Olga’s Diary (Continued)
“Mon Repose”: Every Saturday Mammie and I come to Aunt Lucy’s. Aunt Lucy took over running the plantation when Uncle John died because Bobbie and Adam, their sons were already living in America and didn’t want to come back to Jamaica. They want Aunt Lucy to sell up and join them, but she won’t. She says her heart belongs to Jamaica and anyway she wants to be buried at “Mon Repose” with Uncle John.
My Aunt Lucy smokes ganja in a white long handled pipe. She smokes ganja in it. She’s been smoking it for years and calls it her “wisdom weed” because it was supposed to have first been found on the grave of King Solomon. The law considers it a dangerous drug because they say if you smoke it you can go mad, so it’s illegal and you can be sentenced to prison and hard labour if the police catch you with it, but that doesn’t stop people from smoking it.
There was a break in at Kingston Police Station recently and someone broke the padlock of a wooden box that had eight bags of ganja in it which had been found by the police when they raided a house a few days earlier.
“Did you arrange the break in” Boysie asked Aunt Lucy. She roared with laughter.
“If I’d known the ganja was there I might have done and saved myself the trouble of growing it at the back of the plantation”.
The report said that all day an intensive search of vehicles was carried out. But out of the blue nearly all members of the local force were suddenly transferred to other police stations while the Superintendent carried out an investigation. Dolly and Pearl are with us today because Aunt Lucy pays us for picking pimentos and we’ve brought Maurice along, Chickie’s son, because small boys are very useful for a job like this.
Pimentos are a very strong spice and a pimento tree is very distinctive because the trunk of the tree is covered with a greenish grey bark which is smooth and shiny. The leaves are a dark and very glossy green and if I crush some in my hands they give out a lovely strong smell. It’s easy to grow pimentos because the birds do all the planting of the seeds. They eat the ripe berries and then drop the seeds onto the ground and that’s how nearly all Aunt Lucy’s pimento trees have been planted. The field workers say that if you plant by hand the trees will not grow, but I think the workers are being very smart saying that it’s hard work planting seeds; they’d rather the birds plant them. The pimento berry is small like a black currant and grows in clusters on the tree and when there’re ripe for picking they are of a glossy black colour, sweet and very spicy and peppery to taste.
The berries have to be collected by young lads going up the tree with long sticks and a crook at the end. They catch the long outer branches and bend them back till they can reach the smaller ones with the pimento berries on and then they’ll break off the small branches so that the grown ups, that’s us, waiting below with baskets can gather up the small branches, pick the berries and put them into our baskets. You have to be very careful not to damage the berries though.
At the end of the day the baskets are all brought to the barbecues, so the berries can be dried and prepared for market, and each person’s basket is weighed. Aunt Lucy enters the weight of each basket into the barbecue book and then pays us depending how much pimento is in our basket. The barbecue is a large paved area divided into ‘beds’ so that recently picked pimentos are not mixed with previously picked ones. When enough have been thrown on to a ‘bed’ they are spread out and exposed to the sun, and a man with a wooden rake keeps turning them so they dry evenly. You know when the berries are thoroughly dry because if you take some in your hand and rattle them near your ear, you should hear a sharp, dry, rattling sound.
We’d all been working for a couple of hours when Dolly noticed Maurice wasn’t moving. He’d climbed much higher than the other boys who were helping out.
“He’s frightened, he can’t go on” Dolly said.
I called out to him to come down.
“I can’t move”
“Yes. you can Maurice. Aunt Lucy’s made some lemonade. Come down and have a drink”.
“Olga, go and get him down” Mammie said.
So up the tree I go to help him down. Poor Maurice, by the time I got to him he was so frightened he couldn’t stop crying. Gently I coaxed him down the tree and the nearer we got to the ground the more his confidence returned until he’s on the ground and I’m sitting having a little rest on a thick branch when, my heart leaps because in the distance I can see Boysie’s best friend, Roy McKenzie, walking down the hill towards “Mon Repose”.
As I go to jump on to the ground my knickers get caught on the branch, tear and leave me dangling four foot off the ground, unable to free myself, my backside exposed to all the young boys still up the tree, the old man raking the barbecue, my sisters and worse still, I can see Roy McKenzie getting closer and heading straight for “Mon Repose”.
Dolly and Ruby were laughing themselves silly.
“Help me quickly, Roy McKenzie’s coming down the hill”.
In a flash Dolly was beside me on the branch and while Mammie lifted me up a few inches, Dolly hooked my knickers and, with only seconds to spare before Roy McKenzie arrives, I made it into the house all of them still laughing at me.
Later: Roy decided to stay and visit and after a while, with my knickers repaired, I felt composed enough to join him and the rest of the family sitting on the steps of the veranda watching the peenie wallies, little fireflies. They’re about the size of a beetle and give off a brilliant light from two orbs just above their eyes and when you see millions of them fluttering among the trees on a dark night it is a spectacular sight.
My Aunt Lucy is a great Anancy story teller.
Anancy tales are famous in Jamaica and were brought here by the slaves. Anancy is a kind of folk hero because he is a survivor. He is a spider man, clever, intelligent, quick-witted and cunning who likes to trick people for his own benefit. As a special treat, and to make up for my embarrassed hurt feelings earlier today, Aunt Lucy’s promised to tell us a story, so Maurice and I collected lots of peenie wallies and put them into jars, with holes in the top so air gets in, and then we put the jars in a long row in front of the stone barbecue, so they look like footlights.
Everyone sits cross-legged on the ground in front of the footlights breathing in the spicy fragrance of the pimentos in the evening breeze and Aunt Lucy sits behind the footlights and in front of the barbecue, comfortably settled in her chair, sucking on her white long handled pipe, which no doubt is full of ganja, and we all waited silently for her to start her story.
To tell an Anancy story correctly you have to use the Jamaican dialect and have lots of grand and dramatic gestures which Aunt Lucy does perfectly.
“A man plant a big field of gub-gub peas (bush peas). He got a watchman put there. This watchman can’t read. The peas grow lovely an’ bear lovely; everybody pass by, in love with the peas. Anancy himself pass an’ want to have some. He beg the watchman, but the watchman refuse to give him. He went an’ pick up an old envelope, present it to the watchman an’ say the master say to give the watchman. The watchman say,
“The master know that I cannot read an’ he sen’ this thing come an’ give me?”
Anancy say, “I will read it for you.” He said, “Hear what it say! The master say, ‘You mus’ tie Mr. Anancy at the fattest part of the gub-gub peas an’ when the belly full, let him go.’ The watchman did so; when Anancy belly full, Anancy call to the watchman, an’ the watchman let him go.
After Anancy gone, the master of the peas come an’ ask the watchman what was the matter with the peas. The watchman tol’ him. Master say he see no man, no man came to him an’ he send no letter, an’ if a man come to him like that, he mus’ tie him in the peas but no let him away till he come.
The nex’ day, Anancy come back with the same letter an’ say, “Master say, give you this.” Anancy read the same letter, an’ watchman tie Anancy in the peas. An’ when Anancy belly full, him call to the watchman to let him go, but watchman refuse. Anancy call out a second time, “Come, let me go!” The watchman say, “No, you don’ go!” Anancy say, ‘If you don’ let me go, I spit on the groun’ an’ you rotten!” Watchman get frighten an’ untie him cos he think Anancy Obeah man.
Few minutes after that the master came; an’ tol’ him if he come back the nex’ time, no matter what he say, hol’ him. The nex’ day, Anancy came back with the same letter an’ read the same story to the man. The man tie him in the peas, an’, after him belly full, he call to the man to let him go; but the man refuse, all that he say he refuse until the master arrive.
The master take Anancy an’ carry him to his yard an’ tie him up to a tree, take a big iron an’ put it in the fire to hot. Now while the iron was heating, Anancy was crying. Lion was passing then, see Anancy tie up underneath the tree; ask him what cause him to be tied there. Anancy said to Lion from since him born he never hol’ knife an’ fork, an’ de people wan’ him now to hol’ knife an’ fork.
Lion said to Anancy, “You too wort’less man! Me can hol’ it. I will loose you and then you tie me there.” So Lion loose Anancy an’ Anancy tied Lion to the tree. So Anancy went away, now, far into the bush an’ climb upon a tree to see what taking place. When the master came out, instead of seeing Anancy he see Lion. He took out the hot iron out of the fire an’ shove it in in Lion ear. An Lion make a plunge an’ pop the rope an’ away gallop in the bush an’ stan’ up underneath the same tree where Anancy was. Anancy got frighten an’ begin to tremble an’ shake the tree, Lion then hol’ up his head an’ see Anancy. He called for Anancy to come down. Anancy shout to the people, “See de man who you lookin’ fe! See de man underneat’ de tree!” An’ Lion gallop away an’ live in the bush until now, an’ Anancy get free.”
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