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Archive for May, 2009

<—Carlton                                                  Aunt Lucy & Ananacy Stories —>

 

 

Family Tree

In May 1938 workers all over Jamaica went on strike and the unemployed joined them marching and demonstrations.  The banana trade had declined drastically and unemployment was high, there was only occasional work, bad nutrition, poor housing, very little health service and a high cost of living.

The strikes started with the men working on the Kingston docks striking for better wages and the unemployed joined the strike demanding work.  It was a brutal time with strikers and demonstrators being imprisoned or beaten to death.

My grandmother, Becky, wrote in her diary :

Poor Vivie.   The knowledge that Ambrosine Williams had worked Obeah against her for Carlton’s death is having a bad effect on Vivie.  She is ill and has become withdrawn and quiet., she doesn’t sleep at night and has been vomiting so violently no food stays in her stomach.  Sydney says it’s all in her mind, after all, the doctor’s examined Vivie twice and can find nothing wrong with her, but, whether it’s real or imaginary there’s no mistaking that she is wasting away.   She and her daughters are spending their last few days in Jamaica with us here at Mission House before they sail to America to live with Freddie H.  Roy Mackenzie’s family now own the Den of Inequity.

Vivie hates Jamaica and talks as if she is never coming back. America sounds an exciting country with lots of opportunities to make money, but I’m not sure I would want to live there and I’m surprised Vivie does really.  I’ve read that in the some parts of America they are very prejudice towards coloured and black people.

Thousands of blacks cannot find work so they have no money to buy food or clothes for their families.  Smith’s Village is one of the worst areas in the city covered with shacks where conditions of squalor are beyond imagination and made worse by appalling overcrowding.

It makes me furious when I read the Gleaner newspaper and they say the reports are exaggerated.  I have seen for myself, little children and old men, stark born naked, on the streets begging for money and food.  Soup kitchens are springing up over the city to feed these poor people.   Is this an exaggeration?  Of course, the paper is controlled by the upper white ruling classes – these Jamaicans are a disgrace. 

While the Catholic Church is doing what it can, the Protestant Church seems to be trying to conceal the gravity of the painful conditions under which thousands of people are living.  Children are running around naked because they have no clothes to go to school and those that do have clothes, have no food at home, nothing in their little stomachs.  When they come home from school it is to a hungry and crying mother, brothers and sisters and a father almost demented because he cannot feed his children.   Thank goodness for Bustamante.  His constant flow of letters to the Gleaner is making people aware of the problems but I fear for this island’s future. 

 

 Extract of letter written by Alexander Bustamante

to The Editor, Daily Gleaner, Kingston 

…………….shame, and because some have refused to do their duty and they want to minimise that which does not need to be magnified – unemployment.

 The mongoose and the rats in certain parts of the island are being disturbed at nights, because the cane-fields, their resting places, have now become the sleeping place of many workers.  Many of them rush out at nights so nude they dare not come out in the days, just to buy little necessities to return to their shelter – the canefields.

I have been to St Ann,  and the poverty there is something I hate to describe.  Neither minister nor politician should try to prevent it being exposed.  Visit Newton, Kinowl, Mullings Bush Districts in St Elizabeth; Marlie Hill and Plowden and see the poverty – the misery.   But why go to such places when we have them next door to us; go to Trench Pen, Smith’s Village, Ackee Walk and  Rose Town and the apostolic Lanes, etc.

Too late it is for anyone through any peculiar reasons to try and cover up the truth of the lamentable conditions.  Things were bad a few years gone by; they were no better last year, this year they are getting worse, there must be better days ahead.   

I am etc.                       

Alexander Bustamante

  <—Carlton                                                Aunt Lucy & Ananacy Stories —>

 

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<–A Loose Cannon & Catholic Church                           Kingston Riots —>

browney-tree-c

 

I regret I never met my Aunt Vivie but, unfortunately, she died just a couple of years before I made contact with Mum’s (Olga) family in Jamaica.  I think I would have liked her even though there was one aspect of her character I would have struggled with. It does sound as if Vivie was a bit of a loose canon – a one off.   She was tough and certainly not afraid to speak her mind, particularly to her older brother, Sydney, if she thought he was being too free with his belt when he chastised their younger siblings.   In the 1930s Jamaican society was a mirror image of Great Britain replicating its prejudices and social morals.   Women like my Aunt Vivie, who flew in the face of convention, were few and far between in an era that expected women to be seen and not heard. 

 

Vivie was married, yet quite openly having an affair with another man, Freddie Howell; she helped run an illegal gambling house with Freddie and, according to Mum, had the threat of being excommunicated from the Catholic Church hanging over her head because of her relationship with him.  If what people thought bothered her she didn’t show it.

 

What I wouldn’t have liked about my Aunt Vivie though was her racial prejudiced in spite of being coloured herself.  This is something I struggle to understand.  The colour of one’s skin was important to Vivie and, she had made it very clear to her mother, Becky, that she was angry with her for marrying a black man.  She recognised that the white Jamaicans had social prestige, status and political power.  And that they saw as inferior those whose colour ranged from almost white to pure black even though they may have been educated people with good jobs such as lawyers, doctors, business men or women, teachers, clergy, and skilled tradesmen.

 

Colour mattered and that mindset was demonstrated to me personally decades later.  When I was in Jamaica in 1996, one of my cousins offered me a job running a franchise operation in Montego Bay that she was considering investing in.  I asked her why she wanted me and didn’t do the job herself.  Her reply was “because your skin is the right colour”.   I was gobsmacked!

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued from ‘A Loose Canon and the Catholic Church’)


Carlton heard about what happened that Sunday in Church and there was a terrible row between Vivie and Carlton. She told Carlton she was leaving him.    He begged her not to go and when she said it was all over between them and she didn’t love him any more, he started to cry and pleaded with her to give him another chance.  Vivie told him that she was taking their children and going to live with Freddie.  She said he suddenly stopped crying then and there was silence, except for the sound of a clock ticking somewhere in the house.

 Carlton didn’t say anything for ages but just kept looking at her.  Then he shrugged his shoulders a little, as if to say, “ok, you win” and, without a word, left the house.  Vivie said she thought he was going to find Freddie to punch him on the nose but she wasn’t worried about Freddie because he could take care of himself.

Carlton and Vivie had a whirlwind romance.  Within weeks of meeting they went off to Montego Bay and got married without telling any of the family, except for Cissie and Dyke who were their witnesses at the wedding.  Sydney said if Vivie hadn’t been so desperate to marry a white man she’d have saved both families a lot of heart ache and realised that charm, good looks and receiving a small allowance from his parents was not enough to support a family. 

Sometime during the afternoon on the day following the big row, Carlton’s body was found by some people out walking in a valley in the Blue Mountains.  It appears his car went over a precipice just past the army post at Newcastle and his body flung from the car.  He’d been dead for hours and to this day no one ever really knew if it was suicide or an accident. 

I was grateful that I was asked to look after the children in the family so Chickie, Boysie and Cissie could go to the funeral.   Carlton’s coffin was left open for mourners to pay their last respects and I didn’t want my last sight of Carlton to be lying dead in a coffin.  I wanted to remember him how I always saw him – full of life and laughing.

If I had been married to Carlton I wouldn’t have minded Carlton being a poor white man because he had other qualities.   Tall, fair-haired, very good looking, funny, nice to talk to, always joking.  Women were very attracted to him and I think it’s easy to see why Vivie fell in love with him.  They met when he was playing tennis at the Myrtle Bank Hotel and Vivie said the first thing she noticed about him was that his legs were better than hers.  He was always invited to the best clubs, parties and social events in Kingston and he may not have had much money of his own but people liked him, because he was nice, and he was friends with all sorts of people.  What made him different from other white Jamaicans was that he wasn’t prejudice towards coloured or black people in the slightest. 

The day of Carlton’s funeral was unusually hot for that time of the year and there was a cloudless sky and not a breath of wind in the air.  A black choir sang hymns at his funeral and Dolly told me later that this  was Carlton’s “second family”. 

As a baby Carlton had a black nurse whose name was Ambrosine Williams and he spent much of his childhood with her and her thirteen children rather than his own white family.  When his coffin was being lowered into the ground Ambrosine Williams bent down and picked up a handful of earth and threw it at Vivie.  She told Vivie that she was going to set a duppy on her for causing Carlton’s death and that she would be cursed until the day she died. 

That night the wind began to pick up and get stronger and continued until well into the evening.  Then, according to a report in the paper “the lightening started building up in strength until it lit up the whole sky, dancing in fantastic forms in the night sky, whilst the thunder that followed the lightening seemed to shake the earth as if to say the end of the world is near and then finally in the early hours of the next morning the rain came down.”

 

<–A Loose Cannon & Catholic Church                                      Kingston Riots —>

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