ISLE OF PINES
nAI in LEEWARD
S* 4 ISLANDS
BASSH NTE A PITRE
ISLANDS.= W.TInum V
m <00 TOJ> 8 s
Ilkr 9EY15tl0 6lN"a^';
+ J: ri ^
TPTS VOLUME HAS BEEN
BY t:E UNIVERSITYY OF
has also writn
THE LOOM OF YOUTH
NOR MANY WATERS
SO LOVERS DREAM
GOING THEIR OWN WAYS
NO TRUCE WITH TIME
MYSELF WHEN YOUNG
HIS SECOND WAR
EVANS BROTHERS LIMITED
For permiuioa to reproduce the photographs in this book,
the publishes are indebted to the foDowing:
Exclusive News Aency, for the Statue of the Empress
Josephine; Fox Photos, for the Coco Plantation; 0. HoMpr.
for pboo phs of Moncgo Bay and a West Indian Wrl;
Pl Popper, for the frontispiece and photoraphs of Antiua
Barbados. Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Jammaca, St. Lucia, SL
Vincent, Trinidad, and a boy with bananas.
Ar in Gnd Ga iria b
Tim Cwnit Pro LrAL, Lask md Sai-wom
lrt pm st 19
FOREWORD page 7
I. GATEWAY TO THE WEST INDIES:
II. THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND 27
III. THE WEST INDIAN SCENE 45
IV. WEST INDIAN VOODOO 59
V. A WEST INDIAN SNAPSHOT 78
VI. A WEST INDIAN CROONER 85
VII. THE WEST INDIAN ISLANDS 98
BI mGRAPHY 126
IN WHOSE COMPANY I VISITED FOR THE FIRST TIME
SO MANY OF THESE ISLANDS
THIS book is written for the tourist, the intending tourist and
for those who are forced, for this and the other reason, to
travel in their memory and imagination. It is written for those who
are interested in the West Indies, but possess no detailed or special-
ised knowledge of them. It is hoped that it will "put them in the
This is not, that is to say, a book of reference and I have not
peppered my paragraphs with footnotes to authorities. I have, how-
ever, listed in a bibliography the chief books that I have consulted.
I am indebted in particular to Sir Algernon Aspinall's A Wayfarer
in the West Indies and A Pocket Guide to the West Indies.
My thanks are due to Messrs. Cassell & Co. Ltd. for allowing
me to reprint the greater part of Chapter IV, "West Indian Voodoo,"
which originally appeared under their imprint in a book of mine
called "Mast Women."
GATEWAY TO THE WEST INDIES: MARTINIQUE
SOMETHING always remains out of a love affair. Usually the
last thing one would expect. A year ago, a man whom I have
known for a quarter of a century, with whom for five or six years I
was on terms of quite close friendship and with whom, nowadays,
in the course of most years I arrange at least once to lunch or dine,
asked me if I had been surprised the first time be invited me to
It had been in the early 20's. I was four or five years younger than
he was. We had nothing very obvious in common. He was a Treasury
official. He was not a footballer or a cricketer. As members of the
Savile Club, we met casually two or three times a month. There was
no particular reason why he should have invited me to a dinner
which marked-we could recognize it now in retrospect-the start
of our real friendship. Had I been surprised when he invited me?
"Yes." I said. "I suppose I was."
He smiled. "You'll be more surprised when I tell you why I did.
I had heard that you were a good friend of Phyllis's. I had just fallen
for her, crazily. I thought it might do me good to have you saying
nice things about me to her. I read in The Times this morning that
she was a grandmother. I don't suppose I've thought of her ten
times in the last fifteen years. It's strange to reflect that our friend-
ship, yours and mine, is the only thing that survives now out of all
that emotional disturbance."
We have most of us had, I fancy, an equivalent experience. And
when the publisher with whom I discussed the project of this book
asked me what it was that had first attracted me to the Caribbean, I
was forced to remind myself, a little ruefully, that this interest of
mine in the West Indies is all that is left alive now in my life of an
entanglement on whose account at the end of the 1920's I travelled
many thousand miles.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
It was incidentally, without premeditation, as part of a quite
different plan, that I saw the West Indies first.
In the spring of 1926 I went round the world. I travelled by the
Messageries Maritimes. And in view of the difficulty and cost of
travel, now in the late 1940's, it is pertinent to recall that a ticket
that sent me first class round the Mediterranean touching at Greece,
Turkey and the Levant; thence from Port Said via Colombo to
Malaya; from Singapore, calling at the Dutch East Indies, to the
Australian ports; from Sydney northwards across the Pacific to the
New Hebrides, Tahiti, Panama, the West Indies and finally Mar-
seilles; a ticket that included twenty weeks' board and lodging, cost
For a writer with no responsibilities or overhead expenses, who
was able to earn a 1,000 a year, large scale travel was in the 20's and
30's a definite economy. When I have mentioned ihe places I have
been to, I have often been asked incredulously how on earth I could
have paid the passage. My answer has been that it was only because
I was travelling half the time that I was able to run a flat and enter-
tain my friends in London. During my round-the-world trip I spent
during nine months, without being austerely economical, under 500.
I have described that journey in another book, Hot Courtries.
telling how, like so many travellers before me, I decided at the first
sight of Tahiti to let my ship sail on without me; telling in the form
of fiction how gradually I came to realise that Tahiti, whatever it
may have been in the days of Melville, was no place in the 1920's for
a young man of ambition to take root in; telling how I decided sud-
denly, in an afternoon, to get back to England by the quickest and
shortest route across America, not waiting for the French boat by
which I had a ticket. I did not tell, however, in Hot Coutries, how
on the way up to San Francisco all my plans for settling permanently
in England became reversed and how in the smoke-room of the
Manganu I made a rendezvous for August in Tahiti.
Six months later I started back for the Pacific in the Louio, a
converted seven-thousand-ton French troopship which carried about
sixty mixed-class passengers. She sailed from Marseilles. She was
bound for New Caledonia, through the Panama Canal Tahiti was
six weeks away. At the head of the gangplank a small black board
announced that we would leave at 11.30 for Pointe i Pitre.
GATEWAY TO THE WEST INDICES: MARTINIQUE
"Where's Pointe & Pitre?" I asked.
"Guadeloupe. It's the chief port there."
But I was not interested in Guadeloupe. I barely knew of its ex-
istence. I remembered it vaguely from history lessons as one of the
islands that kept changing hands during the French wars of the
eighteenth century. Guadeloupe, like Colon, was a station upon a
six weeks' journey. When the notice board announced eighteen
days later that we would dock on the following afternoon, such anti-
cipation as I felt was no more than the corollary to eighteen landless
days. I wanted to feel my feet on concrete, I wanted to loiter before
shop windows, to "consult" a menu, to patronise a "dancing". It
was in that mood that I went ashore; and appropriately enough,
the only recordable incident that I can recall about the next ten
hours is that I first drank Lanson then.
The next day we docked at Martinique.
It was a cloudless July morning. The sky looked very blue against
the grey green tamarinds. The shrubs lining the road down which
we sauntered from the quay were studded in pink and white with
the bel-mouthed hibiscus. There was a broad, grass-grown savannah
flanked with mango tres. In its centre was a white statue set about
with palms, with royal palms that stood straight and tall like sentries.
On two sides of the savannah was the irregular broken skyline of
two and three-storied buildings; clubs and hotels and shops and
cafes; some wooden and some brick; some with fresh-painted
shutters; others with blistered woodwork and warped frames. On
the edge of the grass a succession of one-man stalls offered soft
drinks and biscuits.
The tourist season for the Caribbean ends in April. The summer is
popularly supposed to be made as intolerable by heat as is the
autumn by rain and wind. But I do not remember it as being par-
ticularly hot. Everything was bright and gay; there was colour and
animation along the streets. Many of the women wore the native
dress, wide skirted about the ankles, tight-bodiced, with a silk
handkerchief about the shoulders and a smaller silk handkerchief
knotted in the hair, with the ends pointing upwards. The French
officials looked very dapper and self-important in their white ducks
and high-crowned, mushroom-like sun helmets; the mulatto men,
very delant, in their silk shirts and gaudy ties and tightly-waisted
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
suits. There was a great deal of noise. Cars were honking at every
comer. Range after range of jagged mountains, indented with the
pale blue of bay and estuary, rose like a bastion behind the harbour.
Over the porch of the Hotel de France, the tricolour was flying.
There was an air of the Midi about it alL And across the grass, the
white statue in its circle of guardian palms gave a dignity and signi-
ficance to the scene. Whom was it to, I asked.
My question was greeted with a laugh. Had I forgotten that
Josephine was born here?
I strolled across to it
So many pens have described the details of that statue-the long,
flowing robes of the First Empire, the high waist, the bare arms and
shoulders, the hand resting on a medallion that bears Napoleon's
profile, the head turned southwards to the place of her birth, Trois
Islets-so many magazine articles have been adorned with its illus-
tration that it is hard for the modern traveller to assess its intrinsic
value as a work of art. It is hard to dissociate it from its subject: it
is hard not to react against its overpraise; it is easy to dismiss it
scoffingly as "the kind of thing that you would see in half a hundred
cemeteries." Moreover, it is set upon so high a pedestal that it is im-
possible to get a level and close-up view of it I have never seen a
photograph that did it justice; and it is possible that if you were to
see that statue in a London gallery, you would consider it of small
account Seen, though, in Martinique, in its own setting from a
distance of forty yards, it is not easy to be unmoved by it. As I saw
it on that first July morning, white against the green of the tamarinds
and mangoes, it seemed to stand there on its pedestal, in the centre
of the savannah, in the circle of its palms, as a symbol, as a tribute
to the romantic destiny not only of a woman, but of an island's life.
"This must be a real place," I thought.
The Louqsor was to sail at four. It was close upon six before she
did. No French cargo boat, I was told, has ever sailed punctually
from Fort de France, or made full speed next day. No French
sailor, however he may be warned, can appreciate that a liquid
which is served as a in de table at 5 francs the bottle can have the
potency of rum. The police have a busy afternoon on boat days
rounding up the crew.
We leant, the purser and I, against the taffrail watching the
GATEWAY TO TBE WEST INDICES: MARTINIQUE
struggles being brought in one by one, while the women who had
coed the hip-the darbaib-stood beside their baskets
roaring with laughter, their teeth showing very white against their
The purser shrugged
"La Martinique," he said. "There is no place like it."
"How about Tahiti?"
He shrugged again. "Tahiti is, how shall I say, hours concows. You
can make no comparison. Thee is only one Tahiti. But La Mar-
tinique. She is special too. Yes; she is very special."
Fifteen months later I was to remember that conversation. I was
in need of an impersonal period, a pause in which to think and write,
to refresh and recreate myself. Martinique might prove, I thought,
a sister island to Tahiti. It was French and in the tropics, as far
north of the line as was Tahiti south of it. She was special in her
own way, the coomissafre had said. It might be amusing to try to
discover where the difference lay. I might write an article, or even a
book, comparing the two islands. Early in December I started off.
I started with the most vague intentions. I also started in the most
complete ignorance of the island's history; of the part that it had
played, or for that matter that the West Indies generally had played,
in English history. As a schoolboy I had been a member of the
History Sixth; as a schoolboy I had been confronted in form-room
after form-room by a map, the quarter of which was painted red; in
sermon after sermon, in address after address, I had been exhorted
to remember that the main object of my education was to fit me to
be a worthy subject of the British Empire. But I was taught little
of that Empire's history. Certainly I had no idea of how important .
to European statesmen the Caribbean had been in the eighteenth ..
century nor how much English and French and Spanish blood was
shed there. If when the Pefleri de la Toudke deposited me at Fort de
France on December 17th, 1928, an interviewer had asked me what
I knew about the island of which I was to become a resident, I could
only have produced three facts, that Martinique figured among the
battle honours of my regiment, that Josephine had been born there,
and that early in the century a volcano had erupted and destroyed
an entire town within a minute. If it is an advantage to bring a fresh
mind to a subject, the odds were on me.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
I started, as I said, with the most vague intentions. But at the same
time I had a very definite schedule of work ahead. I was halfway
through a novel which I planned to finish before my return, and I
knew that the first thing I must do on my arrival was to find some-
where quiet in the country. Fort de France would be, I knew,
There is no atmosphere more restless than that of a tropical port.
Its beat, its honking horns, its smells, its radios, its general airles-
ness, its essential eventlessness are combined distractingly with a
feeling of something always being about to happen. In Tahiti I had
stayed in a beach hotel, facing Moorea, some ten miles from Papeete.
It had a central building where one took one's meals, with separate
cabins spread fifty or so yards away along the shore. It was an ideal
place in which simultaneously to carry on with one's own job and to
absorb an atmosphere. I hoped to find some equivalent establish-
ment in Martinique.
I was travelling with Eldred Curwen. Within an hour of our
arrival, we had presented our letters of introduction to the French
Line offices. We were warmly welcomed, but heads were shaken
when we talked of living in the country. Outside Fort de France,
they said, there were no hotels in which we should care to stay.*
Martinique had no tourist trade.
"Perhaps it has been a mistake of ours," they said, "but as you will
see, this island is extremely prosperous. We are part of Metropolitan
France. That is to say, we are regarded as a department of France,
and our representatives sit in Paris in our equivalent of your House
of Commons. It is the old Roman colonial system. It suits us well
We work in the closest co-operation with Bordeaux. The terms of
trade are very advantageous to us. The planters and the business
men are making so much money out of rum and sugar that it is not
in their interest to invest their capital in hotels and swimming pools.
In some of the other islands, in some of your British islands, the
links with the mother country are less strong, their products are less
protected. You have probably to consider the claims of your other
colonies when you arrange your tariffs; that is one of the disad-
vantages of having so large an empire; certainly some of your smaller
When I returned there in 1938. it was to find a good modern hotel. the ido.
with a swimming pool and nigclub facilities ta mil out oa Fort de Fracm on
the leeward side.
GATEWAY TO THE WEST INDIES: MARTINIQUE
islands are in quite real difficulties. They are forced to depend upon
their tourist trade. We, fortunately, or in this case unfortunately,
are not presented with that necessity. No, we are afraid there is no
hotel outside Fort de France."
"Then what about renting a bungalow?" I asked.
They shrugged again. Where, then, would their owners live, since
there were no hotels? Why should they want to let their houses unless
they were going to take a holiday in Europe, and who in their senses
would exchange Martinique for Europe in December?
It sounded logical.
We went round to the British ConsuL He too shook his head,
though he gave a different reason.
"This island's a funny place," he said. "It's owned by six large
families. They are immensely rich, but they're self-sufficient. It all
dates back to the Revolution. The English happened to be in control
here through the Terror, so the French aristocrats didn't get bumped
off, as they did in Haiti and Guadeloupe. By the time the English
left, the Terror was at an end. But Paris and France had become
places that old regime planters hadn't any use for any longer, so they
stayed on here, getting richer and richer, intermarrying, and giving
each other vast Sunday lunches. They've kept everything in their
hands. They aren't interested in having tourists: why should they
be? No; I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place. If you want to
stay in the country, I'd try Guadeloupe. There's a very good hotel
just above Bass Terre. Guadeloupe's altogether different. It's all
owned in France. Yes; I should go there. There'll be a boat sailing,
let me see--" He turned towards his secretary: "When will the
next boat be sailing, Mary? Friday. Yes; that's what I should do;
And he sat beck with a beam upon his face.
The finality of any "no" depends, however, upon the nationality of
the man pronouncing it An American "no" is definitely final
Every American is the heir of immigration. America has a tradition
of "welcome to the new arrival." An American will do all he can for
the newcomer. If he says "no" it means that he can do nothing. It is
of his "yes" that you must be cautious. It may mean no more than:
"if I can get a chance of doing anything, I will" The Englishman
works on a different system; "his home is his castle" and "his word
is his bond." He is wary of new acquaintances and he is anxious
THE SUNLIT CARIBEAN
not to appear to promise anything that he is not certain that he can
perform. These two techniques result in a good many misunder-
standings in the trade of letters. American novelists in London
imagine that they have been turned down by taciturn and non-
committal editors and take their work elsewhere, while English
authors, misinterpreting enthusiastic cables from their New York
agents, sign leases for larger flats.
In this instance I took as final neither the British Consuls nor the
French Line's "no": for the Frenchman works on yet another
system. His "no" merely means that he does not see at a first glance
the opening for a private "rake off." I was quite sure that there must
be somewhere in Martinique someone who would want to rent a
Within two minutes my beliefs were justified. The Consul's sec-
retary was a tall, handsome Martiniquaise, and she spoke in a firm,
"I think I can help these gentlemen," she said.
Within three days we were established in a bungalow.
It was a very pleasant bungalow, seven miles out of Fort de
France on the leeward side. It stood high, to the extent of thirty
steps, above the main coast road. From the road a short, steep path
zigzagged through tangled undergrowth to a sandy cove that may
well have been one of those on which, a hundred and thirty years
before, the Thirty-ninth Regiment of Foot had landed. It faced
south-west. Across thirty miles of water, we could see upon clear
days two cone-shaped mountains, the Pitons of Saint Lucia. It was
a four-roomed bungalow with a wide veranda and with servants'
premises. We had three servants-a cook, a general scavenger and a
gardener. We lived extremely well I have forgotten now the exact
details of rent and wages. But I do know that our five weeks there
were both our most sumptuous and our cheapest in a five months'
We lived, Eldred Curwen and myself, an exceedingly quiet life. I
woke with the sun and by half-past six was at work on the veranda,
looking out over "the bright blue meadow of a bay," while the life
of the island passed in a slow parade below me. I would watch as I
wrote, the native carrier girls-les poreuses, the subject of one of
Lafcadio Hearn's loveliest essays-swing down the road with even
A West Indian Girl.
GATEWAY TO THE WEST INDIES: MARTINIQUB
stride and eect figures, their loads balanced upon their heads. In
the bay beyond, fishermen would be setting out their nets in circles;
small launches would be busy with coastline traffic between Fort de
France and the smaller townships; now and again far on the horizon
the white superstructure of a tourist liner or an inter-island cargo
boat would gleam and glitter in the sunlight Usually the sun was
shining, though rain of a brief kind was frequent. They were short,
fierce, drenching showers. At most hours of the day there would be
a rainbow curving over one or another mountain. It was not really
hot. There were frequent gusts of wind, so that I needed a paper-
weight upon my table. In the garden below me bright-winged hum-
ming birds darted from bush to bush; over the bungalow walls and
over the railings of the veranda bougainvilla mingled its mauve and
briar-red flowers with the bell-mouthed white and scarlet of the
hibiscus, and all the time the lights were changing upon the water.
S. N. Behrman once said to me that if you have done three hours'
writing the rest of the day takes care of itself. Certainly in the tropics
three hours at a desk is ample. By ten o'clock the sun had mounted.
My wrist had become so damp that the ink ran and blurred as my
script moved down the page. I would go down to join Eldred on the
sands, to swim and sunbathe, before the light lunch of fish and salad
that served as sustenance for a long walk afterwards.
It was through very untropical country that we would take that
walk. In Martinique there is none of the lush, iridescent greenery of
Malaya, none of that riot of creepers and bamboos that I had seen
in the teak forests of Siam. The long, rolling fields of sugar cane
have a northern look; as have the small allotments-the orchard,
the vegetable patch, the chicken-run-that the peasant proprietors
cultivate for their own use. The villages are for the most part along
the coast. But the interior is dotted with small cabins and groups of
cabins and here and there with the large, dignified houses of the big
From the decks of a liner, Martinique rises from the sea in a
cluster of high peaks like a Marquesan island. But whereas the in-
terior of Tahiti is an impenetrable jungle of trees and undergrowth,
so that cultivation is only possible along the coast, Martinique is
cut and traversed by a succession of deep, fertile valleys, through
which have been driven wide, macadamed roads. It is easy to see in
the course of a two hours' walk why Martinique is rich.
a 17 -
Marrlnlque-Slalu of Josephiw.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
After our walk, we would sit, bathed and changed, on the veranda,
sipping a Creole punch-rum with a slice of lime, a half-teaspoonful of
syrup, ice, and half as much again of water-watching the sun sink
on the horizon, wondering whether we should see during that final
second of its emersion the brief and brilliant flicker of the emerald
ray. Dusk fell quickly. Fireflies would float about the flowers. We
dined at seven. By half-past eight I was asleep.
It was a quiet enough routine, with only the occasional break, for
the sake mainly of variety, of a day in Fort de France, to collect our
mail; but gradually, obeying that routine, I became aware of the
differences between this island and Tahiti.
There were many differences.
There was no leisure: that was the first thing I noticed. No one in
Tahiti was ever busy. There was no need for work. The valleys are
full of fruit, of oranges and breadfruit, bananas and mangoes and
papaya. You have only to shake them down. The streams are full of
shrimps and fish, waiting to be speared. There are land crabs and
there are pineapples. If you are thirsty, there is the juice of a green
coconut, and between the shore and the reef there are baby octo-
puses and larger fish to be snared with torches after dark. There is no
need for a Tahitian to bother about the demands of livelihood.
When you drive into the districts along the one coast road, you
will see, lying out on mats on the long verandas, tall dark-eyed girls
in red-and-white cotton dresses, their black hair falling loose over
their shoulders, lazily stringing wreaths out of the white tiare
blossoms while a young man in a straw hat with flowers round
its brim strums upon a ukelele. It is all very much as Gauguin
In Martinique, on the other hand, everybody is extremely busy.
A succession of trucks and carts high-piled with sugar cane are in
constant motion along broad, macadamed roads. The sickly sweet
smell of molasses is heavy on the air. For hour after hour the long,
weighted cutlasses are swinging against the cane stalks. Everywhere
there is a sense of drive and effort.
Nor is it only the men who work. The coaling of the ships, for
instance, was all done by women. With baskets upon their heads,
they would scuttle between the coal dump and the ship, desperately
anxious, since they were paid at so much a basket, to make as many
GATEWAY TO THE WEST INDIES: MARTINIQUE
journeys as was possible. With automobiles generally available, the
girl carriers-who would do their thirty miles a day with heavy
loads upon their heads-were not as necessary as they had been in
the 1880's, but I saw plenty of them on the road, with baskets of fish
and fruit Human transport was still the cheapest. When, for in-
stance, I found it impossible to pack my wardrobe trunk on to the
small Lincoln that brought me out to the bungalow from Fort de
France, the general servant was sent in to fetch it on her head. It
was cheaper, our landlord said, than making the car do a second
As a corollary doubtless to this atmosphere of work and effort,
money and commodities have an importance in Martinique that in
Tahiti they had never had. We were careful to lock up everything in
the bungalow whenever the servants were away. In Tahiti I had
never bothered to do that On my second visit there I took a bunga-
low in town, but then decided to move out into the country. I left my
trunk and a good many of my clothes behind me. I also left a store
cupboard full of tinned food and wines. It never occurred to me that
I should lock them up. Tahitians are born millionaires. They have
everything they need. They make gifts freely, and there is no need
for them to steal. It was not till a good deal later that I recognized
how big a tribute I had paid to the Tahitians when I did not bother
to lock up my bungalow.
The Tahitians again gave the sense of belonging all of them to one
family. Their blood is no longer pure. They have intermarried with
Europeans, they have intermarried with Chinese. To find the true
Polynesian type which made so strong an impression on the mariners
of the Bounty, you would have to look among the smaller and more
distant islands, or perhaps among the Maoris of New Zealand.
But weakened though the blood may be, you will see everywhere in
Tahiti the same type of face, the large, luminous, dark eyes, the full
lips, the smooth, oval chin, the half-flattened nose. In Martinique
there was no such similarity of feature. The faces on the whole were
darker, certainly in the country districts. There was not the same
suggestion of European intermarriage. It did seem, on the other
hand, that the same small village had been populated by the deced-
ants of fifty different tribes.
Their expressions were different too. The Tahitians wear often in
repose an air of melancholy; an expression that Gauguin has caught
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
in many of his downcast faces: an expression that is by no means
inappropriate to their circumstance and history, to their los of
faith and future. But in spite of that expression they are essentially
a happy, a gay and friendly people. You do not get that atmosphere
of happiness among the natives of Martinique. They laugh a lot; they
will throw back their heads and emit a high-pitched cackle. They
are friendly; they are ready to help. They are enthusiastic. They are
transported over the outcome of a cockfight They will throw them-
selves into their carnival dances with abandon. They are excited
easily. Yet there is an underlying sense of surliness about them
Tahitian villages, moreover, are e like gardens, with grass paths and
flowers trailing over wide verandas; the natives of Martinique live
in small, draughty shacks. It is impossible for a fishing village not to
look picturesque with its nets hung out to dry on poles, its boats
beached against the cliffs and a stream rippling between houses over
stones. But even the fishing villages of Martinique have an unkempt,
a squalid air. There is no temptation to go native. I never heard of
anyone who had. There were no beachcomber legends there. Mar-
tinique may be a rich island, in terms of exports and a balanced
budget. But its inhabitants appeared to be living on a thin-worn
The women of Martinique are famous for their looks, and cer-
tainly they are strikingly handsome, with their straight, proud car-
riage and their bright scarves. But there is a general lack of gracious-
ness about their life. There is none of the singing and the dancing,
the picnics and the bathing parties of the Pacific. You will never
see rolling along those broad, macadamed roads an old, old Ford
van crowded with gay young people, the girls with flowers in their
hair, the young men with flower-crowned straw hats. There will be
no shouting to the passers-by, no strumming upon ukelels. Trans-
port must serve a purpose. Cane has to be cut and loaded, the sugar
mills have to be fed.
There is no spontaneous, impromptu gaiety. Wild parties are the
outcome, not of the mood and moment, but of a cumulative mass
excitement into which the entire population is absorbed. I have
never been in Martinique for the actual Mardi Gras Carnival, but I
have been there during the weeks before, and I have been conscious,
Saturday by Saturday, of a mounting tempo, of an atmosphere of
GATEWAY TO TBE WEST INDIES: MARTINIQOU
I have been told thatTrinidad is the best place in which to see
the carnival, but I rather think that I have been told that because a
great many more American and English have sen it there than in
Martinique. At carnival in every island everyone "runs mask."
The masks are ghoulish and fantastic, the costumes bizarre. From
dawn to dusk the streets are patrolled by groups of revellers. They
operate in patrols. They have a leader who prances and cavorts
ahead of them. They chant "calypsos"-long trailing satires on
contemporary events. They raid the houses of their friends. They
solicit alms from dawn to dusk. Every town, every village is a
pandemonium. Preparations are made for it for weeks before. The
only time that I was in the West Indies for Mardi Gras, I was in
Dominica. I was told by the residents that it was a tame affair, but
it was wild enough. I could imagine what it would have been in
Martinique. I could imagine that because for a succession of January
Saturday I had been to the Bal Lou-lou.
The Bal Lou-ou is special to Fort de France. Twice a week, on
Saturday and Sundays, there is a ball-or, rather, there are several
There is the Palais and the Casino. But it is at the Select Tango that
you will see it at its best. There is nothing to tell you that yoare to
se anything extraordinary. At the end of a quiet street facing a river
there is a large tin building. You pay your 12 fans and you are in a
long room hung with lanterns and paper streamers. A gallery runs
round it, on which tables are set and at each of whose extremities
there is a bar. It is rather like a dril-hall. And as you lean over the
balcony you have the impression that you are at a typical provincial
palais de dam. You see the kind of people that you would expect to
see. In the gallery there are one or two family parties of white people.
The white women will not dance. They will look on and they will
leave early. In the hal below are a certain number of young French-
men of good family with their dusky mistresses. But for the most
part it is a coloured audience of shop assistants, minor officials, small
proprietor: a typical provincial dance-hall. And at first there is
nothing in the dance itself that you would not expect to see in such a
place. The music i more barbaric, more gesticulatory. But that you
would expect, that you have seen before. You row tired and a little
bored You begin to wonder whether it is worth staying on. Then
suddenly there is the wai of a clarinet. A whisper runs round the
Q 0uad ofim Br CeariM.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
tables, "Danse du Pays." In a moment the galleries are empty.
It is danced face to face. The girl clasps her arms round the man's
neck. The man holds her by the hips. The music is slow and tense.
The couples appear scarcely to move. In a dance of twenty minutes
they will not make more than one revolution of the room. They
stand close-clasped and swaying. The music does not become louder
or more fast. It grows fiercer, more barbaric. The mouths of the
dancers grow lax; their eyes are dosed; their movements exceed
That is on ordinary evenings. During the weeks before carnival
it is fantastic. A stranger arriving at the Select Tango at one o'clock
in the morning would imagine himself doped. He would not believe
it possible that in a whiterun community the payment of 12 francs
at a public doorway would admit him to such a bedlam. He would
imagine that such spectacles were held behind doors as rigidly
guarded as those of the Bal des Quartres Arts. The noise is deafening.
The galleries and hall are crowded. Most of the girls are masked.
They wear stockings on their arms so that not an inch of dark skin
appears. Some of them, it is whispered, are white women in disguise.
They might well be. It is a dance in which caste and blood are alike
forgotten. Everyone is drunk, not with alcohol, but with music.
People are dancing by themselves. They shriek and wave their arms.
They seize a partner, dance with her for a moment, then break away.
A woman embraced between two men will be shrieking to friends
who are in the gallery. In the thronged centre of the hall, couples
closeclasped will stand swaying, their feet and shoulders motionless,
a look of ecstasy upon their faces. The only phrases that would
adequately describe the Bal Lou-lou are incompatible with censor-
ship. But there is all the difference in the world between the organised
hysteria of the Bal Lou-lou and the strumming of a ukele on a
casual Tahitian evening.
The prevalence of cock-fighting is also symptomatic. In Fort de
France there was a large theatre-a gallodrome-which the young
"bloods" of the town frequented on Sundays after Mass. In every
village there were contests on Sunday afternoons. It was a less brutal
sport than I had expected. I went there for the first time expecting
to be disgusted, but feeling that I owed it to myself as a piece of
copy. I had been told that the birds wore spurs, that there would be a
GATEWAY TO THE WEST INDIES: MARTINIQUE
preliminary sparring scufe, that then one of the birds would leap
into the air and, with a single downward stroke, drive his spur
through the back of his opponent's neck. But it was not in the least
like that. The birds were only spurred to the extent that their claws
were sharpened. I never saw one bird killed. There would be, it is
true, at the start of the fight a succession of attacks by leap, but these
high spirits were soon abandoned, and the fight became a slogging
match, each pecking at the other's head till, apparently by mutual
agreement, they would pause for breath. Then their owners, who had
all the time been crouching at their sides supplicating, abusing and
exhorting them, would apply restorative measures, licking their
wounds, feeding them with spirits, then, on a signal from the
umpire, presenting the bird to its opponent The fight would con-
tinue until one of the birds, after a session in its corner, refused to
fight, turning away its head and letting itself be pecked at.
A fight will last up to twenty minutes, and can be as boring, in
itself, as the last five rounds between two exhausted and mediocre
heavyweights when you know that there is no chance of a knock-out.
It was the audience much more than the birds that made me an
amateur of the gallodrome. The cocks, with their red and raw necks,
were drab and pitiable objects. But the backers, who shrieked en-
couragement from the ring, who jumped, who stamped their feet,
who tossed their hats into the air; the owners, whose brown long-
fingered hands writhed in every gesture of imprecation, whose faces
were contorted successively with anger, hope, fear, shame, triumph,
horror, pride, were a constant delight to me. When victory finally
came, they would throw somersaults, stamp on their hats, pick up
handfuls of earth and toss them in the air. It was well worth
waiting twenty minutes for such a moment
And it was because the audience was so much more entertaining
than the fight that I found cock-fighting in the districts more amusing
than I did in town. In Fort de France the gallodrome was a circular,
roofed-over, sanded ring, twenty yards across with ten or twelve
tiers of seats rising from its circumferenc. But in the country there
was no arena; the cocks would chase each other up and down the
village street, tumbling into gutters and having to be rescued, with
half the population of the village following the fortunes of the fight,
shouting, laughing, cheering, quarrelling. It was the most hilarious
performance. But it was all very remote from the ukeles and the
THE SUNLIT CARIBNEAN
wreaths of pandanus and hibiscus and the white Bower of the tire
behind the ear. Martinique might be a high, green island in the
tropics, under French authority, just out of the temperate zone, but
it was populated by a different people; it represented and supported
a different way of life; its past was different, its present and its
How different its past had been, how different had been the way of
life that had been built about that past, I did not realise, I did not
begin to realise, till I visited the ruins of St. Pierre. The destruction
of St. Pierre is as familiar a story as the destruction of Pompeii; in a
way it is more familiar since it happened in the lifetime of very many
of us, inside this century. It had been, too, such a very lovely city.
Lafcadio Hearn's was not the only pen that has described its
beauties. It had a charm, a grace, a dignity that no one other city in
the West Indies had. Other cities had been scarred in battle or de-
stroyed by earthquake. St Pierre alone had had the good fortune to
remain unchanged, to have grown slowly from the first pirate days,
an example of growth and of tradition, a reminder of what Colonial
France had been before the Revolution; a testimony to what it had
become under the Third Republic. There it had stood, stone-built,
facing the sun, protected from wind and storm in the amphitheatre
of its guardian hills, with its red-tiled roofs, its lemon-coloured
walls and painted shutters, its wrought-iron balconies and gateways,
with flowers trailing over its walls and windows, its steep and narrow
streets "that broke into steps as streams break into a waterfall",
into the rivulets that kept the town cool and fragrant, so that at
night, when the life of the town was still, you heard the perpetual
music of falling water. Fort de France was the capital of Martinique,
in the sense that, having the better harbour, it had to be the adminis-
trative centre. But socially and culturally the centre of the island was
fifty miles down the coast under the shadow of Mount Pe6. Sailors
over the seven seas would talk of it And on a bright May morning
in 1902, in forty-five seconds, the work of three centuries was gutted.
The story has been told many times. And every description that I
have read, every side reference, every photograph, every news
clipping of the previous days adds something to the dramatic irony
of the tragedy. For days, for weeks the city had had its warnings.
There had been noises; smoke plumes had risen from the mouth of
the volcano. But the inhabitants had laughed. The old monster of
GATEWAY TO TBE WEST INDIES: MARTINIQUE
the mountain was infrm, they said. He was only muttering in his
sleep. On Sunday afternoons the young people continued to clamber
up the steep sides to peer over the crate's edge, just as their grand-
parents had done. Even when the rumbling noises became explosions,
when the river to the north of the city was swollen with a sudden
torrent of boiling mud, even when there were heavy casualties along
the river, even then no one really believed that there was any danger.
A committee of scientific experts made an examination on the spot
and issued a report that there was no cause for the least alarm. On
the very afternoon before the disaster, the Governor drove out from
Fort de France to take up residence in St. Pierre, to allay the fears
of the inhabitants and to prove by his presence his complete faith in
the verdict of his experts. He wanted nothing to interfere with the
town's traditional enjoyment of its jour de fe.
As likely as not, when the next morning broke bright and clean,
he was sitting on his balcony in the sunlight over his rolls and coffee;
watching the town prepare for a day of parade and pleasure at the
very moment when, shortly after eight, two loud explosions thundered
in the hills behind and sailors from the decks of the ships at anchor
saw a large white cloud merge from the crater of Mount Pel
-it looked as though one side of the mountain fell away to roll
towards the sea like an Alpine avalanche. In less than a minute the
town had been destroyed. Forty-five thousand people-narly half
the population of the island-had been killed. There was only one
survivor, a convict who was in an underground cell, awaiting trial.
It was three days before he was discovered.
I had read descriptions of St Pierre, I had read accounts of its
destruction, but it was not until I actually visited the ruins that I
realized what it was that had been destroyed. There is nothing
harder to visualise than a house in scaffolding, or a house whose
foundation has been cut out upon the ground. The rooms look
ridiculously small In an obverse way, a ruined building looks often
larger than a house that is unimpaired. The most impressive columns
I have ever seen are those few that are still standing out of the fifty
or so that once formed the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbec. I have
wondered whether they looked so impressive when they were part of
a complete structure. In the same way, St Pierre may possibly be
more impressive now in ruins than it ever was when it rose from the
waterfront between itsgardens.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
The town has never been rebuilt. The harbour still carries on a
certain amount of business, as a port for the northern districts.
There is a hotel, a market-place, a few shops, a gallodrome, a
museum. Three or four thousand people have improvised ram-
shackle buildings in the angles of broken walls. But the town is two
streets deep. You can wander at will down the deserted paths, making
out through the tangle of grass and brambles the outlines of streets
and courtyards and garden walls and gateways. Seen from the sea, or
from the waterfront, St. Pierre may have given a flat appearance, as
Villefranche does and as do so many other Mediterranean towns that
have been built back into a solid rock. But when you walk among its
ruins you see how much of it there was; you seem also to be seeing
inside its life. You get a glimpse of the kind of life that was conducted
there, of the people that must have led that life, of the past out of
which that life had grown.
It was while I was walking through the ruins of St Pierre that I
became fully and guiltily conscious of my ignorance about West
Indian life, that I became curious and anxious to correct that
ignorance, that I began to read with care the books I had brought
out with me, and of which up till then I had done little more than
turn the pages.
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
I HAD brought out with me a bare half-dozen books, but, thanks
to the generosity of the Carnegie Trust, most of the islands are
supplied with excellent reference libraries, and it is easy for the in-
quisitive tourist to provide himself with a working knowledge of the
history and present conditions of the group.
It is a long and tangled story: a story of courage and cruelty, of
treachery and broken faith and high renown; so tangled and so long
a story that no composite history of the Caribbean has been at-
tempted. But, as the editors of fiction magazines know well, the
most complicated narrative, the most intricate succession of incidents
and details can be resolved into a five-line synopsis, and the story of
the West Indies is briefly this: At the end of the fifteenth century
Christopher Colombus, believing that the earth was round and in an
attempt to find a western route to India, discovered a group of
islands that, in the light of this belief, he christened the West Indies.
In their attempt to exploit his discovery, subsequent European
pioneers came into such conflict with the original inhabitants of the
islands that within a very few years the Indians who had inhabited
the northern islands and, a century or so later, the Caribs who had
inhabited the eastern islands had been "liquidated." In the meantime,
sugar cane had been introduced, and, in order to supply cheap labour
for the plantations, a slave trade with the Guinea coast was organ-
ised. There followed a period of very great prosperity, when the
phrase "rich as a Creole" was in daily use. Then "the conscience of
mankind" was roused. The slave trade was abolished. The slaves
were liberated. Cane sugar slumped. The islands, instead of being an
asset, became a liability, a distressed area.
That is the story in synopsis-a synopsis that may be amplified
into four instalments.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
There is the first period, roughly covering the sixteenth century,
which is almost exclusively a Spanish period. During this period the
Spaniards, having been granted by papal dispensation al the dis-
coveries of the New World west of a certain line, colonised
Hispaniola-the island which has since been divided into Haiti and
Santo-Domingo--Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica, exterminated
the Indians, introduced the sugar cane from the Canaries, and
initiated the slave trade.
The second period, covering the seventeenth century, saw the
gradual breaking down of the Spanish monopoly. The French and
English were in a position to challenge the Spanish Navy. The
Spaniards, moreover, who had made the mistake as political econo-
mists of confusing bullion with wealth, lost interest in the islands on
finding that there was no gold and silver there and moved further
west to Peru and Mexico. During this period the English captured
Jamaica, the French captured the western and most fertile part of
Hispaniola and called it Haiti, and the French and English occupied
and disputed between themselves the chain of islands that stretches
southwards between Florida and Demerara, exterminating in the
process their Carib population. This period, which is the period also
of the buccaneers, ended at the start of the eighteenth century with
Spain's recognition of England's and France's conquests; the Treaty
of Utrecht marking in 1713 the elimination of Spain as a monopolist
on the Caribbean scene.
The third period, of the eighteenth century, saw the high-peak of
West Indian prosperity. In its latter half there was much bitter
fighting between the French and English. Some of the greatest and
most decisive naval battles of an time were to be fought between
Dominica and St. Lucia. Several of the islands were to change hands
several times: cities were to be sacked and plantations burnt But
war was not total in those days. War was the concern of the pro-
fessionals, of the politicians and the chiefs of staff. Byron made the
grand tour during the Napoleonic Wan; no one reading Jane
Austen's novels would imagine that they were contemporaneous
with Trafalgar and Waterloo, and, in spite of almost continuous war
during the latter half of this period, there was no diminution in the
general prosperity of the sugar islands. Actual statistics convey
little; the value of sterling has changed so much, populations are so
much greater. But the importance of these islands can be gauged
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
adequately from the fact that, at the peace making in 1763, England
vry nearly decided to retain Guadeloupe and return Canada
to France as being of less account It is indeed probable that
during the Napoleonic Wars more British blood was shed in the
West Indies than in Europe.
That third period ended or, rather, may be said to have begun to
end with the French Revolution. By the time the Napoleonic Wars
wer over, the agitation against the slave trade had grown acute.
The Spanish-American colonies wre in revolt and the imperial
policy both of France and England was turning southwards towards
Africa and eastwards to the Levant and Orient The red light was
showing for the big plantations.
The liberation of the slaves ended the prosperity of the West
Indies. The big landowners were compensated for the loss of their
slaves, but most of the estates were mortgaged. The planters, instead
of reinvesting their capital on the spot, returned to Europe, abandon-
ing their estates to overseers who mismanaged them either through
incompetence or on purpose so that they themselves might have an
opportunity later of buying them at a bargain price. There were
temporary recoveries and booms, but the descent was steady and
grew sharper. Each time there was a slump, another group of estates
was put upon the market, to be bought up by syndicates or split
up among small proprietors. The large houses were left to crumble.
No new European colonists came out; one by one the colonists of
purely European descent went home, and for those who remained
the social line between those that wee of pure European descent
and those that had intermarried with Creoles of African extraction
grew more and more difficult to draw. By the 1840s the fourth
period had begun; the period of decline, the period that has not yet
The first and Spanish period is one of the least creditable in
Europe's history. The aborigines of the northern islands, Hispaniola
Jamaica, Cuba and Puerto Rico, bore as far as we can gather at this
late day a strong resemblance to the Polynesians. They were of a
cear brown complexion. They had straight black hair, broad
faces and flat noses; they altered the shape of their heads, depres-
sing their scalps in childhood with a wooden frame, a procedure
that so strengthened the skull that blows from a Spanish broadsword
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
often broke the blade off at the hilt-a Spanish comment and
complaint that provides a symptomatic testimony to Spanish treat-
ment. By European standards they were not facially beautiful. But
they had fine dark eyes and friendly smiles. They were tall, they
moved gracefully, and every observer is agreed as to their attractive-
ness. Christopher Columbus wrote in his report to Ferdinand and
Isabella: "So loveable, so tractable, so peaceable are these people
that I swear to your Majesties that there is not in the world a better
nation nor a better land. They love their neighbours as themselves
and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle and accompanied with a
Something of their dignity may be gathered from the speech of
welcome made to Columbus by one of the chiefs in Cuba:
"Whether you are divinities or mortal men, we know not. You
have come into these countries with a force against which, were we
inclined to resist it, resistance would be folly: we are all therefore at
your mercy. But if you are men subject to mortality like ourselves,
you cannot be unapprised that after this life there is another, wherein
a very different portion is allotted to good and bad men. If therefore
you expect to die and believe with us that everyone is to be rewarded
in a future state according to his conduct in the present, you will do
no hurt to those who do no hurt to you."
Everything that is to be read about these Indians reminds us of the
Polynesians. They were unambitious, happy and pleasure-loving.
They supported themselves mainly upon maize. They had made no
attempt to develop the resources of the soil, though they possessed
some skill in the fashioning of domestic furniture, and made
Columbus a present of some handsome ebony chairs. They would
dance from dusk to dawn, often in large companies of many thou-
sands. They amused themselves with a fibre football, which they
kicked over their shoulders with the backs of their hees, main-
taining it in the air for long periods. They welcomed the proud
Spaniards as gods descended from the skies.
The Spaniards, however, suffered from the obtuseness of those
who consider themselves a master race. They looked on the Indians
as inferiors by whom they were owed, as a right, service and sub-
mission. They considered themselves, moreover, the subjects of a
holy mission. They had crossed the ocean with great skill and
courage, at considerable danger and discomfort, to spread the glory
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
of Ferdinand and Isabella, to add to their Majesties' possessions, to
acquire wealth, to preach the gospel and to convert the heathen.
Their first investigations convinced them mistakenly that the islands
generally and Hispaniola in particular were rich in gold. It seemed
to them only proper that the Indians should work for them in the
mines; and their fury was limitless when the Indians failed to recog-
nise their role of servitors, refusing to work, escaping into the hills,
often committing suicide. Nor could the Indians be made to appre-
ciate the application to themselves of the foreign creed which ap-
proved such practices and in which the Spaniards diligently and
patiently endeavoured to instruct them. When the Spaniards, in
order to encourage the remainder to work and pray, roasted a few
dozen over a slow fire, having gagged them first so that their screams
should not disturb their officer's siesta, the survivors grew resentful,
and whenever a bunch of them happened upon a solitary Spaniard,
slaughtered him. The Spaniards thereupon ordered that for every
European killed, 100 Indians should be burnt and disembowelled.
It was all very much what was to happen in Europe four centuries
later, only for the Indians there was no rescuing D-Day. Within
twenty years the entire Indian population of Hispaniola had been
How many Indians were liquidated during those early years it is
impossible to assess. It has been said that there was originally in
Hispaniola alone a population of 2,000,000. It is hard to believe
that there were so many, and it is hard to see how this figure was
arrived at, but there is much evidence to show that the islands were
well populated. Europe has often been criticized for the havoc that
its traders wrought in the South Sea Islands, and there can be no
question that the Polynesians, after receiving the benefits of Western
civilisation, deteriorated in health and morals. But everything that
traders and missionaries did in the Pacific seems trivial in compari-
son with this extermination of an entire race. The only excuse that
can be offered for the Spaniards is that, suffering under the delusion
of being a master race, they did genuinely believe that salvation for
the Indians could only lie through conversion to Christianity. It all
happened, it must be remembered, in the days of the Inquisition.
The medieval conscience was different from the twentieth-century
conscience. One has to try to see historical events from the angle at
which they appeared to contemporary observers.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
A similar fate was to befall a century later, at the hands of the
French and the English, the original Carib inhabitants of the Wind-
ward and Leward islands; but there the situation was somewhat
different In the first place, the islands were not nearly so densely
populated. Barbados and Antigua are reported to have been unin-
habited; and, secondly, the Caribs were a warlike race that was con-
stantly raiding the northern islands and had possibly at an earlier
period captured its own homesteads from the Indians. A few Carib
settlements are still to be seen in Dominica. But the mild, dark-
skinned, straight-haired creatures of to-day, who seem so out of
place among the hardier Africans, are very different from the skilled
warriors who resisted the foreign colonists. They were tall and brown
with shining, long black hair that they dressed daily with great care,
and only cut short when they were in mourning. Like the Indians
they altered the shape of their heads, but in an opposite manner-
that is to say, by placing boards on the forehead and on the back of
the head of the growing child, so that in adult life their heads had a
box-like look. They scarred their cheeks with deep incisions, which
they painted black. They also inscribed black and white circles round
their eyes. They were beardless, removing all superfluous hair.
Many of them perforated the dividing cartilage of their nostrils and
inserted a fishbone or piece of tortoiseshelL They made bangles for
their arms and ankles out of the teeth of their dead enemies. Their
children were taught the use of the bow and arrow by having their
food suspended out of reach from trees, and having to go hungry
till they could shoot it down. A boy before he was admitted to the
rites of manhood underwent a cruel initiation ceremony. The Caribs
were zenophobic and loved fighting. It was a long and bitter battle
that they fought from their strongholds in the hills against the
English and the French. In St Vincent they were unsubdued at the
time of the French Revolution.
This second period of West Indian history, during which the
French and British divided the Windward and Leeward group, is in
many ways the most romantic period of the four. It is this period
that provides the material for all those serial stories of buried trea-
sure and galleons stranded in the Sargasso Sea with which our
boyhoods were entranced. To every young Englishman of spirit, the
Spanish Main was a "finger beckoning to adventure." There was
glamour there and danger and high reward. The Spaniards had made
On a cocoa plantation.
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
the usual "Whitehall error" of imagining that the lives of colonists
living 3,000 miles away and in the tropics can be ordered by minutes
and memoranda drafted in city offices in a temperate climate. The
bureaucrats of Cadiz insisted that their colonies should only trade
with the mother country, and regarded as privateers the ships of al
other nations. The colonists, on the other hand, were eager to
welcome the Dutch, French and English merchantmen who brought
the goods on which their comforts and often their existences de-
pended. It was in fact a "free for all." Every Englishman, Frenchman
and Dutchman was likely, if he were captured by the Spaniards, to
be tortured and put to death. The Spanish Main was not only filled
with pirates, waiting to pounce upon Spanish convoys, but with
honest merchantmen trading from Bristol and Brest and Amster-
dam, as well as with peaceful emigrants seeking "the land of oppor-
tunity." The Mayflower, for instance, had it been intercepted by the
Spaniards, might have been regarded as a privateer. No Englishman
knew what support be would receive from his own Government. He
did not know if he would be treated as a patriot or a pirate. His posi-
tion was that of an agent in the Secret Service, who is recompensed
when he succeeds and unacknowledged when he fails. Drake was
knighted. Raleigh was beheaded.
Nor had England, distracted as she was by civil war, any settled
colonial policy. Vincent T. Harlow's book on Christopher Cod-
rington gives a significant picture of the difficulties that a serious
English administrator had to face during the French Wars at the
end of the seventeenth century, when the soldiers' pay was six years
in arrears, and "colonial governors were required to enforce un-
palatable laws while drawing inadequate salaries." It is remarkable
that under such conditions the foundations of the British Empire
were laid, that Jamaica was captured from the Spaniards, and that
Barbados, Antigua, Nevis, Monserrat and half of St. Kitts were
colonised. As Harlow has said, however, "a defective machine works
tolerably well in the hands of skilful mechanics," and in the
Elizabethan and post-Elizabethan era many of the finest English-
men in the country's history were seeking their fortune across the
It was not only men such as Codrington, however, who were
ranging the Caribbean, and it was during the middle of the
c 33 -
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
seventeenth century that there flourished on the island of Tortuga
what Philip Gosse has described as that "strange and sinister school
of piracy 'The Brotherhood of the Coast.'" In their origins these
brothers were not nearly as sinister as their exploits subsequently
would suggest. For the most part they were French refugees from
St Kitts who decided when the Spaniards moved westards to Peru
and Mexico, leaving behind them large herds of imported cattle, to
settle in the western and now almost uninhabited section of
They were called buccaneers, because boucan was the Indian name
for the open fires over which they dried their meat upon a spit-the
English mispronouncing the word "boucaniers," in the same way
that the French converted the English Freebooters into "Filibusters."
These buccaneers were a strange, shaggy, surly group of derelicts
who managed to achieve in their exile a standardized similarity of
appearance. They wore a common uniform: a little close-fitting cap,
breeches, and a jacket reaching halfway to their knees that was so
stained with the blood of animals that it was difficult to recognse
that it was made of cloth. They wore a belt set with a bayonet and
four knives. Their muskets were as tall as they were. On their feet
they wore oxhide or pigskin moccasins. They would skin an animal
as soon as it had been killed, then, setting the big toe where the knee
had been, they would bind it with a sinew, tying the remainder a
few inches above the heel. When the skin had dried it would be found
to have taken the impress of the foot and would retain its shape.
They had neither families nor wives. There was scarcely a
woman on the island. Each took a partner, sharing the work, one
hunting while the other cooked, and the one who lived the longer
inheriting their joint possessions. Had they been left alone to hunt
and salt their meat and sell it to passing ships, this little community
of outcasts would have disappeared with no one having heard of it
The Spaniards, however, preferred to persecute them, forcing them
to seek refuge in the neighboring island of Tortuga, and there,
grown desperate and revengeful, to ally themselves in the Brother-
hood of the Coast that was to number among its chiefs Sir Henry
Those that are interested in their feats may be referred to Philip
Gosse's Hirtory of Piracy and to Esquemeling's Buccaeers. Those
feats lie outside the province of this book, but it may even so be
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
pertinent to recall how, when the French had taken over the western
part of Hispaniola from the Spaniards, and called it Haiti, D'Ogeron,
the first French Administrator to regulate and regularise West
Indian trade, decided in a characteristically Parisian manner to sub-
due the buccaneers. "I will fetch chains from France for the fettering
of these rascals" was the way he put it. But it was not for muskets
and cages, but for a consignment of wives that he indented.
Fifty women were shipped out to him. They were the gleanings of
the sorriest social stock. It is reported that D'Ogeron's heart sank
at the sight of them. They had been little to look at when they
started. Now, after six weeks on a 200-ton trader, for the first fort-
night of which they had been profoundly sick, during the last month
of which they had itched with scurvy, during the last fortnight of
which they had been sunburnt, so that the skin on their cheeks and
noses had begun to peel; after six weeks, that is to say, of dirt, dis-
comfort and unwholesome food, they looked in their tawdry,
dragged finery infinitely less appetising than the erect, firm-breasted
Negresses who had gathered on the quay to watch the unloading of
this unusual cargo. They were women and they were white, but that
was the most that could be said of them.
D'Ogeron was not the man to make the worst of a bad job, how-
ever. He cleaned his quota, then sent messages to Tortuga.
Five hundred or so of the buccaneers came over. Mute and sus-
picious, they glared at the nervous, simpering but hard-eyed, hard-
mouthed group that had gathered on the veranda of the Governor's
"My friends," said D'Ogeron, "with great courage and with the
cherishing kindness that distinguishes their sex from ours, these
gracious ladies, having heard in their country which is your country
too, of your hard and lonely lot, were moved with compassion and
have come across these many miles to share and make sweet that
loneliness. As you see, there are fifty here. Each has consented to
take unto her from among your number a husband whom she will
obey and honour. It is fitting that the choice should be made not
by her, but for her and by you. So, as there are more of you than
there are of them, we have agreed that those of you who wish shall
draw lots among yourselves as to the right and precedence of choice.
I am confident as a consolation for those who will be disappointed
in the fall of the lots that the example of these brave ladies will not
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
be overlooked in France and that in a few months others will have
come to follow them."
The lots were drawn; and on the veranda of D'Ogeron's bungalow,
each in his turn swore the marriage oath of the buccaneer-the oath
that from history's dawn has been sworn differently worded or un-
worded, but implied, by the outlaws, the Bohemians of life to one
another: "I take thee," each cried in turn, "without knowing or
caring to know who thou art. If anybody from whence thou comes
would have had thee, thou wouldst not have come in quest of me.
But no matter. I do not desire thee to give me an account of thy
past conduct, because I have no right to be offended at it at the time
when thou wast at liberty to live either ill or well according to thine
own pleasure and because I shall have no reason to be ashamed of
anything thou wast guilty of when thou didst not belong to me. Give
me only thy word for the future. I acquit thee of the past." Then
with a heavy clatter each smote the palm of his hand against the
barrel of his musket, brandishing it above his head. "This will
revenge me of thy breach of faith. If thou shouldst prove false, this
will surely be true to my aim."
It was in the 1660's that D'Ogeron began the domestication of the
buccaneers, but it was to be another thirty years before the Spaniards
conceded the right of foreign ships to trade in the Caribbean-a
concession that was to provide the requisite settled conditions for
the development of West Indian trade.
Vast fortunes were to be made during the next hundred years. It
was only recently that Europeans had had an opportunity of en-
joying warm, sweet drinks-until the seventeenth century they had
subsisted on beer and wine-and there was an unlimited demand for
sugar, for coffee and for cocoa. The big landowners lived in state,
attended by many slaves, entertaining in a Trimakhian manner.
The foundation of their prosperity was the slave trade. By the
beginning of the eighteenth century, 20,000 slaves a year were being
transported to the British colonies in America and in the Caribbean.
Bryan Edwards, who is reliable upon contemporary statistics, states
that shortly before the American War of Independence the cities of
Liverpool, London, Lancaster and Bristol were operating in this
trade alone a fleet of nearly 200 vessels, with accommodation for
50,000 slaves. Other countries were engaged as well, and British ships
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
did not by any means trade only with British colonies. Forty
factories, as they were called, were maintained on the coasts of
Africa, of which seventeen were owned by the British and fifteen
by the Dutch. It was estimated that 74,000 slaves were shipped
annually across the Atlantic. And it is important to remember
that populations at that time were everywhere much smaller than
they are to-day, the population of England and Wales being in 1750
Juded by contemporary standards, the slave trade cannot be re-
garded as anything but one of the most criminal enterprises that
Europe ever undertook. It must be remembered, however, that no
one at the time felt that it was wrong. Africans were apparently not
considered altogether human, and La Casas, the Bishop of Chiape,
who was greatly shocked at the treatment the Indians were receiving
in Hispaniola, proposed in 1517 as a solution of the problem that
each Spanish resident should be allowed to import a dozen Negro
slaves. Later he was to regret this suggestion. But the fact that such
a proposal was made by a good and holy man is an indication of the
ideas prevalent at the time. African Negroes were looked upon as
animal machinery; when there was a shortage of labour it was only
good business to transport supplies of it.
The average man to-day is appalled by such brutally elementary
logic. But it is well for us to remember that we cannot tell how
posterity is going to judge our present actions. To myself, at this
moment of writing, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
is ethically justified because it shortened the war and saved the
million or so American and British lives that would have been lost
in the invasion of the Japanese mainland. It is possible that different
opinions will be held in 200 years. And it is very necessary in con-
sidering the slave trade, of which present conditions in the West
Indies are the direct consequence, to keep in mind the scope of the
It is also necessary to remember that practically every account
we have of the actual working of the slave trade is based either on
the propaganda organized by the abolitionists or the defence put
forward by the planters. The abolitionists argued their strong
case wel. Diagrams were produced showing how Negroes were
packed dose in holds, 3 feet high, without light or air or sanita-
tion, their ankles manacled by chains that, as the ship rolled,
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
cut into their flesh. Laid on their right sides to make easier the
action of their heart, they were arranged in the fashion of spoons,
the bent knees of one fitting into the hamstrings of the next These
gruesome diagrams were accompanied by telling descriptions of how
the Negroes were nourished on rotten rice and tainted water; of bow
though they were taken on deck each morning and soused with
water while the holds were scrubbed, the stench grew so over-
powering that "a slaver" could be smelt a mile away. Pamphlet
after pamphlet has described the horrors of the "middle passage"
maintaining that 15 per cent of the cargo died on the journey
But when we read these pamphlets to-day and when we read the
accounts of "the middle passage" that have been based upon these
pamphlets, we should remember not only that these pamphlets were
written with a propaganda purpose, but that the conditions in which
the sailors of the Royal Navy then lived would to-day fill with dis-
gust the sorriest slum brat; we should also remember-and this is a
far more important point-that it was in the commercial interest of
the captain and of the company which employed the captain to see
that the cargo was delivered in sound condition. Real money had
been paid for it at the factories. Unless real money was received for
it at Cap Frangois and Port Royal, the voyage would show a loss.
The captain who did not earn a good profit for his owners would
not be commissioned twice. It was in the captain's interest to keep
his cargo healthy. It might, of course, be more profitable to ship
200 slaves under conditions that killed off fifty than to deliver 100
slaves in good condition, provided that the price on delivery was
sufficiently higher than the factory price to justify a writing off of
25 per cent as damaged stock. But the condition of the cargo was
always of primary concern.
"The horrors of the middle passage" constitute far less of a crime
against humanity than all that was involved by the factories on the
Guinea Coast. There they were, those forty forts whose job it was to
provide cargo for the slaver. Their presence on the edge of the bush
was a constant excitement to crime, an encouragement and intensifi-
cation of all that was most barbarous in the African. In their greed
for Western commodities, the chiefs not only raided hostile tribes
but even their own villagers. The companies that owned the forts
did everything in their power to foment tribal wars. The factories
TBE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
along the Guinea Coast were far and away the wont feature of the
For as regards the actual conditions under which the slaves lived
after they had been sold in the markets of Haiti and Barbados, it
must be again remembered that very many of the accounts that we
have of plantation life are part of that same abolitionist campaign.
That slavery is criminal is self-evident, and that bestial cruelty was
displayed by overseers and owners there is no doubt. There are as
witnesses the chains and implements of torture in the Jamaica
Institute. We know that absolute power corrupts. And the owners
had absolute power. Moreover, the slaves outnumbered the whites
by ten to one. The whites were frightened of their slaves. Risings of
the slaves and slaughtering of the white overseers were not infre-
quent Fear fathers cruelty. Even the more paternal landlords were
convinced of the necessity of "occasional examples." Terrible things
were no doubt done by men made vicious by the beat in an atmo-
sphere of boredom, suspicion and self-indulgence. The tortures that
were practised and are on record would make an appropriate
appendix to a study of perverse psychology, but at the same time it is
reasonable to assume that such instances were exceptional. A slave was
a valuable piece of property, worth between 100 to 150 at a time
when 100 a year was a real income. A man does not damage his own
possessions. The health of the labourers was one of the first re-
quisites to a prosperous plantation. It is tolerably certain that when
abolition came, many slaves of the first generation considered they
had been better off when they were the direct responsibility of their
Indeed, it is doubtful whether the poorer types of West Indian
labourers are very much better off to-day than they were 150 years
ago. Harold Stannard wrote in The Times in 1938: "For most
inhabitants of the West Indies life means work for a white boss at
the subsistence level and has never meant anything else since the
first Africans were brought over some 400 years ago." In an earlier
article he had written of the agricultural worker of Jamaica: "The
first time I saw one of their hovels I could hardly believe that it was
intended for human occupation. Strands of dried bamboo are woven
round a framework of stakes and the room' thus formed is covered
with palm thatch. There is no furniture except sacking on the earth
and some sort of table to hold the oil stove... Urban conditions
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
are," he continued, "if anything, worse. In a region of Kingston
now marked down for slum clearance are shacks put together any-
how out of the sides of packing cases and sheets of corrugated iron."
In the same year a commission appointed to make an economic
survey of Grenada wrote of the conditions there: "The housing of
the agricultural labourer is disgraceful. It is impossible to use any
other word to describe it. Houses little larger than small bicyde
sheds are made of beaten-out Kerosene tins or old packing cases.
Others are made of pitch-pine specially purchased, but since there
is seldom money to buy paint or some other preservative for the
wood, it soon rots. Perhaps a better type of house is made of wattle
and daub. They are said to be damp, but if they have board floors
they are probably superior to the ordinary wooden house.... In this
rickety structure miscalled a house the labourer and his family have
to live. Sometimes the house is divided into rooms by a partition and
old newspapers are eagerly sought after to stick on the walls. Very
often there is only one room and in this room the labourer, his wife
and children, are crowded pell melL There is no privacy: baths and
proper sanitation are absent Usually there is only one bed (or what
passes as such) and the children sleep huddled together on the floor.
So far as possible every crack in the floor is stopped at night to
prevent the ingress of mosquitoes, draughts and 'evil spirits.'"
If one considers how the housing and general living conditions
of the European labourer have risen during the last century and a
half, it is very clear that there has been no proportionate rise in the
standards of the West Indian labourer. I would recommend anyone
who is interested in the subject to read some of the abolitionist tracts
and speeches, to read Monk Lewis's Journal of a West Indian Pro-
prietor and Bryan Edwards's History of the British West hIdies,
recognizing that both Lewis and Edwards were apologists; then
to examine the conditions under which the poorer types of West
Indian live to-day, assessing from that examination the progress that
has been made since emancipation. He should then be able to form
an opinion as to the extent to which the old plantation system was,
in terms of the slaves themselves, practical and paternal and to what
extent it was tyrannical, brutal and corrupt.
I have dealt at this length with the plantation system and the
slave trade because that system and that trade are the foundations
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
on which present West Indian life is built In that system and in that
trade are inherent all the problems of to-day. Apart from Cuba,
which has a population of 4,250,000, the present population of the
West Indies is about 10,000,000. That population is increasing fast
Jamaica's rose by 50 per cent between the wars. The vast majority
of these inhabitants, not only of the laborers and longshoreme,
but of the planters and legislators, are partly at least of African
origin-re the descendants, that is to say, of slaves. Emancipation
took place little over 100 years ago: the slave trade was started over
400 years ago. It would be surprising if there remained no traces of a
slave mentality, if those years of servitude bad not left a legacy of
suspicion and resentment; a legacy that explains the sullenness of
expression that I had noticed on the faces in Martinique.
Nor is it surprising that I should have been conscious of the vast
difference between the villagers of Martinique and of Tahiti. Tahiti
was the home, had always been the home of a freeborn, liberty-
loving people. The Tahitians have never been uprooted; they can
still draw sustenance from the immemorial traditions of their race.
The West Indians, on the other hand, are a mingling of a hundred
tribes, a dozen races. The forty factories were scattered down the
length of the Guinea Coast. The eighteenth-century planters recog-
nised and appreciated the immense difference between one tribe and
another. The men of one tribe would fetch higher prices than the
men of others. The young planter was issued with manuals ex-
plaining how be could distinguish between one tribe and another and
instructing him how to deal with each particular type. The Mandin-
gos from Senegal were the best and hardest workers, but their
virility made them difficult. It was dangerous to have too many of
them on one plantation. Codrington wrote of the Conomanto: "The
man does not deserve him who would not treat him as a friend."
The Eboes, on the other hand, though a tractable and gentle people,
were timid, despondent and likely to commit suicide, while the men
of Angola were so mild as to be better fitted for domestic service than
field labour. As far as possible, the planters tried to separate the dif-
ferent tribes on their estates. They were afraid that they might com-
bine together and rebel. Te planters did everything to break their
links with Africa, to teach them a new language and a new faith.
Old differences of tribe are now obliterated; a new language has been
evolved by the natives out of their original African and the English,
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
French and Spanish that they have heard spoken round them. They
think of themselves now as Barbadians, Haitians or Jamaicans But
the difference of their origins is still marked upon their features.
They are still a transplanted, an uprooted people.
Another legacy of that original plantation system is the colour
question which to-day, through the whole group of islands, is no less
acute because it is unrecognised and unreferred to. Before the
eighteenth century was far advanced, the rise of a mixed population
had become a serious consideration. For if the white overlord was
the superior of the black man, through the mere fact of being white,
then it must follow that a man who was half white was superior to
the pure African. It also followed that the man who was half white
was the superior of the man who was quarter white and the inferior
of the one who was three-quarter white. Elaborate systems of pro-
tocol were devised and no one was more insistent than the members
of the mulatto class themselves that these distinctions should be
recognized and regarded. It is said to-day that the French do not
draw a colour-line, but before the Revolution the French were even
more "nice" than the English and the Spanish. Moreau de St. Mary
drew up a list showing the 260 variations of blended colouring that
A people that has been brought up in such an atmosphere cannot
suddenly lose its sense of colour because some advanced thinkers
in Bloomsbury and Greenwich Village have decided that racial
discrimination is "all my eye."
Once when I was lecturing to a college debating society in Oxford,
I met an undergraduate who told me he had been born in the West
Indies. He was tall and thin and handsome, and dark only in the way
that certain Mediterranean types are dark, with an olive complexion
and with straight black hair. He was a cricketer and later in London
I was to meet him a number of times at Lord's and in club matches.
We became quite good friends, then, as one does, lost touch. A few
years later I was to find him on the quay when my ship anchored at
Montserrat. He had seen my name on the passenger list and had come
down to meet me. I was not breaking my journey at the island. I
had made no plans for myself. "That's fine," he said. "In that case,
I'll consider you my guest."
He was now, he told me, in the colonial service. Meeting him in
THE WEST INDIAN BACKGROUND
England, it had not occurred to me-it had not occurred to any of
us-that he had coloured blood. Meeting him now in the atmosphere
of the West Indies, I recognized the fact at once. There was a sixth
to an eighth part, I should imagine. His father had a plantation on
the windward coast, and be drove me over to it for lunch. It was a
modern house with a prosperous appearance. His father was digni-
fied, well educated, with a somewhat patrician manner. But there
was not the slightest doubt that one at least of his grandparents had
been very nearly black. That evening my friend dined me in town.
He had asked a girl along. We were just the three of us. She was
very young and very pretty. She was well dressed and had a
pleasantly modulated, sing-song West Indian voice. She did not talk a
great deaL But she was an interested listener. She watched him all
the time. They seemed very much in love.
My ship was to sail at midnight. She lived near the hotel We
dropped her at her house. Then he walked down with me to the
quay. "I've had a marvellous day," I said.
"What did you think of her?" he asked.
"I thought her charming."
"Would you say that it was quite obvious that she had coloured
I hesitated. It is the kind of question that one does not like to have
asked one in the West Indies. One is uncertain as to the kind of
answer that is expected. Usually I tend to prevaricate. But she was so
very obviously coloured, rather more than quarter caste, and I knew
the man pretty well. "Well, I suppose she has," I said, "a little."
He laughed rather ruefully. "I was afraid you would say that,"
he said. "Yes, it is obvious. And I'm in the Government service. I'm
ambitious. As you know I did quite well at Oxford. I got a 'mention'
in the war. There's no reason why I shouldn't go quite a long way.
Of course, I'm a West Indian myself. You may not have noticed but
I am. It isn't very obvious. I don't think anyone in England was
aware of it. It wouldn't do me any harm in my career-particularly
if I were to marry someone who was 100 per cent white. But if I were
to marry Cecik-no, it would never do. I should never get anywhere.
I should be offered minor, insignificant appointments all my life.
And the damnable thing is that I don't suppose I shall ever care for
anyone in the way that I do for her."
It is quite possible, of course, that he was exaggerating the effect
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
on his career of a marriage to a girl of obviously African ancestry.
But the fact that be should be conscious of those dangers, that those
dangers should constitute so very actual a problem for him, is
symptomatic of West Indian life. Everywhere under the surface that
problem lies. For over 400 years there has been interbreeding be-
tween black and white and brown and quarter-white. Every shade of
colour is to be found. And the man with a greater degree of white
considers himself the superior of the man with a lesser degree of
white, and the man with the lesser degree resents it. It is a problem
that affects business, local politics, social relations. But it is a
problem that is rarely referred to openly.
THE WEST INDIAN SCENE
AT the actual moment of writing (Dec., 1947) the English tourist
is an extinct species. Within strict economic limits, he can
move within a narrow radius, but he cannot merely for purposes of
health and pleasure undertake long journeys. Transport is as short
as currency. It is almost impossible to book a passage by ship to the
Caribbean, and air passages are costly. A list of fares is given in an
appendix. The West Indies are indeed for the moment out of range
for the average English tourist. But already Jamaica has become
one of the favourite American winter playgrounds, and as soon as
transport difficulties have been reduced, it can be safely prophesied
that the Caribbean will be the first part of the world to enjoy an
international tourist boom.
For the English tourist the British West Indies have everything
to offer. Lying within the sterling area, they constitute one of the
few pleasant places in the world where the Briton is free to spend his
money freely. Their climate is at its best when the English climate is
at its worst, between January and March. They provide every kind
of sport: cricket and golf and tennis; fishing, shooting, riding. They
can accommodate the dimensions and needs of the longest as of the
shortest purse. The cost of living varies with each island and the
various sections of each island. Jamaica is the most expensive in the
group. Charges in Montego Bay are as astronomic as they are in
Havana and Palm Beach. Yet even in Jamaica it is possible to live
in very real comfort at very reasonable cost, while life is as cheap in
the smaller islands as it is anywhere in the world. In 1939 the daily
pension rate at the Hotel St. Antoine in St. Lucia was 12s.; to-day it
is 25/-; and the St. Antoine is an extremely good hotel. In Grenada,
Antigua, Dominica and St. Vincent, the accommodation is more
primitive and a little cheaper. The "extras," moreover, are incon-
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
siderable. Fruit and fish are plentiful. Rum is a win pays, and when
the sun is shining there is not a great deal to spend money on. By
day you idle on a beach; in the evening you sip cocktails on a
veranda. One day becomes the next.
Nor could the climate during those three months conceivably be
better. It is hot to the extent that a man wears ducks or Palm Beach
clothes by day and a white dinner jacket in the evening. He would
feel overweighted by a flannel suit, but there is no equivalent for the
overpowering dry heat of Iraq or for the exhausting damp heat of
Malaya. Trinidad is the only island that has a sticky climate, but
even in Trinidad there is a cool breeze at night There is very little
malaria and mosquitoes are rarely troublesome. At one time in
Martinique and in St Lucia a very venomous snake-the fer de
lance-made cross-country journeys inadvisable, but the introduc-
tion of the mongoose has removed that pest. There is a certain
amount of rain. But the showers are brief and violent You are quite
likely to get soaked, but you are very unlikely to have your plans
for a whole day ruined. It is prudent to wear a hat, but there is no
need to worry about sunstroke. There is really no snag about the
West Indian climate, its greatest merit for the tourist being that be
does not need to take special precautions about anything. "Oldest
inhabitants" may warn him against the dangers of drinking alcohol
before sundown or of taking exercise between ten and four, but
oldest inhabitants are always anxious to give one "the benefit of
their experience." They are always urging the necessity of this and
that I have never been to a place in which I have not been assured by
someone that I must avoid that, that I must take this precaution,
and in most places I have found that by doing what I am in the habit
of doing normally, with such modifications as in a different climate
one's own inclinations will suggest, I have managed pretty well
Certainly I felt very fit in the West Indies in spite of cocktails before
lunch and exercise between two and four. My advice to anyone
visiting the West Indies is very simple: take plenty of spare shirts
and provide yourself with letters of introduction.
Letters of introduction are absolutely essential if the tourist is to
get the most out of a West Indian trip. He can have, I will admit, a
whole lot of fun without them. He can relax into an agreeable
routine of sunbathing and picnics. He will make friends at his hotel
and he will be unlucky if he does not in the course of a week make
THE WEST INDIAN SCENE
contact by chance with at least one resident, who will invite him to
his house and introduce him to the dubs. If he were to make a
longish stay, that single contact would lead to other contacts, so
that by the end of a month he would be leading a varied and amusing
social life. But most visitors have not the time to spend as much as a
month in any single island, and if you are limited to a fortnight's
stay, it is essential, at any rate in a British island, if you are anxious
to see what its real life is, to arrive with letters of introduction.
Colonies are usually, after all, more consciously national than a
mother country. And life in a British West Indian island is a very
family affair, reproducing the essential characteristics of English life.
The British islands are all of them Crown colonies, directly respon-
sible to Parliament, and the responsibility of Parliament. The Crown
is represented by a governor-or in the smaller islands by an ad-
ministrator who is the governor's representative. In most of the
islands there is some slight difference in the actual machinery of
government, but the general system is to have an elected house of
assembly, which petitions a legislative council, half of whose mem-
bers are selected by the governor. The life of the island is centered
round Government House. A letter of introduction to the governor
or administrator is of the greatest possible assistance. It does not
involve the visitor in tedious formalities. On the contrary, it saves
him a great deal of time. The A.D.C. will be able to put him into
touch with those of the residents who share his tastes and interests.
Even if be has not a letter to the governor, the visitor who plans to
make a stay of a week or more should certainly in the case of the
smaller islands sign the governor's book on his arrival-in the same
way that, if be is to make a stay in a French or American colony, he
should call upon the British Consul. It is good manners and is also
a prudent act. We all have our opposite numbers everywhere; the
sooner we find them the sooner we can be introduced by them to
whatever is most congenial to us in a new town or country. I have
made stays long enough in eight British West Indian islands to fee
that I have got inside the atmosphere of the island's life, and Jamaica
is the only island of the eight in which I do not feel that it is neces-
sary to be introduced. I had a good deal more fun in Jamaica through
arriving with such letters, but I could have managed quite well with-
out them. Jamaica is a vast playground, with its golf courses and its
beaches and its grande ha hotels; the life of the residents is apart
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
and separate from the tourist's world. I spent ten days at Montego
Bay which were as good as any ten days that I have ever spent,
sun-bathing and swimming and gossiping and dancing. And I am
doubtful if I saw one resident during that whole period. Jamaica,
however, is exceptional. In the other islands I am very sure that I
should have had a bare quarter of the fun I did if I had not arrived
It is only natural, after all, that this should be so. The English
way of life has been built round a tradition of entertaining inside
the home. The pre-war casual visitor to London, Continental or
American, rarely found much to attract him there. There were no
sidewalk cafis. Pubs closed at ten; only on extension nights could
he drink in restaurants after half-past twelve. There was no night
life in the sense that Paris and New York and the Berlin of the 1920's
understood the word. Everything closed early. Such places as stayed
open asked him if he was a member. The only after-hours places
that were accessible to the foreigner were squalid, subterranean,
furtive and expensive. London has never catered for the tourist.
London belongs to Londoners. And to those like myself who have
been born there, who always whatever their official address may be,
regard London as their home, London even in the drab and shabby
1940's has a dignity and charm, a personal lived-in quality that no
other city has. But you have to be a Londoner or an adopted Lon-
doner to appreciate it. London is a city of clubs and private houses.
You have to be a member. And though there are those who will
argue that London is not England, London is the home of several
million Englishmen. A national capital is the expression of national
traits and character. As London is, so, in my opinion, England is.
And just as I cannot understand how a tourist coming to London as
a stranger without friends could enjoy his visit, so should I be sur-
prised if anyone who went there with appropriate contacts and stayed
long enough to get below its skin, did not find much to like. To love
London, the foreigner has to see it as Londoners themselves see it, to
become temporarily identified with the London way of life.
As it is in London, as it is in England, so is it in the British colonies.
The good times are centered in clubs and private houses, with which
one must get in touch, fully to enjoy oneself.
It is very easy to get in touch. The residents are invariably wel-
coming, invariably hospitable, invariably ready to take the visitor
St. Lucia-The Bay of Castires.
THE WEST INDIAN SCENE
into their homes. And it is a very pleasant life into which one is in-
troduced, a way of life whose particular charm is more readily appre-
ciated, or of whose nature perhaps I should say it is easier to get a
complete picture, in te small than in the larger islands.
In the smaller islands everything is more compact; it is easier to
see the working of the machine. During the greater part of the
second war I was employed in counter-espionage in the Middle East
For most of the time I was a captain. When I was stationed in Cairo
I only understood the working of my own small section. It is one of
the first rules of an intelligence organisation that no one should be
told more than is strictly necessary for him to carry out the par-
ticular task that he has been assigned. The work of military intel-
ligence is divided up into a number of separate specialist sections.
Employed as I was on a G3 level, I did not understand while I was
in Cairo how the activities of the various branches dovetailed so
that the higher-ranking officers could form a complete picture of
what had been found out, what had been deduced and what action
was being taken.
In Baghdad, however, the General Staff was so much smaller that
the work of a branch that in Cairo required a section of ten intel-
ligence officers headed by a colonel could be done by a major and a
lieutenant Month by month during the three years I spent thee, the
establishments were reduced, so that at times the work of three
branches would be concentrated in a single office. In Baghdad I not
only knew personally every officer who was engaged in counter-
espionage, but I had a rough, though not, of course, a detailed, idea
of what he did. By the time I left Baghdad I had acquired a sense of
the general pattern of military intelligence that could not, I think,
have been acquired in Cairo by anyone under the rank of colonel.
In the same way, it is much easier to get a sense of the West
Indian pattern by visiting Grenada than Barbados, and I would
recommend every tourist to make a stay of at least a week in one of
the smaller islands. The inclination, naturally, is to see as many
different islands in the limited time available-and the distinct dif-
fernces that exist between every island make this a reasonable pro-
gramme. At the same time, a too dose following of that programme
prevents him from recognizing the one common multiple of all these
islands-the framework of English colonial life. Different though
every island is, in this one respect they are alike. They have the same
D 49 *
St. Lucia-The Beach at Mrge.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
social framework, the same formula for living, so that were a prosper
tive tourist to say to me, "But tell me, what kind of things should 1
be doing there?" I should be able out of my memories of many
islands to describe for him a typical West Indian day.
He will wake, I should tell him, shortly after six in a large, bare
hotel bedroom. The sunlight striking through the shutters will be
designing a zebra pattern on the walls and ceiling. He will throw
back the shutters and walk out on to his balcony. The sun will be
warm upon his cheeks, but a cool breeze win be blowing from the
hills. In the street below, Negro women will be on their way to
market with baskets of bananas on their heads. Across the road an
untidy garden will be bright with yellow cassia The road itself
will be a narrow, mounting one, on the one side climbing into the
mountains in whose shelter the town is built, on the other side
running down towards the sea. Above its grey-tiled and corrugated
iron roofs he will see the grey-blue stretches of the harbour. Square-
sailed fishing boats will be tacking near the shore. A launch carrying
coastal cargo will be chunking its slow way between them. Shadowy
on the horizon is the outline of another island.
The washing arrangements are likely to be primitive. At the end
of a passage there will be a rickety and communal set of showers,
but there will be no hot and cold running water in his room. After
taking his shower, he will sit on his balcony, watching the slow
parade below him of the island's life, savouring the day's freshest
hour, till the maid arrives with a jug of shaving water and the coffee
and fruit that is the invariable West Indian prelude to a substantial
porridge and bacon and eggs breakfast taken in the dining-room.
It is possible that an expedition will have been arranged for him,
and he is to be taken out into the country to see the working of an
estate. The islands are almost exclusively agricultural. The Spaniards
came to the New World in search of gold, but the gold that they
found in Haiti had no depth or value and the mines they sank there
were soon abandoned. Oil has been found in Trinidad in great
abundance, but nowhere else; though when I was in Martinique in
1928, oil shafts were being sunk, without, I believe, encouraging
results. Trinidad also has further mineral resources through the
pitch lake which provides a good deal of the world's asphalt But the
fortunes of the other islands depend upon agricultural produce, on
THE WEST INDIAN SCENE
sugar and rum and cotton, copra and cocoa, bananas, nutmeg
limes and doves, grapefruit and arrowroot
A car will be calling for the tourist shortly after breakfast on
mornings when an expedition has been arranged for him. He will be
driven by a mounting, circling road into the hills. The valleys will be
bright with sugar cane. The bush will be dotted with wattle and
corrugated iron shacks. Here and there he will see the ruined
masonry of an aqueduct or gateway. A steady succession of women
with baskets upon their heads will pass him on their way to market,
their blouses of red and yellow are vivid splashes of colour against
the deep green of the hills.
In Trinidad and Grenada he will be taken to see the working of
the cocoa. He will be shown how in every island the labourers work
in teams, husband and wife together, the man snipping off the pods
with a long knife, the woman piercing them with a stroke of her
pointed cutlass, carrying them in a basket on her head, then, when
the basket is full, the man cutting open the pods and the woman
shelling them. Eight baskets of pods supply one basket of seeds, and
four baskets is a good day's work per team. The cocoa needs are
white and sticky, and they are put out to sweat for eight days under
leaves. The visitor will see them being moved from one sweater to
another. Then when they have been sweated, they are dried for a
further period of eight days. The visitor will see them laid out on
shallow trays that are run out on wheels. He will watch the trampling
of the seeds for polish in large, circular cauldrons by laughing,
sweating labourers with their trousers rolled about their knees. In
just that same way, he will tell himself, was cocoa dried and polished
200 years ago. A few estates have special drying devices which save
time when the weather is wet, but ordinarily the methods of the old
plantation days are still observed.
And the planter will point out to him, just as his predecessors
would have done, the various odd chores that are required on an
estate. He will show the women employed on weeding in specially
measured plots, the men digging ditches and repairing roads, and
the old women scouring for the "black cocoa," the dried and rotten
pods that can be used for fuel. Just as in the old slave days, the
labourers are allowed their gardens by which they supplement their
1 la 1944 a mn nmivd 3. 4S-Ss. "U a day and a omaa somewhat las.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
In St. Vincent the visitor will be taken out to see the working of
the arrowroot on which, in addition to sea-island cotton, the island's
prosperity depends. There is something very untropical about it all.
You could fancy yourself in England. Arrowroot is planted in
sloping fields. Rising to a height of 4 feet, it has a flower that you
can scarcely see. Wild yellow flowers grow over and about it In the
late autumn, when the flower shrivels, the diggers start to work upon
the roots. They are ground by a seemingly endless process of washing
and of straining. The factories are as dean as dairies; there is a
ceaseless roar of water as the arrowroot is passed from butts to
strainers, then to the settling tables. In some factories a process of
centrifugal force is used by which the white starch grows gradually
dark as the impure matter is forced into a crust that can be cut
away, leaving the starch clear, ready to be taken to the drying-house
and stretched on wire.
In the old days the sugar plantations were adorned with windmills.
Now busy bustling engines have supplanted them. The engines are
less picturesque, but the general process is the same. There is the
same squeezing and pressing of the canes between a row of rollers
till the last drop of juice has been extracted, to run into the great
clarifiers of the boiler-house to seethe under the heat of a fire that is
maintained a degree or two below boiling point, till the white scum
blisters to the surface and the coppers can be filled with the pure,
almost transparent liquid.
The traveller of to-day, watching the labourers sweep the rising
foam with skimmers as the liquor boils, can easily in that heated
room with the thick, heavy smell of molasses in his nostrils imagine
himself back in the old days, watching, as Monk Lewis watched, the
froth rising into large clean bubbles, while his Negroes tested the
liquid to know when it was fit for striking, taking up a small portion
with their thumbs, drawing it as the heat diminished into a thread
with their forefingers; then when the thread snapped and shrank
from the thumb to the forefinger, judging by its length whether the
order to strike could yet be shouted.
Thus it was in the old days, when the thick molasses in the curing
house used to drip slowly through the spongy plantain stalk into the
tank below, into the thick and golden juice that time would foment
and mellow into the rich dark wine of the Antilles. Thus it was in the
old days, and it is not so very different now. As the traveller follows
TBB WEST INDIAN SCBNE
the planter from one group of labourers to another, it is not difficult
for him to recreate the atmosphere of the old Plantations.
He will at the same time have an opportunity of appreciating the
conditions and nature of the planter's life. Usually the planter is a
West Indian by birth. He is rarely the owner of the estate. He is the
salaried or commissioned agent of someone who has a store in town
and a large bungalow halfway up the hill, a man who is himself
usually, the salaried or commissioned agent of a public company with
head offices in London or in Bristol
In many ways the planter's is a monotonous existence. His day
will begin at sunrise. By half-past seven, after a light first breakfast
of coffee and fruit and toast, he will be at his bouca for the rolcall.
His work is mainly supervisory. He walks round the estate, inter-
viewing his overseas, gossiping for a few moments with his labourers.
He is out till after eleven, when he returns to his bungalow for
breakfast, a kind of lunch with coffee or tea taking the place of beer.
He may find his mail there waiting him and a newspaper from the
capital He will probably doze after his meal, but by two he will be
again at work. When he returns at half-past four for tea, he will
have had six and a half hours in the fields, and his day is not yet
finished. There are his accounts, and his reports, and his corres-
pondence. By the time dusk falls he is ready enough for his punch
There is unlikely to be a dub within close range of him. He will
either be expecting a neighboring call or he will be driving out with
his wife to a friend's bungalow.
It will be to a friend, probably, that he has seen two or three times
a week for the last five to fifteen years. Their friendship is one en-
tirely of propinquity. They have no secrets from one another. They
have nothing new to say to one another. They will gossip about the
price of cocoa, the cost of labour, a party at G.H., the report of the
last commission, their plans next summer for a trip to England;
such gossip as he has exchanged with this or the other friend, in that
or the other bungalow every night for the last fifteen years; but as he
sits there on the veranda, in the warm and scented dusk, with fire-
flies flickering over the tobacco plants, in the pleasant fatigue that
follows on a long day's work, with the rich, heavy rum spreading its
warmth along his veins, he will become minute by minute wrapped
about in a sense of comradeship with this man who understands his
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
problems, who shares so many of those problems, with whom he has
no need to assume pretences, with whom he can be himself. And as he
surrenders to the charitable influences of the hour, his personal plans
show in a more roseate light Surely, he thinks, the slump has reached
its curve. Next year surely the boom-the long-prophesied boom-
will come; there will be a bonus and dividends. He really will be able
to take at last that trip to England that he has been talking about for
five winters now. And the swizzle stick will rattle against the ice.
And he will sit there hopeful, confident and happy, till his wife from
the other end of the veranda reminds him that dinner cannot be
served one minute after half-past eight.
Almost directly after dinner he will go to bed.
And the next day it will all be begun again, and maybe when he
returns for his breakfast at eleven it will be to find among his mail
a gloomy forecast of the next year's trading. The slump has not yet
reached its curve. There will be no bonus and no dividends, and he
would no doubt be wise to put off for another year his plans for that
trip to England and, taking instead a shorter view, arrange to come
into town for the next race meeting, staying on afterwards for a
week or so.
It is a monotonous and often a dispiriting existence. It is not
surprising that the planter should grow despondent sometimes, as
season follows season with the wearisome regularity of a climate
that always does what you expect of it-so many days of the short
dry period, so many of the wet, then the long dry season, then the
hurricanes; with the slumps growing longer and more frequent, with
the prospects of "that holiday in England" growing more remote. It
would not be surprising if he did not lose heart sometimes and
become defeatist. His welcome of the tourist will be no less cordial
on that account, however; it will even be more cordial, since the
arrival of a visitor from England is an agreeable break in a monoton-
ous routine. He will make an occasion, a party of it.
On mornings when no such excursion has been planned, the
tourist will have after breakfast a couple of hours to himself, to read
or to write letters or to saunter down to the public library. Except
in the three larger islands, there is no such thing in the West Indies
as a leisured class. All the men are employed in some capacity, in
stores or offices or in Government service. But usually by eleven
THE WEST INDIAN SCENE
o'clock a number of young women will be in the mood for an ice or
a cup of coffee or a swim.
In most of the islands there will be two clubs in the capital: a
town dub which is exclusively masculine, where the men will talk
shop over their rum punches before going home to lunch, and a
country club which is the main social centre, which has tennis courts
and perhaps a golf course, which is picturesquely sited often on the
edge of the savannah. But it is in the evening that the life of the island
is centred there. The tourist's eleven o'clock date will be in town.
About most West Indian towns there is a similarity of appear-
ance. Their setting is invariably magnificent, a succession of high
hills rising above a harbour with charming residential bungalows
dotted along their slopes. But the shops and streets and offices that
are grouped about the port are unattractive. Once they were stone-
built and tiled and handsome. But they have been the victims, nearly
all of them, of hurricanes and earthquakes. To-day they are for the
most part ramshackle improvisations of wood and corrugated iron,
shabby where they are not squalid, with little sense of dignity or of
the past, with ragged beggars sleeping in their shadows. Most of the
larger stores will have a teashop attached to them, and it is prob-
ably in one of these that the tourist will find himself sitting over an
ice on mornings when he is not driving out into the country. Perhaps,
however, his friends will have some special and unlikely rendezvous.
My two chief friends in St. Lucia used, for example, to meet every
morning in a windowless room opening out of a grocery which they
called "Hell's Kitchen"; they went there, they explained, because
they were tired of seeing the same people everywhere they went.
Only some half-dozen of us had the right of entry. We drank beer
instead of coffee, and the girl who was responsible for the idea pre-
sented each of us with a red-painted cork. We were supposed to
carry this cork with us at all times. And if you met a fellow member
in a neutral setting, your production of your cork constituted a
challenge. It was like "Seeing a hand" at poker. If the challenge had
her cork, then the challenger had to pay the first round next morning.
But if the challenge had not got her cork, then it was for her to pay.
There is a great lack of privacy in the tropics: Hell's Kitchen is
symptomatic of the need one feels to be alone, or, rather, not to be
Coffee will be followed by a swim. In practically every capital
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
there is an excellent bathing beach. I have never known better bath-
ing than in the West Indies. There are none of the coral and sea
urchins against which in Tahiti you have to be so much upon your
guard that it is foolish to bathe barefooted. The water is fresher and
has more bite than the Mediterranean's. There is no reason to be
afraid of sunstroke, and the precautions that you take against sun-
burn on the Riviera are adequate in the Caribbean. An hour on the
beach sends you back with a good appetite to lunch.
The lunch, if it is taken in a hotel, will probably be a disappoint-
ment to the gourmet. The English as a race are not enterprising
gastronomically. They are afraid of local dishes and ask to be given
abroad the same meals that they enjoy at home. Hotel proprietors
catering for this taste concentrate upon fried dolphin and on joints.
They usually overcook the meat, which would not under the best
conditions be very satisfactory, since, owing to a lack of cold storage,
it is usually eaten on the day that it is killed. The local vegetables-
yams, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, plantains-are starchily flavour-
less. Only the fruit-pawpaws and soursop and avocado pears-is
really appetising. That is not to say that there are not a number of
excellent West Indian dishes to be sampled; "mountain chicken,"
which is another name for bullfrog, can, if properly flavoured, be
delightful. In Trinidad admirable small oysters grow on marine
trees. Barbados has its "pepper pot," and in private houses where
the local spices are properly employed one eats extremely wel. But
lunch in the average small hotel, though ample and nourishing.
leaves no memory on the palate, and it is not surprising that the
early hours of the afternoon for those who do not have to work in
offices are devoted to the siesta.
The three hours after tea are the most delightful of the day. It is
then that the tennis courts are crowded, that nets are pitched on the
cricket fields, that caddies are summoned to the links. The heat of
the day has lessened, a breeze is blowing from the hills. There seems
to be more colour in the flowers; the leaves and grasses that by day
had become polished surfaces to reflect the sunlight resume their
own fresh greens. All day one has walked at the pace of a slow-
motion film. At last one can move with freedom. One has the sense
of having one's limbs restored to one. And later, in the swift-fallen
dusk, it is with a contented feeling of languor that one sits out on
the veranda of the club over one's punch or swizzle.
rTH WEST INDIAN SCENE
Rum is the win du pays of the Caribbean. And there are two main
schools of thought on the best way of serving it.
The planter's punch is famous throughout the world. It is made
with heavy, dark rum-not the light Cuban Bacardi from which the
Daiquiri is made-and the old formula of "one of sweet and two of
sour" is the basis of it. Grated nutmeg is often scattered on the top.
It is served in a tumbler and it is a drink to be sipped slowly.
The swizzle, however, is a very different business. It has to be
gulped in, at the most two mouthfuls, to be enjoyed. It is made
usually with a lighter rum, and whatever proportions of sweet and
sour may be compounded with it, the prevailing flavour is of an-
gostura bitters. It was in Trinidad that angostura was invented, and
its secret formula is still beld there by the Siegert family. In London
a bottle of angostura will last you for six months. In the West Indies
it will last a week. The swizzle is mixed in a jug. Angostura is added
till the liquid is a pale pink; then it is beaten, not stirred, with a
swizzle stick, a thin stick a foot and a half long clustered at the head
with a bunch of divided twigs. The stick is rotated swiftly between
the palms of the hands till the mixture froths. It is pretty and pink
and looks like liquid candy. But it is very sour. It cannot be sipped
and it should be gulped when it is frothing. Dominica specialises in
the swizzle. It is a matter of opinion as to whether one prefers punch
or swizzle. There are two schools of thought But it is safe to say that
no drink can be anything but good that has a basis of West Indian
A West Indian day ends as it begins, at an early hour. For the
visitor arriving with letters of introduction, the ninety minutes after
sundown on the club veranda will be followed as often as not by a
dinner-party-a formal party at which the women will wear long
dresses and the men boiled shirts; but such parties are exceptional
to the general routine of a West Indian day. There is no night life in
an urban sense, and except on occasions most residents who have
been up since dawn, who have done a full day's work and taken two
hours' exercise, are glad to go to bed directly after dinner. The ninety
minutes on the club veranda, over the punch and swizzle, represent
the climax of the day, and it is to this hour and a half that the memory
of the tourist will return in retrospect.
The conversation on the veranda will follow an habitual routine:
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
there will be local gossip, there will be discussion of the latest party
at G.H., there will be commercial talk of the price of cocoa, of the
slump in sugar. Political talk will be concentrated on the policy of
the Imperial Government towards the colonies. It is conversation in
which the tourist can take little part. At the start of the evening he
will be asked, for good manners' sake, a number of questions about
his trip, about "how things are in England", but unless he is an ex-
trovert, unless he is prepared to dominate the conversation and
become its centre, he will gradually find himself slipping into the
background; which probably he will be glad to do, since he is here
to learn, to absorb an atmosphere, to receive rather than to create
He will sit back in his chair, watching and listening, sipping at his
punch, letting his attention wander, noticing sights and sounds that
to the residents are too familiar to be remarked, noting bow the dark
green of the mountains changes into purple, watching the fireflies
dart above the flowers, hearing the croak of the frogs and in the hills
the distant beat of drums; he will be conscious of the heavy smell of
jasmine. How often during the war when evening fell upon bomb-
scarred London or on the brown, burnt wastes of the Syrian desert
have I not dreamed myself back on to a long veranda looking out
on the row of palms that flanked a broad green savannah.
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
I SPOKE of the West Indians as an uprooted people. They have
lost their country, their language and their faith. They have
brought with them and retained, however, many of their supersti-
tions. Much has been written in recent years, particularly since it has
become possible for white men to visit Haiti, about Obeah men
and voodoo rites, and there can be little doubt that in the last
analysis most West Indians have more faith in their own witch-
doctors than in the priests whom their education has approved for
them. Until recently there was a clause in the Haitian Code for-
bidding the use of Zombies, the raising of dead men to work as
labourers in the fields. Seabrook's Magc Island has dealt at length
with this question.
The authority of the "Obeah men" is little questioned. Most
residents in the West Indies have had personal experiences of "the
spirits." A planter in Grenada wrote me the following account of
one of his:
"Two of my labourers had not been at work for some time when
I met one of them and asked him why? He said, 'Boss, the spirits
troubling us too much. We never get any sleep at night.'
"I questioned him and he said for the past twenty days things had
been thrown about in the house and that anyone who went near the
house after dark got beaten with sticks and had stones thrown at
"I laughed at him and told him I would come myself to see what
was going on.
"Two afternoons later I went to where he was living. He took me
through a nutmeg grove and on up a grass-covered hill to a small
labourer's house built of mud and wattle. He told me this was the
house where things first began to happen, and they had left the house
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
and were living in their grandmother's house down below in the
nutmeg grove, but that the spirits still attacked them.
"I sat and talked to the two young men, aged about twenty, a
wife of one of them and two children til it began to get dusk, when I
said we would go to the lower house.
"There was a worn path down the grass slope and no trees or
bushes anywhere near. I sent the woman and children in front; then
I came, and then the two young men. A few yards down the path the
two men tried to run past me, shouting. 'Oh, God! They're getting us.'
"I thought they were trying to frighten the woman, and so I made
them walk in front of me. After a few yards I felt gravel and dust
being thrown at my head, and they started to cry out again. I pre-
tended nothing had happened, although I had dust and fine earth
over my neck and shoulders.
"We reached the lower house, and while it was light I examined it.
There was a ladder of four steps to reach the door. On the left a half-
partition, behind which was the bedroom. I looked under the bed
and saw a basin with a corn cob in it, used for washing clothes.
Sitting on the floor in the other room was the grandmother, leaning
against the partition holding a baby. Opposite her was a bench along
the side of the house and under the bench some baskets full of nut-
megs. Facing the door was a table with a lamp on it and a pickle
bottle. I saw all the windows shut and barred, and stood in the door-
way facing into the house. The occupants sat on the bench-two
men, two women and the two children. I tried to persuade them that
it was someone playing tricks on them and throwing stones, etc., on
the roof, but they said, 'Wait, Boss. You will see things.'
"It was then dark. After some time there was a crash on the roof
and a few minutes later a lump of earth ride the house came from
the ceiling and fell on the floor at my feet. The people started singing
hymns, then suddenly the corn cob out of the basin in the next room
flew over the partition and a few minutes later a shower of nutmegs
out of the basket under the bench flew into the air and fell all round
us. My hair felt like standing on end and when a few minutes later
the bottle jumped off the table, hit the roof and fell at my feet, I
thought it time to go; so, making some feeble remark about being
late for dinner, I beat a retreat
"These people next day had the Anglican parson to come and say
prayers and when that had no effect they got the Roman Catholic
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
priest to do ditto. The spirits took no notice and so they decided to
call in the African Shango Dancers.
"They had to pay these people 5. They built a roof over a flat
piece of ground about twenty feet square cut out of the bill above
the top house. They started dancing--an old woman, a girl of about
seventeen and a man to beat the tomtom-at 7 a.m. on Friday
morning. On Saturday afternoon myself and a fellow planter went
up to see it. They beat the same monotonous beat on the tomtom
and the old woman and girl made the same motions, dancing all the
time. You could see they were self-hypnotised. The old woman fell
on the ground from exhaustion and her limbs still continued to jerk
in time to the drum. She then started to roll, and rolled over and over
out of the shed down the hill and, to our amazement, when past the
empty house, she rolled along the side of the house and then rolled
sp the hill into the shed again. It was a very steep hill-quite as steep
as the hill from the Hospital in St. George's past the St. James's
Hotel. It looked impossible and the whole thing was so inhuman
and beastly that we left. I told the occupants to send away the young
girl aged twelve, as I had read of poltergeists and felt sur se was the
cause of the trouble. I don't know if they did so, but the manifesta-
tions stopped, as the Africans had said they would."
Such occurrences, my friend wrote me, are very frequent In more
than one respect the traditions and the faith of Africa made the
middle passage from the Guinea Coast.
No one doubts the power of the evil eye. If a labourer who is un-
happy can go into a decline, turning his face to the wall and dying
in the course of a few days without any visible complaint, there is no
reason why the same powers of will and concentration should not
work harm upon an enemy.
During my first days in Martinique, before I had moved into the
bungalow, Eldred Curwen and I stayed in a small hotel in Fort de
France; as they only charged us 40 francs a day and as that included,
in addition to our food, as much red wine as we could manage, we
did not expect a high standard of comfort. We did expect, though,
something rather better in the way of service than the slatternly half-
caste who clattered the plates like muskets, upset sardine oil on my
trousers, and brought no potatoes till we had finished our entree.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
It was not even as though she had made up for her inefficiency, as
do so many Negroes, by an amiable readiness to smile. She was sour
and ill-favoured. Without being old, she looked as though she had
never been young. Her features were set in a sulky scowl. Her long,
red print frock was soiled and shapeless. There was no pretty hand-
kerchief knotted in her hair. She was, we decided, just too much of a
"Well change our table this evening," Eldred said.
We did not expect to meet with any difficulty. A boat was sailing
for St. Thomas that afternoon, and the dining-room when we came
down to it for dinner was comparatively empty. The motre d'hAtel
became flustered, however, when we asked to be placed at another
"I have put you at Floria's table," he said.
"I know," we answered. "But we want to be moved from it. There
are several tables vacant, aren't there?"
He nodded his head. Yes, certainly there were tables vacant. At the
He was still hesitating when Floria shuffled across the room on her
"That's your table, there," she said.
"We are arranging to change tables," Eldred told her.
The sullen look on her face darkened. "That's your table," she
But by this time I had begun to grow impatient "We can't wait
here the whole evening." I said to the mature d'hdtel. "Please find us
another table. That one over there is empty, isn't it?"
I had begun to move across to it, when Floria pushed in front of
"Why?" she asked.
Her manner was so offensive that my impatience conquered my
self-control. "Because I don't want to have all my trousers covered
with sardine oiL"
I spoke angrily. And as she heard me, the sulky expression of her
features deepened into a stare of fierce malevolence. Her eyes
followed us as we crossed the room.
At the table next to ours was a French Creole who had come out
on the same boat with us.
"That was a black look she gave us," I remarked.
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
He nodded his head. "It certainly was," he answered, pausing
significantly, as though there were more that he would say. He
shrugged his shoulders casually, however. "Ah, well" he said. "It
may mean nothing."
That night I could not sleep. I was weary with the exhaustion of a
long sea voyage, of packing of early rising, of the excitement of
arriving at a new place, but I could not sleep: all night I tossed
restlessly under the mosquito-net. I felt limp and lifeless as I came
up from my shower bath to the wide veranda on which my morning
coffee and fruit were awaiting me, to find that Eldred Curwen,
usually a late riser, was already down. There were red rims under
"How did you sleep?" I asked.
"Twice, for three consecutive minutes."
"That's more than I managed."
At the other end of the veranda the French Creole who had
travelled out with us was dipping a crust of bread into his coffee.
He laughed at our admission.
"I was wondering about that," he said. "If I were you, I should go
back to Floria's table."
We stared at him in surprise.
"What are we to take that to mean?" we asked.
"Only that black magic does exist."
We laughed at that. "Are you trying to tell us that Floria's put a
spell on us?"
"More or less."
"And are you expecting us to believe that?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "You can believe it or not believe it, as
you choose, but do you fancy the people who run this hotel would
keep a woman like that if they weren't afraid of her? Anyhow, wait
and see how you sleep to-night It may be that last night you were
Throughout that day I thought of nothing except sleep. As I
strolled through the narrow, coloured streets of Fort de France, as
I sat on the balcony of the Club sipping a rum punch, looking out
over the green Savane to the white statue of Josephine, as I drove in
the afternoon through green fields of cane to the palm groves of La
Fontaine and Carbet, my eyelids ached and throbbed. I counted the
moments till the sun should have sunk into the Caribbean.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
It was only a few minutes after eight that I went to bed, feeling
that not for another second could I keep awake, but once again I
was to toss, hot and restless and exhausted, through the interminable
hours of a tropic night, and once again, when at last dawn came, I
found a fractious and red-eyed Eldred waiting me on the veranda.
"Really," he said, "this is too much of a good thing. I haven't
had two minutes' sleep."
The Frenchman laughed knowingly over his coffee. "I should
change your table in the dining-room if I were you," he said.
We were less sceptical now than we had been on the previous
"Has she been poisoning us?" we asked.
He shook his head. "She doesn't need poison-not material
poison, anyhow. She's got beyond that. You wouldn't be surprised
at the hotel keeping her on here if you knew her story." He paused;
then, seeing that we were listening, went on.
She was sixteen, he told us, at the time, and in the Martinique
fashion she was lovely. She was straight and tall and supple. She
wore a long, flowing green silk robe, a yellow madras about her neck,
and a green-and-yellow handkerchief for her hair. There were rings
swinging from her ears; the gift of a sailor brother. And she was
proud, as are the women of Martinique who know their beauty to
be famous through the length of Antilles.
It is of such a one that he spoke to us, and of an evening twenty
years before when her dark eyes had smiled softly through a moon-
silvered dusk, at the young Frenchman at her feet.
"So you were afraid to speak to me. Silly one, there was no need
to be," she whispered.
Her voice was soft, and her French had that unslurred purity of
accent which is for those only to whom it comes as a taught language.
From the adjacent flank of the veranda came the sound of voices,
of a gramophone, of ice rattled against glass. Below, many feet
below, the gentle waters of the Caribbean were breaking upon the
beach. From the encircling hills the murmur of innumerable crickets
ebbed and throbbed. But for the two young people crouched on the
long fight of steps there existed beneath that velvet sky no sound but
their own voices, no beings but themselves.
"And all this time," she went on, "you've been missing me, really
and truly missing me?"
Domibida-A banaw market.
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
"From that first instant, beautiful Do you remember?"
She nodded her head slowly. "How should I forget?"
That first instant It had been within an hour of his arrival at
Martinique to take up a post there as a minor Government official.
He was frightened and he was excited. He had never seen the tropics
before. He had never left home even. He had never had any re-
sponsibility. He was only twenty-one. He was frightened and he was
homesick. It was so new, so strange. And yet it was so lovely, the
green square with its palm trees and its statue, its flanking of blue
sea and shuttered houses. And it was so friendly. He had been
welcomed enthusiastically, he had been taken to the Club, had been
stood rum punches. He had sat looking down over the balcony when
suddenly in the street below...
"There you were," he said, "in that mauve-coloured frock of
yours. And you looked up at me. And oh, my dear, for six months
I've not been thinking of anything but that"
"Why didn't you tell me, silly?"
"How was I to? I didn't know even who you were."
He had been shy of asking: shy with the inexperience of twenty-one
and with the exaggerated sense of dignity that he felt was due to his
position. Even when he had discovered who she was, the daughter
of a Frenchman and a native, killed, both of them, in the disaster
of St. Pierre, living with cousins in Fort de France, supporting
herself with her needle, he had felt no nearer to meeting her. She
went out little. He knew none of her friends. There was no link
between them. "It's ridiculous," he told himself as the months
went by. "You won't meet her. You'd far better stop thinking
He had not been able to. He could not believe that that look, that
had seemed on her side as on his an utter admission of surrender,
could be an end as well as a beginning. For six months the memory
of that look had held him back when the moment and the mood had
flung in his way the opportunities that inevitably come to a young
man, handsome and well-placed.
"No, no," he had thought "I must keep free. One day I'I be
meeting her again. One day all of a sudden it'll happen."
As it had happened. Never had he felt further from meeting her
than he had that afternoon as he walked down from his office to
the Club. Five o'clock, he had thought For an hour I'l play bridge
E 65 *
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
or billiards, make or lose some 300 or 400 sous, then it'll be sundown
and I'll be sitting on the big veranda looking out over the Savane.
Therell be five or six of us. And well discuss the things one does
discuss in a place like Fort de France: the price of rum, the price of
sugar, the rival merits of various kinds of cars. And well go on
talking there till seven or half-past; till it's time to go back to dinner.
And I'll be at the hotel, at my table, by myself, with the exhilaration
of the punch subsiding, and Ill be sleepy and a little lonely, and 111
feel that it should be all different, that there should be some other
use to make of the early twenties. Ill be thinking how different she
could make it for me.
That was how he felt as be had walked down the Rue Perinnon
towards the Club. And then, just as be had turned to the right at the
street's foot, a voice from a car had hailed him.
"What are you doing? Nothing? Well, come out with us to bathe
at Founigaut. Yes, of course you can. There are three carloads of us.
Just room for you in this. Jump in."
It was from a man he did not know well, a mulatto of no par-
ticular account who directed a small photographic establishment,
that the invitation had come. Ordinarily he would have refused it.
No sooner, indeed, had he accepted it than he began to wish he
hadn't In no French colony is the colour line drawn strictly. But
there were many people in Fort de France whom he felt it would be
better for him, as an official, not to know. "What am I doing here?"
he thought as the car, with its load of shrieking, laughing half-castes,
rattled round the sharp corners of the uneven, mounting road; as he
stood, nervous and silent, trying not to look superior, on the fringe
of the chattering crowd that was splashing about the water's edge.
He felt embarrassed, self-conscious, out of place. "What am I doing
here," he thought, "among these people?"
And then suddenly be saw her. And instantly he was unconscious
of the silly, noisy crowd. The slim, erect figure, the black eyes, the
sleek skin whose dark colouring betrayed its origin. "You," he
whispered. And the dark eyes smiled and she stretched out her hand
to him. "Let's swim," she said. They ran into the water, to swim side
by side with slow, even strokes as the sun, red and largning, sank
into the Caribbean, and the first stars in the violet sky behind the
hills began to glimmer. They said nothing: there was no need for
words. Not yet. It was enough, after these months, to be together.
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
In siaece they swam back to shore, followed the rest of the party
to the bungalow, on whose veranda a gramophone was playing. In
silence at the head of the long flight of steps they turned into each
other's arms to dance. And it was as though all their lives they had
danced together. It was an utter harmony, so that afterwards, with
the record finished, when they walked away to sit side by side on the
veranda steps, it seemed the most natural thing in the world that he
who was so nervous, should without nervousness speak to her of all
the things he had thought and felt during those dividing months.
"Al these weeks I've been longing for you. I can't really believe,"
he said, "that we've met at last."
"And now that you have?"
"It's more of a dream than ever I dreamed it could be."
Slowly the short, thin fingers that work had roughened stroked
"And for how long will you think that? For how long, my very
dear one? For a month, for two months, for a year: for longer than
a year? For two years, longer than that even? For how long, then?
For ever? Because that's what it must be: for ever, or for nothing.
No, no. Don't interrupt me. Listen. That is what it has got to be.
That is the only way that I can love you-that way or not at all.
We can love, the women of my race, lightly, many times. But to
love really, that comes once only to us, and when it comes it is for
the ages. Are you ready for it to be like that?"
The short fingers were vibrant in his hair; the dark face was very
close to his. The dark eyes through the dusk were very bright Seated
there at her feet, with the awning of the eternal sky above him, "for-
ever" seemed a very little word. She would not let him pronounce it,
"No, no," she cried, "not yet. Think well. You have only to say the
word 'Come,' and I will follow. But if I do come it will be for ever.
My love will be a chain about you: a chain between you and me: a
chain that will hold you fast, hold you for ever to this little island.
That is what the word 'Come' will mean. Have you the courage, my
very sweet, to say it?"
She spoke slowly; her voice, whose French had the precision of an
earlier age, gave to her words the feeling and volume of Biblial
utterance: it was like some prophecy, some warning out of the Old
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
It was with a sense of awe rather than of triumph that hewhipered,
Past Schoelcher on the road to Case Navire there was a bungalow;
not a large bungalow. You do not need in the tropics more than two
rooms with a veranda round them. And it was a wide veranda with
the red of the hibiscus and the purple of the bougainvillea strung in
profusion about its porches. It was through a flowered shrubbery
that the steps ran steep from the veranda to the beach. And all day
long as he worked at his office, as he played billiards in the Club, as
he lunched at his solitary table in the Pension Galliat, the young
French official counted the minutes till five o'clock should come, till
he should be free to drive out to that bungalow along the mounting.
curving road. All day his thoughts would wander from his task and
papers, picturing the moment when he could climb the veranda
steps, when from a long rattan chair a slim, erect figure would leap
to greet him, when dark arms would be flung round his neck, when
a face like a dark flower would be pressed to his. And "What have
you been doing all day?" she'd ask. "Counting the minutes till I
could see you again," he'd answer. And they'd laugh and run down
to the beach to swim side by side through the sunset-reddened
water; and afterwards while he sipped slowly at his rum punch she
would sit curled beside him, his hand held against her check; and
she would sing to him in a low voice. For half an hour they would sit
there, savouring after the heat of the long day, the unutterable peace
of dusk. Then she would jump to her feet. "Supper-time," she would
say. And she would scamper to the kitchen, to reappear a few
minutes later with some simple but exquisitely flavoured dish of
eggs and fish and vegetables. After supper they would bring the
gramophone out to the veranda, and dance to it As they danced,
It was an idyll too perfect to be compact of details. They never
quarrelled. She was never moody, never difficult, never jealous. At
times he would surprise on her face a strange and brooding look, as
though she were looking at things-dark things that were many
miles, many centuries away. But he had only to touch her on the
shoulder, and she would turn round with a shiver and a start, blink
quickly, and with a laugh become once again the merry, the adorable
companion who asked no more of life but to be in love and loved.
They lived very much to themselves. Though everyone in Fort de
.. 68 *
Barbados-The harbour at Bridgetown.
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
France was well aware of the bungalow on the road past Scholcher,
its existence was tacitly ignored. Officially be was still living at the
Pension Galliat, where he lunched and, for the sake of appearances
and the occasions when his duties forced him to remain in town, be
kept on a room. No French family would visit him in the country,
and though he would have been himself received and welcomed
everywhere he wished to go, he had no wish to go where he could
not take her with him. Their only visitors were in consequence her
cousins and an occasional man friend of his who would drop in on
Saturday or Sunday for a rum punch on his way back to town. For
the most part they were alone and were content to be.
"You're very wise," said to him the only man, a middle-aged
doctor, who had lived al his life in Martinique, with whom he had
cared to discuss the situation more than casually. "You're very
wise. Make the best of it while you've got it. It won't come twice.
And it couldn't last. It's lucky for you that you're going. Itll be an
exquisite memory for you. You're young enough to get over it, both
He looked quickly and intently at the doctor.
"You're sure of that? It's true, is it, what they say about having
one's place taken within a week of sailing?"
"Ninety-nine times in a hundred. It's a country of quick for-
"But the hundredth time?"
"I shouldn't worry about that hundredth time, if I were you."
He could not help worrying, however. The time for his leave was
drawing close: the leave during which his parents would insist
almost certainly on his applying for a transfer. He did not know how
he was to break the news to her. He did not know how she would
take the news. Were the Martiniquaises really as casual-hearted as
the Frenchman would have him think? It was only with a half of
himself that he hoped they were. He knew how long it would take
him to forget the little bungalow at Schodcher. And he would have in
France so many things to help him to forget: his career, his friends,
his interest in the stir of life; whereas she, what medicine would she
have whose life was absorbed so utterly in his? How was he to break
the news to her?
The letter from Paris came authorising his leave. For the first time
in three years be walked slowly up the long steep fight of steps, and
Oama-The Post Office in Haw.&
THE SUNLIT CARI BEAN
for the first time in three years the slim, erect figure did not leap from
the long rattan chair to greet him.
For the first time the low voice did not ask, "What have you been
doing with yourself all day"' Instead, the dark eyes met his not
angrily, not suspiciously, not self-pityingly, but thoughtfully, as
though it were from vast distance of wisdom that that slow look
came. "She knows," he thought. "She knows already." And, walking
across to her, he put his hand upon her shoulder.
"Pretty one, I've heard from Paris. I'm going on leave in March."
She nodded her head, slowly.
"How long will your leave last?"
"And you will come back here after it?"
He hesitated. It would have been easy to have promised her, as
would the majority of men in his position, that he would. But to her
he could not lie; not completely lie, at least. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Darling, how can I tell?" he said. "If it were my own choice I
would. You don't need telling that. I shall try to; try my hardest.
But my parents-you know what parents are, they have ambition-
they'll want me to apply for a transfer, to go somewhere where
there's more scope. I don't know. I can't tell whatll happen. Per-
haps"-again he hesitated-"perhaps it would be better for us to
act as though I weren't going to return."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, there are certain arrangements to be made."
"Arrangements? What arrangements? I don't understand you."
"I can't leave you unprovided for."
She looked thoughtfully at him.
"Is it money that you're trying to talk to me about? Because if it is,
you needn't There'll be no need to worry about that. Let's go and
For the first time in three years they did not speak as they walked
down the steps to the little beach, as they swam side by side together.
And afterwards it was not at his feet but on the arm of his chair that
she sat as he sipped at his rum punch. And it was not his hand that
she held against her cheek, but his hair that her fingers stroked as
she sang to him in the tongue that he had never learnt. To-night
there was a new temper to her singing: it was less crooning, more
barbaric, almost terrifying.
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
"What are you singing'" he asked abruptly. "What are those
"They are the songs of my people. They are very old."
Next morning she was once again the laughing, light-hearted
comrade that she had been to him through their three shared years.
They danced and bathed and swam and kissed just as they always
had, and just as though every night were not bringing them nearer
to the hour when his steamer sailed. Sometimes he looked wonder-
ingly at her: for all that they had shared, did he know her any better
now than be had on that first evening so many moons ago? What
was she thinking? What was she feeling? Had she as so many main-
tained the child's mind that could see no further than to-morrow,
that could not picture to itself in advance the actuality of separa-
tion? Would she at the last moment break down into a fever of tears
and passion? He did not know. But increasingly as the days passed
he dreaded what that last night might hold.
When it came, however, it was very different from what he had
expected. There was not the angry, hysterical outburst that he had
dreaded. Instead, it was with an almost maternally protecting
tenderness that she drew down his head upon her shoulder to repeat
against his ear the low words he would never hear again: a tender-
ness more painful than any torrent of anger would have been.
"To-morrow," he thought. "I don't know how I shall have the
courage to see it through."
But when the morrow came it brought with it the merciful medicine
of haste; there were bags to be packed, trunks to be labelled, good-
byes to be said. There was a farewell lunch party for him at the Hotel
de France. It was not till he was seated on the balcony of the Club
over a last liqueur that he had time to realise what was happening.
Then suddenly it flashed on him. This balcony on which he had sat
on that first morning three and a half years back, from which he had
seen for the first time the green square of the Savane, from which
he had met that dark glance looking up at him. Never again would he
sit on it, looking out on to the calm white statue. Never again would
he drive out from it at the day's end along the curving, mounting
road. Never again would that slim, erect figure leap with dark,
shining eyes out of a rattan chair to welcome him. Never again.
Clear in front of him his future stretched-the future of the average
competent young official. There would be a couple more Colonial
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
posts: North Africa, perhaps, or Indo-China. Then in the early
thirties influence would secure him a post in Paris; and with Paris
would begin the process of settling down: marriage, a prudent
marriage, children and the safeguarding of the future. That was what
lay ahead; cares, responsibilities, the end of the unknown. While at
the back of him was youth and freedom and romance. What could
life hold for him sweeter than that bungalow at Schocbher, that love
so true and careless, so uncomplicated by the maladies of vanity and
profit? What had life to offer in compensation for his loss?
His heart was heavy. And suddenly as he sat looking out over the
square there was a pain across his eyes, a pain so excruciating that
he screamed out loud.
"Good heavens!" said someone. "What's the matter?"
"I don't know. I'm ill. I'm going to die, I think."
In an instant a little crowd had gathered round him.
"This is what often happens after a farewell lunch," laughed
But a second glance was sufficient to prove that that was not what
was wrong with him. Wine could not have brought that livid pallor
to the cheeks, that drawn misery across the eyes.
"He's ill. Get a doctor quickly."
The middle-aged doctor who had lived all his life in Martinique
looked thoughtfully for a moment at his young friend, lifted an
eyelid, felt the heart, then scribbled some words on a piece of paper.
"Take that round to the chemist. It may do some good."
In frightened silence, the group waited round the moaning figure.
"Will that medicine never come?" said someone.
It came, but it was powerless. The moaning did not cease.
"Take me home. I'm ill. I think I'm dying. Get me home. I can't
There was an exchange of glances.
"How can we? You're going to France. The steamer's sailing in an
"Steamer. France. Good heavens, do you think I can go on a
journey when I fee like this? Get me home, I tell you. Get me
There was another exchange of glances. The doctor nodded his
"Yes. Best get him home."
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
All the way out along the curving, mounting road he groaned and
They had to carry him up the long steep flight of steps. From a
long rattan chair on the veranda an erect, slim figure rose to meet
them. They began to explain to her, but she waved aside their
"Bring him in here," she said.
The bed was already open, the sheets turned back. At its head was
a carafe of iced water. She stood quietly by while they laid him down,
then seated herself at the bed's foot. The men who had brought him
hovered indeterminately in the doorway. Was there anything to be
done? they asked. No, there was nothing for them to do, the doctor
said. They could go back to town. Himself, he'd stay there.
The slim, erect figure at the foot said nothing. She was looking
out over the sea. There was on her face a strange, rapt brooding
look, as though she were looking at things-dark things that were
many miles and centuries away. From Fort de France, five miles
off, came the steamer's siren. She rose out of her chair, walked over to
the moaning figure, placed her hand softly on his forehead and with
gentle, caressing fingers stroked his hair, murmuring to him words
that to the doctor who had lived in Martinique all his life were
strange. And as she stroked the pallor went out of the lined cheeks,
the moaning ceased, the taut misery vanished from behind the eyes.
With a start and a blink of the eyes, be sat up in bed.
"What's the matter?" he said. "I've felt like death. What's hap-
"Nothing," she said. "It's over. It's all right"
His knees were weak as be tottered on to the veranda to lean
against the balcony, to see, steaming slowly on its way to Guade-
loupe, the liner that should have taken him back to France. His
knees were weak, but her hand was pressing on his shoulder. He
felt her strength flow to him.
"It's all right, Doctor," be said. "You needn't worry."
It was with a white and frightened face, however, that five weeks
later he broke into the doctor's consulting-room.
"Doctor," be said. "What's the matter with me? It's happened
again. You've beard?"
"It's inexplicable. I don't know what it is. It was just like that
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
other time. On the morning that the boat was sailing I woke with
that same blinding pain. I couldn't stir. I couldn't think. I was con-
scious of nothing except that pain. I just lay there moaning; right
through the day; right on till evening. And then suddenly just as
that other time, it went. I walked out on to the balcony, and I might
never have been ill at all What's wrong with me? What's the matter?
Do you know. Doctor, what it is?"
"I think I do."
"Then what is it? What's to be done about it?"
"If it's what I think it is, there's nothing that can be done about
it. You will think I am romancing: but I have lived al my life among
these people. They have secrets that are dark to us. When they want
to commit suicide they do not shoot themselves or cut their throats.
They lie upon their beds and die. They can will mischief or death
upon their enemies. They have philtres that will win them the love
of the stubborn-hearted. It would be no hard task for them to make
one who wishes to leave them incapable of movement"
"My good Doctor, but that's ridiculous."
"That is what I knew you would say. But consider this: there is
nothing wrong with you. You can take my word for that You are as
fit as any man in Martinique. Yet each time that you have tried to
leave the island, you have been so ill that you could not move; and
each time, at the moment when the ship's last siren went, the illness
"It's ridiculous! Ridiculous!"
But though he spoke truculently, even to himself his outburst
carried no conviction. What were those warning words that three
years back on the moon-drenched balcony those soft lips had
uttered? "My love will be a chain about you, a chain that will hold
you fast-hold you for ever to this little island." It was ridiculous,
ridiculous, and yet...
Impatiently, he walked over to the window. In the street below
the familiar, commonplace life of every day was pursuing its com-
fortable course. Motor cars were honking cheerfully, tourists with
cameras and sun-helmets were boisterously calling each other's at-
tention to the handcart announcing a cinema performance that was
being pushed by a couple of minute black infants. Across the
harbour a four-masted schooner was picturesquely drifting. The
sheltered tables in front of the caft on the Savane were filled with
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
laughing, chattering groups. It was impossible to believe that con-
tiguous with this merry, familiar, sunlit world existed the dark
mysteries of Obeah. Impossible to belive, and yet, and yet...
With a frightened face, he spun round to face the doctor.
"You believe it, Doctor? Really and truly, that's what you
"Then what's going to happen to me? Whatll be the end of it?
Do you mean that it'll go on like this, that every time I try to leave
the island I shall be ill? That I never shall be able to get away from
here? Is that what you believe?"
The doctor nodded.
"But I can't. No, I can't," the young man persisted. "To stay here
for ever, to grow old here, to watch one's career going; never to see
France again. To have one's juniors coming out here, and three years
later going back, as oneself one should have, to promotion. To lose
interest in oneself; to lose faith in oneself; to lose one's self-respect.
You can't really believe that that's what's got to happen to me?"
"Till the spell is broken, yes."
"And how is it to be broken?"
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. It was an expressive shrug.
And, looking him in the eyes, the young man read his meaning. "I
can't," he thought. "I can't." Though even as he thought it he knew
that, were that calamity to be averted, there was no other course.
Sorcery and the sorceress were one. Even sorcery could not outlive
the sapping of the thin thread of life that bound it to its origin. It
was his life or hers. As long as she lived, be was her slave. As long
as that... but for no longer. "I can't," he thought. "I cant." But
there was no other course.
Slowly, with a tread that dragged, he climbed that evening the
steep flight of steps to the veanda. And for the second time in their
many months together the slim, erect figure did not leap to greet
him. From the long rattan chair she lay and looked at him, not
angrily, not suspiciously, but thoughtfully, as though it were from
vast distances of wisdom that that slow look came.
She beckoned to him.
"Here, at my side, just gently, for a moment"
On the ground beside her chair she dropped a cushion. As he
knelt on it she drew down his head upon her breast.
TBE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
"It's so lovely here. All day long I've been lying, looking out,
wishing you were here to share it with me. Have you ever seen any-
It was very lovely. The hour before sundown when the air after the
long day's heat is cool; when the lights grow gentle after the long
day's glare; when the shadows lie level along road and beach; when
the blue of the sea grows softer, and the bright greens of the hill
grow fresh as though dew were falling on them.
"Have you ever seen anything lovelier?" she said. "Do you think
that anywhere in the world there is to be found anything lovelier
than this? Do you not think that the man is foolish who would run
away from it?"
Her voice was low and musical But there was purpose behind
her words. And he felt weak and irresolute; in the presence of some-
thing old and dark and very powerful. And he felt tired: grateful in
his tiredness for the softness of her breasts, content to lie there,
savouring the peace of evening, watching across the bay in front
of them the little steamer paddling from Saint Pierre to Fort de
"Let's go and bathe," she said.
Side by side, they swam through the sunset-reddened water, and
afterwards, as he sat sipping at his rum punch, she crouched beside
him, his hand held against her cheek, while she sang softly to him the
love songs of her people. For half an hour she sang to him. Then
she jumped to her feet. "Supper-time," she cried. It was his favourite
dish that she had prepared for him: lobster spiced with coconut,
served upon fried bread. Afterwards they brought the gramophone
out upon the veranda. As they danced, they kissed.
That was the story as the Frenchman told it us.
"And that's fifteen years ago," he said; "and the man she did it
for's been dead for five; they keep her on here because they just
We listened in silence. Below us in the street motor cars were
honking noisily. Out of a clear blue sky a heavy January sun was
pouring its amber light across the green Savane on to the white
statue. In the harbour were the funnels and the masts of liners. It
was hard in such a moment at such a place to believe in the black
magic of Africa.
Grenada-The market place at Georgetomm.
WEST INDIAN VOODOO
And yet, and yet ..
"I think," said Eldred, "we'l have our table changed to-night"
Flora's face showed no pleasure or satisfaction when we told her
of our decision. Her scowl was as surly as ever. Her incompetence
was as marked. She spilt the soup over the tablecloth, clattered the
plates, brought us our fish cold, and butter when we had ceased to
need it. We had a thoroughly uncomfortable meal.
But that night we slept
A WEST INDIAN SNAPSHOT
I WAS met on the landing-stage by the kind of chauffeur-scrbby,
unshaven, swarthy-to whom several months of West Indian
travel had accustomed me. He might have been an octoroon, he
might have been a quarter-caste, or he might have been simply
sunburnt. He wore sandals, blue cotton trousers, and a short-sleeved
shirt. A rough-rimmed straw hat was pulled low over his eyes. His
step was shuffling and his manner surly.
"You Mr. Wilding's guest?"
"His car's over there, by the Customs shed."
Long and low, a glittering stream of colour in the morning sun-
light, a six-cylinder Chrysler presented a reassuringly opulent con-
trast to its driver.
My host's rich, I thought
I corrected myself a quarter of an hour later as we swung into a
long avenue lined with royal palms at whose far extremity was a
white, two-storied, many-windowed house. He was more than rich:
he was very rich.
From a rattan chair on a wide, flower-flanked veranda a tal
figure rose to greet me. He was a man of about sixty. He had an
open, smiling face. I made an addition to my estimate. He was more
than very rich. He was nice as well: a final estimate that confirmed
me in a mood of contented anticipation.
I had good reason to be in such a mood. I had long wanted to
pay a second visit to Dominica.
Dominica may not be a tourist's island. It has no smart hotels,
no bathing beaches, no casino. Its climate is damp and sultry. The
sky is more often grey than blue. In a sense it is a melancholy island:
with its cloud hung mountains and its long story of ill luck; one crop
and then another-ccocoa first, then limes-ruined by disease. It is
A WEST INDIAN SNAPSHOT
not an obvious island: not at all But it has the power to attract
eccentrics. It has "character." Square pegs, after long efforts to fit
themselves into round holes, have made their homes there and been
happy. It is the background of that strange novel, Duet i Dicord
The lovely and unusual talent of Jean Rhys has its roots in Ports-
mouth. Its society is stimulatingly heterogeneous. On my return to
England, I had found myself thinking more often of Dominica than
of any other of the West Indian islands that I had visited. I found
myself wishing that I had stayed there longer, that I had done more
and different things, that I had thrown a wider net. I was more than
grateful when, through the kind offices of a friend, an echnge of
cables brought me, on a later visit to the Caribbean, an invitation
to Wilding's bungalow.
I settled myself comfortably beside him.
"I've so many things to ask you ..." I began.
So many things that the hour of the morning swizzle had arrived
before he had had time to say, "I wonder, by the way, if you ever
came across the man who had this place before me? He was in your
"You knew him, then?"
"I should say I did!"
I spoke decisively. Though I had not met him half a dozen times,
the impression he had made upon my memory was ineffaceable. I
have met no one who was more completely allergic to me.
I had met him, fifteen years before. Little and dapper, in the early
forties, he was sightly bald, with a high forehead and very promi-
net, staring pale blue eyes; but his distinctive feature was the
texture of his skin. There are some men who at no matter what hour
of the day you meet them look as though they had not shaved
for thirty hours. You wonder when they actually do shave, since
they are never either more nor less unshaven. Weston, on the
other hand, always looked as though he had at that moment left
the barbers chair, where not only had he been shaved with ex-
haustive patience, but where the kind of varnish with which women
anoint their finger nails had ben smeared over his face from chin
to cheekbone. The effect of that gl and glistening surface was
singularly repellent, yet at the same time singular magnetic H
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
exuded electricity. I do not suppose that he ever made a friend;
but he fascinated a great many people-young women in particular.
He was purposeful in conversation. He had confidence. He was a
lavish and effective host. He had, moreover, a background of
achievement-of very definite achievement At a time when pro-
fessional English authorship was dominated by the American
market, he was one of the chief New York lecture agents.
He specialised in English authors. During the 1920's he came over
to London every autumn to interview novelists, agents, publishers.
I should imagine that during those years he not only knew but had
entertained everybody of any consequence in the literary racket. My
most vivid memory of him is a lunch that he gave at the Savoy for a
dozen or so of the younger writers. As a lunch it was one of the best
that I have ever sat before. But none of us enjoyed it, really. When
I hear Englishmen who have never been to America describe Ameri-
cans as purse-proud, money-conscious, reducing all values to a
dollar basis, my answer is, "Well, I have known one American like
At the end of the meal he leant across the table.
"Now listen. You're promising. Every one of you," he said.
"That's why you're here. You've got it in you to turn yourselves into
the kind of successes I can use. But you're on the wrong track.
You're all too literary, too clever-clever. I want life, real people, real
problems, real backgrounds. That's what I can put across. The
moment you start writing real books, I'm the man to sell you. Till
you do, we're wasting each other's time. But when you do start...
well, I reckon I don't need to introduce myself."
The knowledge that, as regards his powers, he spoke the truth was
the most infuriating part of the whole performance. He might boast,
but he could call his bluffs. I left that table praying that circumstance
should never force me to owe him a debt of gratitude.
That was in 1925. And much had happened since: in the literary
racket, as elsewhere; New York was not in 1937 the happy hunting
ground that it had been. Publishers on Murray Hill had ceased to
advance on the delivery of each new manuscript a sum three times
as great as its predecessor had earned in royalties. Editors in Phila-
delphia no longer commissioned serials that they "might find a use
for some day." Even Hollywood had consulted balance sheets. But
A WEST INDIAN SNAPSHOT
it was the lecture market that had taken the biggest toss. Through
the 1920's any English novelist of standing could, by signing an
American lecture contract, liquidate at the cost of a few week's
casual conversation the accumulated liabilities of as many years.
AD that was over. Through the English author's own fault, mainly.
Those casual conversations had been just a bit too casual. Long
before Wall Street broke, American audiences had grown as weary
of listening to ninety minutes of trailing impromptu autobiogra-
phical reflections as they were of reading a few weeks later the
articles in which on their return to England those same lecturers
lampooned the absurdities of the American Women's dubs that had
financed them. By the end of the 1920's the lecturing English
novelist was the most generally disliked commodity throughout the
Union. And the climax was reached in the spring of 1931 when ...
But perhaps that is a story that at this late day it is more charitable
to forget. Let it suffice to state that it was a very long time since I
had heard a brother novelist remark: "My arrears of income tax
are ceasing to be a joke. I shall have to run across and pick up a few
So completely indeed was the lecture racket finished for the
English novelist that I do not suppose that I had heard Weston
mentioned five times in as many years.
That be of all people should have come to Dominica!
"Why on earth did be come?" I asked.
"He had a breakdown: you know the way he drank, last thing at
night, first thing in the morning. One day he collapsed across a
table. His doctors gave him a year to live."
I started: stared and started. A year to live! Is there anyone who
has not imagined himself faced with such a fate: who has not
wondered how in such a predicament he would himself behave?
How had Max Weston faced it?
Not that I need have wondered. The story of that year, as Wilding
told it me, was in every detail consistent with the conduct and
previous spirit of his life: a mixture of pettiness, spite, swagger,
Spite came first. There was one person in his life that he had
hated-his wife. I had never seen her. No one in England had. But
F 81 *
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
everybody in New York knew that he owed his success to her: that
her money had carried him through his early years. She was older
than he was, considerably: she was neither clever nor smart nor
handsome. But people liked her; had done things for Max because
of her; had let him know it He never forgave her that. He wanted
to believe that he had done it all himself. When the chance for
revenge came he took it.
It was the summer of '29. He sold his contracts and goodwill-
at a typical boom figure. He handed his wife a tenth. For fifteen
years, he told her, she had made life a hell for him. He had only
stayed with her because a scandal would have done him harm. Now
he did not care. He was going to clear right out. She could send
detectives after him if she liked, but the law worked slowly. By the
time she had got the machinery of the law in motion, he would not
be in the world to worry.
Spite had its innings first, then vanity. Most of us have one point
on which our vanity is raw. Max could not forget his personal
obscurity. However successful he might be, no one outside his
immediate circle could ever hear of him. He was the middle-man
pocketing his commission. His name meant nothing, never could
mean anything across any column, in any paper. He had no news
value. It was a fact that never ceased to rankle.
If most of us have one point on which our vanity is raw, most of us
also have one person we are jealous of. Max had two. George Doran,
the publisher, and Ray Long, the editor. Year after year through the
1920's they crossed to London to "contact" authors. They held the
field. English authors owed more to those two men than to any
twenty others in "the racket." But it was not their success, but their
prominence that Max resented. There was no bookshelf in the world
on which the name Doran could not be read among its covers. The
name Ray Long stood big on every copy of the two million copies
of Cosmopolitan that month after month were scattered across the
world. Everyone knew who Long and Doran were; nobody knew
who Weston was. All three, in their separate ways, were doing the
same thing, introducing and establishing English authorship into and
in America. All three successfully. But while two were "figures,"
one was not When the doctors gave Weston his year to live, he saw
his chance, not only of getting even with his wife, but of making
himself a "figure."
A WEST INDIAN SNAPSHOT
He saw that chance, as one should have known be would, in
terms of swagger. He had a year to live. He would make a legend of
that year. Every dollar he could command would be spent on it.
His plan had the simplicity that is said to be the half of genius.
Fortnight after fortnight he staged in the house that now was
Wilding's a succession of house parties. He knew practically every-
one on Broadway. His guests' fares were paid. On such a basis, it
was not difficult to make the pattern of those parties read like a
Cholly Knickerbocker column. And on each party he invited one
first--ass journalist. As each fortnight passed, he read in his imagina-
tion the obituaries that would be starring the New York Press
within a year. No journalist, wearily looking for fresh copy, could
fail to make Weston's last months in Dominica the subject of his
column. Weston's eyes glittered as he looked ahead. His "year to
live" would become a legend. He himself would become a legend.
Whenever the literary background of the 1920's was discussed or
written of, his name would be linked with Doran's and Ray Long's.
I smiled to myself as I listened to Wilding's account of that year
of parties. I looked forward to hearing other accounts from other
residents. Max was a cad. But be was in character. I could not help
admiring anyone who could carry through an act so thoroughly.
"And then ..." I asked.
Wilding smiled, then shrugged.
"Doctors aren't always right"
He chuckled as he said that I stared, not understanding for a
moment He laughed as the truth came to me.
"That's it You've got it He got well again. They thought he had
an organic ailment But be hadn't It was simply drink. And drugs.
When he was down here, in a decent climate, with no money left
to buy a drink with, he was as fit as he'd ever been within a fort-
"But..." I paused, visualising the incredibly impossible position
in which Max had found himself. His money gone, his boats burnt
The depression in full flood. No business, no chance of starting one.
Hated by his wife's friends; discredited. A laughing-stock because a
doctor'd fooled him. He could not go back to New York. There was
nothing he could do in London. There was no opening for him,
"What on earth did he do?' I asked.
THE SUNLIT CARIBBEAN
"The only thing he could do: stayed on here."
"He looks after the electric plant I kept him on because you can't
trust a native with machinery: too ticklish for them. He does his
job quite wel. As a matter of fact, you've seen him. He met you on
the wharf this morning. It's the kind of thing." he added "that
would happen in Dominica."