QUARTERLY OF THE INSTITUTE OF JAMAICA
SEPTEMBER '70 VOL. 4 NO. 3
The Oldest Jamaican Sugar Estate
Venus McDonald (Photograph) . .
Balbuena Part IV Final . . .
Patriotism in Jamaican Writing . .
Sir Alexander Bustamante Statue .
Photographs . . ....
Savannah La Mar (Colour) . .
Seven Spiders . . . . .
ART LITERATURE MU!
Long Distance Swimmer Who Ran .
Festival Poetry ........
Adult Section . . .
Children Section . .
. . . . Michael Craton 2
. . . . Rose Murray 5
. . . Sylvia Wynter 6
. . Leo Oakley 16
. . . Alvin Marriott 18
. . . J. Melville 21
...... A. Paisley 22
....... A. Paisley 22
. . . . J.B. Kidd 23
. . . . . . 25
.. . Tom Farr 25
. . . N.D. Williams
. .. . . . .Scott
. . . . . . Scott
. . McNeill
.Escoffery, Lawrence, Figueroa
..... Munn, Giray (Durie)
. . . . . Swapp
. . . L. Henry
. .. D.J. Henry, Meeks
. . . . . . .Lyn
. . . . . . Salmon
Festival Queen (Photograph) . . . . . . .A. Paisley
Fisherman (Colour Photograph) . . . . .. Rose Murray
Madness . ............... Charles I. Morgan
Suzanne (Drawing) . . . . . . .. Alexander Cooper
Festival Art & Craft Winners . . . . . . . . .
Crop of Yampi ... . . . . . .Xim Robinson
Cover Picture : Festival '70
'Mother & Young' (Female Doctor Bird)
s^ M-. M .~I
by Michael Craton
At the full tide of the "Golden Age"
in 1772 there were 775 sugar factory-
estates in Jamaical; today, though almost
as much sugar is produced as ever, there
are only 15 left. This would make the
search for the oldest estate easier but for
two things: the tendency of estates to
1. Some writers, such as Oliver (1936) quoting
Gardner (1874), claim a figure as high as 1061
sugar estates in 1786. Almost certainly this was
the grand total of all holdings producing any
sugar at all. The area of land serving a separate
factory is a preferable unit, and this is probably
what the Jamaican Assembly had in mind when
it found in 1792 that in the previous year there
had been 767 sugar estates in Jamaica, eight less
than in the peak year of 1772. L.J. Ragatz,
Statistics for the Study of British Caribbean
Economic History, 1763-1833, London, 1927,
consolidate so that ancient plantations
have been swallowed up by later amalga-
mations; and the great scarcity of accurate
or continuous records. Three modern
estates are serious contenders for seniority:
Sevens in the parish of Clarendon, By-
brook in St. Thomas-ye-Vale, and Worthy
Park in St. Catherine's (formerly St.
John's); but of these only the third has
records sufficiently complete to lay claim
to continuous operation. It is on this
ground that Worthy Park alone is cele-
brating its three-hundredth anniversary, on
November 28 this year.
It is wdll known that the Spaniards
grew sugar in Jamaica from the early years
of the sixteenth century, though most of
that produced was consumed locally for
want of transatlantic shipping. Recently
Mr. Charles Cotter has uncovered what is
almost certainly the oldest Jamaican fac-
tory; a Spanish ingenio at Sevilla la Nueva
on the north coast, dating from 1515.2
Yet Jamaica's northern capital was aban-
doned in 15343and when the Cromwellians
descended on the south coast in 1655 the
only cane plantations, cattle mills and
2. Nearby Richmond-Llandovery Estate claims
the oldest factory on Jamaica's northside,
though on the grounds of the establishment of
Llandovery's mill by Thomas Whitehorne in
1674 rather than the presence of the Spanish
remains 160 years older.
3. F. Morales Padron, Jamaica Espanola, Seville,
primitive boiling-houses were close to the
second capital, Santiago la Vieja (Spanish
Town), in the Liguanea Plain, at Guanaboa
and in the valley of the Minho; and even
there cocoa, pimento, indigo and cassava
were regarded as more important crops.
Beyond these scattered plantings was an
almost trackless waste of forest, or savan-
nas grandly styled hatos (ranches) on
which roamed practically wild the cattle
which produced Jamaica's most valuable
exports, hides and tallow.
When the picaresque English conquer-
ors, disappointed of rich plunder and a-
bandoned by their home government,
desperately turned to planting, they began
with smallholdings in the areas already
cultivated by the Spaniards, and with
much the same crops. Gradually, however,
the expertise of the settlers from Barbados
and the Leewards and the greater availa-
bility of capital, slaves and .shipping, led
the English into larger-scale sugar produc-
tion than the Spaniards had ever achieved.
With extravagant grants from a compliant
local government, the first-comers laid the
basis of the slave-sinewed sugar monocul-
ture which dominated and blighted -
the Jamaican economy for 150 years. The
Spanish plantations served as nuclei, but
in most cases were quickly superceded by
larger or more fertile areas along different
parts of the coast and further inland.
At least one of the Spanish areas,
however, prospered from the earliest
English days, the valley of the Minho.
On the upper reaches of this occasional
river one of the first of the Jamaican
plantocrats, Samuel Long, consolidated
"the Seven Plantations" as early as 1665.
By the time of Long's famous great-
grandson a century later, Sevens, alias
Longville, was almost the model Jamaican
estate. In a letter to William Pitt in 1788
(now to be found among the Chatham
Papers in London's Public Record Office4)
Edward Long, historian, statistician, ab-
sentee sinecurist and negrophobe, describ-
ed his Jamaican estate as consisting of a
4. (P.2, para. 2, line 8) P.R.O. 30/8/153, 40.
Rdwanrd r nne Wr I
total of 1,800 acres, of which over 500
were in canes. Worked by 304 slaves and
180 cattle (they were almost equated),
it was said to produce an annual average
of 280 hogsheads (240 tons) of sugar and
140 puncheons of rum. This should have
guaranteed its owner an income of 8,000
a year and profit of 2,000 during that
Golden Age of sugar. The estate called
Sevens today is spread over a far wider
section of the Minho with 3,000 acres of
canes and a factory which produces with
the help of small cane-farmers, over 30,000
tons of sugar a year.
Sevens clearly can lay claim to being
the oldest Jamaican factory-estate still
active, and might well have celebrated its
tercentenary in 1965 were it not that its
history since the time of Edward Long is,
at present, almost as obscure as that of its
earliest years. To a certain extent, By-
brook, in the Vale of St. Thomas, is more
fortunate, since it is the only one of the
three estates of which we have full details
of its foundation, between 1667 and 1669.
During the Spanish period and in the
first decade of English occupation, the
cultivation around Spanish Town stopped
short at Angels, where the Rio Cobre
tumbled out of its sinuous gorge from the
unknown interior. So firmly did this
terra incognita belong to the itinerant
bands of fierce Maroons that it was re-
quired for Englishmen to obtain passes to
venture north of the settled areas as late
as 1667. Around this time, an adventurer
named Carey Helyar (or Hilliard), alone
with his dog, hacked and paddled his way
through the six miles of the Cobre gorge.
Instead of more mountains he discovered
a valley many square miles in extent
which, though covered in tropical jungle,
was obviously more fertile and better
watered than the coastal plains. Taking
advantage of the generous procedures for
patenting lands brought in three years
before, Helyar laid claim late in 1667 to a
"plat" of several hundred acres at the
junction of two permanent streams, which
he christened Bybrook. Little could be
done for many months, but in 1669, with
the help and advice of his friend the
Barbadian Governor Modyford, Carey
Helyar brought negroes and white bonds-
men and set about clearing his land for the
planting of sugar "Barbados style".
By 1672 there were 60 acres of canes
at Bybrook and its mule-driven mill,
boiling-house and distillery were produc-
ing about 25 hogsheads of sugar and 1,500
gallons of rum a season, worth perhaps
300. Getting the produce to the barca-
dier at Passage Fort was a serious problem,
for the road through the gorge was not
completed until the early 1700's. Besides
Carey Helyar (like the majority of the
earliest settlers) died suddenly in 1672,
and his plantation languished even before
it was properly established. Of the 1,858
at which Bybrook was valued in the last
year of Helyar's life, no less than 1,170
was said to be the worth of the 55 slaves
and 14 indentured "servants", with the
"millwork" valued at 199. Realistically,
Carey Helyar reckoned that the true value
of the estate was no more than 1,300
since the full investment was beyond the
means of the average person "that cums to
settle in thes parts".5
Today Bybrook covers an area of
10,000 acres, with a fifth of that normally
in canes, its factory producing some
18,000 tons of sugar in an average year;
but it is highly unlikely that any part of
the estate has grown sugar continuously
since 1669. A cousin of Carey Helyar,
Nicholas Hilliard, took up the estate after
1672, but the lands were always subject to
flooding, erosion or soil exhaustion, as
well as the difficulties of transportation.
A map of adjacent Mickleton in the last
years of slavery depicts Bybrook in very
5. (P.3, para. 2) J. Harry Bennet, "Carey Hel-
yar, Merchant and Planter in Seventeenth-
Century Jamaica", William and Mary Quarterly,
June, 1964, 53-76.
modest circumstances,6 and in the worst
years of sugar during the nineteenth cen-
tury its factory fell into disuse, being re-
vived around the turn of the present
century by the Haitian emigre family of
In some ways, Worthy Park's founda-
tion was similar to that of Bybrook,
though a yet more fortunate location and
the accident of family continuity contri-
buted to its unbroken development. Like
the Vale of St. Thomas, Lluidas Vale is a
fertile polje surrounded and sheltered by
limestone hills.7 Guarded by the almost
legendary Juan de Bolas, whose followers
farmed "polinks" smallholdingss) on its
margins and grazed cattle on its savanna
land, Lluidas was discovered by the English
while evicting the last of the Spaniards
under Cristobal de Ysassi in 1660. The
first patent for lands now part of Worthy
Park was filed in 1665 by partners called
Richard Garland and John Eaton; but
the heartland of the present estate 840
acres of savanna, forest and "good valley
land" was acquired by "Lieutenant"
Francis Price in a patent dated November
Francis Price though his grandson
claimed he was descended from Welsh
princelings was an unimportant Crom-
wellian veteran who already farmed a sugar
plantation at Guanaboa about the size of
Carey Helyar's. He probably never grew
sugar at Worthy Park, using the plantation
mainly for grazing the veal cattle for which
the Vale of Lluidas was famed in those
6. (P. 4, para. 1, line 4) Encumbered Estates
Commission Records P.R.O. C.O. 441/4/4.
7. (P. 4, para. 2, line 4) R.M. Bent & E.L. Bent-
Golding, A Complete Geography of Jamaica,
London, Collins, 1966.
8. (P. 4, para. 2, line 12) Jamaica Archives,
Land Patents, Liber IV, Folio 20; St. John's
Plat Book, No. 105, Page 122 (Worthy Park);
No. 66, Page 72 (Garland and Eaton).
St. Thomas in the Vale from Mt. Diabolo.
days. The first sugar was exported from
Lluidas Vale only after the building of a
road linking it with Old Harbour, 25 miles
away;9 and the first factory was probably
not at Worthy Park but on neighboring
Thetford, where the ruins can still be seen.
Yet once started, Worthy Park developed
rapidly under "Colonel" Charles Price
(1678-1731) and his illustrious son, Sir
Charles Price Bt., "the Patriot" (1708-72)
who boosted Worthy Park's fortunes by
steering a private bill through the Assem-
bly of which he was Speaker to
provide an aqueduct from the Murmuring
Brook to Worthy Park, in 1752.10
9. (P.4, para. 3, line 6) Sir Hans Sloane, A
Voyage to the islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves
S. Christophers and Jamaica, with the Natural
History . of the last of those Islands .... 2
vols., London, 1702, 1725 I, xvi.
10.Journals of the Assembly of Jamaica, IV,
1752, September 29 October 13.
0.~ L t- i
-- L .- - m ,, -
Six generations of the Prices owned
Worthy Park, and while some of the
owners lived as typical absentees in Lon-
don and Cornwall, the estate prospered
because there was usually a younger
member of the family supervising affairs
in far-off Jamaica. The most outstanding
of these resident owner-managers was the
young Rose Price who, between 1791 and
1795, made improvements at Worthy Park
which staved off the decline already
affecting the rest of Jamaica. A peak of
production was reached as late as 1812,
with 705 hogsheads of sugar and 350
puncheons of rum, worth together at least
20,000, while Rose Price in Cornwall
enjoyed a steady income so high that he
kept a private pack of hounds and rode to
church in a coach with four bewigged
However well managed, Worthy Park
could not be insulated from the economic
depression which followed Emancipation
and the loss of the protective sugar duties,
and it was finally sold by the Encumbered
Estates Commission in 1863. During the
worst years for sugar it was owned first
by two sons of the Earl of Shrewsbury
and Talbot and then by the cattleman
J.V. Calder, being acquired by Frederick
Clarke, father of the present proprietors,
in 1918. Yet even in the years of lowest
prices, Worthy Park's sugar production
continued, and the estate actually expand-
ed towards its present 12,000 acres as
neighboring Swansea, Thetford and Ty-
dixon tailed. Indeed, in modern conditions
it is only such consolidated estates, with
their factories drawing on an even wider
catchment area of small cane farms as well,
which can survive; and if they are to
prosper too they must, additionally, di-
versify. Worthy Park, thanks to the
incredible boom in 1920, wise investments
in capital plant, field improvements, and
gradually improving world market condi-
tions, did survive as a sugar producer, and
became the top Jamaican estate in the
11. (P.5, para. 1, line 10) Edgar A. Rees, Old
Penzance, Penzance, privately printed, 1956,
S.M.A.'s Overall Index of Efficiency for
the first time in 1968. It is also today
one of Jamaica's largest producers of
citrus fruit and pedigree cattle.12
In November 1970 Worthy Park can
claim to be the only Jamaican estate with
a continuous history of three hundred
years largely because enough of its records
have been preserved, and sufficient inter-
est has been shown by the estate itself,
to enable its history to be researched and
written. For Bybrook, Sevens and the
myriad other Jamaican estates, past and
present, most of the research remains to
be done. Only when a whole patchwork
of such estate histories is written can
confident final conclusions about the
economy and societies of Jamaican plan-
tations be made. Yet it certainly can be
done. Jamaica herself possesses in the
Island Record Office and Archives at
12.(P.5, para. 2, line 18) Michael Craton &
James walvin, A Jamaican Plantation; The
History of Worthy Park, 1670-1970, London
W.H. Allen, 1970, X, XI, XII.
Spanish Town, and in the Institute of
Jamaica in Kingston, incomparable re-
sources in the way of land patents, wills,
inventories, deeds, Chancery Court cases,
parish and port records, estate maps and
printed secondary materials for the history
of her present and former estates. There
are also at least two easily accessible large
collections of estate documents (including
such items as correspondence and account
books sadly missing at Worthy Park) as yet
almost untouched: the Dawkins Papers
at the Institute of Jamaica, and the Tharp
Papers in the County Record Office in
Suggestions for Further Reading:
S.A.G. Taylor, The Western Design, An
Account of Cromwell's Expedition to the
Caribbean, Kingston, Institute of Jamaica
for the Jamaica Historical Society, 1965.
Edward Long, The History of Jamaica, 3
vols., London, 1774.
F.W. Pitman, The Development of the
British West Indies, 1700-1763, Yale Uni-
versity Press, 1917.
Richard Pares, A West India Fortune,
London, Longmans, 1950.
Richard Pares, Merchants and Planters,
Cambridge University Press, 1960.
J. Harry Bennett, "Carey Helyar, Merchant
and Planter of Seventeenth-Century Ja-
maica", Williams and Mary Quarterly, June
R.M. Howard (Ed.), Records ... of...
the Longs of Longville, Jamaica and
Hampton, England, London, 1925.
Michael Craton and James Walvin, A
Jamaican Plantation; The History of
Worthy Park, 1670-1970, London, W.H.
Allen and University of Toronto Press,
Richard B. Sheridan (University of Kan-
sas), Sugar and Slavery.
Richard S. Dunn (University of Pennsyl-
vania) Foundations of Plantation Society
in the British West Indies.
"Miss Venus McDonald" by Rose Murray
Ipw~Ci ~ c~
Bernardo De Balbuena
Epic Poet and Abbot of Jamaica 1562-1627
by Sylvia Wynter
PART IV (Final)
"t is in times of struggle that human-
ity ascends from one idea to the other
and the intellect does not triumph ex-
cept the fantasy is shaken up; when an
idea has triumphed and unfolds itself
in peaceful practise, the epic no longer
exists, only history. The epic poem can
therefore be defined as the ideal his-
tory of humanity in its passage from
one idea to the other."
(DE SANCTIS, THE THEORY AND HIS-
TORY OF LITERATURE. 1)
"... to weave together the episodes of
such a long poem ..."
(BERNARDO DE BALBUENA, In the
Prologue to the BERNARD, written in
The pride with which the Librarian of
the Institute of Jamaica labelled THE
BERNARD, the epic poem of the Abbot,
Bernardo de Balbuena as 'the first book
published by a resident in Jamaica' cannot
be gainsaid. But THE BERNARD has re-
mained a closed book for the majority of
Jamaicans resident in Jamaica from the
seventeenth century until now. For those
residents of Jamaica who could and can
- read, the chief impulse, the mechanism
of existence, was and still is, the impulse
to make money. The only books that
interested and to a greater extent still
interests us, are cash ledgers, and 'books
of thrift' as one recent advertisement puts
it. Then again, many of us, cut off from
the experience of a large part of the New
World, have no Spanish. Even if we had,
The Bernard, epic poem, out of date and
time, and immensely complex and tangled,
is difficult to read.
TO WEAVE TOGETHER THE EPI-
SODES OF SUCH A LONG POEM
It is not easy to give an outline of
THE BERNARD. Divided into 24
Books, with some 40,000 lines of eleven
syllabled verse, plus an allegorical com-
mentary at the end of each book, the
poem presents a bewildering maze of
incidents. Balbuena follows the poetic
dictate of his time that the epic should
begin in the middle. In his prologue he
argues in support of this convention
that there are two kinds of relation, the
natural and the 'artificial' artificial
does not have its modern meaning of
falsity, but rather of artifice, something
that is made by art, and that whilst the
natural way of relating things, beginning
from the beginning, is natural and his-
torical, the 'artificial' way which is
poetic, begins in the middle, so that
novelty will be added. This novelty,
will of course spring from the disrup-
tion of the time sequence, a disruption
which attracts the interest through ad-
miration, one of the reactions which the
good writer should endeavour to pro-
duce. This kind of admiration means
more nearly, surprise a strangeness of
things which the inventive qualities of
the author can subtly create. In all this,
Balbuena is merely reinterpreting the
common-places of the poetic theories of
He begins his story, as he himself
tells us, not with Bernardo's birth, but
in the middle of things with war be-
tween France and Spain threatening, and
Bernardo, a grown young man ready to
begin his adventures. This is poetic
truth versus historical truth. History
would have had to record all the details
of Bernardo's life; poetry can begin with
him at a time when his life begins to
take on its poetic significance. Poetry
can select, choose, discard. History
cannot. The poet is a maker, a creator,
The historian merely records. Hence
the supreme contempt with which a Bal-
buena, and even more a Sidney, regards
the historian; and the historian's arro-
gant dismissal of the truth of poetry.
Unity of action, centred on the hero,
is demanded of the epic poem. Balbuena
points out that he has made the central
action, that action which leads to the
fight between the two heroes and their
two forces at the pass of Roncesvalles.
But this central action is a leisurely one,
in which Balbuena is able to branch off
into a complicated series of side-issues.
He accepts and defends the theory, that
poetry shouldinstruct and delight; to do
this, he tells us, he will relate the ancient
deeds of Spain, the histories of her noble
families; he will describe varied places,
mountains, fountains, rivers, castles, and
sumptuous palaces; in fact he will throw
in for good measure 'an almost universal
geography of the world' besides all this,
he will tell of the strange customs of
other peoples which are worthy of
He will weave episode after episode
together, breaking off each episode,
much in the manner of a modern soap-
opera,'at the moment ofgreatest danger,
and at the most exciting part of the
plot" as he puts it. At once he will hurl
the reader into another equally exciting
adventure, breaking off that one again,
and so on. With the effect that the
reader will be anxious to find out what
happened and so will keep on reading.
As for the more improbable adventures,
he says,the author will make sure that
they are related by characters in the
poem, rather than by the author him-
self. For, he argues, improbable stories
pass from mouth to mouth, and people
tell and retell them, believing them to be
true. It is this common belief in their
truth, Balbuena implies, that gives these
stories verisimilitude the likeness of
truth. Balbuena was, in effect, arguing
that the power of belief creates its own
But the poet must not only delight.
He must also teach. One can teach best
by arousing in the reader compassion
and sympathy for the distress of others.
Balbuena has made sure to move all
readers to pity by describing 'many
pitiful deaths, tragic events, destruction
of peoples, the rise and fall of Kingdoms
princes'. The plethora of Balbuena's
imagination had been rightly described
by one critic as being like the thick and
foliaged forests of the New World.
The summary of the action which
follows is therefore the merest outline: 1
The hero is born after a love affair
between the Count of Saldana and the
King's sister. The King imprisons the
Count, puts his sister in a convent. The
boy Bernardo had been singled out by
the fairies, who, in the system of marvels
used by the poet control, the affairs of
earth. Two fairies, Alcina and Morgana,
angered by the constant wars and out-
rages of Charlemagne, Roland and the
other French paladins, plan to over-
throw the might of France at the
moment when France thinks that she is
at the height of her glory. The boy
Bernardo is given into the care of
Orontes, a wise man and magician, to be
educated and reared. He is taught all
the knightly virtues and the craft of
war. The fairies have chosen him to be
the instrument of their vengeance. He
is to kill and destroy the powerful and
enchanted Orlando/Roland and defeat
the French at Roncesvalles.
But before he can do this he must
prove himself in a succession of adven-
tures. As an unknown young man he
saves his uncle King Alfonso from an
ambush; an invisible power guides him
to a boat, he embarks, the boat takes off
and meets with a ship; on the ship is the
King of Persia, and Angelica, a Princess
of Cathay; the Persian King dubs him a
knight; he fights the King to free Angel-
ica, wounds the king, helps to cure him.
Then he goes off on his destined quest
to find the arms of the famous Greek
On an island he sees a lovely woman
rising from the sea in a pearl chariot. On
shore, the chariot changes to a doe with
golden horns. Bernardo follows it into
a forest, comes to a cave, sees the ubiqui-
tous Angelica in the arms of a serpent
who flees into the cave. Bernardo
enters the cave, then comes to a mea-
dow and sees two giants. One has killed
the serpent, the other is dragging off
Angelica by her hair. Bernardo follows
them. One giant squares up to Bernardo
with a mace. Whenever Bernardo
wounds him, wasps, instead of blood,
come from the wound When he strikes
the wasps, they change to gold. Ber-
nardo cuts the giant in two. The lower
half sinks to the ground in the form of
blood, the upper half flies into the air.
Bernardo follows the other giant into a
flame, without singeing a hair. A spirit
conducts Bernardo to a boat which cuts
through dark water thick with serpents.
At daybreak he finds himself in bed in a
hall crusted with precious gems and
treasures. He comes upon two castles,
one of Youth and Beauty; the other of
Ugliness. Ugliness attacks Young Beauty
which defends itself with roses rather
like flower power. He seesAngelica at a
window of the Castle of Beauty and
tries to rescue her. Evil spirits attack
him, but he captures one, who in
exchange for her freedom, tells him how
to catch and bind Proteus the prophetic
sea-god with pearl chains and compel
him to tell him the future. Bernardo
goes into the cave and tries to grab
hold of Proteus who changes into many
shapes. But Bernardo holds him fast.
He gives up and tells Bernardo what he
wants to know who are his parents,
what is his ancestry, what victories he
will win in the future. One thing
Proteus also predicts is that Bernardo
will never gain the freedom of his father
and mother, whose fate he has learnt for
the first time. But our hero now knows
his past and something of his destiny.
Proteus disappears. Bernardo finds
himself clad in Achilles'armour entering
a garden, where he is welcomed by two
beautiful female forms who tell him
that the armour was reserved for him -
and that he is in Alcina's garden. After
this, in a series of adventures fighting
pirates at the sea, he joins forces with
the King of Persia to try and rescue
Angelica; goes to the aid of some hap-
less maidens who are taken to Crete as
human sacrifices; and meets and falls in
love with Arcangelica, the daughter of
Angelica and Mars, the god of War.
Arcangelica is dressed in a Knight's
armour and has come to rescue her
mother; she, too, falls in love with Ber-
nardo. They are parted, and he goes in
search of her. He is cast ashore on an
island, where on the banks of the river,
stands the Castle of Themis, the goddess
of law, wisdom, equity. He enters the
Castle and sees two women, one lasci-
vivious and sexy, the other most virtuous
and wise, the goddess Themis herself.
Men keep appearing out of a fountain;
the majority of them go to the sexy
lady, drink from a gold cup which she
holds in her hand and are changed to
beasts. A few, through good luck rather
than deliberate choice stumble across to
Themis, drink from the cup which she
holds; and are changed from beasts back
into men; Themis tells Bernardo that
her cup has all the intelligence of the
world; the other cup holds ignorance
and deceit. He follows the way of
Themis and is given light by her. He
now wears the armour of Achilles and
has wisdom from Themis. He leaves and
climbs to the top of Mount Parnassus,
after defeating the forces of ignorance.
There Apollo predicts that a poet, e.
Balbuena,will sing his fame.
GOLD IS BUT DUST, MAN, A
Illuminated with wisdom and the
pre-knowledge of his own fame he
returns to his true destiny Spain. At
the mouth of the Ebro River he meets
a dragon with a wide mouth, wide enough
to swallow him down. In the dragon's
stomach he has many adventures. He
meets a giant Moor, with whom, of
course, he fights. He wounds the giant
and draws blood, or at least what should
have been blood. Instead, out of the
giant's veins, comes not blood but
money. From each coin that falls there
springs an arm with a sword. A maiden,
quite at home in the dragon's stomach,
is seated close by, holding a magic
sword, the sword of Achilles, the one
piece of equipment that Bernardo had
not got before. The giant Moor grabs
the sword from her and wounds Ber-
nardo in the side. Bernardo fights back.
The giant dissolves into thin air. Ber-
nardo suddenly finds himself in a palace,
with a beautiful lady, Iberia. In the
palace there is a fountain, from which
each man gets that which he most
desires. Bernardo's choice is Fame. The
sword of Achilles wet with his own
blood is now his, it has been imperfect
until plunged in royal blood. All of the
adventures of Bernardo have lead up to
his securing this sword, and being pre-
pared to undergo the ordeals, make the
right choices respond to the challenges.
Iberia explains to him whose are the
great Spanish names and lineages that
are woven on the tapestries that hang on
the walls. Among the lineages there is a
description of the lineage of the family
of our poet, Balbuena.
Famous now, and armed with a
sword which can cut through all the
enchanted armour of Orlando/Roland,
the French paladin, Bernardo has his
first encounter with the French hero. In
the meanwhile, Orlando/Roland has been
having a series of adventures like Ber-
nardo, but without the same purposeful
sense of destiny with which Bernardo
had been doing his thing. One signifi-
cant adventure of Orlando's was his
entry into the Castle of Avarice. There,
all his companions, through their greed,
had been turned in a Midas episode, into
gold. They had disregarded the written
warnings on the walls as to the evil
power of avarice. Orlando stops, just in
time, and reflects on the folly of pursu-
ing filthy lucre. He tries to free his
companions but everything that he in-
serts into the room is at once turned to
gold. Only later on will another French
paladin learn through a Mexican magic-
ian how to disenchant his companions,
who are bewitched by their lust for
gold. Reinaldos will put the dead body
of the famousKingArthur of the Round
Table before them. Only the thought of
death can make men lose their love of
money, remember their virtue and
honour and make themselves remember
...... gold is but dust
Man, a lofty and celestrial treasure.
(Bk. XVIII, St. 182).
AT THE FEET OF THE GREAT
BERNARDO, HIS GALLANT BODY
In his first encounter with Orlando/
Roland, Bernardo unhorses the great
paladin who is dazed with the shock of
his defeat; but the duel ends inconclu-
sively. It is but a preview for the
encounter atRoncesvalles. In the mean-
while, Bernardo reaches the climax of
his adventure with his entry into the
enchanted castle of Carpio. He is told
that his missing love, Arcangelica, had
entered the Castle. Bernardo, declaring
that enchantments can be conquered by
a determined knight, enters the Castle
amidst flames, and the earth quaking.
He does not see Arcangelica, but is
attacked by a Bull whom he fights.
They fall into a pit of water. He loses
consciousness. He awakes to find him-
self embracing a beautiful woman, She
tells him that the magician Clemes from
Africa, of the Carpio family, was buried
here by Hercules; that he built this
palace and a magic mirror in which the
future could be seen.
Bernardo looks into the mirror and
sees that he is not destined to marry
Arcangelica, but the princess Crisalba
whose hand he won at a joust in Acaya,
but whom he had left to follow Arcan-
gelica, who had jousted evenly with him
dressed in knight's armour. Now destiny
lays it down that he is to forget Arcan-
gelica and marry Crisalba, suitably a
Christian. From this union will spring a
succession of famous Spanish families,
chief among them the Castro family who
would be Counts of Lemos. Having
accepted his destiny, Bernardo sees all
the music and the flames and the appara-
tus disappear. He is now left the owner
of the unenchanted and very real Castle
of Carpio. In the castle he finds
Orontes his old wise teacher, together
with three hundred armed knights. With
these he leaves for Leon to ask the King's
pardon for his father who has been
imprisoned all his life. He joins the
King who is going to meet the attacking
French army at the pass in the Pyrenees
mountains Roncesvalles. The battle is
fought after many omens have predicted
the French defeat. In true epic manner
valour is shown on both sides. Ber-
nardo and Orlando/Roland meet in a
truly prodigious battle. Bernardo, help-
ed by destiny, wins and the poem ends:
Roland fell dead, but alive remained
The fame of his eternal name, his soul
Snatched away, flew swift to its sphere,
And at the feet of the great Bernardo
His gallant body lay.
THE VARIETY OF THE EPISODES,
AN IMITATION OF ARIOSTO:
Having given what purports to be the
outline of THE BERNARD, it is only fair
to say that this outline is a straight line
cut through a morass of other happenings
and a profusion of other characters who
all have their own adventures and do their
own thing. We have had to leave out, for
clarity's sake, the various adventures of
Orlando/Roland; of Ferragut, the Spanish
Moor, who having been told of the Fame
of Bernardo and the glory that he will
acquire, burns to emulate him; and gets
entangled with the seductive enchantress
Arleta, who, once embraced, becomes an
old hag. Also omitted are the adventures
of the noble Goths, Teudonio and Gunde-
maro, of Morgante King of Corsica, of the
tricky Garilo, the conferences of the
French King at Court, the innumerable
tales that characters tell, the saintly
miracles,and the conversion of Moors to
Christianity that occur; the discovery of
the eighth century King Rodrigo of Spain,
still doing penance one hundred years
after, for having lost Spain to the Arabs
through his seduction of a young girl; the
story of Estordian who turns into a silk-
worm, and of his love weeping for him,
who turns into a fountain; the battles, the
duels, the clashes, the enchantments of
magicians like Malgesi, the French en-
chanter, of the Dutch Arnold of Espurg,
with the magic ring of Angelica with
which he turns the thief Garilo into a cat;
the Tlaxcalan magician of Mexico who
conjures down out of the air the flying
boat of Malgesi in which the latter and
two companions, the King of Persia,
Orimandro and Reinaldos, a French pala-
din have taken a trip to the Moon and are
now viewing, the as-yet-undiscovered New
World; the Tlaxcalan's prediction of the
events of the New World, in which Jamaica
as the future Abbotship of the prophesied
poet Balbuena of THE BERNARD
come into its epic destiny. All these
episodes and personages flash in and out
of the complex serial story that would
have staggered Walt Disney's imagination;
all woven around the central conflict of
the French-Spanish national clash through
the fight of their two chivalric heroes.
The ecclesiastical censor Mira de Ames-
cua, points out that, Balbuena had prac-
tised the theory of imitation of good
models by imitating from the Italian
Ludovico Ariosto 2 the variety of the
happenings and the episodes Whilst
Balbuena does not mention Ariosto's
name in his Prologue he does mention an
earlier Italian writer, Boiardo3. These
two Italians perfected the type of epic
poem that came to be known as the
romanesque epic, a hybrid of the epics of
Homer and Vergil and of romantic chival-
resque tales. This type of epic began in
Italy with Pulci 4, and reached perfection
with Boiardo, Ariosto, and Torquato
Tasso 5, during the Renaissance. But the
romantic tales had sprung up before that.
with the fusion of the Carolingian sagas
about Roland; and the Breton cycle of
stories of Celtic origin, which was adopted
into French literature in the XII XIII
centuries. The Breton cycle brought in
the elements of magic, the mysterious and
fantastic unknown world filled with the
terror of the Celtic imagination, the en-
chanted forests, and wilderness-soledades;
the encounters with incredible monsters,
the description of wierd castles and sump-
tuous palaces that appear and disappear.
The greatest of all magic was the magic of
love. The Breton cycle, the Arthuriads,
had been elaborated for the increasingly
luxurious feudal courts of France, for the
refined tastes of the ladies and their
knights, where the chivalresque ideal of
Courtly love, of the perfect gentle knight
submissive to his lady, and suffering the
torments of unrequited love, would begin
that obsession with 'romantic' love that
was to haunt the European imagination
for centuries. It is only in our day that
this fevered concept of love has begun to
give way before the advances of technol-
ogy; and the elimination of all magic,
including that of love. But at the time it
constituted a revolution in sentiment.
When the Italian Boiardo borrowed the
theme of Orlando/Roland in his 'Orlando
Innamorato', the fusion of the fighting
epic with the love and other magical
elements of the Breton cycle plus the
reflective ironic attitude of humanist-
classical learning, entirely changed the
original concept of the warrior knight
devoted to fighting the Christian cause
against the Moors. The title itself 'Orlando
In Love'- is suggestive of the change. The
superman-warrior finds himself helpless
with love for Angelica, a pagan princess of
Cathay who leads him a merry dance.
Orlando/Roland is brought to the state of
losing all for love even his mind,, It is
this aspect that the greatest writer on this
theme, Ariosto, takes up as he continues
and develops the theme and story in his
'Orlando Furioso'. Whilst all the paladins
fight over Angelica and perform incredible
deeds for her sake, she falls in love with a
wounded and handsome Moorish foot
soldier, Medoro, andgoes; off with him to
Cathay. Orlando goes mad with love.
The Italians are playful, humourous,
light of touch. From them Balbuena bor-
rows their variety and complexity of inci-
dents; their sheer story-telling art. From
them too, he borrows the apparatus of
gods and semi-goddesses, and fairies who
can control events, in the manner of the
old epics. And, Balbuena tells us, he does
this because he does not want to use the
'heroic majesty . of the Christian reli-
gion' to provide the supernatural machin-
ery that the poem demands. For there is
a seriousness of purpose in Balbuena that
is lacking in Boiardo and Ariosto. This
seriousness of purpose, Balbuena shares
with the majority of the Spanish epic
writers; and with the Italian Torquato
Tasso who wrote the epic poem of the
Christian crusade to capture Jerusalem.
AND IN THE TRUTH OF THE ACTION,
In his approval of the poem, Mira De
Amescua praises 'the truth of the action
and the weaving of the story'. This, he
says, is an excellent imitation of Tasso. As
we have pointed out before, to imitate
great models was the mark of a good
writer; above all of a serious writer who
took his craft seriously. Yet, what, we
might well ask, does Mira de Amescua
mean by the 'truth of the action'? From
the barest summary of the adventures of
Bernardo and the others, it would be
quite impossible for us to accept 'the
truth of the action' in our twentieth cen-
tury version of reality. The 'truth' that
the censor refers to here is another kind of
truth poetic truth, universal truth. It is
the validity of this truth which Balbuena
discusses in his Prologue; and which Sid-
ney does far more trenchantly in his
'Defence of Poetry'.
Balbuena, like all other literary theor-
ists of his day, bases his arguments mainly
on the poetics of Aristotle at least, on
that part which serves his purpose. Aris-
totle, Balbuena says, advised that epic
subjects should have some slight historical
basis 'a spark of truth' from which the
poet could create delight and veri simili-
tude. He had, therefore, chosen the theme
of Bernardo del Carpio because, even in
the chronicles of historians there were
only brief accounts of him; the poet
would not therefore be hampered by too
many historical details.
In the sixteenth and early seventeenth
century there were two 'schools' of epic
writing in Spain. There were the 'histori-
cal'and the 'fantastical' 6. The historical'
writers, who came,by and large,earlier in
time, when the Spanish Empire was in a
process of rapid expansion, defended the
historical truth of their epics. Balbuena,
coming at the end of the epic vogue at a
time when Spain was now on the defen-
sive, defends the 'fantastical' type of epic
writing. He attacks those poets who had
boasted that their poems were true his-
tories. This could not be so he argued,
because as Aristotle said, poetry must be
the imitation of an action and not the
He uses this same argument to answer
Spanish historians, who with the rise of
rational enquiry in the seventeenth cen-
tury, had begun to dismiss the story of
Roland and of Bernardo del Carpio as
fables and myths. Even if they were not
true he says, even if the 'common tradi-
tion' which handed them down 'from
memory to memory until our own days'
should prove to be doubtful, it would still
not affect the poetic truth of his poem,
For poets are supposed to deal with
events not as they happened, but as they
might have happened, as they oughtto have
happened. Poets he implies, must be con-
cerned with the moral truth of their poems.
Sidney, using the same line of argument,
points out that historians cannot deal
with moral truth because, since they are
'"captivated to the truth of a foolish
world", and since the facts show that the
majority of times evil men have succeeded,
and good men have failed, then their
recording of these facts can lead to im-
moral action on the part of their readers
History can deter men from "well-doing",
and encourage them 'to unbridled wicked-
The poet, however, because he is free,
'having all from Dante's heaven, to hell
under his pen' can create and recreate
events, to exalt virtue and to punish vice
to make the hero more heroic, the villain
more villanous. With a tale which holdeth
children from play and old men from the
chimney comer' the poet can instruct
men 'in moral doctrine, the chief of all
knowledge ; and in the kind of moral
doctrine that leads to moral action. The
poet does not like the historian deal with
particular events such as, for example
'Alexander and Darius when they strave,
who should be cock of this world's dung-
hill' The poet, instead, deals, as Aristotle
says, with the 'universal consideration and
history with the particular' Poetry is
therefore more philosophical and serious
than history. As Aristotle pointed out,
the particular only marks what this king
did or said, or suffered. The universal
deals with moral values rather than prag-
matic realities. It weighs what 's fit to be
said or done, either in likelihood or neces-
sity' The truth of its action must there-
fore defend on the truth of its moral
It is this kind of truth that Mira de
Amescua is talking about. When he com-
pares Balbuena to Tasso, he is aware that
both writers placed at the end of each
Book of their poem, allegorical keys,
which would give the underlying moral
purposes even to those adventures that
might seem merely entertainments to pass
the time. Balbuena does not express his
ideas as clearly and as vigorously as Sidney.
In fact Sidney expressed what Balbuena
tries to say in his prologue far better than
Balbuena does. But he states clearly that
his poem set out, not only to
". . give pleasure, to move the soul
and the passions but also to instruct the
reader in moral virtue through the con-
cealed morality and allegory "
which lies in the poem.
His characters too, he tells us, are de-
signed to represent exemplars of virtuous
or evil actions. In the person of Bernardo,
an epic prince, we are to see the model of a
generous man, invincible by evil powers,
full of heroic virtues; in Angelica.we see a
rather loose-living lady, whom age is begin-
ning to wither; in King Alfonso a prudent
and Catholic King, and so on. He con-
cludes, with a moral drawn from the
theme of 'vanity'of vanities, all is vanity',
that the 'main action shows how little men
can trust and believe in the fickle favours
of Fortune: Time changes all things.
Nothing is certain. The soul, he implies,
must look to its eternal salvation, and not
trust in the apparent favours of our tem-
UNDER THE SWEETNESS OF THE
FABLE, THE DOCTRINE:
As many critics have pointed out, the
allegory of Balbuena is not entirely consis-
tent as far as some of the episodes are con-
cerned. In the basic outlines, however,
the allegorical conflict is clear. And cer-
tain episodes only take on significance
when one reads the key which accom-
panies them. Twentieth century man
does not possess an allegorical turn of
mind. He inherited this loss from the
'rationality'which began in the seventeenth
century, and which has become over-
whelming in our technological age. Facts
are facts. Pragmatism is the answer. One
does not look for hidden meanings. But
increasingly as the rational factual world
around us becomes more and more intol-
erable, the more difficult it is for us to
accept an insane world as a fact, so too
there has been the movement in art and
literature away from the mere reproduc-
tion of a so-called reality. The alienation
effect which the dramatist Brecht called
for in drama; 8 that effect which would
destroy the viewer's identification with
the characters on stage, in order to make
him develop the habit of critical thought
about what happens on stage, and in life,
the habit of refusing to accept that things-
must-be-as-they-are; in 6rder to lead to
the recognition that both on stage and in
real life, things can be arranged differently
to his non-acceptance of the passive con-
sumer attitude, to his critical involvement
as a participant towards change, and
change in favour of a better arrangement
of reality brings into focus the purpose
of allegory in Balbuena's day. Whilst Bal-
buena as his readers, accepted Catholic
Christian moral values as the revealed
truth, he yet sensed that the world that
was engulfing them increasingly denied
these truths. To write a heroic poem when
Balbuena did about a hero who, in adven-
ture after adventure, in allegory after alle-
gory, chooses Fame, the religious ethic and
the old heroic virtues, instead of gold,
money and the new and dominant values
of the economic ethic, was to approximate
to what the most contemporary writer on
the role of art and literature has described
as 'The Great Refusal' which art can make
to the existing reality.
". art contains the rationality of
negation. In its advanced position it is
'the Great Refusal' the protest against
that which is. The modes in which man and
things are made to appear, to sing and
sound and speak, are modes of refuting,
breaking and recreating their factual exis-
Balbuena was hankering in his poem,
and in his allegory, after an idealized past
that had had its own cruelties and brutal-
ities. As Marcuse says, this idealistic main-
ly feudal-aristocratic art was a privilege
and an illusion, a product and possession
of the leisured classes. But as Unamuno
pointed out 10the man who hankers after
an ideal even an ideal that might seem to
belong to the past, helps to propel reality
into the future. The true reactionary is
the man who remains content with the
present and the facts as they are. Sidney,
in a new context, in his attack on histor-
ians as men 'captive to the truth of a
foolish world'is startling in his urgent con-
temporaneity. And so, more haltingly
perhaps, is Balbuena. The truth of an
action lies not in the truth of its facts, but
in the truth of how men choose to arrange
them. The choice, and the arrangement, is
in any society, at any time, a moral and an
ethical one. Moral choices are implicit in
the arrangement of facts. The poet or
artist must continually make this choice in
the arrangement of his fiction. And the
moral choice that they make, and present
in their work, is a constant criticism of the
society that refuses to do the same in the
arrangement of the quality of its life. That
is why art has moved back to abstraction;
and literature must grope towards a new
kind of allegory now that language itself is
being emptied of content by the pervasive
dominance of the pragmatic and unrelated
facts. The contemporary refusal to arrange
and interpret facts, is itself an acceptance
of moral chaos.
AND ITS ALLEGORY LEAVE HIM
INSTRUCTED IN VIRTUE:
In Bernardo's quest, we note that time
after time, he comes upon a situation in
which he must make a choice. Many of the
choices are subtle he can choose not to
act in many of his situations, since there is
nothing that compels him to. When the
pearl chariot carrying the beautiful lady
rises out of the sea, and changes into a doe
with golden horns and plunges into the
enchanted forest, he can choose not to
follow it. Yet this leads him to the armour
of Achilles. His most constant temptation
then is to be passive, to let adventures pass
him by. But he never hesitates in this
choice. The more difficult and strange and
frightening the ordeal, the more rapidly he
embraces it. In the end he goes through
the flames and the quakings into the Castle
of Carpio, in pursuit of his lost love Arcan-
gelica. Yet when he gets in, he never finds
her. In fact, he is told that he is destined
to lose her and to marry someone else
instead. He accepts his destiny. But when
we read the key to the allegory we see that
this is more than a passive acceptance of
In the Allegory, Arcangelica; daughter
of Mars and Angelica, represents the spirit
of revenge, or vengeance. Beautiful as she
is, and courageous, Bernardo falls in love
with her. Yet as the spirit of Vengeance,
she would have impelled him to seek re-
venge on his King for having imprisoned
his father and his mother and to force the
King to release them. In fact, he would
have remained the ideal hero of the old
feudal nobility, who kept the country in a
state of anarchy from the viewpoint of
a Balbuena by asserting their rights.
Most of the popular ballads stress this
aspect of Bernardo. In the epic poem
instead, he enters the Castle of Carpio and
wrestles with the Bull, which seems to
represent the passion which he feels for
Arcangelica. In this wrestling with himself,
no one wins. He falls with the Bull into
water. Then wakes up to find himself in
the arms of the beautiful girl who shows
him his true destiny in a magic mirror.
Even here he could have made the choice
whether to accept; or to go once more in
search of Arcangelica. Instead, he chooses
to marry Crisalba, a Christian princess,
giving up the pagan Arcangelica and the
old thought of vengeance. This acceptance
leads him to his new destiny With his
armed knights, he rides, not to seek revenge,
but to ask pardon of the King, for his
parents. But even this recedes into the
background. With Spain threatened he
puts his personal interests aside and rides
to defend her at Roncesvalles.
It's a bit hard on his father and mother,
But the point that Balbuena is making is
that within the values of the monarchical
system, the national interests must come
before the private interests the good of
the whole must come first. Like Aeneas
who sacrificed Dido to the destinies of
Rome, so Bernardo forgets his parents in
the interests of his country. That this has
not been easy is shown by the real love
which he feels for Arcangelica. But the
theologian in Balbuena insists that the
spirit of vengeance is pagan and non-
Christian. Whatever its other virtues it
remains a dangerous temptation iri the con-
text of a national-Christian destiny. The
point of the allegory is that the reader,
sees not only the surface romance of the
story, but, in figuring out the moral strug-
gle that Bernardo must undergo,exercises
his own sense of right and wrong, of moral
choice. We must remember that Balbuena
still wrote at an age, and in a culture and
religion, where men watched the state of
their souls, with as much anxiety as they
now watch their spreading waistline
or their receding hair. Exercises were de-
signed for the soul then, in much the same
way that exercises keep the body beautiful
and trim and fit today. Men, then, read
win virtue and influence their salvation as
now they read how to win friends and in-
fluence people.At the end of his first Book,
Balbuena states that the ultimate purpose
of his work is in the teaching of morality
and good habits; and that the Allegory
which does the teaching is not an accessory
to his story, but its principal intention. He
has not given all the keys to his Allegory,
but anyone who reads with attention can
figure it out for himself. Because there is
no part of his Book where one cannot dis-
"under the sweetness of its veil of
fable, the doctrine and teaching necessary
THE CONTEMPLATIVE SOUL WITH ITS
The flight of the magician Malgesi, to
the New World is peculiar to Balbuena,
even though the side trip that they take to
the Moon, is imitated from Ariosto's
'Orlando Furioso' In Ariosto's poem,
one paladin goes to the Moon to recover
there the lost senses of his friend Orlando.
He finds it in a flask and carries it back
and restores Orlando to sanity. The trip
to the Moon, and to the New World has a
different purpose for Balbuena. As he
explains in his allegory, Malgesi the French
magician represents 'the contemplative
soul, when with its three powers, Under-
standing, Memory and Will, it raises itself
to the contemplation of higher matters,
beginning with the weakness and little
substance of inferior things, and working
upwards' The King of Persia represents
Understanding. The French Paladin Rein-
aldos represents Memory, and Morgante,
King of Corsica represents the Will. We
find each of these three, at times involved
in adventures that reflect little credit on
them. In the beginning, for example,
Malgesi is trapped by Orontes and figures
in an undignified episode. Balbuena
explains in the allegorical key, that when
the contemplative soul, leaves his
quietude for action, he suffers humiliation
and travail. When Orimandro, King of
Persia tries to force his love on Angelica,
we note that he is separated from the
others. This implies that Understanding,
or Will or Memory, or the contemplative
soul, whose powers these are, when not in
relation one to the other, are vulnerable to
different temptations. In the flying boat,
harmoniously functioning together they
are able to conquer Nature, to reach the
Moon; and yet to do so without arrogance.
Once there they are filled with humility.
Their own skill seems insignificant com-
pared to the grandeur of God who created
such a magnificent Universe.
In one of those occasional startlingly
beautiful lines of his, Balbuena describes
the stars as the flying boat draws close.
They are not now stars but numberless,
"Islands of gold sown by the wind
Islas de oro sembrados por el viento
Balbuena has them flying so high that
the earth hangs low beneath them. The
Moon appears to them as 'hollow moun-
tains filled with light'. There are silvered
cliffs and lakes on whose shore the sha-
dows of cold night live. A sleeping giant is
guarded by a beautiful lady who strings
pearls together, and whose white face, men
call the Moon; and who holds in her hands
the reins of the sea. From the Moon they
look back, on the globe of the earth, sur-
rounded by the sea. Technology today has
made Balbuena's fiction come true. And
part of the allegory of Balbuena still
remains valid Contemplation, Under-
standing, Memory and Will have played
their parts in putting men on the Moon.
But so too, has that massive accumulation
of gold, which time after time, in allegory
after allegory, Balbuena was to warn
When the three travellers come to the
New World, however, Balbuena, sees the
New World as paying its tribute in gold
and silver to Spain which will bring her in
turn, the religion of Christ and the Catho-
lic Church. The New World becomes for
him an allegory of the contemplative life.
The great flight of Malgesi and his com-
panions, he explains,, is an ascent of the
soul from the contemplation of earthly
things to that of heavenly things; and this
contemplation brings to the soul,
"the great happiness of the New World
which is the great blessedness promised to
man, as the Indies have been promised to
the Monarchy of Spain "
For Balbuena, the destiny of Spain in the
New World will be nothing less than the
revelation of the Kingdom of God in his-
tory. And his hero Bernardo, through the
choices that he makeswill help to create
the kind of Spain that will fulfil this des-
tiny as he fulfilled his. Spaniards, like the
Jews, had once been, were now the Chosen
People. This was not, of course, how
things were to turn out. The destiny of the
New World, would be, and still is, to ne-
gate the very concept of a chosen people,
a chosen race, a chosen faith, to negate,
with agony and technology, the very con-
cept of destiny, the inevitability of fate.
BOTH OF ONE NAME AND ONE
The most persistent allegory has to do,
as far as Bernardo is concerned, with his
desire for Fame. In the Castle of Themis
he chooses intelligence rather than self-
deception. When he leaves, he is therefore
able to climb up to Mount Parnassus,
defeating the squadrons of the ignorant
who would hold him back. He reaches the
top of the mountain, and there, in a
palace, Apollo explains the carvings and
tapestries that immortalize Spanish feats.
This allegory, Balbuena explains, shows
the difficulty man has both to acquire
virtue and human knowledge. The vast
squadrons of ignorance keep back the pil-
grim soul. But the heroic and famous
prize of virtue is that one arrives, like Ber-
nardo, at the Temple of Immortality.
There he sees his own tomb, and his fame
is predicted. His great deeds will once
again be sung after eight hundred years
of oblivion, and his heroic name will once
more astonish the world as the deeds
wrought by his sword now astonish it.
From a branch of laurel, a pen will spring
a poet i.e. Balbuena who will record
the full compendium of his deeds. Then,
what the Fates have already destined for
him will be resung, resurrected, taken from
oblivion, and both he and the poet who
sings his deeds, will become famous:
You shall be the first and he the second
Both of one name, of one obsession-Fame
You with your sword will perform wond-
He with his humble pen, will sing of them:
Balbuena's Fame is involved with that of
We have mentioned before the fact that
Balbuena's choice of hero served a very
personal purpose. Balbuena, like his hero,
was of illegitimate birth. The emphasis on
lineage and nobility of birth was so power-
ful in the Golden Age of Spain, that writ-
ers like Lope De Vega, genius though he
was, could not altogether come to terms
with the fact that he was the son of a
humble Craftsman. Lope's full name was
Lope de Vega Carpio. With that imagina-
tion, which he displayed in his writing, he
set out to autocreate himself. He wrote
several plays on the theme of Bernardo del
Carpio, in which Bernardo wins fame and
castles by his deeds. Lope's Bernardo wins
these castles from the Moors and hands
them over to the King, When the King
offers to reward him, he asks for the right
to put on his shield the heraldic device
of the 19 castles that he had won.
Lope then proceeded to have, in real
life, the reward that his dramatic creation
Bernardo had asked for. On the publica-
tion of one of his books a pastoral
novel he had these 19 towers, the heral-
dic device, printed on the title page.l11
This lead to an outburst of mockery and
derision on the part of his fellow writers
and in particular to a satirical poem written
by Lope's rival nnet, the well-born and
famous Gongora.12 The nineteen towers
that Lope had inscribed and their arrange-
ment on his shield, was unknown in heral-
But Lope in spite of being laughed at
kept his shield with his nineteen towers.
His genius he felt, was enough topreateits
own aristocracy; its own law of heraldry.
As he said in a play:
No man should boast
Of his noble birth
Only he who, of a humble father
With valour for his mother
Engendered himself anew. 13
Balbuena believed like Lope. It is more
than probable that the heraldic device
which first appeared on the title-page
of his Grandeur of Mexico was as frauda-
lent as was Lope's. And the noble lineage
which he traces for the Balbuena' family
at the end of Book XIX, although not in-
vestigated by his biographers, seems to
belong to one of those fabricated lineages
so common in the Spain of the time. On
one side, Balbuena in his poem seems to
claim descent from Charles Martel of
France,14 one of his ancestors therefore
having on his shield the 'bars of Aragon
and the lilies of France' (Bk. XIXI St.)
The castle and the Lion on the shield which
Balbuena used, usually represent two states
of Spain Castille and Leon. They may
also refer to Bernardo del Carpio, who was
supposed to be from Leon: and who won
castles. All in all, Balbuena's heraldic shield
and lineage are most probably part of an
auto-creation a la Lope.
But to achieve Fame as a poet, would
justify all this. The obsession with Fame,
both for his hero and himself is constant.
In Book Two he describes the Castle of
Fame, and shows how difficult it is for
the dead-in-spirit to enter. He prays that
the heroic flight of his humble pen will
put him high above the unstable wheel of
Fortune so that Time, with its voracious
moths, will not consume his name. And
when writing his poem, his spirit falters, a
goddess appears to him in a chariot, and
takes him on her flight through the skies.
She prays to Heaven to give him strength
as a reward for his having hungered for
knowledge of the Truth, in a world which
is the stage and theatre of the ignorant
who set themselves up as the Muses and
Apollos of earth; a world where Avarice
tempts most men to give up for gain 'the
sovereign majesty of man'. Everyone
drinks in this world of the cup of decep-
tion, and virtue is mocked. But he, al-
though his strength sometimes falters has
tried to follow virtue, and striven to write
a poem which will give him trophies of im-
mortality. To help him with his poem,
she shows him all the marvels of the earth.
But it is at the beginning of the Book
XX that we get one of the most intimate
and moving pictures of his yearning for
perfection in poetry, for Fame. He gives a
stylized picture of himself writing beside a
river under a tree. As he writes an eagle
swoops down, takes the paper in his claws,
and flies off. He follows it with his eyes.
The thought strikes him with anguish.
Does this mean that all the work that he
has put into his epic poem all these years,
will be swept away by the swift and cruel
harpy of Time in an hour's span? Will the
eagle take his poem from people to people?
Or will he lose it, dropping it from his
claws? Only Time will solve the enigma.
In the meanwhile he will write on with
faith. After all, if the bird took the paper,
it left his pen. The eagle is the King of
birds and this means that his Fame will
outlast Time, and will be spread from
nation to nation. Fame has been his
guide, his goal. He has tried for the best.
He will put away servile fear and once
more return to his task. It is not only his
name, but Spain's that he celebrates. Fame
is his spur.
GOLD IS POOR TO HIM WHO SEEKS
AN IMMORTAL NAME:
The Midas allegory is central to the
Poem. Orlando's companions are trapped
in the Castle of Avarice, and turned into
Gold. Malgesi and his three companions,
are pulled dawn in their flying boat
because of the power of the appetite for
the buried wealth of the earth which the
Mexican magician arouses in them. In the
allegory to Book XIX, Balbuena speaks of
the 'power of money, and how at times it
can buy favours and armed might, which
makes it able to buy the justice that it
could not get in any other way.' In Ber-
nardo, the poet celebrates the man who
time after time turns his back on gold and
seeks an immortal name. In Book XIX
when Bernardo wounds the giant, and
money pours from the gaping wound Bal-
buena writes that any other man would
have been tempted to leave off fighting
and gather the flow of gold coins.
But he, who only honour nobly in-
Wealth cannot disturb his mind;
For the man who seeks an immortal
Gold is a poor metal to substitute for
(Book XIX, St)
Fame conquers all in the ideal world of
THE BERNARD. Gold is rejected with
disdain. But in the real world of Jamaica
Fame was irrelevant. In the real world of
Jamaica, it must have seemed to Balbuena
that the eagle who had taken away his
paper, was reminding him that his Pro-
logue and his poem belonged to the scrap
heap of the past. A new world was in the
making where the only Fame that a man
would care for, would be the Fame of his
possessions the amount of gold coins in
his chest, his acres of land, his sugar mill,
the number of his slaves. After sending off
his Prologue to Spain Balbuena turned to
the harsh reality of Villa de la Vega once
The purport of idealism, viz, the reali-
zation of the Idea, dissipates. The
history of idealism is also the history of
its coming to terms with the establish-
The Puerto Rican Chronicler, Diego de
Torres Vargas, in his account of the island
and city of Puerto Rico, published in
1647, said about our Abbot:
"To the aforesaid Don Pedro de Solier,
succeeded Doctor Bernardo de Balbuena,
native of Valdepenas in La Mancha, Abbot
of Jamaica from whence he came wealthy.
How true was this last statement? Did
Balbuena, like quite a few others, use the
years spent in our island to enrich himself?
Or did he perhaps come into some inheri-
tance from his family in Mexico? There is
no clear evidence one way or the other. In
the application that Balbuena sent in 1611-
1612 asking either for a new post, or for a
guaranteed sum to help out with his salary,
he claimed that he arrived in Jamaica flat
broke. We may have dismissed this as the
kind of judicious exaggeration used in an
age when salaries were paid, and expenses
refunded so irregularly, that the harassed
official had to point up the urgency of his
claim. But we do know that whilst in
Madrid he had had to borrow money. And
that, later on, from Puerto Rico he sent
quite a substantial sum to Lope de Vega,
his friend, the poet. From there too, he
offered to begin paying back the loan he
had received from his cousin. It is true
that his salary there was far better than
that in Jamaica. Appointed to the Bishop-
ric in August 1619, he did not arrive until
the beginning of 1623, but in the mean-
while, he had applied from Jamaica asking
that he be given one half of the income
from his Bishopric during the time that
the post was vacant. This, a common
petition, in those days, was granted.
But Balbuena himself tells us that this
money was not much. Even less was the
amount he earned officially in Jamaica.
From his application for another post, we
know that the privilege of collecting the
tithes was farmed out to the highest bid-
der each year. But only the fourth part of
this amount was paid to the Bishop, or,
one assumes, to the Great Abbot. Two
ninths was retained for the King. All the
rest was assigned to the Cathedral Chapter
to the priests of the episcopate, and the
hospitals etc. of the diocese. In his appli-
cation, Balbuena listed the income to the
Jamaican Abbacy that had accrued since
Villalobos' death in August 1606. Between
then and the end of 1609, the income
accrued had been roughly some 1045
silver pesos. That is, for three and a half
years. The amount yearly then was not
much more than the 400 pesos that Bal-
buena had had to pay for his voyage from
Santo Domingo to Jamaica. Of course,
apart from the tithes, he would be paid for
the saying of masses and other such func-
tions. Yet would this have been enough to
send him away 'wealthy from Jamaica'?
Life and food was cheap. In his letter
(1611) to the King, Balbuena wrote:
"All the products of the country are
cheap, so that while a silver real is worth
thirteen quartos, 15 they give for one quarto
four pounds of beef at the butcher "
Bread also, made from cassava, was dirt
cheap. Also although Balbuena may have
lacked immediate capital when he arrived,
he took with him goods amounting to
1000 ducats, jewels to the amount of 500
ducats and books to the amount of 200.
Amongst the goods were three Negro
slaves. He took w-th him also, as we-have
noted 'several servants from Spain, some
of whom may have been his relatives from
Valdepenas. Did he and they use the
slaves to go into the cattle business? Did
they export products including dye woods?
His indefatigable biographer, Van Home,
found amongst the Archives of the Indies
two business entries which refer to Bal-
buena. One refers to,
"100 hides of cattle, bulls and cows,[
dry and in good condition, with the out-
side mark of fire on the head and of red
ochre on the sides."
These had been carried from Jamaica
in a ship theMagdalena, whose Captain was
a certain Martin Romero. Another entry
refers to a ship whose Captain was Sebas-
tian Lope and which arrived in Seville in
1614. His ship carried for Balbuena, 70
"salted, dried and in good condition
except one that was rotted on the loin,
with the mark outside of red ochre on the
Both entries were consigned to an
agent, Manuel del Rio of Seville. But it is
clearly stated in the documents that the
hides were part of the Abbot's portion of
the tithes. We already know of the scar-
city of money in Jamaica; and from other
documents we know that payment of
tithes was frequently made in products.
Later on in Puerto Rico, Balbuena, asked
to contribute funds to the Royal treasury,
contributed 100 arrobasT16 of white sugar.
Van Home thinks that these i.e. export
of hides 'may not have been the only
transactions in which Balbuena took part'
And, from the letter of Lope de Vega in
which he grants power of attorney to a
bookseller of Seville to collect from a mer-
chant of that city, Senor Don Pedro Rod-
riguez de Loayssa some 800 reales which
the Bishop of Puerto Rico -i.e. Balbuena-
had sent him, we know that this merchant
looked after the financial affairs of Bal-
buena. Lope de Vega concludes that the
Bishop had sent instructions to the mer-
chant 'who administers the financial affairs
of the said Lord Bishop 17. Did Balbuena
make a profit, over and above his income
out of his stay in Jamaica? Did the lust
for money, against which his hero struggles
so hard in THE BERNARD take hold of
Van Home points out that in his letters,
both as Abbot and as Bishop, we see the
'customary struggle'to get the income due
to him, and whatever increment that was
going. He was not unusual in this. The
great ideals were all very well, but a man
had to survive. And it was not wise in
Villa de la Vega to be at the mercy of one's
neighbours. In fact, in a world where all
were out to get as much as they could, one
was not respected for honesty or cheerful
poverty. In fact, as Van Home points out,
his neighbours would have thought him in-
capable and stupid. Altruism was not, and
is still not, admired. The 'ginal', the
sharp dealer, was the hero. Not Bernardo,
the ideal warrior, the Christian crusader.
Except for his epic poem, Balbuena was
not a crusader. The compromise that he
rejected in his poem, came to play an im-
portant part in the reality of his circum-
In his first letter to the King written
from Jamaica in 1611 he points out that
his 'income is meagre'. Later on, in his
application he made more explicit his de-
mand that as Abbot he should be included
amongst those Bishoprics where, if the post
did not carry an income of 500,000 mara-
vedis, then the rest was to be made up
from the Royal Treasury. This request
was never granted him in Jamaica, although
it was done in Puerto Rico. But even there.
Van Home tells us in spite of innumerable
requests from Balbuena to the King, and
from the King to the authorities in Puerto
Rico, the extra sum had still not been paid
by the time he died. And Balbuena died a
reasonably well-off man. How did this
come about? In July 1611 he had written
to the King pleading the greatest poverty,
pointing out that after the expenses of his
"I am in great need as I have no in-
come with which to pay and support
In the same letter, he had pointed out that
whilst other prelates had additional in-
come beside their salary, he had none.
Was this true? We know that Balbuena
had kept up his family connections with
Mexico; that indeed he arranged for a
nephew of his, one Juan de Balbuena, to
come to Jamaica, to Villa de la Vega, as a
priest and serve there for some time. Juan
de Balbuena seemed to have returned to
Mexico and gone from there to Spain.
After getting his doctorate, he returned to
Puerto Rico in 1623, where his uncle's
influence and recommendation got him
the post as Cathedral prebend in San Juan.
After Balbuena's death in 1627, the Dean
of the Cathedral stated that he had left
some 21,400 pesos 'which he had brought
as his patrimony i.e. as inherited money'.
Balbuena's father had died before he left
Mexico in 1604. Of his poverty while in
Madrid, there can be no doubt. Although,
whilst in Puerto Rico, he still wrote letter
after letter clamouring for increases to his
income in one he pointed out that his
income from the Bishopric was only 600
ducats, whilst the expenses of travel had
cost him 3000 ducats, although he argued
that he could not support himself on that,
we do not get quite the same tone of des-
peration that we got in his first letter from
There is no doubt about the fact that
he was comfortably off in Puerto Rico.
Torres Vargas tells us that he wanted to
found a Convent for Nuns in Viso in
Extremadura in Spain, from where the
Balbuena family came. He sent much
money and goods to this end to Spain.
But almost all the ships were lost perhaps
in a storm, perhaps captured by pirates or
enemy privateers. Balbuena, Torres Var-
gas then tells us, decided that God wished
him to spend the money in that part of
the world where he had earned it. So he
started to occupy himself with a project
that the Town Council had in mind that
of building a Convent for the many un-
married daughters of Spanish settlers, who,
without a dowry, could not find a husband.
The convent was built almost two decades
after his death, in 1646.
This all seems to lead to the conclu-
sion that either Balbuena lied about his
extreme poverty, having an income from
Mexico when he claimed to be broke; or
that, perhaps through judicious manage-
ment of his business affairs, perhaps, who
knows, through a little speculation here
and there, he managed to make a quite
considerable profit out of his stay in
Jamaica. With his prudence and tact, he
was able to get on with all factions in Villa
de la Vega. He even made a friend out of
Juan de Cueto, a Jamaican priest, who,
like Balbuena, had applied for the position
of Abbot. Cueto belonged to one of the
principal families. He had been applying
for the position as Abbot since 1598,
bringing his application up to date from
time to time. It would be expected then
that he would have resented Balbuena.
But Balbuena in applying for another posi-
tion in 1611-1612 allowed Cueto to in-
clude in this petition, a document setting
out his own claims to the Abbacy. It was
high time, he argued that a native should
be given the Abbacy, since this had in fact
been recommended by the Emperor Char-
les V (1st of Spain).
Once Balbuena was appointed Bishop
of Puerto Rico he recommended strongly
that Juan de Cueto should succeed him,
But this was not to be. The Marquis of
Jamaica insisted on appointing his own
protege Mateo de Medina18 as Abbot
But since Balbuena had no disgruntled
enemies, there does not appear to be any
letters of complaint against him, through
which we could have known whether or
not the wealth which went with him from
Jamaica had been acquired there and in
rather dubious methods that were custo-
mary; or whether it had in fact come to
him from his paternal estate in Mexico.
Certainly in real life, Balbuena came to
terms with the reality of the power of
money, and, as his letters show, was
tenacious in claiming as much as he could
get from the tithes of the faithful; and
from the royal Treasury.
Did the bureaucrat drive out the poet in
Balbuena? He wrote his Prologue in 1615.
He was appointed Bishop of Puerto Rico
in 1619. But for various reasons he did
not leave Jamaica until 1622. We know
that he got the information of his appoint-i
ment in the middle of 1620. In 1621 he
received a letter instructing him to attend
a Provincial Council called together both
by the Pope and the King, to be held in
Santo Domingo beginning in 1622. Apart
from the Prologue and the rewriting of a
stanza here or there, we have no evidence
to show that Balbuena wrote any poetry
in the eleven years of his stay in Jamaica.
We cannot be absolutely sure, as many of
Balbuena's papers and books were to be
destroyed in Puerto Rico. But from the
letters Balbuena wrote as Bishop from
Puerto Rico, Van Home points out that
we see only the routine acts of a function-
ary, the constant struggle to claim and
obtain pay and perquisites. All signs of
poetic 'inspiration which touched his
letter description of Jamaica with
vigour has disappeared.
Balbuena was a man pushing fifty when
he arrived in Villa de La Vega. If he
arrived flat broke in that society, a society
which then, as now, regarded a man's pos-
sessions as his only criterion of manhood
and honour, he must have determined at
that middle turning of his life that, to bor-
row an English king's later phrase, he
would not go poor on his travels again.
He tried for reform in Jamaica, but when
reform was blocked he came to terms
with the status quo. While he hoped for a
better position in Mexico, and for release
from the 'soledades' of Jamaica, he made
sure to survive in a reality in which his
epic hero Bernardo could not have lasted a
day. The wiles of Ulysses were more apt.
Fame was all very well. But Balbuena,
like Don Quixote and unlike Villalobos
who had died poor and wretched came
to accept the middle-aged fact that inns
are not enchanted castles; that innkeepers
are not magicians; that for the price of a
night's lodging, a life's keep, one had to
take not shield or lance, but sufficient
money in one's purse. Yet what one gains
on the swings, one loses on the rounda-
bouts. To come.to terms with survival in
the world of Villa de La Vega, and later in
San Juan, Balbuena had to turn his back
on the ideal world of poetry, had to learn
how to inhabit the world of prose. In his
Prologue he pointed out that his epic poem
had been written in his youth; a time when
the 'furor poeticus' banishes all else that
can exclude the divine creative breath;
wordly honours, gold, position, rank. But
middle-age tends to settle for less). Bal-
buena left Jamaica well supplied with cash,
but with nothing to show except an occa-
sional rewritten stanza, and of course, his
Prologue. So far as we knew, nothing new
of any merit, not one original line of verse,
that verse which, as he had written when
he was young was the simulacrum and
image of the Universe. Jamaica had indeed
been a 'soledades' where he had been as
one bewitched. He left it, but carried in
his spirit something of the desolation, of
that aridity of the soul which comes upon
those who give up verse for rank and gold;
poetry for prose. Even though he could
now proudly sign himself as he did after
his promotion, time and time again: Abbot
of Jamaica, Bishop-Elect of Puerto Rico.
THE HARDSHIPS OF SUCH A LONG
Puerto Rico may have been a more
civilised cultural reality for Balbuena, but
it was still a frontier outpost. And the
whole Caribbean was by now an outlaw
frontier territory where pirates and priva-
teers and all of Spain's enemies swooped
like vultures on a weakened prey. In order
to attend the Provincial Council in Santo
Domingo, Balbuena began the longtiring
and dangerous journey by sea and land.
He seems to have sailed first to Cuba, and
from there to Santo Domingo. He escaped
hurricanes and pirates and arrived safely.
But he must have had an anxious time at
sea. Whilst at Santo Domingo, at the
Council he would have sighted the 40
enemy ships, that at one time, threatened
to attack. After the Council, early in
1623, he sailed to Puerto Rico, travelling
overland to the capital and visiting areas
of his diocese. He was now over sixty
years old. He wrote to the King after his
arrival in San Juan that he would have to
postpone some of his duties,
"through lack of health caused by the
hardships of such a long route."
After he recovered, he took up his
duties, holding examinations for the clergy
planning a synod, recommending worthy
priests, including his nephew for posts,
writing a description of the island of Puerto
Rico; laying claim to the different dis-
tricts which should be included in his dio-
cese etc. All his actions are the actions of
a prudent bureacrat, actions which could
in no way disturb the established tenor of
island life. After his death, the Cabildo of
the Cathedral of San Juan was to speak of
'his wisdom, his peacefulness and prudence'
The compelling mediocrity of the island
societies reduced him to their level in the
end. Only three incidents were to break
the monotonous and placid surface of his
life in Puerto Rico the publication of his
poem, the attack by a Dutch privateer
force on San Juan; and Balbuena'sdeath-
bed scene which was to take place in cir-
cumstances that could have come straight
out of the most bizarre episode of his
HOW WELL YOU SANG OUR SPANISH
In 1624, at last, some 15 years after
Balbuena had first arranged to publish his
poem, THE BERNARD appeared in Mad-
rid. The royal license is dated 9th July,
1624. On the title page he is called Abbot
of Jamaica, but the document which fixes
the price and which is dated 28th Septem-
ber, 1624, refers to him as Bishop of
Puerto Rico. The poem appeared when
the vogue of the epic had passed. Spain
was now clearly on the defensive, the high
confidence of the sixteenth century was
passing away. We know that Lope de Vega
his friend, was to praise it. Cervantes
(1547-1616) in his 'Viaje delParaso'had
praised Balbuena's poetry in 'El Siglo de
Oro' But now he was long since dead.
Mira de Amescua priest, censor and play-
wright had in 1609 praised THE BERNARD
still in manuscript as unique. Nicho-
las Antonio, the seventeenth century(1617-
1684) Canon of Seville who compiled a
catalogue of Spanish writers from the
earliest times up until 1684 referred to
THE BERNARD with great praise, singl-
ing out perceptively Balbuena's descriptive
ability, his talent in presenting things with
vividness, the rich variety of his work, his
geographical and astronomical referencesl9
his style and use of language. But in spite
of this high praise, Balbuena's poem re-
mained forgotten-and ignored. Even Nich-
olas Antonio had lamented its sparse pop-
ularity. No new edition appeared until the
early nineteenth century. But the reason
and circumstance of this new edition
would dearly please our patriotic Abbot.
The second edition of THE BERNARD
appeared in 1808 when the Napoleonic
invasion of Spain had awakened the most
fervent national feelings in the majority of
Spaniards. The edition was prepared by
Manuel Jose Quintana, the fervently pat-
riotic Spanish poet, writer and critic. He
saw THE BERNARD as a poem which
could help stimulate and exalt the patriot-
ism of Spaniards in their struggle against
the newly arrogant France of Napoleon
Bonaparte. Bernardo del Carpio, and his
poet Balbuena fulfilled their destiny at last
providing a model of patriotism, to the
future by recalling the great deeds of the
past. Critical opinion since then has
praised the poem. Its excessive length, its
extravagance, its pedantry and complicated
plots and language are not enough to ob-
scure something new and strange spring-
ing not only from the baroque tension
between the ideal heroic world of the poet
and the increasingly materialist reality of
the new age, but from the tension between
the old world and the new, from the
amorphousness of a sea-change that creates
an at once monstrous and powerful atmos-
phere. As Mira de Amescua said, the poem
is unique. Its uniqueness defies analysis
precisely because it is a new potentiality
breaking out of old traditional forms.
There is something unfinished about THE
BERNARD, something like the vast Amer-
can Continent itself, still waiting to be
WHEN THE FIERCE REBEL ROBBED
Pirates had abounded in the world of
THE BERNARD. Now reality caught up
with the poet and Bishop. The Dutch pri-
vateer's, had helped to win Holland's
independence from Spain, and to lay the
foundations of the expansion of Dutch
commerce and the Dutch Empire, through
their pitiless sacking, burning and looting of
Spanish towns and Spanish islands. Just as
Villalobos had had to flee in his nightshirt
from an English 'gentle-man-adventurer'so
now it was Balbuena's turn to be threatened
by the depredations of a strong Dutch pri-
vateer force. In the latter part of 1625,
three years before the famous Piet Heyn
was to capture the Spanish treasure fleet
off Matanzas, in Cuba, a Dutch privateer
fleet of 17 ships lead by Bowdoin Hendrik20
in the Spanish documents, Balduino En-
ricoattacked the city of Puerto Rico. They
laid siege to the city of San Juan in Sep-
tember. The garrison left the city and
blockaded themselves in the Castle, El
Morro. The Dutch burnt part of the city21
whilst the Spaniards made sorties against
them. The Dutch looted and wrecked
part of the city, sacked and burnt the
Bishop's palace, looted his books and
papers. They entered the Cathedral and
took away the bell, an organ and the
greater part of its ornaments. They burnt
the images, the songbooks, the reredos,
and partly damaged the Cathedral. The
rebellious Protestant fury, the lust of ven-
geance, which Balbuena had allegorized in
tle beautiful Arcangelica, had transformed
itself into reality. And the reality held
terror for those who were its victims. The
allegory of his poem stormed into Bal-
buena's life. Unlike his hero, Balbuena
Reality was not chivalresque. Balbuena
was an old man, weak from illness and
nearly blind. Not even the armour of
Achilles could prevail against the gun and
its new and ruthless ideology. Balbuena,
and his Canons, in fact all the clergy, fled
to the country outside San Juan. Only a
Prior, of the order of the missionary
preachers, Antonio de Rosas, remained in
the city, whilst the soldiers defended the
garrison and together with some of the
citizens made armed sorties against the
Dutch. The citizens were later to write
that whilst the Bishop and all the others
fled the city and 'the soldiers were left
alone, fearing death' Antonio de Rosas
with the Cross of Christ in his hands went
about in the thick of the fire, from soldier
to soldier, confessing, praying, exhorting,
giving the last sacraments and burying the
dead. Those who lived, he encouraged to
fight on for the cause of their King and
their Faith and their God.
BUT YOUR GENIUS NO, THAT THEY
COULD NOT ROB:
The Dutch were finally forced to with-
draw. The next year 1626 they anchored
off Negril in Jamaica intending to attack.
But they contented themselves with cap-
turing a small vessel loaded with hides,
jerked pork and lard and sailed off without
attacking. In the meanwhile Balbuena had
returned to the desolate city of San Juan.
His books, among them, most likely several
copies of the princeps edition of THE
BERNARD, and all his papers had been
destroyed. Nor had he emerged with
credit from the confrontation with the
heretic. But the fighting he could not do
in reality, he could recreate on paper. He
took up his pen to praise the valorous
deeds of a certain Captain of Infantry,
Juan de Amezquita Quixano. In the thick
of the fight, Balbuena wrote, the Captain
fought magnificently against the Dutch.
Indeed one day, had the others gone to his
help and responded to his call and followed
his lead, he would have cut off the heads
of the enemy, and captured all their
trenches. He, therefore, recommended, the
Captain for promotion22. As we read his
letter we think of the tremendous blows of
Bernardo and Orlando, and the cuts and
thrusts of their magic swords which could
fell giants. So he erased the discordant
reality with the magic power of his pen.
And the magic pen of Lope de Vega was to
give Balbuena the last word. In his Laurel
de Apollo in which Lope lists the poets of
his time, he immortalizes Balbuena and his
frontier experience in these words.
Sweet may your memory remain
Oh generous prelate
Most learned Bernardo de Balbuena
Who held the pastoral staff
When the rebel Dutchman, fierce
Stormed Puerto Rico
Sacked your library
But your genius no, that he could not
Even with all oblivion at his command.
How well you sang our Spanish
How well portrayed our Golden Age!
WHICH IS LIFE, WHICH IS DEATH,
WHICH IS THE END.
But the Golden Age was drawing to its
close. Already, the sun was setting on the
brief splendour of Spanish imperial gran-
deur. THE BERNARD was a piece of
heroic defiance in the teeth of apprehen-
sions of mortality. Now the poet himself
was to breathe his last hour upon the
stage. His death-bed scene could have
served as a magnificent allegory of the
power of Codicia the greed for gain, the
lust for gold. Death was not unexpected.
In a letter of July 1626, written to the
King, he tells of his broken health which
prevents him from carrying out his duty
and visiting the more distant parts of his
diocese. He became ill the next year, and
on the last day of his life, Tuesday, 11th
October, 1627, was involved in an incred-
ible scene. Three days before his death,
Balbuena made his will. In this will he
left all that he had to the Church. On the
day of his death the Public Notary was
sent for to confirm his will and make it
official. The Governor of Puerto Rico -
Juan de Haro23 being informed of this,
took a group of officials and soldiers with
him and went to the Bishop's house. He
posted the soldiers around the house,
entered, and with his officials surrounded
the death-bed of Bernardo de Balbuena. He
ordered the Dean and the Church officials
out of the room, demanding to know what
they were doing there. A clash of words
ensued. The Notary was caught between
two stools. Balbuena handed his will to
him, and said that it was his last will and
testament. He wanted the Notary to wit-
ness it. He had destroyed the one he had
made six months earlier. This new one
should be made valid. But the Governor
glared at the Notary, and the Notary, inti-
midated, refrained from signing and vali-
dating the will.
At least, this is the version that the
Church was later to give. And it seems
that this version was closer to the truth. If
Balbuena were to die intestate his goods
would revert to the State Treasury. In the
rather free and easy atmosphere of the
times, the Governor and his officials would
have helped themselves to a share. If the
money were willed to the Church, then it
would be out of the Governor's reach. To
be fair, the Governor may have suspected
that a high Church dignitary or two, might
have helped themselves, too. But there
can be no doubt that the Governor was
using force to extort money for himself,
even though he later wrote to the King
that he had been trying to protect the
interests of the royal Treasury. As Church
and State wrangled over the dying Bishop's
bed, the news spread throughout San Juan.
The Bishop had already received the last
sacrament, and, his soul at peace, he may
have remembered, as he watched the alter-
cation, the powerful lines with which he
had explained the allegory of Book I of
his epic poem:
"lust of the flesh and the appetite for
riches are the two passions most yoked
together in the human heart; and even in
the wide course of the heavens the rich
man seeks to have dominion."
And so the Bishop died. But the
wrangle continued. The Dean wanted to
make an on-the-spot inventory of the
Bishop's possessions. The Governor refused
to allow this. The Notary later complained
that the Governor ordered him out of a
room where he was taking the inventory
of a large quantity of silver plate. The
Dean excommunicated the Governor. The
Governor arrested the Dean. Then he took
over the possessions of Balbuena, and
helped himself liberally. That is according
to the Dean. According to the Governor,
Balbuena had died intestate, and it had
been his duty to take over the dead man's
possessions and put them in the royal
deposit. He had posted guards about the
house to see that the Bishop's possessions
were not stolen. But who could guard the
The matter was put to litigation and
the Church won. Torres Vargas, tells us
that the Bishop of Puerto Rico was given a
splendid funeral and buried in the chapel
of the Cathedral of San Juan, a chapel
which was built and dedicated to the
Saint of his name; and who knows, to the
hero of his epic 'both with the same name
and the same obsession Fame' From
his will he had left money to pay for the
oil to keep a lamp burning in the chapel
and for Masses to be said on the first Sun-
day of each month for his soul; as well as
for an extra Mass with a sermon and a
Vesper Service to be performed on his
Saint's day. In poetry and in religion he
had tried to perpetuate his memory and his
name. He had done all that he could
towards this aim had compromised with
life and aimed high with his verse. In an
absolute sense he had failed. but THE
BERNARD remains as the record of his
flight towards the impossible. At the end
of his Prologue he had quoted with pride a
line of his poem, which he thought, de-
monstrated his technical skill 4We might
place it as his epitaph, accepting as he did,
all human experience as but a striving
towards one inevitable and final outcome:
"Which is good, which is ill, which is
life, which is death, which is the end. "
1. For this summary, no easy task, I have made
use of summaries made both by Van Horne and
Balbuena's nineteenth century editor, Quintana,
simplifying the story line even more.
2. Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1553) brilliant poet
of the Italian Renaissance.
3. Mateo Maria Boiardo (1430-1494) Italian
4. Luigi Pulci (1432-1484) Italian poet.
5. Torquato Tasso, (1544-1595) Famous Italian
6. A distinction made by Menendez y Pelayo.
7. The entire paragraph summarises Sydney's
rather than Balbuena's arguments. Sidney says
what Balbuena wants to say rather better.
8. Bertold Brecht ( -1956) German dramatist
and poet, who revolutionized the theatre.
9. H. Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Beacon
Press, Boston, 1968.
10. Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864-1936) in
'El Sentiniento tragico de la Vida'
It. La Arcadia, a pastoral novel, first published
12. Luis de Gongora y Argote (1561-1627). He
mocks Lope de Vega in the sonnet beginning:
On your life, Little Lope, rub out for me
Those nineteen towers on your shield.
13. In the play 'La Hermosura Aborrecida' i.e.
14. Charles Martel, a Frank who defeated the
Moors at Poitiers in 732 and prevented Christian
Europe from being overrun by the superior
strength and civilisation of the Mohammedans.
15. There seems to be some confusion. Earlier
on in the letter he seems to say that a silver real
is worth seven quartos.
16. An arroba is a Spanish weight of about 2 5 bs.
17. See Franco, Angel, El Tema de America en
los autores espanoles del siglo de Oro., Madrid
1954, The theme of America in Golden Age
Spanish Writers., p.34.
18. Don Mateo de Medina Moreno was Abbot of
19. Before the Discovery of the New World and
even after that. the Antipodes were held to be
inaccessible. Even after the Spaniards had
proved the torrid zones to be accessible to ships,
old myths persisted that the torrid zones were
uninhabitable. In Book XVI, the King of
Persi i.e. Understanding, asks whether It is true
as wise men say that there are no Antipodes?
Is it true he asks that of the five parts of the
World, there are only two that are habitable -
that the other three burn up with too much
heat or'refrozen with ice? That in the other
parts of the world, people walk upside down,
and that other areas are inhabited by pygmies.
centaurs and dragons?
The magician Malgesi takes them to the new
World to prove that all this is not true.
Although Balbuena takes for granted and used
the Ptolemaic system, which saw the earth as the
fixed centre of the Universe, in Book XVIII, the
Tlaxcalan magician brings in the Copernican sys-
tem in this verse:
Men suspect that that light (i.e. the sun's)
Which is of all lights the most bright
Is not s the world nowfudges, on the height
But is Instead at the fixed centre of the
And all the immense multitude of golden
Revolves, with entire revolution, around it;
And the earth also which appears to stand
Itself revolves around the sun.
20. There had been a truce between Spain and
the Dutch after 1609 when the independence of
the United Provinces was recognized. In 1621
hostilities broke out again. This privateer force
of Bowdoin was therefore also part of the offi-
cial Dutch forces. In the letter which Bowdoin
sent to the Governor Juan de Haro, calling on
him to surrender he refers to himself as,
S. I Bowdon Hendrick. general of these
forces, in the name of the States General and of
his Highness the Prince of Orange... "
21. On the 21 st of October, Bowdoin sent a let-
ter declaring his intention to burn the city, if
the defenders would not come to terms. Juan
de Haro replied that the island had enough
building material to build another city, and that
he only wished that the whole army of Holland
were there to watch Spanish valour and bravery.
The day after, some 100 houses were burnt by
Dutch. The city's archives as well as Balbuena's
palace and library were burnt.
22. The Captain lead many a sortie and night
attack before the burning of the city. After the
burning of the city, Amezquita, together with
another Captain, Botello and some 200 men,
attacked the enemy front and rear. So furious
was their charge that they drove the Dutch
from their trenches, and pursued them into the
water as they tried to reach their launches. This
kind of exploit discouraged the beseigers who
withdrew on the 2nd of November, leaving 400
dead and one of their larger ships stranded.
Balbuena's letter of praise had its effect. Cap-
tain Amezquita and Captain Botello receiv-
ed 1000 ducats as a reward. Amezquita was
later appointed Governor of Cuba.
23. This was the same Governor who had so
successfully defended Puerto Rico from the
Dutch attack. For his valour he had received a
grant of 2000 ducats; and been made a
hevalier of the Order of Santiago a chivalric
military Christian Order. But the reckless
bravery and courage were the omtant other
lust for quick money, and quick reward as
compensation for the hazards of a frontier life.
24. To make the line of the verse more sonorous
and rich, Balbuena tried to use as many words
as possible, words whose sounds could run to-
gether, so that in a line with 14 words, and 18
syllables, with the sounds telescoped into each
other (synalepha) the line still remained II-
syllabled: "Que as blen, que es mal, que es fin,
que es vida y muerte."
eas of patriotism and national dignity appear in the writ-
ings of many countries. Poets have sung sweet praises of their
home-lands, and writers have often extolled the virtues of the
patriot and nation-builder. A look at some Jamaican writings
attests to this.
Jamaica, having only recently shaken off the shackles of
colonialism, falls within the category of 'developing nations',
and its literature is still developing, still in the making. For a
long time the Cobwebs of colonialism had held the creative
arts chokingly enmeshed, and much of the Literary stuff pro-
duced during our colonial experience showed a love for
Jamaica inseparably bound up with a love for England, the
so-called 'Mother Country' and her Empire. Indeed, to be a
good patriot in those days one had to be an Anglophil and an
empire man! No wonder then that the colonial climate gener-
ated writings with a colonial patriotic bias.
Much of the writings in Jamaica during the 18th and 19th
centuries were done by Englishmen who, not unnaturally,
wrote as they would have done in their home-country. True,
there were some who had an intimate knowledge of Jamaica,
but, as the late W. Adolphe Roberts rightly said, they "copied
the styles and repeated the sentiments that they believed were
fashionable in Europe." In this category would fall writers
like Peter Pindar, the third William Beckford, Mathew "Monk"
Lewis, and Michael Scott. Writers like these could hardly have
been expected to voice their patriotism for, or vow their
loyalty, to, little Jamaica.
On the early 20th century Jamaican literary scene appeared
names like Tom Redcam (Thomas Henry McDermot), H.S.
Bunbury, Albinia Catherine Hutton, Clara Maude Garrett,
Arthur Nicholas, H.G. deLisser, Adolphe Roberts, Claude
McKay, Lena Kent and Una Marson. Indeed, it could be said
that modern Jamaican writings by Jamaicans about Jamaica
began on a professional scale with Tom Redcam (1870 1933)
who founded a Jamaican literary movement and who did much
to encourage young Jamaican writers. But what of Redcam's
idea of patriotism? Referring to 18th century Spanish Town he
had written in rolling phrases:-
"Death is life's bivouac round the fires of faith.
Grey town and time-worn church, we come to thee.
Shrine of our history, about the tombs
The patriot's spirit lingers reverently."
And it is safe to assume that his "patriot's spirit" was an
imperial, not Jamaican, one.
In posthumously making him Poet Laureate of Jamaica in
1933, the Jamaica Branch of the Poetry League had referred to
his "merit as poet, patriot and interpreter of the hearts of the
people" and his "abiding interest in the child life of his
country." There is no doubt that Redcam loved Jamaica and
had a passion for Jamaican history. But all this was evidently
circumscribed by loyalty to the British Empire. One finds it
difficult to agree totally with Peter Abrahams when he wrote
in his introduction to the "Independence Anthology of Jamai-
can Literature" in 1962 about Redcam: "As a native-born
white Jamaican of his times he was totally committed to
Jamaica, there was no split loyalties, no thought of Great
Britain or Ireland as 'Home', As this writer sees it, there were
split loyalties, there were split sentiments. A look at "Little
Green Island" written from his sick bed in London in 1933
"O Little green Island in far-away seas,
Now the swift Tropic shadows stride over thy leas;
The evening's elf-bugles call over the land,
And ocean's low lapping falls soft on the strand.
Then down the far west, towards the portals of night,
Gleam the glory of orange and rich chrysolite.
Day endeth its splendour; the night is at hand;
My heart growth tender, dear far-away land."
But Redcam went on to say:-
"For England is England, the strong and the true,
Whose word is her bond in her march through the blue;
For England is England, who mothers my soul
Truth, bare in its glory, with deep self-control...
But my little green Island, far over the sea,
At eve-tide, Jamaica my heart is with thee."
The fact is, as he himself admitted, England "mothers my
soul". There was love for Jamaica but loyalty to England. He
could write his royalist "Ode On The Death of Edward VII"
and in "Far Yet Near" write:-
"While memory lives, 'tis of thee I dream
Jamaica, fair land of the mountain and stream."
or vow in "A Song for Exiles "his constancy:
"Misfortune may smite me, the stranger oppress me,
As I toil for my bread on an alien shore,
Though they rob me of all, they can never bereave me
Of the Brown mountain village I see ever more ".
Then let us examine some of what J.E. Clare McFarlane claimed
to be Redcam's "patriotic songs." In "Jamaica Marches On"
Jamaican school children were urged to sing:-
"Bright on before, the Flag of Freedom streaming;
Tramp, tramp, tramp, our King has bid us come;
Line after line the bayonets are gleaming;
Tramp, tramp, tramp, Jamaica marches on."
and in "Arise 0 My Country" Redcam exhorted us:
"To Arms! for the Crusade where God is our Captain,
His vengeance we march to perform;
And bright as his word, doth the Banner of Britain
Lead on, through the shadow and storm."
Again, "At Coronation Time": A song for The Children of
Jamaica" reflected in glowing terms the achievements of Eng-
lish heroes, Nelson and Rodney, and instilled:
"We are marching to conquer the future,
We are sons of Jamaica the free.
We are true to our King and our Country,
We are heirs of the Ages to be."
We are also told in "England, All Hail" that
"Through our wide Empire, round Earth's swelling breasts,
From all the seas, we turn to where you lead;
Now truly one, thy children, diverse race
No sundrance cleaves, nor caste, nor various creed:
England! All hail."
Of such stuff was Redcam's patriotism made. It could hardly
have been otherwise.
As for Irishman H.S. Bunbury (who wrote some poetic stuff
from his arrival in Jamaica in 1911 to his death in 1920), he
was definitely an imperialist. His patriotism encompassed the
British Empire, and, according to the late J.E. Clare McFarlane,
"the 'Islands beloved of the Sun 'were as dear to him (Bunbury)
as those other islands whose lover is the steel-grey sea." His
could never have been pure Jamaican patriotism: his thoughts
were never rooted here.
Arthur Nicholas too, though Jamaican-born, was an Empire
man and a lover of royalty. That is perhaps why he was seem-
ingly apologetic about the 19th century colonial government's
treatment of George William Gordon. It is perhaps unlikely
that he could have forseen Gordon as a national hero in an
independent Jamaica. Still, he had admired Gordon and des-
cribed his dignity even in his ordeal:
"At last he comes! how nobly
He holds his haughty head,
And walking with his jailers
How firm and strong his tread!
His face is calm and tranquil,
No coward dread is there;
The only marks of suffering -
The white threads in his hair. "
And he made Gordon say:
"I have no pangs of conscience,
No grief for what I did.
I wrote for right and duty,
The Negro-and his good.
For this I yield my spirit
For this is shed my blood."
- truly noble patriotic sentiments which Nicholas (in his
colonial cocoon) had perhaps uncomfortably placed into Gor-
Constance Hollar too loved Jamaica, but, like so many at
that time, she seemed bound up by the historical situation with-
in which she found herself. "Poinciana is rushing to my heart
with all its magic beauty", she wrote, "Storming the highways
and byways of it," and she appeared quite sincere about her
"Songs of the Empire" publication in 1932. There was also
nothing denoting 'pure' Jamaican patriotism in the writings of
Albinia Catherine Hutton. In "The Empire's Flag", the Union
Jack, she could see a 'gallant symbol' or what she regarded as
'the Flag of Freedom'. Commenting on the "Empire's Flag",
J.E. Clare McFarlane wrote: "I do not hesitate to predict that
generation to come it will be counted among the classics of its
kind. The admirable restraint with which the poem is written
lends to it that touch of power in tranquility which a contem-
plation of the Union Jack brings." McFarlane's predictions
have been, to say the least, far off track and such comments
revealed the man's thinking at that time. No doubt such
writings and comments would have found favour with our ex-
colonial masters whose system taught our community to look
outside of itself for leadership and excellence. After all, those
were the days of sheer Crown Colony Government.
Personally addressing Jamaica, Clara Maude Garrett in
"Little Island of my heart,
Here I consecrate anew
All my being unto you,
Born of you, of you a part -
Island, mother of my soul,
I but give you back your own,
I your flesh, and I your bone -
Re-absorb and make me whole."
It is of interest here to compare her addressing Jamaica as
'Island, mother of my soul' with Redcam's addressing 'England,
who mothers my soul'! Which was the real mother? It is
interesting too to note that while C.M.G. dedicated herself to
Jamaica and claimed 'The tissue of my thought is Island laid,
she was in "London Love" wondering:
"Why do we love you London, we who dwell
In scattered waters far beyond your sea?
In vain we strive to solve the magic spell
That knits our souls to yours, COLONIAL WE."
There was love and some patriotism for Jamaica alright, but
the greater love, the greater patriotism, it seems, was for
England. Colonial encapsulationn' had seen to that. And what
did the goodly Clare McFarlane think of C.M.G.'s "Dedica-
tion"? His comments on it in 1956 were: "Such poetry may
be put to high uses and may be the means of purifying and
elevating our affection in these days of emergent nationalism."
Only gradually did Mr. McFarlane's eyes shed the cataract of
Lena Kent's love for Jamaica found expression in "The Hills
of St. Andrew" (where her childhood was spent) and in "The
"Come to our land, and you will find her fair;
She'll give you of the allamanda's gold,
And all sweet sound, and beauty manifold -
Flashing of firefly, song of solitaire;
Majestic mountains; in the Spring the flare
Of poinsiana boughs. Nor can be told
The blue of her deep heavens, which unfold
Sunsets and dawns earth lends not otherwhere."
She does not appear to have been hemmed in by her colonial
experience. But most of the writings prior to 1940 were
greatly influenced by imperial considerations. This was evident
up to the writing of Vivian Virtue's "Coronation Ode" in May,
1937. .J.E. Clare McFarlane as Poet Laureate might have
"If e'er I tread the highways of the world'
'Twill be for thee, my Country! For thy name
lam most zealous."
But he too appeared then to have been answerable to Britannia's
beck and call as seen from his selections in "A Treasury of
Jamaican Poetry "which he edited in 1949 and in his comments
in "A literature In The Making" published in 1956 which writ-
er Mervyn Morris has called, with some justification, an
'absurd little volume.' McFarlane, it should be noted, was a
Colonial Civil Servant who subsequently rose to Financial
Secretary, the highest post to which any Jamaican had been
appointed by the Colonial Office since Edward Jordon. "On
the death of George the Sixth" McFarlane was to write loyally
of how King George 'kept inviolate the oriflamme of Britain's
mighty line, and one cannot but wonder if McFarlane had
really enjoyed those balmy days of 'Rule Britannia' and -
'Brebridge'- and crackers in the broiling sun!! Or did he escape
As it were, Colonial Jamaica was never encouraged to have
any sense of national dignity at least not until the 'Mother
Country' saw which way the wind was blowing. We were to
have instead a sort of Empire dignity, and the literature was
really a by-product of an educational system geared to ensure
loyalty to England, and designed to make us look outside for
standards and values. Most of the poets up to the emergence
of Vivian Virtue could have been described as traditionalists in
that they fashioned their writings off those produced by Eng-
lish poets such as Wordsworth and Tennyson.
Claude McKay was somewhat different, however, from those
writers already mentioned. It is a pity that Jamaica never saw
more of the ex-constable who became an internationally recog-
nized writer after leaving Jamaica as a young man for the United
States of America in 1912. McKay made his literary name in
America but he never did forget his homeland and continued
to sing of it, if nostalgically and sentimentally, in poems like
"Flame-Heart" which tells of honey-fever grass and the poin-
settia among other things seen on the Jamaican Countryside
which he dearly loved. It is said that McKay could be described
as theRobbie Burs of Jamaica, having been the first to reveal
to his countrymen in "Songs of Jamaica" and "Constab
Ballads" that there was music in the dialect they spoke. His
was indeed an assertion of a Jamaican way of life. In "West
Indian Narrative Kenneth Ramchand had this to say of one of
McKay's novels: "A reading of 'Banana Bottom' will show
why many readers consider deLisser's 'The White Witch of Rose
Hall' to be reactionary and insignificant in West Indian writing.
For while deLisser's novel, ends with a rejection of the West
Indies, McKay's is an assertion of West Indian life and manners
and a protest against the insensitive impositions of European
values on West Indians". McKay's Autobiography, "A Long
Way From Home" and his sentimental poem "I Shall Return"
show up his love, his longing, indeed his patriotism, for Jamaica,
and this was not adulterated with imperial sentiments.
But it was left to the late 1930's to throw up a different
brand of writers in Jamaica, who did not hesitate to assert
their Jamaicanism, their nationalism. They could not identify
themselves with England and English ways. They were for
things Jamaican, and they gave voice to the nationalist move-
ment of the time. That upsurge of literary activity took the
form, as Adolphe Roberts pointed out, of 'unrhymed modern
verse and plotless fiction. The idea, I suppose, was to react as
brusquely as possible from the prevailing standard. The idea
was also to assert Jamaican patriotism and national dignity and
to cease being blindly imitative. As G.R. Coulthard in "Carib-
bean Literature An Anthology" rightly said: "There was
definitely a connection in the British Caribbean between the
awakening ofa national consciousness and a desire for indepen-
dence and the burgeoning of a new national literature, which
set itselfhigher standards than those hitherto accepted. Writing
in the first number of Magazine Focus in 1943, Mrs. Fdna
Manley said, 'Great and irrevocable change have swept this
land in the last few years and outof these changes a new art is
springing'." She too was right. And from that 'new art' group
sprang George Campbell, M.G. Smith, Roger Mais, Vic Reid,
H.D. Carberry, and others like P.M. Sherlock who proceeded
and nurtured the new nationalist awakening.
There was a conscious attempt by these writers to break
away from Victorianism and to associate with the Jamaican
independence movement. There was also a passionate devotion
for Jamaica as seen in M.G. Smith's vision:-
"Isaw my land in the morning
And 0 but she was fair
The hills flamed upwards scorning
Death and failure here. -
I saw my friends in the morning
They called from an equal gate
'Build now: whilst time is burning
forward before it's late'."
George Campbell, who in his writings, was then proclaiming
the beauty and dignity of the Jamaican Negro was no less
devoted, no less patriotic. There was a ring of freedom in his:
"Look at us, value us, count us
Today we fight to be free!
Respect us, accept us, know us
Ages you fought to be free!
Your history, your glory, your freedom
Our slavery, our longing, our pining
How dare you defy us, resist us
Today you die to keep free."
His love and concern for Jamaica and Jamaicans can be seen in
poems like "History Makers", "Holy,' "Market Women", and:-
"In our land
Golden haired strangers
Shining as suns
We are shining as suns also
In our land
We will find glory."
Such was Campbell's nationalist confidence. Such was his de-
fiance of the colonial order. Besides, in "Democracy "he had
"As we dream tonight
That the bricklayers
Those who control light,
And devious traders
Help run their country
Part of the great scheme
In 1941 Vic Reid was to appear on the international literary
scene with his "New Day novel which vividly brought to life
the events of the so-called Morant Bay Rebellion. This was
indeed a Jamaican novel focusing on National Heroes-to-be,
Paul Bogle and George William Gordon and examining the long
suffering of the St. Thomas people. It could be said that a
quiet kind of national dignity issued from the pages of this
novel. "Morant Bay in Jamaica, rusted, corrugated iron roofs
set against vivid green hills", according to Sir Philip Sherlock,
became a part of our heritage because Vic Reid made it ours.
And then there was the dynamic, patriotic, nationalistic
Roger Mais telling it like it was (and even as it still is) in his
famous article "Now We Know" (for which he was imprisoned)
and in his three novels "The Hills were Joyful Together",
"Brother Man" and "Black Lightning". Along with McKay's
"Banana Bottom" and Vic Reid's "New Day", these novels
perhaps the most meaningful and realistic to have ever appear-
ed on the Jamaican scene. Mais had found colonialism stifling
and encapsulatingg'. In "Now We Know" he wrote scathingly:
"That we Colonials may ever sing in our schoolrooms those
rousing songs like 'There'll Always Be An England' and 'Rule
Britannia' . That we might take an equal pride with all
Englishmen in the glory of the Greatest Empire upon Earth;
that we may rejoice we are privileged to serve it seeing it
couldn't exist without us . That we may rejoice in our
poverty and degradation and sickness and ignorance and sores
... Now we know". His was a fervent nationalism. His was an
expose of colonialism. And there was no doubt that he sym-
pathised with the masses and had a love for the common people.
In "Backwood Brother" he addressed the Jamaican Have-not
"Man without heritage, birthright,
Man in bondage to the dust,
Out of these loins too new beginnings
And sun-bright ways take rise
New issue to bring harvest to this land."
In a very real sense Mais was a precursor of the 'angry young
men' and in his article "Why I Love And Leave Jamaica", he
had expressed his contempt for, and sensitivity to, the hypo-
crisy and mediocrity with which colonial life encircled him.
"lam told", he said, "that Iam considered a man of anger, and
that I have contempt for people. I have examined my mind
about this, and I can say without hesitation that deep down
my contempt is not for people as such, but for their loss, or
lack of values, and for the want of personal integrity, where
this is manifest, and for the absence of spirit, where it expresses
itself as a cringing, covered malevolence that is ready to tear
down something for no reason than that it dares to walk up-
right in its midst." Unfortunately, Mais' ideals were then not
fully understood and Jamaican Independence was still many
years distant. Even in those times he could see George William
Gordon as a hero. In "Men of Ideas" he commented:-
"Men of ideas outlive their times,
An idea held by such a man does not end with his death...
They hanged Gordon from a boom
Rigged in front of the Court House ...
But the idea of equality and justice with Gordon
Went into the ground and sprang up like a seed, a
They hanged George William Gordon for the dream
He had been given in the night
That he carried in his breast ...
They hanged Gordon with eighteen others
They nailed Jesus between two thieves
But the ideas these men lived for did not die with them..."
With internal self-government accomplished and Jamaica on
the threshold of political independence, Vivian Virtue in "The
Need" could say:-
"Among us yet are men upstanding high
Like mountain cedars in a windy dawn
... They clutch the shining hem
Of Freedom, whole men, standing at her feet",
And in "The Hour" could write:-
"... Here in the wide
Embrace of Freedom met to stem a tide
Of tyranny, the rapture and the smart,
All the large patience of your suffering heart
I feel, my country! and love stands justified.
Your nonage now is over. You must up,
Gird in the calling morning, set your face
With granite purpose to the mountain way.
Prepare your bosom for the bitter cup:
Steel for endurance in the wearing race;
Yours is the triumphing, if yours the stay."
At this stage of our political development many writers did
much soul-searching as to the meaning of 'Jamaicanism'. Who
is a Jamaican? What is the Jamaican Character? The search
for a national identity goes on. As Basil McFarlane saw it:-
"I am Jamaica -
And I have seen my children grow
Out of their separate truths. ",
and Vera Bell, taking a searching look at her "Ancestor on the
Auction Block", could eventually say:-
My freedom is within myself...
A new country is born
Yours was the task to clear the ground
Mine be the task to build. "
To A.L. Hendricks we are not calypso people, dancing all the
time, His idea of the Jamaican is one strong in resolution,
"Bold of eye
And high in proud ambition
warrior, with, a strange, prophetic look
gazing unconquerably like a Joshua
forward, ahead, and into promised lands."
And R.L.C. McFarlane writing of "Freedom" in "Hunting
The Bright Stream" (Poems 1954-1960) was not satisfied with
mere political freedom:-
"We must prove ourselves economically sound,
We must find a way to rise above the Ground,
And everything becomes security ...
The worst of our position is its bastardy;
This something-nothing, having-have-not state
This liberty that mocks us.. ."
The idea of patriotism, the concern over Jamaican problems,
and the appreciation for good qualities in Jamaicans were
reflected in several Jamaican writings. Philip Sherlock could
see majesty and strength in a "Jamaican Fisherman"; Evan
Jones' "Banana Man could plead:-
"So when you see dese ol'clothes brown wid stain,
An'soaked right through wid de Portlan'rain,
Don't cas' your eye nor turn your nose,
Don't judge a man by his patchy clothes,
I'm a strong man, a proud man, an 'I'm free.
Free as dese mountains, free as dis sea,
I know myself, an'I know my ways,
An'will sing wid pride to de end o' my days
(Sung) 'Praise God an' mi big right han'
I will live an' die a banana man."
The Banana Man being somewhat, as Mervyn Morris says, a
symbol of strength, freedom and self respect. Indeed, Love
for Jamaica and things Jamaican was now clearly expressed,
and writers like Dennis Scott, perhaps with an eye at our
'Out of many, one people' National Motto, urged:-
"We are not separate; the tales we tell,
our statues, music, all our culture's streams,
can not be great without that truth which seams
the fabric of great fables. Song must swell
from native throats, but tell of all man's state."
On the whole, constitutional progress to Independence
meant additional responsibility and a new approach to Jamai-
can affairs. We had to steel ourselves for the new role and
appeal, like George Campbell in his "Constitution Day poem ",
to the Almighty to
"Hold a people's hand
And give us Thy heart
So that everyman
Lives in the land
And holds dear the part
He must play
To fulfil this day.
Give us thy glory
In the days ahead;
O let our country
Be proud of its story
When we are dead."
Back in 1944 Louise Bennett (Who had, in a humorous way,
showed serious concern for our political progress) in "Revela-
"Doah we joyful bout the vote, we
Haffe put we knee a grung,
An pray hard noh fe meck we new
Constitution go bruck dung"
One must agree with Mervyn Morris' assessment of Louise
Bennett as "a poet of serious merit... She writes for Jamaicans,
she writes for us", and there was indeed some hard logic in her
telling as in "Back to Africa" that "Oonoo all is Jamaican"
and that we should face up to the realities of our historical
situation. We could, of course, migrate to seek a better life,
'Miss Lou' said, but our roots are set in Jamaica.
"Go a foreign, seek yuh fortune,
But noh tell nobady say
Yuh dah go fe seek yuh homeland
For a right deh so yuh deh!"
According to poet Mervyn Morris, her "sanity takes her straight
to a fact that too many intellectuals evidently find too simple
for their acceptance: the central fact of our-identity: that we
are Jamaicans because Jamaica is where we come from Mr.
Morris is right, and Miss Bennett right, too, when she exclaimed:
"Jamaica people need a
No easy-come by freeniss tings,
Nuff labour, some privation,
Not much of dis an less of dat
An plenty studiration ...
Jamaica start smoke pipe, a hope
We got nuffJackass Rope!"
We all hope so. And as for the new national dignity that
dawned with Independence, Louise Bennett observed in
"Independence Dignity that
"Teet'an tongue was all united,
Heart an ioul was hans an glove,
Fenky-fenky voice gain vigour pon
'Jamaica, Land we Love.'
It was a sight fe cure sore y'eye,
A time fe live fe see
This new dignity could also be seen in the U.W.I.'s Pageant
"Jamaica: from Slavery to Independence" and in Sylvia
Wynter's "1865 A Ballad For a Rebellion."
Now, eight years after celebrating with dignity our first
Independence Day, Jamaica is still undergoing birth-pains, still
growing. As H.D. Carberry puts it:-
"My country grows
Filled with a new awareness
A naive egoism
A new self-consciousness
That will ultimately
Help it to understand
Others around it.
But it is still young
And help my Country grow."
Yes, we must help Jamaica as it grows from foundations laid
by patriotic sweat and blood and nourished by the inspiration
of writings which continue to reflect patriotism and national
dignity. And this is all for the good, providing that we never
become blinded by chauvinism or insularism.
"Festival Queen" by Robert Paisley
"Willing Victims" by Robert Paisley
Institute of Jamaica Special prize
- .. ..
-'i ", 1' !1 "*- ; -
,," .: ,: _t ,' _," -1.*"f*'
, ; *:* o 1" ,-'o"; ,,**'' "'
J.B. Kidd WIRL
Illustrations by Audrey Wiles Trap Door Spider
by Tom Farr
"With spiders I had friendship made,
And watched them in their sullen trade,..."
Lord Byron The Prisoner of Chillon
Popular articles about spiders generally begin with comments
about the unfriendly attitude humans adopt towards spiders
usually followed by reasons why we should be more tolerant of
them. We are reminded that they destroy huge numbers of
insects which we can all agree is something in their favour. It
will be pointed out that only a very small percentage of the
thousands of species have venoms toxic enough to produce
serious symptoms in man, and this is reassuring. We will be
told that many spiders are attractively or even handsomely
coloured and, I can vouch for it, they have a point there. They
will, of course, recall for us the marvels of web construction
and sometimes there will be a lovely photograph of an orb web
sparkling with droplets of dew. Indeed, these spider apologists
are so persuasive that I cannot understand why it is that after
reading their nice arguments I still do not like spiders. No -
I don't like them but they fascinate me. So I've read books
about them, observed them carefully in the field and even
collected them but unlike some of my braver (I like to think
more foolhardy) colleagues, I don't pick them up the larger
ones anyway. I should add, however, that throughout about
seven Olympiads of insect collecting, during which I have en-
countered hundreds of them, I have only been bitten once by a
spider, a sea-going rascal that shared a cabin with me aboard a
Turks Island salt boat.
There are some very interesting and even spectacular spiders
in Jamaica. We have, for example, a species that is considered
one of the largest orb web makers in the world. An orb web is
that flat, spiral type the classic web the favourite of nature
photographers. This spider belongs to the genus Nephila, a
group of some two dozen species (and several sub-species) dis-
tributed throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of
the world. A fossil spider found in shale deposits in Colorado,
and estimated to be .25 to 40 million years old, is undoubtedly
a species of Nephila; indeed some authorities believe it to be
Nephila clavipes, the same species that exists in Jamaica today.
The genus, then, has been in existence for a very long time and
its Jamaican representative probably arrived here ages ago.
Nephila clavipes has at least three English common names:
Brush Footed Spider, Golden Silk Spider and Silk Spider and I
shall be using the latter name in this account. It is found in the
extreme southeastern United States and in Central and South
America as well as on several islands of the West Indies. In
Jamaica, it occurs at altitudes from sea level to at least 2000
feet and may be present in fairly large numbers in mangroves,
coconut groves and banana walks. I have seen it in residential
Kingston and remember seeing a huge colony on telephone lines
near Highgate several years ago.
The mature, female Silk Spider is truly impressive. The
body may be more than an inch in length and the first and
second legs as much as two inches. The abdomen is elongate,
considerably longer than its diameter, olive brown with a
mottling of yellow and white spots. The legs, except for the
3rd pair, bear circlets of short, dark brown to black hairs (two
circlets on the 1st and 2nd pair, one on the 4th pair). The
ground colour of the cephalothorax (in arachnids, the head
and thorax are fused) is black but this is mostly masked by a
covering of silver-white hairs. It is generally true that male
spiders tend to be smaller, sometimes very much smaller, than
the females of the same species and this is certainly the case
with the Silk Spider. The males are about a quarter-of-an-inch
in length but some are even smaller and it has been stated
that the female may weigh more than a hundred times as much
as the male. A male usually shares the web with the female and
sometimes several consorts may be "in residence" at the same
The web of the Silk Spider is as impressive as its builder.
The central part, that is the portion that snares insects, may
be three feet in width with attachment lines extending out
more than six feet. The silk is pale or golden yellow in colour
and is strong enough to trap small birds. In the United States,
the Yellow Throated Warbler has been reported as one of its
victims. We have at least one report that birds have been trap-
ped in the web of the Silk Spider in Jamaica. In 1894, T.D.A.
Cockerell, a former Curator at the Institute of Jamaica, (see
Jamaica Journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 1967) wrote to the Editor of
Nature that an unpublished journal kept by a Mr. William Jones,
had this entry dated December 25, 1839. "I wronged the
accuracy of Sir Hans Sloane's statement; a little boy returning
from an errand brought me a little black and yellow bird that
he found entangled in a web of A. clavipes. The "A." stands
for Aranea the genus to which the Silk Spider was originally
assigned. In an earlier entry, Mr. Jones had expressed strong
doubts regarding Sir Hans' claims for the strength of the Silk
Spiders' web, claims which appeared in Sloane's oft-referred-to
work, A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S.
Christophers andJamaica etc. (Volume 2, 1725). "They have",
he wrote, "an almost spiral large Web made of yellow Spider
Thread, like silk, glutinous or viscid, with which it will stop not
only small birds, but even wild pigeons, they are so strong as to
give a Man inveigled in them Trouble for some Time with their
viscid, sticking Quality." But Sloane does not tell us that he
himself witnessed this phenomenon and that bit about stopping
pigeons must certainly be inaccurate.
Some years ago, Nephila clavipes was one of the spiders used
in experiments to test the potential value of spider silk for the
manufacture of textiles. Those investigations revealed that spi-
der silk does not have quite the qualities of that produced by
the silk worm. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining a colony
of spiders and extracting silk from them would be higher than
for worms. Consequently, higher production costs and inferior
quality of product have kept spiders out of the textile trade.
Commensalism is an association between two organisms in
which one derives some benefit from the association while the
other is neither benefitted nor harmed. You can observe this
type of relationship in the web of the Silk Spider. Occasionally,
there will be on its strands small, globular objects that shine
like drops of solder. If you take a close look at one (better use
a hand lens) you will discover that it is actually a spider with a
bluntly, cone-shaped abdomen, silvery white on its upper sur-
face, black beneath and with a black cephalothorax and legs.
The scientific name for this spider is Conopisthos nephilae and
there seems to be no common name for it. The "nephilae"
part obviously refers to the spider's host and "Conopisthos"
is a compound of two Greek words meaning cone and poster-
ior. These little "squatters" are said to feed on small insects
which become entangled in the web but whose struggles are
too feeble to attract the attention of its real owner.
Is the Silk Spider dangerous to humans? Apparently not for
experiments with its venom have shown that it produces little
reaction in warm-blooded animals. Philip Gosse in a Natura-
list's Sojourn in Jamaica (1851) tells us of an encounter with a
Silk Spider. "One of my servants informed me in September
that he had been bitten by one of these large and handsome
Spiders. Coming through the woods at early dawn, his face
came into collision with one of the strong webs. He stopped
to brush it off and immediately felt some large insect run down
his body which presently bit him on his big toe. The pain was
less severe than that following the sting of a wasp, or even the
puncture ofa Tabanus [horse-fly] ; but he described it as having
three distinct paroxysms '(if I may use such a term for so small
a matter). The pain was not of long duration."
Spider fanciers are always somewhat disappointed to learn
that there are really no large tarantulas in Jamaica although they
are reported from Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico and their
absence here is rather puzzling. Tarantulas number among their
species some of the largest spiders in the world and are found
from the southwestern United States through Central and into
South America. They have usurped their name, however, for it
was originally applied to a spider of southern Europe about as
closely related to the New World tarantulas as a beetle is to a
butterfly; but the truth is, that just about any large spider that
does not live in a web is called a tarantula in Tropical America.
The American tarantulas belong to one family and not all of its
species are huge. As a matter of fact, at least one species of that
family does occur in Jamaica but it isn't a really large spider,
seems to be rare and consequently hasn't attracted much atten-
tion. Our Trap-Door Spider and two other families of spiders
here are rather closely related to the New World tarantulas in
that they are mygalomorph spiders but let's not go any further
There is a fairly common species of spider in Jamaica that is
sometimes called a tarantula, a pan-tropical species which oc-
casionally turns up at temperate zone seaports or even further
inland. It usually arrives as an unwilling stowaway in shipments
of bananas and its association with that cargo is so well known
that it is sometimes called the Banana Spider. In Jamaica, as
elsewhere, it often enters homes and, if insect hunting is good,
will remain in the same house for days; this spider could very
well be the Anancy of Jamaican folklore. It is a rather large
arachnid with a leg expanse of three inches or more and a body
length which may exceed an- inch. In colour, it varies from
light, greyish brown to darker brown sometimes suffused with
tones of pink and, for those who may be interested, its scienti-
fic name is Heteropoda venatoria. The female carries her egg
case, a disc-shaped little packet, wherever she goes, a habit
common to many species of spiders.
The Banana Spider has gained quite a reputation as a cock-
roach destroyer and in some regions is not only tolerated but
welcomed by householders. In Florida, a few years ago, it was
actually advertised for sale for that purpose!
If the Banana Spider were aggressive it would certainly be
notorious by now but this is not the case and it is not consi-
dered a species dangerous to man.
However, there is another spider about the same size as the
Banana Spider, that invades homes here and though quite like-
ly an efficient cockroach destroyer should not be tolerated
because it bites readily. It apparently has no common name but
its scientific name is Ctenus malvernensis. "Ctenus" is a word
of Greek origin meaning comb and refers to the comb-like
structure on the spider's claws, a characteristic of, but certainly
not restricted to, the members of this genus. "Malvernensis"
refers to Malvern in the Santa Cruz Mountains, St. Elizabeth,
the locality from which this species was first described. It is
dark brown with a contrasting lighter brown area in the mid-
region of the cephalothorax and this lighter marking extends
back on to the abdomen. This spider is fairly common in some
woodlands even in the Kingston area and I have seen several of
them on wooded slopes bordering the Hermitage Dam Road.
It usually spends the day beneath logs or stones and at night
prowls about on the ground or clambers up trees or shrubs
searching for prey. Sometimes, though, it will rest for hours on
the upper side of a leaf, head downward, its legs spread out
and when seen in such an attitude in the beam of a flash-light
is certainly a formidable looking creature.
Just how bad are the effects of a bite by this spider? We
have at least one good account of such an arachnological mis-
hap. About eleven years ago, Dr. James Lee, a geologist, re-
siding at Mandeville was bitten by a large specimen of Ctenus
malvernensis and the following is extracted froni a letter he
wrote me concerning it. "He had concealed himself in the folds
of my dressing gown (hung over the bed post by my head) and
when I put it on, as I stepped out of bed he stung me on the
outside of my thigh. There was a sharp pain, as in a wasp sting,
which ensured that I became thoroughly awake (it was about
6.30 AM) and my curiosity urged me to catch the spider by
swatting it with a sock or tee-shirt softly enough to be able to
put it into a glass tumbler. I then lay down to rest on the bed
for half an hour. An area of about two inches in diameter
became swollen and alternately throbbed and ached for two or
three hours. I believe that our doctor at the time suggested I
take things easy for that day and I really had no other incon-
This account suggests that the pain inflicted was more than
one might expect merely from the spider's fangs puncturing the
skin. Later in his letter, Dr. Lee indicated that he is rather
badly affected by wasp stings and so we might expect that his
reaction to this spider bite would be more pronounced than
for the average person. Yet, some of the species of the family
(Ctenidae) to which this spider belongs have a bad reputation
and their venoms are said to be neurotoxins which calls to
mind the venom of the infamous Black Widow Spider. How-
ever, the spider that bit Dr. Lee was not nearly as venomous as
the Black Widow. Through the years, many people must have
been bitten by Ctenus malvernensis and even if a small percen-
tage had been very badly affected, it is quite likely that this
species would be so well known as to have a common name by
now. Still it's not a spider to be trifled with.
Just about everyone has heard of the Black Widow Spider
which in Jamaica is often referred to as the Black Spider. There
are about 21 species of the Black Widow genus,Latrodectus, and
Jamaica is favoured with the presence of two of these, Latro-
dectus mactans and Latrodectus geometricus. The first named
species is the Black Widow of North America and several of
the islands of the West Indies as well as parts of Central and
South America. The second is usually called the Brown Widow
or less often the Grey Widow.
The Black Widow at full maturity is usually black but im-
mature individuals are marked with white, red or yellow and
these markings may linger into maturity. On the under surface
of the abdomen there is a conspicuous, bright red, hour-glass
shaped mark, which, since the spider tends to rest in its web
with the ventral surface up, is easily observed. A full-grown
female will reach a half inch in length but the diameter of the
abdomen, when swollen with eggs may be nearly as much.
The web is a scraggly affair consisting of a patternless maze
of coarse threads. Quite often, small, pale brown, spherical ob-
jects are present and these are the egg cases.
The Brown Widow is about the same size as the Black
Widow but varies in colour from light to dark brown or nearly
black and there is also a grey variety. An hour-glass mark is
present which seems to be a somewhat paler shade of red than
Brown Widow Spider and her "egg case".
that of the Black Widow but this might be only a matter of
contrast with the background colour. Her web is rather like
that of the Black Widow but she reserves one corner for a re-
treat of thickly woven strands where she spends most of her
time during the day. Also, her egg cases have little tufts or
projections scattered over the surface which are lacking in those
of the Black Widow.
Almost always, the Black Widow constructs her nest near
the ground at the base of plants, in trash heaps, piles of coco-
nut husks, piles of stones, etc. I have seen fairly numerous
Black Widows in the Rio Cobre Gorge, a little north of the
Flat Bridge, where they had spun their webs amongst stones
rather close to the river margin. The Black Widow may be
present about homes but rarely enters them. The Brown Widow
is very common in Kingston where it nests in similar situations
to those selected by the Black Widow but it is also partial to
fences and gates in residential areas. It should be mentioned
that the Brown Widow will enter homes and I have found this
spider with egg cases under the seat of a chair and under the
arm of a chair at the junction of the arm and back.
The effect of the bite of the Black Widow has been described
many times and though there has been some degree of sensa-
tionalism in some of these reports, there isn't much doubt that
this can be a dangerous spider. Fortunately, Black Widow bites
are uncommon and only rarely are they fatal. The symptoms
vary but the word "excruciating" has been used to describe
the pain that generally centres in the abdomen, back or legs.
Vomiting, muscle spasms, tingling sensations in the hands and
feet and, ominously, difficulty in breathing may be experienced.
The bite itself usually causes little pain and leaves but little
trace. Because of this, and because half an hour sometimes
intervenes before the onset of serious symptoms victims are not
always aware of why they have become suddenly and violently
ill. This happened to a Jamaican who was reading a water
meter, located on the ground and protected by a wooden
housing at Port Henderson. He was bitten on two separate
occasions and was very ill both times but had not connected
these episodes, with a slight sting, like being pricked by a thorn
on his hand when he reached into the box to lift up the metal
cover of the meter. He had no idea of what had happened to
him until an acquaintance suggested that he had been bitten by
the "Black Spider". Subsequently, he collected from that
same meter housing a spider and her egg cases and brought
them to the Institute. The specimen was most certainly
Latrodectus mactans and the symptoms he described were
those of a victim of Black Widow venom.
Although we occasionally hear of persons being bitten by
these spiders no fatalities have been reported for many years.
Lady Nugent, in her Journal, has this entry for July 31st, 1804.
"General N. off early for Kingston, and did not return until 3.
- General N. found much consternation at Up-Park barracks,
today on account of several soldiers having died, in conse-
quence of the bite of a spider." The spider described as the
culprit was undoubtedly the Black Widow but if several soldiers
died of the bite, it could very well have been more the result
of complications brought on by the medical attention they
The Brown Widow has not been the accused in nearly as
many cases of spider bite as the Black Widow but we have two
such records for Jamaica, one a deliberately induced bite and
the other accidental. In 1952, Dr. W.J. Baerg, of the University
of Arkansas, was temporarily working at the Institute of
Jamaica. For several years Dr. Baerg had been keenly interested
in the toxicity of arachnid venoms, so keen in fact, that he
had allowed several species of spiders and a few scorpions to
bite or sting him. He had already tried the Black Widow and
while here took the opportunity of experimenting with the
Brown Widow. He had to force a most uncooperative speci-
men to bite him and then recorded his symptoms as they
developed. (See Natural History Notes of the Natural History
Society of Jamaica, Vol. 6, no. 61, July, 1953). Mr. Stuart
McDonald, an ornithologist of the Canadian National Museum,
who also worked here for a short while, was bitten while on
the premises of th nttt. the Institute. He too recorded his symptoms
and his account also appeared in Natural History Notes (Vol. 6,
no. 66, May, 1954). Mr. McDonald cautioned his readers that
he is very sensitive to wasp stings, mosquito and sand-fly bites
but his symptoms were very similar to those Dr. Baerg ex-
perienced. Dr. Baerg was bitten on the inside of the middle
finger, left hand; Mr. McDonald on the "outside of the fore-
arm". Dr. Baerg felt a sharp but not severe pain when bitten;
Mr. McDonald first felt an itching, burning sensation at the
locus of the bite. Both reported that a rash developed just
below the elbow on Dr. Baerg and in the area of the bite on
Mr. McDonald and white spots appeared in the area of the bite
on both men. Dr. Baerg wrote that in two hours the pain had
become "strong-enough to hold my attention." It gradually
spread from his finger into his hand as far as the wrist. Mr.
McDonald, who was bitten at 10.15 AM tells us that by 11.15
AM the pain in his arm had become more intense and by 10.15
PM the "muscles of forearm ached intensely. Lymph nodes at
elbow and arm pit slightly swollen and painful". Dr. Baerg
was bitten on July 6th and felt pain and aching in his hand
until July 8th and it was bad enough to keep him awake for
most of the nights of the 6th and 7th. Mr. McDonald was bitten
on October 27th and was not completely free of aching and
pain (except for a brief respite afforded him by a sedative)
until the morning of the 30th. He was unable to sleep most of.
the night of the 27th and apparently the night of the 28th for
he tells us that at 10.15 PM of that day "the pain became more
intense accompanied by throbbing." At 2.00 PM on the 29th,
it was so intense that he took a sedative which allowed him to
get some sleep and awaking at 8.00 PM found that it had sub-
sided considerably. He was still feeling a bit on the morning of
the 3,th though.
There is not much doubt that the Brown Widow, which is
so abundant in Kingston and other urban areas, is a spider to
beware of but we can be thankful that it is not an aggressive
species. Incidentally, Mr. McDonald was collecting Brown"
Widows when he was bitten, so one might say that the spider
One of Jamaica's most interesting spiders is the Trap-Door
Spider and many a tourist stopping at Castleton Gardens has
been treated to a view of the entrance of one of their burrows
by local guides. Trap-Door Spiders occur on both the
north and south coasts of the island though they tend to live
mostly in lowland areas. They seem to prefer woodlands but
may also be found in more open situations.
This jet-black spider has a robust body about an inch in
length with relatively short legs. It is rarely seen for it is
nocturnal and seldom leaves its burrow but lurks inside, near
its top, ready to ambush passing insects. There is some doubt
that males of foreign species build nests like those of the fe-
males. We certainly don't know much about the male of
Jamaica species because as far as we know, none has ever been
collected. They must be present, though, because Trap-Door
spiders aren't exactly rare here and it is highly unlikely that
the females are parthenogenetic.
The Trap-Door Spider gets its name from the lid it makes
to cap its burrow. The burrow is dug straight into the ground
deviating only to avoid large stones or tree roots and it may
have a depth of six inches. The digging is done with the fangs
cheliceraee), the earth being carried to the surface and deposit-
ed at some distance from the entrance. Its walls are smoothed
and waterproofed by a paste of saliva and earth and then lined
with silk, sometimes but not always, to the bottom. The dia-
meter of the burrow may be as much as an inch but this
varies with the age of the spider; younger spiders dig narrower
shafts and they aren't as deep. The lid, or "trap-door" is a
semi-circular wafer of silk, about an eighth of an inch in
thickness and attached to the edge of the burrow by a silken
hinge. Its colour is grey or greyish-white and usually blends so
well with the background that it is most difficult to detect. It
'^i- -'*** 'E &
Door of a Trap Door Spider's nest, shown open and closed
fits snugly into the burrow entrance and is usually held tightly
in place by the spider who rests just beneath it.
Our Trap-Door Spider doesn't always construct a subterra-
nean nest, a fact which I learned in a startling way in the John
Crow Mountains above Ecclesdown fifteen years ago. I had
torn a frond from a small palm tree, hoping to find some
interesting insects hidden between the base of the frond and
trunk. Adhering to the trunk, I saw what I took to be the
cocoon of a large moth and carefully pulled it off. The
"cpcoon" was about the length of my hand and when I turned
the palm of my hand upward, I discovered to my utter aston-
ishment (and fright) that I was holding a large black spider.
My first impulse was to throw the brute from where I stood to
Port Antonio but vain thoughts quickly dispelled my ini-
tial fear. A wonderful new species of spider, thought I, and
I was already reading the words of the arachnologist who would
describe it. "Something-or-other farri is the first species of its
family to be found in the Western Hemisphere, a truly remark-
able discovery." But no, the arachnologist who eventually
identified it said that it was only a Jamaican Trap-Door Spider.
It seems quite probable that the spider had built its nest in such
a situation because of the paucity of the soil in that region and
what soil there is, is usually saturated with water.
Even though Trap-Door Spiders occur in southern Europe,
and in many other parts of the world, the Jamaican species was
the first to be brought to the attention of naturalists. Patrick
Browne in his Civiland Natural History of Jamaica (1st edition,
1756) figured and briefly described both the spider and its
nest. But the credit for the first "official" description (1787)
went to Johann Fabricius, a lecturer in political economy at
Kiel University who made a greater name for himself in ento-
Trap-Door Spiders are not generally considered dangerous
to man but Patrick Browne claimed that the bite of our species
could be decidedly unpleasant. "Its nip", he wrote, "is very
painful for many hours and sometimes raises a fever or delirium;
but these are commonly eased by throwing the patient into a
sweat which is commonly done with a little warm rum punch."
Considering the antidote, it is surprising that Trap-Door Spider
bites are unheard of today.
At the beginning of this article, I said that I don't really like
spiders but that is not entirely the truth. The little Jumping
Spiders that one often sees on window panes scampering about
after insects are favourites of mine and even tarantulas, those
great, lumbering louts no longer fill me with revulsion. The
spider has appeared in folklore, poetry, song and story and not
always as a creature of evil. The study of spiders has engaged
the attention of some very fine minds of both professional
and amateur naturalists. Their study can be an interesting
hobby and there is at least one society of amateur arachnolo-
gists in the United States. Collecting and identifying specimens
need not be the chief aim of such an avocation. Life histories,
ecological, behavioral and population studies can be just as
intriguing and perhaps more challenging. There is also the
greater possibility of coming up with new information and one
doesn't need a lot of expensive equipment or a car for trips into
the country; you can work right in your own back yard. So
little work of this nature has been done in Jamaica that you
have just about a "wide open field". Probably the only practi-
cal outcome of this hobby, like most hobbies, will be hours of
relaxation. You might, though, publish your research or per-
haps someone else could use it giving you due credit. There is
something really satisfying about seeing one's work acknow-
ledged in print. I'm not saying that you are likely to do much
about pushing back the "frontiers of ignorance" but, in your
own sector, you just might put one small dent in them, which
is more than most of us ever do or even attempt to do.
So now then spider watching anyone?
by N.D. Williams
His name is Theodore Maccacheer. Do you know him?
He lived in a one room, tumbling down hovel close to the
bottom of the hills. That night he awoke, smelling the burning
and fearing treachery. An oil drum used for rubbish near a
house several yards away was ablaze, carelessly. In the house,
he knew, there were ten people, crammed into one room. He
imagined human limbs, bent, folded, twisted in postures of
sleep. The fire would consume the house, he was sure; commit
its treachery upon the darkness.
He sat on the floor and put on a pair of white, flashing
yachting shoes. It was the month of August. A cold wind was
tearing across the sky. The hills stood clenched in the darkness.
Stillness. But for the sound of insects, unseen yet near.
And the treachery of fire.
Theodore Maccacheer stood at the door of his hovel. It
was open, unhinged and falling away quite sick to death.
He looked at the blaze. The treachery streaked up his
nostrils. The house would go quickly, would be reduced to
dust and the dryness of the season. The cold wind whipped
through the sky.
He turned from it, and was pelting through the darkness.
His white yachting shoes flashed along the narrow track that
led to the asphalt road. He ran, not very fast, feeling the thud,
thud of the hard approving earth. He had left nothing behind.
He owned nothing. He was travelling, he felt, across a vast sea.
A swimmer across a vast sea.
Theodore Maccacheer was forty years old, as his limbs
carried him along the track. Soon it would be dawn, un-
stoppable, coming up over the eastern hills.
The narrow dirt track came to an end quite suddenly, in the
darkness of the month of August, pitching him out onto the
asphalt road. His flashing, white yachting shoes made jarring
contact with a new surface.
He turned from the direction of the Market Square and,
keeping close to the grass verge, began walking towards the
entrance of the Hospital. Across the road, beyond a green wire
fence, were a number of tall buildings. He saw oblong squares
of light, cars under sheds, private asphalt roads, a chain of
The road dipped slightly, crippling his gait. He would keep
moving until his feet, worn through the soles of his shoes, felt
the soft wetness of a new land; felt thick, lush grass, the
bones of dead animals.
illustrated by Ruel A. Hudson
And soon, unquestionably and within a shorter time than
he imagined, it would be dawn.
He stopped at the entrance of the Hospital, still on the
other side of the road. A car turned through the gate, acceler-
ated and picked him out with its headlights.
He was a shabby figure. His pants sagged, unstrapped at the
waist, the crotch unbuttoned. His face was heat battered,
covered with a scraggly beard. He stood with both hands in
his pocket. In the glare of the headlights, the yachting shoes
that shod his feet, flashed white, like a beam of light spitting
off a knife blade.
The headlights impaled him against the darkness before
sweeping away. The vehicle moved fast towards the Market
Place, disappearing around a bend. Lost now, travelling to the
Theodore Maccacheer crossed the road, to a gnarled tree at
the entrance to the Hospital. The hands in his pockets were
slowly swelling into a tense bunched-up fist. The smell of
treachery lingered around his nostrils.
Irrepressibly waves of morning light spilled over the top of
the crouched hills.
* * * *
He never knew when light tore down the house of darkness,
hardly noticed the sharp outlines of the burning hills, the
violence of dawn ripping through the land, stripping it of
warmth, uncertainty, the fear and hope of waiting.
He was forty years old and the owner of a pair of white,
flashing yachting shoes. He was standing under a tree, on the
edge of a crevice caused by a great shift in the earth. A sharp
light was streaming through. It kindled an old, drying bush fire
inside his entrails.
Dawn. A car came round the bend from the Market Place,
moving fast. Its headlights still on after a long journey through
the night. It passed him as he stepped back onto the asphalt
road. It missed hitting him. The driver screamed back obscen-
ities, distorted in the wind.
See him there now. He has known, all his life, only the
hardship of a swimmer upon the dry seabed. Day after day,
arm over arm, he has smashed through giant waves. At times,
exhausted, vision tired of the horizon's receding line, he would
turn on his back and gaze above the hills to the heavens. He
would contemplate the clouds, the tidal movement that left
shadows on the earth.
Lying on his back would bring him close to death. He
would panic, body slipping under by degrees, and begin to
tread water. To run, for movement; some sort of assertion
kept him alive.
See him there now.
The waves have began to swell. They threaten to lift his
small craft right out of the sea and throw it far into burning
The day is building up a heat-momentum
Traffic has appeared upon the asphalt road. The grey bus is
on the run. It sweeps around the bend at the Market Place,
travelling fast. It stops just ten yards away from where he
stands. The driver, youthful, handkerchief between neck and
collar to block the pressing heat, grips the huge wheel with
both hands. The bus beats up the air, airbrakes release the
pressure. It roars down to the village at the bottom of the hill.
And the day swells into a heat momentum.
He does not sense it, arm over arm through the bigness of
waves. He is peeling off strips of bark from the tree. Now and
then he surprises a lizard, its marble eyeballs watchful, motion-
less. He looks at a poster nailed onto the tree. Knowing, for
sure now, the old, drying bush fire spreading within.
But wait. See him there? He has moved.
The waves have picked him up, he is walking towards the
Market Place. The pavement is narrow and cracked, stones and
pebbles wait to trap the ankle. There are craters hacked out
by the sun and the rain and feet marching toward tomorrow.
Arm over arm, he flings forward. Debris is floating past his
eyes, looking straight ahead.
Heat battered, perspiring faces; the sharp clash of colour on
drab clothing; the turbulence of perfume trailing after an
overdressed young girl, whom he does not see and would not
desire; young men, veined muscles, talking querulously, rush-
ing with empty hands to claim the land's denial; women moving
slowly under imminent, pregnant frocks; and frequently a
child stumbling behind, looking back at something perceived,
slapped into tears and hauled on.
He comes within yards on the bend that leads beyond the
Market Place to the main road. This road runs to the city. But
he has turned and is walking back.
Do not marvel at his aimlessness, his drifting, empty pur-
pose. In a vast sea, a swimmer who has travelled long and far
sees only a horizon line and vast ranging space. His body bobs
like a coconut, felled from a tree. The sun chops at his brown
Meanwhile the face of the hill is burning in the season's
heat. He gazes at its biblical features, ten yards away from a
People have begun to assemble. The bus is charging up the
slope from the village at the bottom of the hill. It tears around
the corner, beating up the air. They load on. The bus stop is
vacant, the wind blows emptily through the street. People
gather again, one by one, waiting until they die. The bus picks
them up, takes them around the bend, to the main road and,
further to the city.
The sea is everywhere, in the asphalt street, in the hammer
of the heat, in the tension and sudden haste of the lizard
moving up the tree to the dark growth of branches, eyeballs
wide and watchful. Again he knows the drying bush fire with-
in, sees through reddened eyes the rising tide urging him (he
would not resist now) to float on his back, drift around the
bend to the city.
Under the bus shed the fire is so terrifying, people wait
outside. A boy, lifting one end of his pants, pissed through the
green wire fence. Ten yards apart an English priest is smiling
at the hills, at the face of the day, at the smell of passing sweat.
In his hand, held carelessly, is a blue airletter. It might be
snatched from his thin wrists at any moment by a swift, up-
lifting wind. A woman rushes out of the Hospital gates. She is
pregnant. She consults a black handbag.
After three minutes, the bus not yet in sight, a small group
approaches, dressed for ceremony. Two men look stem and
rebellious in black suits. One is smoking. His blotched cheeks
sink in to the bone as he inhales. There are three women with
them. They wear white dresses, long to the ankles, and squint
through steel rimmed glasses at the continuous traffic. Un-
ceasingly, they use tiny handkerchiefs to dab their faces, heat-
They glance at him, but do not understand his indifference
to it, to the stone-throwing temper of the sun. Why is he look-
ing at them like that?
They make sombre remarks to each other while the day
bums, the heat lashing away.
"The whole family gone dead, you see? The house bum up
while they all sleeping. They so far behind God back, nobody
could know when it happen ... "
The bus has come up, locked tight by airbrakes. The doors
swing open. They push, shove, scrambling up. He has stumbled
on the steps, but it moves off.
"Me hear say the smallest one escape. Run outside when he
smell the smoke. But like him gone lost. They don't find him
The vehicle is travelling fast. He looks through the square
space of the window, at the English priest still standing at the
spot, smiling at the day.
"The Lord works in strange ways. We cannot tell his
purpose. All we can do is thank Him for sparing our lives."
Coming around the bend, tyres humming, it barely misses
a man on a cycle going in the opposite direction wearing long,
matted locks. A Rastafarian. He disappears as the bus sweeps
around the bend and prepares to submerge into the hot regions
of the city.
"It hot like hell in here," says an old man next to him, his
grey hair cut close to the skull.
He does not answer. At the back of the bus, hunched up
tight in a corner, he does not answer.
There is confusion at the door. The bus conductress looks
harassed, exchanging coins for tickets; her hair askew under
the cap; her face wet and puffed, sagging with strain. People
keep piling into the bus. Its motor is running. It will soon
loop around the Square, dip and travel fast down the main
road, following the wire strung above on poles that line the
route to the city.
"When it move off, it wouldn't be so bad again. Though
the bus so pack up, the air can't even circulate. .. "
Outside drab buildings leaning on each other, in slow stages
of collapse. The heat bouncing off rust-zinc fences, off bare
heads, the littered asphalt Square. He can see past knots of
lounging youths into the dark regions beyond open doors.
Near the market the people scatter upon the land like litter
dropped from a passing ship. The smell of rotting fruit, the
odour of a urinal, quite close somewhere. Through a gap that
leads to a dark passage, he can see planks of wood, thrown
away things, a man close to the fence, feet apart, relieving
himself. Music spills out of a bar.
"You going right through? To Kingston?"
He does not answer. The sea is everywhere. The drying,
bush fire inside is his only knowledge. Words are banished.
Bells. The release of airbrakes, a slight convulsion throwing
many off balance, and the bus is in motion, gears shifting,
moving, now, fast.
From where he sits it is impossible to see far ahead. He is
following the wires on the poles overhead. On the road,
running parallel to the main street, houses are stacked side by
His eyes take in the view dimly through the glass window. A
man on a motor cycle races alongside the bus but falls back.
Strapped behind him is a large box. The sky is empty,
After a while the man next to him switches on a tiny
transistor. It crackles, making distorted sounds a voice with
an urgent, happy message which brings a smile to the man's
face, separating his lips to reveal discoloured teeth.
It would not disturb him. He would not object. He clung
to his vision of the sea, of the tide and the waves fishing on
the other side of the glass window.
At various points along the road, the bus stops and more
people crowd on. Body to body, wedged tight in the passage,
innumerable hands wearing rings, a bandage, a soiled glove -
gripping the handrail, greasy from the fire of sweating palms.
Another bus passes, going in the opposite direction. He sees
for a brief minute, while the drivers honk at each other, eyes
peering through the thick haze from black faces.
He looks away. The man next to him cranes forward,
The bus has stopped again, motor running. Across the
street, vast, sprawling low buildings, with oblongs of glass filled
with dissolving images and reflections. The showcases of stores,
the posture of mannequins, wax faces frozen following the eye
with expensive, mocking allure. He could no longer see the
sky. It was blocked out now by huge posters and billboards,
carrying outsize faces.
When the bus moves again, it takes another bend, gears
grinding, and dips. Its descent is now along a narrow road. He
could see the hills again, not the green, biblical features of early
morning. There are jagged rocks and hewn out regions.
Another stop. More waiting. His eyes fall on a youth
standing at the corner of a street that peels off from the main
road. Inside his private knowledge suddenly flares. The youth
is bracing a lampost, his feet crossed; he is pulling fiercely at a
cigarette, a cool slow motion of hands to lips, a sullen, fixed
stare behind dark glasses, his face wreathed in flames.
Their eyes meet, and sparks fly from a collision of private
The bus would not move off. The doors have not closed.
A few people attempting to get on are caught in the doorway.
The bell rings. The conductress is angry, curses the black faces,
the smiling arrogant teeth.
And suddenly his back feels heavy on the bed of the sea. He
is sinking again. The youth outside takes a final long pull at
the cigarette, then flicks the butt end at his window, eyes
smoking with contempt, the bush fire of the victim's hate.
Sinking by degrees, unable now to float, he knows he must get
His shoulders through the throngs in the passage way, tread-
ing feet on the floor, shuffling forward, the smell of travel and
the bush fire trailing in his wake.
His progress is aggressive, without apology. It is taking time.
The bus, quite suddenly, jerks and moves off. He freezes,
stranded in the passage way.
Riding faster now, the bus, digs deeper into the seabed of
the city. They pass through narrow streets. He stoops once,
catching a glimpse of a zinc fence over which faces peer, heads
wrapped in coloured scarves. Slowing down, then picking up
again, the motor racing into gear, the airbrakes in lock and
release, the bus churns through a gauntlet of shops; the pave-
ment is filled with swimming faces.
He could feel the strong vibrations of the city, a turmoil of
sound as the waves smash into the side of the bus. He is staring
into a pool of sweat, under the armpit of the man in front. A
spreading pool of sweat on his shirt, as the man hangs by his
hands from the rail.
The moment the bus stops he flings himself forward. His
white, flashing yachting shoes cut a vicious path, his soil-soaked
body cleaves through the centre of the passage. He reaches the
door, where three steps dip to the asphalt street. He starts
down, trips and is flung into the vast, roaring city.
* * * * *
It is the month of December. Near the end of the year. The
pleasant confusion in the city at this time. Slow, continuous
hum of traffic, people milling through King Street. There are
The silver buses bring hundreds to the city. There, another
has just arrived. It is the Christmas season.
You walk past the big stores, and music soft, chiming,
familiar melodies filters through the air. You breathe deeply,
inhaling a strange excitement, a bouyant feeling of mingling,
stepping aside, pausing to look things with other people.
Overhead, far above the roof of buildings, a fickle afternoon.
Clouds shift, patches of blue filling out the sky again. It is a
quarter past one. It may rain again a few hours later.
The season is everywhere, tumultuous in the city, splendid
over the hills, streaking through the country side.
There are so many children in the streets. Policemen, in
pairs, stride slowly by, chat to each other, give directions to a
woman weighed down with gift-wrapped parcels.
There is a commotion around the bend. Does your heart
Something has happened, the street is grinding to a halt. A
few people point in the direction of the Post Office. The
policemen are running back, hands to their hips. So many
things happen at this time of the year.
A crowd is swinging into King Street. At the intersection
traffic has come to a stop. It seems they have held someone,
the fellow with hands pinioned behind his back, in the centre
of the crowd. Clerks from a large store nearby have heard the
commotion and look out through the windows on the second
They come closer. The man's face is covered in blood. A
man in a grey suit keeps striking him with a walking stick.
He is screaming something to the clerks above, repeating
the word 'criminal' over and over. The crowd shrieks.
Children are running ahead to look at him.
As they pass, it is difficult to see his face. He is an old man.
He shuffles forward, the howling mob heavy on his back. The
feet are dancing, the feet are marching up the street. Wait.
Among the moving legs, close to the asphalt the flash, of
white yachting shoes. The man with the bleeding face.
Do you know him?
ground doves: Man I
by Dennis Scott
When the bird has rustled out of his fingers, Church
image of Supreme Desire I
perceive how faith knots together his prison-
hacked hands and the mysteries
He in his knitted cap
(crown: ruby topaz emerald)
celebrates freedom: the blood and the gold
that wasn't in the streets after all
and the leaves instead, herbs
that lift a great weight, sap
like blood forcing the feathered smoke of his sweat
with the lack of death. Even old men's knuckles
become countries as rough as roots
beginning again, wonderful, opening to release
birds. They protest that love should lock up anything.
As he wingless
though his hands are fluttering like, shivering like bare trees
the sap moves in his throat with terrible silence.
believe into the sun, be humble. Perceive
majesty at every cult, every vision
where such reversals of death gentle the gashed air,
making the street serene
making a present
of wings suddenly
red and yellow and green.
by Dennis Scott
The canes burn. I show you
a vision of smoke: poled high,
cut, her head startles
the children; birds die crisply
among our cutlasses, blood-drunk,
shrivelled smaller than her tongue.
Perhaps it is the heat
she complained of Year after year
I remember her
rings, heavy as iron,
and the great linen sails
of her gown's passage. Hoisted now,
her yellow hair silent
she stares home
past our hate, through
the ash falling like grey wind on her
mouth, loose in the shimmering air.
And when the field furls out later
its emeral knives,
will you forget that
thick flesh here, grown
soft and nourishing?
by Dennis Scott
Like a tongue shivering
at the wind's throat
the hill moves a little.
In the chapelled grass,
an introit of birds.
Today the walls of libraries
break open, bird shadows
pierce the shelves and disfigure
the pages. In offices too
desks are charred
by the energy of our desire;
in the houses we leave
machines open -
mouthed, wounded; idols
are shaken to dust, the theatres
crack like eggs
in sunlight, revealed
as mockeries, imprecise.
No need for darkness now
to contain the hatched wings' thrust.
We leave the city
pursued by memories
drawn towards the pocked hill.
Do not expect marble
or epitaphs. We will
recognize their rooms
by the sound of grass
over them. We arrive.
Those who remember
begin with laughter,
asserting the perpetual
delight of makers:
what I say is true
what I say is true
as these witness.
And softly, as a hill survives,
resisting the weight of grass, wind, sunstroke,
as bird compose
voluntaries in air
after a yolked, hard beginning,
their acts of endurance.
in the violence of our coming
this place has possessed us
this place has possessed us
all who came
victor and victim
Till the old ones, chained and rooted
in their ribbed chancels
are comforted by our devotion,
the great birds hurled
and rejoicing like requiems up
the arching wind,
the hill's green motion.
by Anthony McNeill
On Sunday all come to the zoo.
Zipped in my ape-suit tight, I freak
Public. When a child tosses a
Peanut through, I eat it like you.
This is a zoo. And who are you?
Outside my cage, sane citizens
Lime on stilts in their Sunday-suits.
Slinging in fruit, they make me do
An insane rock-steady for you,
Make me stand on my head and do
Other tricks to almost prove right
My wrong presence here in this zoo.
This is a cage. And who are you?
Two neighboring lions half-seen
Through slits, recline in the sun. They
Hate everything human, will do
Not even the least trick for you.
Their common contempt makes us one.
I pitch back your fruit, When you trip
On my skin of sickness, bruised blue,
I71 slip from my cage and into
The pure life of lions. I'm death-
Sick of being two. These sane green
Animals seal my rent like glue.
On Sunday all come to the zoo.
Zipped out, it's easy to freak in
From you. But, conversely, right on
Cue, the others do tricks for you.
Tacking the Scene
by Anthony McNeill
It is twilight. These are the trees.
I label them in deference
To this son who is three years old
And requires tags for his world.
To an intellect more complex
Raw seeing, perhaps, would suffice;
But for this child, naming's the.start
Of what things mean, and the mind's growth
Unconsciously in reflex
He files them inside his mind for
The future; while lips, larynx, tongue
Attempt to recite the present.
It comes out wrong as expected.
Sensing failure, he sulks; nags me
To repeat. I tag them again,
Oppressed by a sense ofommission.
For what these entities should teach
Is expression's reverse, that state
Where pure being becomes pure praise.
Trees don't speak. They only exist.
This is the twilight. And these are
The trees. Bald life is what they state.
Is anything added by the
Signatures of children or poets?
by Anthony McNeill
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
Ascent was never more easy.
Sky mirrored her broken body
and rained future sorrow which swung
her up lightly toward heaven.
Reaching the top, resolute still,
She paused cooly for crowds to fill,
unruffled when vertigo reeled
her down to the edge like a kite.
Then everything snarled. When someone
skied the word jump like a pellet
it only heightened the static.
Crazed by this level, she stepped back
into her life given over
again to fiance and cops
strung under the building like nets
to retrieve whatever was left.
by Anthony McNeill
Legs tucked, pressed
into the strict undercarriage,
they circle the air
in full-cognizance of its drifts and secrets.
Each sneaks out a loft
and settles upon it,
straddling it till the wings laze wide and relax,
content with this slow, effortless round and descent.
Cunning, they all assume
a careless carnival spirit,
less vultures than children
spinning harmlessly round the under-sky's axis.
They are dangerous, nevertheless;
their starved eyes, endlessly seeking,
relentlessly reconnoiter our steppes,
At the first proof of death,
That charming balance disrupts,
and the crows, cropped into dread
fallen angels, crash down and rip
at our leavings till nothing is left.
Then they are off, flap-
ping back fat
but still famished,
in an ache for more servings from death,
Hungering home from the husks of the spirit.
by Anthony McNeill
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
Many believe one day the ship
will drop anchor at Freeport;
But now it's enough to praise
high on the s iff The smoke-
blackened city wounds
instant divines to enter
their pipes like dreams.
rears in a hundred tenements.
Missed by my maps.
Still compassed by reason,
my ship sails cooly between
Africa and heaven.
by Anthony McNeill
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
His glass eye's in
Whenever it's light.
He sleeps with it out,
when it's dark,
and no one's about
to see the rictus of socket
But once he wakes up,
it's back in quick-
ly to mask the gap.
Its mobile and plastic, iris
stained black to match,
and looks like the other so much
he could almost forget
which is which,
the sighted one has
extended its arc
for a view almost like normal sight.
some point of view
has been cut in
a defect which skids him- back
daily into the past
to recall, neurotic
that night of his youth in London
when the "long-haired bastards" smashed in
the quick random assault
which clouded forever
the clear iris of trust.
For my many pupils
and only son
by Gloria Escoffery
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
Are not these my daughters, these girls
On fashioned feet treading
Towards their bright mirrors?
Shakespeare I give them
For the dark days,
To roll on the tongue in moments of pain.
Are not these my co-heiresses, these daughters,
In island shallows treading
Their sand drift days?
Yeats's Fisherman I give them
For the island locked time
To stand with on the rock of the world, leaning outwards.
Is not this troll my son, fisherboy,
Combing the conger eels with eyes for hooks?
A gold net I give him and rainbow lures in rows
To catch a green mermaid with hooks for eyes,
To charm a green harpy in a silver box.
A Common Mountain
by Christopher Lawrence
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
Outcrops of limestone run through the red earth;
a man takes up a few stones,
rakes his lot, plants what grows
against the grain of rock.
I will tell you tales
of the black and ugly, the crude
molasses, my arse's skin; I'll name you
what you need to lack, call it yours,
teach you to ruin me, answer
what you ask, tell you the time
as I articulate my rock, certify
my seed, with a protective grin.
he rents. It is not his, according to books
the literate rights. Two children consumed
by parasites that filtered through the feet;
the rest have rickets, all the teeth
they ever had worn down or fallen out.
A woman weaves tight frayed braids of hair,
rakes ashes, cooks.
From the bitter rift of sunshine
you can see her breasts' imbalance
beneath the shift he has to see her wear;
a totally determined dislocation.
I will tell
tales of black and ugly, my molasses
skin, iterate the shape
of economic units, the limestone crop,
the cumulation of each day's weight,
take these few stones
from which my palped tongue springs.
by John Figueroa
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
Tall for seventeen fit
for a tumble
('A guess hard time
tek her') she said
her mother's misfortune
(Her strict mother whose
Three men had left
her holding five pledges to fortune.)
She came easily into
refusing only to kiss
('any familiarity an
we stop right now')
Dixerat as lacrymae rerum used to say.
She's in the public domain
She's lost her patent rights
But would not kiss
('A guess hard time tek her')
Familiarity would spoil
The moment's glow.
('A guess hard time tek her')
She is in the public domain
She's copied, copied, copied.
'You have bad min'
Doan tell nobody
Doan tell nobody
Doan mek me do it
Doan mek mi do it
You see I intend to be
No need to apologise
(Lawd it sweet!)
"But if you try to kiss
Me I will scream. "
by Maryon Munn
CER TIFICA TE OF MERIT
A sudden summer rain.
fall prodigal on brown and dusty grass.
The scent is strong
of warm dry earth receiving liquid life.
A memory of childhood's many rains
floods grateful through my mind.
The sudden rains -
Permission quickly sought
we used to run, barefoot and shirtless
with upturned face
in a new world
made magic by the rain
And when it passed, too soon,
our fingers reached for vanished drops
and the last sprinkles from rainbow leaves
Jewelled by the too bright sun.
The weeklong rains -
Endless, confining, gray.
The dripping panes impatient noses pressed against
encompassing the lawn.
The edges, when the water starts to draw,
banked high with old cut grass
as dead, as boring
as the long card games
that stretched the pale days out.
The rains we used to make -
when no.rain came -
with hose and washpan in the sun.
The casuarina tree, Godhigh
was a vast forest
and the lake our washpan lake -
tormented by a storm.
The swaying tree, my bother hidden high,
showering needles, cones and nozzled rain.
The stinging grains of water jetted down
brilliant and dazzling in the dancing light.
The matchbox ships,
with sales of coralilla leaves, soon sank.
Submerged, the leaves shone glassily -
though deeply held.
And now the drops of memory sparsen, dry
like summer rain. Too soon the sun
sucks up the thoughtful pools.
Anaktoria by Anne Giray (Durie)
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
into your eyes
seeing the burnt amber
of the burning hills
I touch your
framing the iris
of your questioning
that sail in images
of ancient fleets
to distances I wish
that I could reach
women have always
a movement of memories
so now it is
that deep from her centuries
climbing across the many minutes
of the world
here in myself anaktoria stirs
Country Store by Anne Giray (Durie)
CERTIFICATE OF MERIT
Saturday I leave
the city its week
of hidden dawns
I drive through
on narrow roads
their smoke that penetrates
the scent of corncharred cobs
I hurtle across squat bridges
stone filled rivers
by cattle pastures
where sail-like the gaulins
sail white regattas
on the cowpushed grass
one after another
villages fume out
their human story
umber and orange lit
time drops like a bird at sunset
where Saturday's laughter
peddles the twilight
near home I stop
across the street
rutted and wet
arched by a shop's door
shadows barter for jerked pork
no basket now
of heavy yam breadfruit green banana
no salty woman with her dagger tongue
they are all gone
gone with the evening
I cross the road and enter in
the shop tilts a little acknowledging
Barrabbas from behind the bar
mutters of an old time wrong
clips open a bottled beer
tips back and swallows
has he got time for foreigners?
I watch from a distance
Miss Ulips condensed
into a dizzy shade
of green Milo tins
sardines machete blades
wipes her hand then disappears
back again she waits
fretting abit she starts to talk
but should she talk
the men watching her?
suddenly the belch
of a loudmouthed sound system
covers our short lived conversation
the shop tightens
light dances on nickel iron pot
syrup and printed cotton
but Hi-Fi cannot hide
those things that permeate
our small transactions
sadly I climb into your eyes
across a wooden counter
split by nails
O! what can I say?
like you I buy a pound of sugar
St Joseph's aspirin
and wonder still
what is the matter with us?
Age 13 yrs. SILVER MEDAL
Some preachas great bwoy
Before yu dem a saint, but behind yu bak dem heart
full a joy.
Dem a tell people no fi tief, lie an curse,
But behind de people bak dem a do tings much worse.
A dem same wan a nite time a hole up people wid knife,
A dem same wan a nite time a go out with other preachas wife.
Wan lady passed a remark...
"As dem a saint dem shouldn't use knife but fark."
Dem a tell people fi read bible a nite,
But wen yu go a fi dem yard yu nuh see not a bible
in a yu site.
An nothing nuh hat me like wen dem go pan de pulpit
Dem a talk sey we mus go out and de word of God preach.
But wen you see dem a drive go Church a nite time late,
A onlyfe go dip in a de Collection plate.
An wen yu see dem up an dung in dem car,
Check out wey dem park, 'Before rum bar.
Dem ha wan Proverb 'Still Water run deep',
Well a same wey wid de preacha dem, dem gwan like dem
a de living tief
Anyway wid me no get mad,
Me only wan fi show yu sey dat some a de
preacha dem really 'Wossa dan bad'.
D.J. Henry SILVER MEDAL
Half-eaten moth lying on the couch.
Dead bird on the lawn. Lover
Calling in skies, looking
For its lost one.
No one knowing the love
Of a milkweed, as it blows
In the wind, and under your bed,
There to die in the choking dust.
Fools and idiots fear death,
But one that is mad- dreams of death,
And a sane person lingers and knows
Not what to think of death.
Still we all win our prize of death,
To help form the opinions of death.
Lizard choking at the end of a string,
Pleasing the audience of little boys.
Spraying poison on a worm, while being
Watched by another worm in horror.
Someone in a temper shut the cat
In a drawer to suffocate.
Then after it's dead -
Wondering why ... How could I do it?
Like Indians we search for death,
Treading on the flowers;
Helping the weeds.
And once they grow they stifle us
In misunderstanding and discontent.
As we feed the spiders of our mind,
We still forget to sweep the cobwebs out -
And so live in wigwams of death.
Linda Henry BRONZE MEDAL
Life is a space of time,
In which our souls and minds
Fight the captivity of our bodies.
A space of time spent searching
To never find the answers;
A search for peace, and one
That's never satisfied;
A space of time spent searching
For one to share our closest dreams with.
But borne alone,
We spend our lives alone;
In spite of all our dearest friends.
Brian Meeks BRONZE MEDAL
"Hail Jah!" crossed the road, approached the crowd;
Dark deep eyes staring outwards
A general backward step.
White faces, black faces all baptized hands
Made a general backward step.
Approached again, spoke.
"ETHIOPIA, THE LAND OF FATHERS,
THE LAND WHERE ALL GODS LOVE TO BE;
AS THE SWIFT BEES TO HIVE SUDDEN GATHER
THY CHILDREN ARE GATHERED TO THEE
WITH OUR RED GOLD AND GREEN FLOATING O'ER US
WITH THE EMPEROR TO SHIELD US FROM WRONG
WITH OUR GOD AND OUR FA THEIR BEFORE US,
WE HAIL THEE WITH SHOUTAND WITH SONG!"
Halted, raised black arm high, became once more audible.
"Dis I a defend! Time a draw nigh! Truth will persevere over
A general gasp and mumble
Baptized hands fidgeting at sides
Pupils dilating with realization.
All backward movements terminate,
Numbers will dominate they know to themselves
Together they rally then retaliate.
Locks an end alone he faces
No fear present in deep black eyes.
"Numbers will triumph, the masses will win."
He shouts, penetrating the ranks of the mob.
Comprehension and shock charge through their ranks
The masses will win just as they thought,
Crowd dispersed, hands in pockets
Christian hands fisted in pockets.
Lone head raised defiantly
Above the parting crowd
From one black mouth departed
Words shouted loud:
"Give thanks and praise to the one high
God of all Rastafari, King of Kings.
Lord of Lords.
For deliverance from the hands of Babylon".
Thousands of pelting accompaniments:
Issuing forth thick pervading moods,
Touching and dripping from looming shaggy clumps,
Against the flat plane of grey
Which stretches into unknown endless dimension;
Grey blank inviting rich future memories
STo paint themselves in bright substantial colours.
Close and penetrating in their bleakness.
Accompaniments invoking dreams
Of walking through grey streets,
Of grey skyscrapers, grey slippery sidewalks,
And grey, grey, grey, beyond...
A little child in raincoat, cap and plastic boots,
Walking down a country lane,
Feeling an intangible humid emotion:
Weak with trying to catch the rain.
Linda Henry BRONZE MEDAL
Walking down the aerial street,
Which comers and edges
Into a distance of cars and heat,
Past moulded tree roots
Springing from trodden dust...
Dry tortured writhing grass -
Yellow, and crackled brown.
Pouring rich sweat from blurry bodies...
Loud humid coarse vibrations of movement
Penetrating stragglers clustered near record-shops;
Black oozing skin striving to the light.
Lethargic common schoolyard
With fertile tamarine trees. Their fruit
Reaching down to grasp at hungry eager fingers,
Or to fall violated on the ground...
Checkered uniforms of schoolgirls
Ambling in discontented togetherness
And gossip circles,
To the nearest lazy plaza...
Grumbling typical domestics
Sinking slowly homeward,
With occasional colloquial chuckle
of agreement or remark...
As dusky darkness seeps through the atmosphere,
And I rest unbidden at the foot
Of a mango-laden tree,
To captivate heavy darkness, and Jamaican nightfall,
Against the silhouettes of guarding thick wet hills.
It cannot claim existence anymore;
For there is nothing left.
It's all the same.
But then, the loser smiles at us,
He takes his down-cast eyes
Away from all the memories
And, walking from the musty air
He leaves us here;
To wind his way into another world.
What a 69 Generation
Every where you go,
All you'll hear bout is go-slow
And as for fashion,
You 'I hear wash and wear without iron.
Young girls saying "Mine is mini"
The other ones reply "well mine is hipsters Winnie"
You'll see the necklace,
Dangling in the face,
And what you see in the backless,
Only the chunky-chunky heel!
You'll hear bout "Cleopatra" selling down Vandal,
When you inquire is what, you hear that it's a sandal.
Girls with bald heads saying is afro.
Boy in dashiki singing in patois
Girls and boys saying that they defend 'Black Power'
Some black as tar and some white as flour.
Turn on the radio while you are lighting the fire,
You'll hear 'Liquidator'and 'Bongo Niah'
You 71 see them twisting up as if they have caught a germ.
Ask them what they are doing, they will reply 'The Worm'.
The pickneys going to and fro,
Inquire where they are going 'oh, to a picture show'
Ask them again "You are not going to school?"
Reply is 'Mom, I hate rules'
The parents all getting cross,
Ask them what is the matter, "Every thing is 'Boss.
As for the teachers, they are not better but worse,
See them down town in mini with matching purse,
When sun is not hot, see them in dark glasses,
Some of them resemble the living asses,
But Lord! What a Generation!
Missis give me pass, let I go look bout me salvation.
Basil E. Lyn
Linda Henry BRONZE MEDAL
Sitting on our long lost stools
At the drunken bars of unfulfillment.
Scraps of wisdom slip from beggar's throats,
And gather in one raked conglomerate;
A garbage heap.
Tossed later to lie on trampled streets.
A singing, light and floating loser
Raises his woe-filled glass,
Tosses it into broken fragments of his yesterday.
And stamps it all into the dust.
The frolicsome, frivolous dolphin,
A mixture of garish green and bottle blue;
Like a spare trim missile
Keenly knifing through the clear truquoise water,
Precariously perched upright on the waves,
Uttering shrill, short syllables like the gulls' cries.
His flippers a flurry of movement like applause;
A picture of joy with action and sound!
Uncaring and comical, careening backwards
Suddenly like an acrobat leaps into the air,
Arched like an arc, poised for a fraction of a second,
Then he plunges swiftly, swerving into the depths,
He reappears like a rocket, cutting the frothy waves aside,
With a triumphant screech, the clown of the seas.
Jeanetta M. Salmon
Age 10 yrs. 7 mths.
Shh Bud, Hurry up,
Tip toe, Don't fret.
Shut up, The combination's 634,
Move slow. Come on, open up the door.
Hold your breath, Here it is,
Dog is near, Let's run!
Phew! Got by. Now we're out,
Safe is here. My! that was fun.
How much money do we get?
by Robert Paisley
Festival '70 Colour Transparency "Preparation"
Rose Murray Bronze Medal
by Charles I. Morgan
Illustrations by Carl Abrahams
There she stood under the mango-tree
washing. Yes, there was so much work to
do and nobody to help her. There was
Willie's, and the four children's dinner to
prepare, and it was now three-o-clock and
yet the washing wasn't finished.
Beatrice dried her hands and went to
the kitchen, and busily began her kitchen
chores. Oh, that dirty pot that the lunch
was prepared in, was so hard to wash out,
with all the imprints of the burnt dump-
lings, saltfish and yam left behind. Any-
way she finally got through, got some
fresh wood and some kerosene oil and
started a fire which soon began crackling
- and hell, there was no water in the
little old bucket and she now had to walk
to the stand-pipe and back.
"What a crosses pon me", she muttered
to herself as she lumbered off the bucket
over her shoulder, "A only hope de baby
woan wake up before me cum back".
She reached the stand-pipe filled her
bucket and started climbing up the long
steep hill and as the sun was so hot, she
was forced to stop every now and then to
As she passed by the mango tree, she
butted her left toe against a stone, and
some of the water spilled out.
"Jesas Chrise", she said, "a wonda wat
kine a bad luck dis is?"
She finally got home, still thinking of
the bad luck in store for her, put on the
pot, and put in the piece of "goose neck"
that she bought on Friday.
She couldn't have completed the task
a minute before the baby woke up and
started crying. She washed and dried her
hands and took up the baby, kissed and
stroked it, and started to feed it.
By then the smallest girl, aged five,
came in from the Junior School.
"Evening mama" she said and Beatrice
answered quietly, "evening dear, wat yu
larn today?" After this question the little
girl said a poem, and showed her piece of
frameless slate covered with chalk marks.
"Come stay wid de baby, mek me go
finish de little washing an doan mek him
drop off de bed", she said as she hustled
out of the house.
Shortly after, the other children return-
ed from school and after the usual greeting,
the next words heard were. "Mama we
hungry", but as the food was not yet ready
they all had to wait.
Five-o-clock and the dinner was still not
ready. The children yawned, stretched and
one even fell asleep under the table.
Willie was the last sheep of the unhappy
fold to' come in and with him he brought
Beatrice had just finished her washing
for the day, and only a dress which she
planned to wash the next day was left
When she entered the dining room
Willie was trying to take up the child on
the floor and without even replying to her
"Good evening, Willie dear", he started to
yap her head off . :- "You mean to sey
a soon six-o-clock and de pickney dem no
nyam yet nor tidy. Wat happen to you
Beatrice? You doan ha one ting fe do in a
yard, more dan fe chat wid de naybas. Gi
de pickney dem something fe nyam and
sen dem to dem bed!"
Even though this hurted Beatrice, she
said nothing, for she knew this wasn't the
truth, and she bathed the children and
gave them their dinner, and sent them to
bed before getting something for Willie
and herself. She then lit the lamps which
gave more smoke than light.
That night Beatrice couldn't sleep and
neither could Willie though neither of them
knew that the other wasn't sleeping. Bea-
trice was thinking of how she could better
their position for without Willie's money
(small though it was) they could never
Willie was thinking about getting an-
other job, for he had been fired that day;
and speaking his thoughts aloud said,
"How me. a go tell Beatrice, and whey de
other job a come from".
Beatrice heard every word and said
cooly, "Wha happen, tell me, yu lose de
job, tell me no!" In a very husky voice
Willie answered. "Yes. Beatrice de Boss-
man fire me because a stop wuk before
lunch-time, but a couldn't do better for de
sun was so hot, an a was tired, an by the
way excuse me for how a did 'ack this
evening;" but Beatrice hardly heard the
words that followed. 'Yes' for she was
weeping like a child. There were seven of
She butted her left toe against a stone.
them to be fed and clothed and the child-
ren had to go to school. What could she
Willie placed his hand around her
shoulder and after a time her tears sub-
sided, but the only words she spoke now
and again were "How we a go manage
Later on, she asked for a glass of water
and Willie took the only glass from the
three legged table and got her a drink
from out of the Clay pitcher, which was
resting on the floor. More than half-an-
hour passed, with the couple lying without
saying any thing to each other. Then
Willie drifted off into sleep, leaving Beatrice
staring at the ceiling, never closing her
eyes for one split second, until dawn
when a neighbour's cock started calling
every one from their beds.
It was a cold dark morning but Beatrice
got up at her usual hour (five-o-clock)
dressed and went out to the kitchen taking
the tin-lamp (the kitchen-bitchas she call-
ed it) with her.
As she did the washing up, lit the fire,
and swept the fire-side, she was more
determined tohelp her children get through
She then decided to take in people's
washing or to get a job as a general help in
town, but what will happen to her house-
work, baby, and washing when she can't
afford a maid.
She told Willie of her plans when he
came out to the kitchen to talk with her.
He listened attentively, then said to her
"Wha gwine happen to the baby, yu caan
carry him go town wid yu, so yu know
wha stay ya, mi wi go look wuk."
She didn't obey his order to the letter
for she made up her mind that if it was
even to do peoples' washing at her home
she would do so.
After having their breakfast which was
nothing more than a cup of coffee and a
hunk of bread each, Beatrice woke up the
four bigger children and after seeing to it
that their faces were properly washed, gave
them their breakfast-
Meanwhile, Willie had gone to see Mr.
little-John, who was a white resident
nearby, to see if he could even get a day's
At home, Beatrice had sent off the
children to school after giving them al
proper neck scrubbing, and was wending
her way to her sister's house, to ask if she
would give her the job of washing her
clothes at her (Beatrice's) home.
Both husband and wife returned home
down-hearted, for Mr. little-John had no
odd jobs to be done and Martha (Beatrice's
sister) already had a laundry-woman.
In the afternoon, luck was on Beatrice's
side for Mr. Basil, a batchelor came to
speak to her. He had no-one to wash or
iron for him so he was asking that Beatrice
do them at her home. Beatrice was over-
joyed for she would be getting two day's
work for a week, and even though the
money was small, it was better than
Unlike the other men in the district,
Willie never cultivated anything, and he
didn't encourage his children to keep
vegetable gardens.. So what were they go-
ing to do?
That day Beatrice said to him, while
they were in the kitchen, she preparing
the dinner while he sat staring into the
"A tink we could a plant some pitata
an red peas yu know Willie, for dem bring
quick money and would keep we off de
flour an rice", and he replied "Yu know
yu right, a gwine start fe weed in the
morning and as tomorrow being Thursday
the pickney dem can stop from school fe
After the children came from school
and had their dinner, they were told about
the plans and that Willie had lost his job.
Then, Beatrice suggested tell a few of
Willie's friends, Mike, Tom and Dick, and
some of her friends Molly, Mary, Kate
and others, and have a morning sport.
The women would get together and look
about the food while the men did the weed-
ing and digging.
The children were sent to .tell the
women and Willie went out to Sam's shop
where all the men met and there he
informed them of his plans. They were
all surprised that Willie had turned to
cultivating, but said they would all help
Early next morning everybody involved,
met at Willie's house drank coffee, and
with their hoes and machetes went down
to clear the ground. There was much
singing and working, and at noon, when
the women went to see how the men were
getting on, and brought their lunches, the
place was cleared and some digging had
By evening all the work was completed,
and there was drinking until about eight-
o-clock when every body went to their
homes and Beatrice, Willie and the child-
ren went to their beds.
The next day, Willie got potato slips
from a few friends bought some red peas,
and he and the whole family planted them.
Monday morning, the whole family got
up early, but as the little money they had
was spent on the "morningsport" (digging
match) and groceries there wasn't enough
money to send the children to school.
This continued throughout the week and
even though Beatrice got twelve shillings
for the two days she spent washing and
ironing Mr. Basil's clothes; the children
had to stop from school a second week.
On Saturday evening, Willie left the
"slave" Beatrice and went to Sam's shop
where he got drunk (apparently on free-
Liquor) only to return home to heap
abuses on Beatrice and he even went as far
as to blame her for their poverty and to
In her torment, Beatrice went to bed
early, but didn't sleep for hours, as might
be expected, for that same night the baby
was fretful and she had to be up for the
greatest part of the night.
The next morning the child vomited,
She took the child to Mother "Banna" an obeah woman.
Now rolling in the flames.
and as Beatrice could not "diagnose" the
illness, she took it to "Mother Banna"
an obeah woman,living two miles away, to
see if she could help, and possibly to tell
why her life was so full of misery.
"Mother Banna" had told her that she
could not find the cause of the child's ill-
ness, but that if she would return a week
later she would be helped.
In the meantime she would send five
pounds to do the job. Beatrice was
worried. Where would that money come
Luck attended her, for her sister lent
her the amount and she posted it off.
Four days passed and the baby became
worse everyday, then on Friday the sixth
day it died as Beatrice was feeding it.
The mother was shocked, so shocked
that she didn't realize that her child, her
darling child was gone forever, until about
half an hour later.
Then some questions poured into her
mind Why had she married Willie a
poor man in the first place?
Why was everybody else happy apart
from her, even though she tried to make
the best of things. Why was her life so
meaningless? Then the tears rolled down
her cheeks, and her heart felt like it would
break, and she finally lost her mind.
Hurriedly she tore a beautiful bedspread
into strips and joined them. Then she tied
it around the now cold child, and flooded
the whole place with kerosene oil. As she
drew the match, she laughed hysterically,
now rolling in the flames, kissing her child,
now laughing now crying and eeeee ... e,
she screamed, and screamed again and
prayed. Finally she took the child, and
embraced it. (the last time she would ever
This was her end. All her troubles were
over. She was now sleeping, the sleep of
babes with her child.
Willie, yes Willie would have to care
for the rest.
by Alexander Cooper
A. Yellow base ceramics lamp
Mico Training College
B. Green ceramic bowl
C. Crafts display
Fort Augusta Prison
Mrs. L. Younis
E. "Car Cleaner" Painting in oil
F "Market Day" Painting in oil
G. "The Village" Painting in oil
H. "Shelling Corn" Painting in oil
L. "Nude Boy Watercolour
J. "Landscape" Painting in oil
K. "Mother and Child" Sculpture in wood
L. "Young Philosopher" Model in plaster
M. "Bulging Eyes No. 1" Sculpture in wood
N. "Composition No. 2" Painting in oil
of Y MPIb y Kim Robins
Gup-Gup was a real old-time Village.
Everything in the Village was old-time.
All of the people were old-timers; the
youngsters would go off to Kingston to
get white-collar jobs. The houses were
old. The Village shop was old. The bar
was old. The beliefs and ideals were old.
Miss Essie was one of the oldest people
in the Village. She lived by herself down
in the stony part of the valley where the
little mountain stream came trickling out
of the ground.
Miss Essie was all alone. Some of the
villagers thought that her miserable and
aggravating ways were mainly the cause of
all her sisters, brothers, cousins, children
and grandchildren not to mention the
fathers of the children and grandchildren
- deserting her for the City.
But this did not affect Miss Essie. In
fact, she did not mind at all. Within her-
self she knew that she had loving ways.
Alas, she only showed this wonderful side
of her when she cared for her yampi-plot.
The yampi-plot was Miss Essie's pride
and joy. Every day, rain or shine, she
would go into her little piece of land, and
she would culture and nurture the plot of
yampi. Sometimes she would travel a mile
or more with a big crocus bag of manure
on her back, just for her yampi-plot. And
at the times when the sun was too hot, or
the rain beat too heavily on the vines, Miss
Essie would personally build a little shel-
ter of coconut leaves to protect her yampi.
All of her work was not in vain. For
when the yampi crop came out of the
ground each season, they were the whitest,
softest, sweetest ones in all that side of
And Miss Essie loved her yampi. So,
for a few days every season, she would eat
yampi all day. Fried yampi for breakfast.
Yampi soup for lunch. Yampi again for
But what annoyed the villagers was that
Miss Essie did not like to share her lovely
yampies with them. When they came for
an occasional good-will visit to her house,
and she happened to be having a meal
with yampi, did Miss Essie offer them
And what was even worse was that
although the old lady sold the yampi that
she did not want to the villagers, it was at
such an exhorbitant price that they could
only afford to buy a piece once in a blue
One day, when they were all standing
around the door of the village shop, and
chatting happily, Miss Lou ran up to
them and breathlessly gave them the latest
"Miss Essie yampi gone up to 60c
"Lawd!" said Mas' Randolph. "Is time
we do somet'in' 'bout dis!"
But what could they do?
Then one day, Miss Essie received a
letter from her brother in Kingston. She
found her spectacles, then carried the
letter out into the sunlight, and gradually
deciphered its contents. It was a very
short letter. It read: "Essie I am sending
out my granddaughter Francina to spend
a week with you. She need a rest from all
her boyfriend. Your brother Ezekiel."
"But wait! Im tink im can jus' sen' 'er
down han' don't even hask mi?" Miss
Essie muttered. "Well, I need the help
all the same. I gwine work 'er. She
Francina arrived two days later, with a
mini-skirt, a soul-cut, and dark glasses.
The villagers were shocked.
"Is what Miss Essie bring down 'pon
us? Milord! You see'er dress length? You
see the 'air do?" exclaimed Miss Lou.
But there was one person who did not
mind the appearance of Francina, and that
Mas' Joe. Joe was one of the youngest
men in the village he was in his early
30's. The only reason that he had stayed
in Gup-Gup was that his father had died
leaving him with a fertile bit of property.
Mas' Joe needed some excitement in his
life. Although there were many single
ladies in Gup-Gup, they were all at least
twice his age. He regarded Francina as an
Angel of Mercy.
"Chu, man!" he exclaimed. "Is so 'ow
the Kingston people dem dress, you know!
No matter 'ow she look, she can still 'ave
a good 'eart inside deh!"
"No suh!" said Miss Lou. "You can
see she bad-bad!"
Illustrations by Carl Abrahams.
However, it became apparent that Miss
Lou had been wrong, and Mas' Joe right.
Although Francina tended to be a little
flirtatious with the men, she was basically
a kind, generous girl, and soon the villagers
were able to forget her physical faults.
Even Miss Lou admitted: "She all-right."
One day, Mas' Randolph came up to
the village shop looking very thoughtful.
"Wha' happen Mas' Randolph?" que-
ried Mas' Joe.
"Well," siad Mas' Randolph, "I was
thinking I was thinking' that Francina is a
very kind and generous girl. I was thinking'
that she would love fe help 'er great-aunt
The villagers looked at him expectantly.
Slowly, carefully he continued. "I was
thinking' that she might do Miss Essie a
favour an' dig up the yampi crop fe 'er
Miss Lou broke in impatiently. "Chu,
stop yu stallin', Mas' Randolph. What you
Mas' Randolph told her what he was
saying. At once she cackled. "Heh-heh!
Mas' Randolph, I knew you would get a
good idea like dis. We gwine teach Miss
Essie a good, good lesson! Heh-heh!"
Mas' Randolph'smiled. "We mus' work
on Francina quick, for she only 'ave two
more days in Gup-Gup!" He turned to
Mas' Joe. "You friend up Francina already.
You do it."
Mas' Joe did it, and did it well. That
evening, when the two of them were
strolling along the lane, he hinted subtly,
while squeezing her hand, that Miss Essie
was overworking herself and would make
herself sick, especially with the yampi
crop coming up.
Privately, Francina had long since ar-
rived at the conclusion that Miss Essie
was not too fond of work herself, but
certainly did not mind handing it out to
others! But she supposed she must have
been wrong. After all, Joe had lived in
the village for years, while she had only
been there five days!
The idea planted by Joe began to grow
in her mind. "Joe," she said thoughtfully,
"what Miss Essie do when she dig up the
Mas' Joe pretended to be greatly sur-
prised at the question. "Why you want
to know Francina?"
Francina lowered her head, and mur-
mured, "Is an idea I have, Joe. What she
Mas' Joe used his imagination well. He
made sure to mention that when Miss
Essie had dug up the yampies she kept on-
ly one for herself, and took all the others
to the village shop to give to the villagers.
Then Francina raised her head, with a
light of adventure in her eyes. "Well, Joe,
I will do all that fe 'er. I will do it Friday
when she go Town to buy a pig."
"You sweet, Francina. Miss Essie will
'ave pleasant memories of you."
"Yes, she will, won't she?" said Fran-
Mas' Joe squeezed her hand once more
* * * * *
As soon as Miss Essie went off to buy
her pig on Friday morning, Francina set
to work in the plot of yampies. She
worked all morning and all afternoon,
being helped occasionally by one or two
of the villagers who seemed to appear out
of nowhere, offering help with broad grins
on their faces. By the time she had
finished, her back was aching, her head
was throbbing, and her hands were burn-
ing, but she consoled herself by thinking
of Miss Essie's reaction.
That evening she did what Mas' Joe
had said, and took the yampies leaving
one behind to the village shop, where
all the villagers were waiting. She won-
dered why they seemed so unusually
cheerful, but did not ponder on the matter
Then, she went back to the house,
packed her bags, left a good-bye note for
her great-aunt, and departed.
* * * * *
Much later on in the evening, Miss
Essie returned home with her pig. All
day long she had been looking forward
to the next day when she would dig up
her crop of yampies. It was just ready
now. And it seemed as if this crop would
be even better than the last one.
Miss Essie stared transfixed, as the swaying bus raced out of her sight.
i n 7 III
And Miss Essie loved her Yampi.
In her mind, Miss Essie savoured the
taste of the smooth, white yampi. She
revised her plan of the menu for the fol-
lowing week. Saturday night: fish and
yampi. (Her mouth watered.) Sunday
morning. Ackee and saltfish with fried
yampi. (Miss Essie licked her lips.) Sun-
day dinner: Chicken and yampi. (She
was breathing hard now.) Sunday night:
yampi pudding. ("Lawd!" said Miss Essie.)
Monday morning ...
"You know," she said to herself, "I
gwine tek one last look at the yampi
before I go to sleep tonight."
She went out into her yard. Then she
saw the yampi-plot. The hills were open.
The earth was overturned. Some of the
vines were damaged. Others were up-
AND ALL THE YAMPIES WERE
Miss Essie stood perfectly still . .
Then she turned and rushed inside. It was
then that she saw Francina's letter.
"Dear Miss Essie,' it said. 'I have dug
up your yampi crop for you, because I
know how it is hard work for you. I have
done what you always do, and left one
yampi for you and give the others to the
villagers. Thank you for keeping me. Your
loving great-niece, Francina.'
Miss Essie screamed with rage. She
tore her hair. She stamped her feet. Then
she saw the one remaining yampi. She
grasped it and threw it onto the floor.
The old lady rushed out of the house,
still screaming, and ran towards the main
road where the bus going to Kingston
The bus was just going off. Francina
sitting at the back of it, looked out of the
window and saw her great-aunt running
after the bus, waving her arms.
Francina waved back cheerfully. 'Lawd,'
she thought, 'Miss Essie must be really
grateful to me. Is nice to know she gwine
'ave such lovely thoughts 'bout me when I
gone back to Kingston.'
She waved once more at the receding
figure, then smiled contentedly, and set-
tled back in the seat.
Miss Essie stared transfixed, as the
swaying bus raced out of her sight.
S1: i LTr1