone, planted in spring with Native American herbals and regional “wild” flowers. In the Dikenga, four moments in the journey of life are symbolically depicted by the larger stones around its circumference: Birth (black stone), Physical Prime (red stone), Death (white stone), and Spiritual Prime (yellow stone). Yowa, a traditional Kongo cross inscribed within the Dikenga, is made up of a horizontal line of water-worn stones depicting Kalunga—the sea dividing the worlds of the living and the dead—and Mukula, a vertical line.

Stone Bench of contemplation – a resting place to think about life, in slavery and in freedom, and all the earth’s living things, seated amongst local grasses and dandelions.

Bottle Tree in swept dirt circle – magnolia tree transformed into a traditional African American yard art-form which draws on several older West African belief systems.

Grassy Terrace beside Walkway - Local African American and Native American flowers thought in multiplicity for protection, food, medicinal use and beauty. They are planted in the broken containers and gourds, and along simple trellises, that would have been available to the enslaved and the indigenous population.