DISCOVERY SITE: Black bottles discovered by Eric Lewis at Canari site, Moruga.
—Photos courtesy Heather-Dawn Herrera
The black bottle
Legacy of estate life
Throughout estate lands across the country, archaeologists have been unearthing relics of an era when masters and labourers lived and worked respectively on the cocoa estate. Places such as Lopinot, Caura, Mamoral, Moruga and Matelot have been sites of recent findings of these bottles, known for their thickness and black colour.
Discarded heaps of the black bottles were found in quite shallow debris on an estate in Mamoral. This, near to the site of an old outdoor fireside was thought to belong to the area where estates people gathered after a long day of work.
A descendant of one of the families says that she remembers hearing stories from her great grandmother about the use of the black bottle as a flambeau to provide a source of light at night. To this day, she still resorts to using this type of
lighting as a cheaper means when her torchlight batteries run out.
The most recent discovery of the black bottle was made by curator of the Moruga Museum Eric Lewis in the Moruga area. Lewis discovered over three hundred bottles, some intact, about two miles inland from the Canari beach. According to Lewis, the bottles belonged to an estate plantation that was under big production.
“The bottles consisted of rum, wine and beer types. These were used by the plantation owners because these were very expensive bottles of English ware imported in the 18th century. This type of ceramic could have only been afforded by well off plantation owners.”
Lewis went on to locate another site in the Canari area where over two hundred bottles lay half buried in the earth.
“None of these bottles are identical. Further, these bottles would not have been discarded after the content was finished but would have been used as storage for water.”
In the historic village of Lopinot, the black bottle has been found exposed along the banked edges of roadsides. These lay buried over the centuries and have only since been noticed by trained eyes on the clearing of the roadsides of vegetation.
Lopinot is a valley rich in historic and cultural legacies. It was a valley of slave masters and slaves in the past. Some members of the community can relate to a line originating from their great-grand parents coming down sharing knowledge with each generation of descendants.
On the San Juan Estate in La Pastora, in the heights of Lopinot, there are still parts of these thick black bottles sticking out from the earth. The cocoa land was originally owned by the Noriegas up until the late 1880s when it was surveyed and later sold to the Coopers. Cyril Cooper describes these bottles as ‘ole time bottles’.
“Those bottles were made of very thick glass and had a deep hollow below. They don’t make bottles with that type of concave base any more. The bottles all had numbers in bold writing. What those numbers meant I don’t know. The taller bottles have the number one below and the shorter bottles have the number 7.
“We call the bottles black bottles but they are not really black but a very dark green. I found some of these bottles under the 100-year-old cocoa tree on my estate and kept two of them to show whoever is interested.
There are still a number of these bottles half buried near the old house spots on the estate. These houses are no longer there but things like this remain over time. Nowadays, they don’t make bottles like these anymore.” The nineteenth century black bottle is no longer a part of household use but remains an important part of our people’s history.”