Though dismissed as trash or recycling when found in Black gravesites, bottles and sometimes jars were originally used to protect the graves of loved ones. They held a sacred meaning for our enslaved ancestors.
Many of our West African ancestors came from different tribes and communities, but they shared the belief that the talents of the dead could be stolen or could escape from graves. Bottles were used to capture the good talents and keep them safe! But there were other more sinister forces at work, too.
Evil spirits could also be drawn into bottles. That meant bottles, placed in trees on one’s property, would keep them from entering houses or possessing living relatives. Yet there was something even more important than spirits about bottle trees.
When our ancestors were brought here to be exploited for their labor, they were forced to abandon their language, customs, and belief systems. In order to survive, they had to quickly adapt to life without their roots.
Bottle trees represent efforts by our ancestors to honor tradition in the face of violence, assimilation, and hate. They are entrenched in American culture and celebrate our ability to keep self-respect – even when racism attempts to take it from us!