’Tis the season to buy local

Christmas is about goodwill, family, friends — and presents. But showering your loved ones with gifts doesn’t have to mean brand-name imports. Nazma Muller suggests some sustainable and very covetable Caribbean-made holiday presents

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As more people become eco-conscious and embrace green living, the Caribbean’s entrepreneurs have been finding new fans for all-natural, indigenous products that are sustainable and eco-friendly. The health-conscious and organic-minded love the seemingly boundless benefits of our many fruits, vegetables, herbs, and trees. So, this Christmas, instead of risking parking rage at the shopping malls to jostle with thousands of other harried shoppers for brand-name gifts (and a whole heap of rip-offs) in plastic packaging, why not buy something memorable and planet-friendly from one of the Caribbean’s many talented artists, craftsmen, and creative cooks?

At UpMarket, a monthly fair in Port of Spain, you can find some of Trinidad and Tobago’s most innovative and unusual craft, art, and food: recycled glass bead bracelets and chains made by Turtle Warrior from bottles found on a turtle nesting beach, artisanal chocolate made from the finest Trinitario beans, leather handbags, handmade soaps and lotions with natural ingredients such as buttermilk, cocoa butter, kaolin clay, vanilla beans, and coconut oil. Judy Bain weaves unique Carnival characters into iconic dolls from wicker. Artist Trevor St George creates mirrors, paintings, and installations from recycled materials, while Phillip Arthur’s wooden kitchen utensils and trays are nostalgic and useful presents that will stir memories of the Caribbean when curries and stews are bubbled in lands far away. Sepia Studio offers breathtaking glimpses of the island using the fine art giclée printing technique.

Fancy a spot of tea for mum? TeaSpoTT sells organic loose-leaf teas and steepware. But this is no ordinary tea. The blends come with names like Chocolate Ginger Bourbon, Paradise, and Red Velvet. Their exquisitely wrapped gift baskets also include tea in flavours such as French vanilla bean and piña colada, with complementary scented soy candles from Garden of Grace (mint chocolate crème, Cara Café, and fruit bowl) and a mug.

Inspired by traditional Caribbean cooking, Modern Equator founder Denise Carew has created food products that are both delicious and nutritious, using the humble sorrel, Hibiscus sabdariffa. Carew has taken this perennial herb native to West Africa — which is usually boiled and made into a sweet drink, especially at Christmas time — and created a margarita, a jam, and a sweet-sour-and-spicy sauce with this antioxidant wonder.

The sweetest gift, though, is honey: one hundred per cent pure honey from Eco-Buzz, who pride themselves on the fact that they take their bees to feed on moriche palms.

Meanwhile, in south Trinidad, the IRIE Village South Stylee Market is a monthly handicraft market held at the Skiffle Bunch panyard on Coffee Street, San Fernando. Here, on the last Saturday of each month, you can find fresh honey from Bede Rajahram, enchanting crochet hats from Twine Worx, designer leather bags and wallets handcrafted by Eguana Leathercraft, cinnamon breakaway breads by Hazel-Ann Ambrose, all-natural soaps and wines by Earth Food, even upcycled benches and grow boxes from Gyasi Williams.

 

Over in Jamaica, meanwhile, Man A Yaad is a collection of aromatherapy products made just for men. The Jamaican term “man ’a yaad” refers to one who is seen as strong and confident — “a him run tings.” This bath and body collection would be perfect for the man who also enjoys being pampered. Made with real essential oils, the collection includes bath gel, massage and body oil, and lotions, with fragrances including energising mint eucalyptus, musk lime, cedar wood, patchouli and lime, mango banana, and citrus ginger.

Recycled, eco-friendly products from Gutzmore Concepts include tote bags, notepads, and wooden toys. Earth Elements Jamaica offers natural hair and skin products that use peppermint oil, shea butter, sandalwood, lemongrass, neem, castor oil, and coconut. Ettenio, which began as a kitchen experiment with rosemary, nettle, thyme, and peppermint, is a luxurious range of healthy and safe products for the hair, skin, and body. Both nourishing and therapeutic, the products are formulated from a blend of the finest and most potent raw and organic plant extracts, botanicals, essential oils, and fragrances — such as rosemary, aloe, Jamaican black castor oil, and shea butter.

Umium coconut chocolate spread is giving Nutella a run for its money — at least in Jamaica. High in antioxidants, low in sugar, the blend of coconut and dark chocolate is perfect on bread or biscuits for breakfast, or as a snack for vegans. Also gluten-free, Umium can be used by children with allergies and restricted diets.

Caribbean Dreams draw on the therapeutic powers of the region’s legendary folk remedies in their line of teas: moringa, which Fidel Castro swears by, is mixed with mint; soursop, reported to have anti-cancer properties, is blended with honey; cerasee, which has been used for centuries in Jamaica for hypertension, diabetes, and abdominal pains; and noni, whose fruit juice is used for an alphabet of ailments — from arthritis and AIDS to senility and drug addiction.

 

There are dozens more sustainable gift ideas in other parts of the Caribbean. Another favourite: Rupununi Organics, based in Guyana, who boast that they sell fair-trade, one-hundred-per-cent organic eco-friendly beauty products handmade by Amerindian communities in the Amazon. Their soaps are an alternative means of livelihood for the indigenous communities, who set the retail price, and some — like those made by the Patamona tribe — use a secret recipe more than seven thousand years old that includes the oil of the crabwood tree.

And for Caribbean art lovers, a painting or wall hanging from a Haitian artist is the pièce de résistance of their collection. Now you don’t need to fly all the way to Port-au-Prince to buy one. Viva Terra’s website offers stunningly crafted recycled metal art pieces, as well as woven rush rugs and artisan-made iron stands for your plants. Even your pickiest friend or relative will be impressed — both by the craftsmanship and by the chance to support local artisans and their families.