Tha cnò iongantach, air a bheil fèill, a’ cur nar cuimhne mar a tha an cuan mòr gar ceangal ri chèile thar na cruinne / A celebrated West Indian bean found on Scottish strands reminds us of how ocean currents connect us across the globe.
Cnò na Slàinte ’s nan Seun
Anns a’ bhliadhna seo de Chladaichean is Uisgeachan, anns a bheil an galar mòr-sgaoilte chorona-bhìorais air tighinn am bàrr, tha Cnò Mhoire a’ cur nar cuimhne mar a tha sinn air ar ceangal ri chèile thar na cruinne. Corra uair, bithear a’ lorg nan cnothan – no pònairean – seo air cladaichean Arcaibh ’s nan Eilean Siar, às dèidh dhaibh a bhith air bhog sa chuan o na h-Innseachan an Iar, anns a bheil na lusan dham buin iad a’ fàs. Ann an Gàidhlig, tha diofar ainmean orra, a’ gabhail a-steach Uighean Shìthichean is Cnothan-spuinge, ach ’s iad an dà ainm as cumanta Cnò Mhoire agus Àirne Moire – agus tha na h-ainmean sin a’ dearbhadh mar a bha fèill aig na seann daoine orra. B’ iad an fheadhainn a bu luachmhoire na cnothan air an robh nàdar de chumadh croise air gach taobh, a bha a’ riochdachadh mar a bhiodh Moire Mhàthair a’ cumail dìon air daoine, gu h-àraidh air boireannaich a bha ri spàirn leanaibh. Dh’fhàg Mgr Ailein Èirisgeigh cunntas againn de shagartan a’ beannachadh Àirne Moire, a tha nas tighe is nas cruinne na Cnò Mhoire, agus mar a chuireadh na boireannaich a’ chnò timcheall an amhaichean mar gur e seud naomh a bh’ innte.
Tha Màrtainn MacIlleMhàrtainn anns an leabhar aige A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland (1703), ag innse dhuinn mu dhaoine ann an Leòdhas a’ pronnadh eitean na cnotha gus an robh e na fhùdar, agus an uair sin ga ghoil ann am bainne. Bhiodh iad ga òl mar leigheas airson na buinich agus na buinich mhòir. Bha a’ chaochag an uair sin feumail mar bhogsa-snaoisein. Anns Na Hearadh, bhiodh clann a’ cur nan cnothan timcheall an amhaichean mar chlach-bhuadhach an aghaidh buidseachd agus na Droch Shùla. Bha na Hearaich gu sònraichte measail air an fheadhainn gheala, oir chanadh iad gum biodh iad a’ tionndadh dubh nam biodh an leanabh ann an cunnart bho olc. Chunnaic Màrtainn iad a’ dorchachadh, ach cha robh fios aige gu dè dh’adhbharaich an t-atharrachadh.
Tha cleachdadh na cnotha mar leigheas, agus a h-ainmeachadh ann an orthachan leigheis, air an taisbeanadh ann an Leabhar IV de Charmina Gadelica le Alasdair MacIlleMhìcheil, agus dà ortha aige air a bheil ‘Àirne Moire’ mar ainm. Tha a’ chiad tè mar a leanas:
Faic, a Mhoire Mhàthair,
A’ bhean, ’s i ris a’ bhàs.
Faic fhèin i, a Chrìosda,
O ’s ann dhad iochd a tà
Fois a thoir dhan leanabh
’S a’ bhean a thoir à spàirn.
Faic fhèin i, a Chrìosda,
O ’s tu Rìgh na slàint’,
Thoir a’ bhean on eug
Agus seun an leanabh bà,
Thoir-sa fois dhan fhìonan,
Thoir-sa sìth dha mhà’ir.
Tha na cnothan aig Moire am measg nan iongantasan co-cheangailte ri cladaichean an taoibh an iar. Bidh iad a’ toirt tlachd do luchd-coiseachd nan tràighean, agus bidh iad a’ cur nar cuimhne anns na làithean seo, nuair a tha sinn fo bhuaidh eagallach Chovid-19, nach eil anns a’ chuan ach caolas mòr.
‘Mary’s Nut’ – a Connection with Distant Lands
In this year of Coasts and Waters, and of the global coronavirus pandemic, ‘Mary’s Nut’ reminds us of our interconnectedness across the planet. People who would wander the beaches of Orkney and the Western Isles in better days would sometimes find these strange, kidney-shaped fruit washed up on a Scottish seashore, far from their land of origin in the West Indies. Called the Molucca Bean in English, because of an early presumption that they came from the Molucca Islands (or ‘Spice Islands’) in Indonesia, their commonest Gaelic names are Cnò Mhoire ‘the Virgin Mary’s nut’ and Àirne Moire ‘Mary’s kidney’, and they were traditionally prized by the Gaels of the Western Isles. The most highly valued beans were those with a cross-like depression on both sides, which clearly made, at least in the people’s eyes, a connection with their holy Christian protector, the Virgin Mary. The great late-19th century collector of tradition in Eriskay and South Uist, Father Allan MacDonald, told of the Àirne Moire, which was thicker and more rounded than the Cnò Mhoire, first being blessed by the priest, and then being worn around the neck as a charm, particularly by women in labour.
Martin Martin, in his 1703 volume A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, tells of people in Lewis grinding the kernel into a powder and drinking it in boiled milk as a cure for diarrhoea and dysentery (in North Uist, it was also drunk in whisky). Once the kernel was removed, the shell of the nut was then often used as a snuff box, and Father Allan says that ‘it is so hard and durable, and its surface so smooth and so polished, that it is quite suitable [for that purpose]’. In Harris, Martin described them being worn by children around the neck, as an amulet against witchcraft and the Evil Eye. The Harris folk were particularly keen on white ones, as they would reputedly turn black if any evil were intended to the child. Martin, who called them an ‘Indian’ bean, recognising their distant origins, himself observed them changing colour, but could not be ‘positive as to the cause of it’.
The use of the bean in healing charms for a woman in childbirth is highlighted by two poems, both called Àirne Moire and published in Carmina Gadelica (Vol IV) by the folklore collector Alexander Carmichael; the charm would be said as the woman held the bean in her hand or bore it round her neck. One of them reads as follows in translation:
Behold o Mother Mary,
The woman who approaches death.
Behold her yourself, O Christ,
Since it is of Your Mercy
To give rest to the child
And to bring the woman from her labour.
Behold her yourself, O Christ,
Since You are the King of health,
Deliver the woman from death
And defend by enchantment the hushed child,
Give rest to the shoot of the vine,
Give peace to its mother.
Mary’s beans are one of the strange wonders of our western shores, a delight to modern beachcombers, and a reminder, if we really needed one in these days of Covid-19, of how no island is truly an island. We are all connected.