Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jamaican folklore’

<—-Kingston 1938 – A Dangerous Place to Live                  London 1939 —->

I couldn’t help but be amused when I discovered this Christmas card that my Uncle Sydney used to send to his customers in Jamaica.  It depicts snow – in Jamaica!!

  

Jamaican Christmas Card with Snow! 

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Family Tree

 

Dear Diary

Christmas Eve:   Ruby, Dolly, Pearl and me went to midnight mass at the Holy Trinity Cathedral.  Mammie never forces us to go to church and we can choose whether we want to.  I always want to go, I like the feeling of peace when I’m in Church.  The Cathedral  bells always start ringing half an hour before midnight and as they died away the Holy Trinity Choir sang “Adeste Fideles”. 

Father Butler preached the sermon and talked about the true meaning and spirit of Christmas and that it was a season of love and we should love one another and live happily and peacefully together.  Father Butler knows my family well and I’m sure he wrote that sermon just for the Browney family.  It certainly felt like it.  

Christmas is a special time in Jamaica and we celebrate it in a big way.  I love it, there is always so much happening and it’s one of the few times, apart from family crisis, a wedding or a funeral, when my family is together.

 

Christmas Day:   Today is such a beautiful day, warm with a little breeze and Mammie is sitting in her favourite rocking chair on the back veranda, pretending she’s dozing, but I know she is watching to make sure Cassie and me lay the dining table properly for Christmas lunch. 

We nearly always eat in the garden and Cassie and I are laying the huge mahogany table that’s been moved from the dining room onto the lawn and has been in the family as long as I can remember.  Mammie had it specially made years ago and told the craftsman it had to be big enough to hold at least twenty people because she was going to have lots of children. 

Cassie and I have done a good job with the table, even if I say so myself.  At each end there is a large bowl of fruit overflowing with mangoes, oranges, figs, papaw, bananas, star apples, dates, pineapple, naseberry and tamarind.   Down the centre we’ve put sprays of green maiden hair fern with white Christmas blossoms and lots of deep crimson roses.  Each place setting has been laid up with a crystal wine glass and Mammie’s best silver cutlery, a Xmas cracker and a crisp white folded linen serviette in the shape of a water lily and placed in the middle of each setting.  As an extra touch I’ve put a few tiny silver dishes of sweets, raisins and nuts on the table. 

We have a real feast on Christmas Day, lots of different things to choose from.   Rice and peas, cod fish and ackee, which grows in pods on a large tree, as well as the usual Christmas lunch of roast turkey, roasted plantain, sweet potatoes, calalue, cassada and yams.   For pudding we’ll be having boiled Jamaica plum pudding with wine sauce as well and mince pies.  Oh, I do love my food.  Mammie says my eyes are bigger than my belly.  I have a big scar on my upper arm where Dolly threw hot porridge at me one morning at breakfast.

I remember when I was little the family were sitting down to breakfast one morning, and we normally had porridge, and there was a sideboard where the porridge was laid out in dishes.   I usually examined them all to see which was the biggest one.  Dolly was standing beside me and I picked up the biggest one and she picked up hers and she threw it at me and said

“Here you take this too” and the porridge hit me on my right upper arm. 

I’ve still got the burn mark all these years later.   Mammie was furious with Dolly and she got smacked and Mammie took me to the bathroom and put bicarbonate of soda on it.  It stung like anything.  I cried a little bit because it hurt and then Mammie took me back down to breakfast.

After that we got ready for school and Mammie gave us a coconut cake.   She made them every day for us.  I can see Dolly, Ruby and myself, three little tots, going off to school, crying and hugging each other all the way.  We made friends quickly and never kept malice.   We were always together and did everything together, went to school together, played together, when we were very little we even slept in the same bed together.  

Mammie is lovely, you know, we only have to say we have a headache and she’ll cuddle you.

Next to the chairs which have been stacked ready to be placed around the Christmas table is a big wicker basket which will soon be full of Christmas presents. 

We have a custom at Christmas where we put everyone’s name in a hat and then you pick a name from the hat and have to buy a present for that person, costing no more than 1/-.  It takes a lot of imagination sometimes to find the right present for the right person. 

 

John Canoe:   In the distance I can hear the music from the John Canoe celebrations which we’ll all go and join up with after lunch.  John Canoe parades date back to slavery when Christmas was the only extended holiday the slaves had and it was a very special holiday for them. 

Some people say John Canoe was a great African chief and loved so much by his people that in his honour a festival is held every year.  Men wear “John Canoe faces”, which are masks worn by the performers.  

One performer will wear a sort of house on his head, some wear a cow’s head, one or two of them wear the head of a horse, some of the men dress in women’s clothes and all are dancing in the streets accompanied by drums, tambourines, banjos, flutes or homemade musical instruments and there is lots of noise and dancing in the streets. 

The Devil carries a pitchfork and wears a cowbell attached to his backside.  On his head is a cardboard cylinder which rests on a flat square piece of cardboard and his entire costume is black.  He pokes people with his pitchfork and frightens, not only children, but grown ups as well, me included sometimes.

Another performer plays Belly Woman, a pregnant lady who makes her belly move in time to the music.  She is very funny and another character,

Pitchy-Patchy, has the most colourful costume of all, with layered strips of brightly coloured cloth.  He is very energetic doing handstands and cartwheels all the time. In the evening most of us will go to Winchester Park which will be just one mass of people, young and old, rich and poor, all determined to have a good time.

At the entrance to the park last year was a thirty foot Christmas tree brilliantly lit and flooded with coloured lights from a gigantic searchlight and there were different booths, some designed to look like English cottages, and others had comic cartoons painted on them.  In each booth there are usually games of chance and lots of ways of winning prizes.

There is always a special exhibition in the flower booth where the floral creations of school children are on display and when the Browney children were small, it was our custom to display our floral designs there.  It’s one of my favourite booths and Maurice has told me that his floral design is on display this year.  Dear Maurice, I can’t wait to see it.

 But the booth I’ll head for first is the one with the fortune teller.  I’m off to England soon, so I must find out what’s in store for me.

 

Telegram from Rebecca Browney, Kingston, Jamaica to

Martha Ross, Paddington, England

 Olga sailing on S.S Jamaica Progress arriving London 1st April 1939.  Please meet her.  Becky.

 

 Dear Diary

 On my way:    On a crystal clear morning, the S.S Jamaica Progress steams slowly out of Kingston Harbour into the blue waters of the Caribbean, past small fishing boats, with the fringe of the coconut palms that front the Blue Mountains, gradually disappearing from view.

 She passes Port Royal and what remains of the buccaneer city that an earthquake sank beneath the ocean hundreds of years ago.  Overhead, in a cloudless blue sky, three long-tailed humming birds, so vivid in colour, sweep across the sky in unison and the sight of them takes my breath away. 

An omen, perhaps, a sign of good luck, Olga?

<—-Kingston 1938 – A Dangerous Place to Live               London 1939 —->

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

<–Kingston Riots                                                 Sydney & the Cook —>

 

Olga’s Diary (Continued)

Dear Diary

“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.”
 

<—-Kingston Riots                                                 Sydney & the Cook —>

If you enjoyed this post, please consider letting your friends know or leave a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.