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Plantain aims for longevity

Published: 
Monday, December 22, 2014
Zaake De Coninck and Felicia Chang are Plantain.

She is a global health expert, has researched female, genital mutilation in Ethiopia and has a first degree in anthropology. He studied international health with a focus on epidemiology and has more than casual views on the treatment and prevention of Ebola. She is Trinidadian, Felicia Chang, whose paternal grandmother escaped to Trinidad after the Second World War. He is Belgian-Ugandan, Zaake De Coninck. Together, they are Plantain.

Plantain, by the way, is not the name of a new viral strain. It also does not pronounce on the value of the Caribbean culinary staple. It is an innovative commercial venture focused, as Chang says, “on connecting people to themselves and in so doing connecting people to society.” Actually, the Trinidad-based company is in the business of people and their history. Its web site pledges to “help you pass on your legacy and protect it from fading into extinction over time.” 

It’s quite a big promise but one made by two highly-driven professionals who believe their backgrounds have brought them naturally to this point. “People tend to react very oddly when they hear of our training,” Chang says. “But when you look at what we are trained to do, you learn that the important thing is the story of the person.” “What you are really trying to do is unfold communities and understand the people that build a community,” she adds. “Any sort of programme, whether it is on HIV or other (relies on) the language people speak, how they react, and what are their stories.”
That’s the press release. The reality is even more intriguing.

Plantain is in the business of history—personal history. Tell the Plantain team your version of the story and they do most of the rest. In Chang’s own case, this involved a journey back to the South Chinese village of her grandmother’s birth and the context of the Japanese invasion of Chinese and ensuing events leading to the Second World War. In this case, the product was an award-nominated video documentary called Popo—the story of Chang’s grandma, Linda Chang. The story is set both in pre-Mao China and pre-independence T&T in Claxton Bay where Linda (Popo) ran a shop with her husband Gong Gong and went into the red mango business.

Not unlike other clients, Felicia’s grandmother entered the project not entirely convinced that her story was worth telling. This is not a unique experience. “Our society is made up of so many people with fascinating stories to tell,” she says. “But, there are so many people who think they are absolutely boring.” The story behind the Plantain-published book on Edrisse, for example, was one instance in which a young Antigua woman decides to pursue a career in medicine in England in the 1950s. This account provided Plantain with an opportunity to make the connections between unfolding events in the Caribbean and developments in a United Kingdom in transition following the end of the Second World War when West Indians began arriving on British shores in large numbers.

The Plantain researchers were able to unearth newspaper clippings, photographs and interviews which brought light to previously unlit areas of Edrisse’s life and times. Chang and De Coninck have brought to the table an approach to the story of individuals that can enrich wider historical accounts.

For more information, e-mail Plantain at: [email protected].

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