My Great Aunt Lucy’s plantation was called “Mon Repose” situated in the Blue Mountains and accessible by a horse drawn buggy, up rough but scenically beautiful roads, steep hills, past towering coca palms with their feathery plumes waving in the breeze, around sudden sharp bends with waterfalls cascading down the side of the mountain.
By all accounts the house was wonderful, spacious and cool with mahogany wood panelling in most rooms and windows that went from the highly polished floor to the ceiling and left open all day to let the mountain breeze run through the house. Lucy’s sketches were all over the house as well as her water-colour paintings of exotic flowers and ferns, and brightly coloured parrots, hummingbirds and mockingbirds.
My grandmother Becky wrote:
“Coming from Paddington, it’s taking me some time to get use to seeing such a richness of scenery that thrives under a sun that shines constantly in a cloudless clear blue sky.
John and Lucy are a popular couple on Kingston’s social circuit and Lucy tells us that new arrivals, even if they are only staying a short time, always attract interest, curiosity and lots of invitations to different social and sporting occasions abound. A garden party at Winchester Park, a concert at Port Antonio, a picnic on the beach, the theatre and an invitation to Kingston Races, are just a few of the invitations we’ve received.
I haven’t the stamina to accept all the invitations but Martha is making the most of the social life here which is why she sleeps late every morning. But in spite of all that is new to us, there are some things that are very familiar about this island.
Britain’s habit of colonising a country in its own image has not escaped here. Jamaica, the exotic “land of wood and water” is divided into three counties of Middlesex, Surrey and Cornwall. The English settlers brought with them their recreations and pastimes. Horseracing is very popular with everyone and race meetings are held in several parts of the island.
John says there’s a cricket club in virtually every major town for the well off Jamaican, and just about every open space has become a cricket pitch for poor blacks who seem to have developed a passion for the game and would use an oil tin for the wickets and the rib of a palm leaf for a bat. All the best hotels have tennis courts and fallow fields have been turned into polo fields.”
Becky and Martha spent a lot of time in Kingston doing different things. Apparently Becky liked to go to the many markets there were around the city where women and children come down from the hillside, virtually every day, sometimes with donkeys and mules but more often, carrying baskets on their heads, laden with vegetables, sugar, tobacco, coffee, cocoa, pimento, annatto, honey, bananas, ackee, spices, ropes of tobacco and whatever else they had grown and set themselves up with a stall and sell their provisions to the local people.
Martha, on the other hand, liked to go to the Constant Spring Hotel where she’d taken a fancy to James McTavis, the Manager.
My Great Aunt Lucy wrote:
“Martha’s demeanour has changed since she has been in Jamaica probably because she is happy and has been enjoying herself. I think she is considering settling here and it is understandable, Martha has seen that she can have a standard of living and a way of life she cannot equal in London and her skills with a needle will help her find employment on the island so, who knows, it may work well for her.”
My Mum, Olga, was a very superstitious woman and it wasn’t until I started doing the research on her family and Jamaica that I realised where it came from……….Obeah, a form of witchcraft which, although illegal, had flourished unchecked in Jamaica and had superstitious rites and practices which were observed with regard to every phase of life from birth to death.
Most Jamaicans were Christians and certainly aware that Obeah went against the teachings of the Catholic Church, yet it was obvious how important religion was to Jamaicans simply because of all the many churches and chapels of different denominations there were on the island. Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians, a few Anglican and, of course, the Catholic Church were all there.
In Jamaica it was believed by most that when a man dies, his body goes to the ground and his soul goes to God, but his spirit, which is known as a duppy, stays for a while or even permanently. There are good duppies and bad ones, but all are feared because, apparently, one doesn’t know how they’re going to behave. They are deemed to be the instrument of the Obeah man or woman and do revengeful and malicious things.
Just about everywhere on the island any accident or misfortune, illness or death was attributed to the malign influence of the spirits of the dead either initiated by the duppy’s own wicked purpose or carried out through envy, or else by someone bent on revenge towards a perceived enemy of the sufferer.
Instead of offering a prayer to heaven, a man or woman would give three pounds to an Obeah practitioner and then offer a pray to God that the Obeah man is successful in what was asked of him. The man would say that Heaven keeps him waiting but the Obeah man does not because he settles matters satisfactorily and quickly.
Every parish on the island had its corners where the art of Obeah was practised and some localities had a particular reputation for it. An Obeah man’s influence was strong because the people believed that he cannot not be harmed by the law or any white person. People of every calling, including well educated men and women, white, coloured or black, used Obeah in some shape or form to fix a problem they might have had.
It was only a matter of days before Becky had her first experience of Obeah……
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