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VOL. 29, NO. 1
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 Survival of Hispanic Religious Songs in Trinidad Folklore
Sylvia Maria Moodie
32 Traditional Music in Jamaica
44 Belizean Creole Folk Songs
66 Folk Song Performance in the Caribbean
71 In the Wind
Notes on Contributors
Instructions to Authors
Cover: Belisario Print of the Jaw Bone Band showing the Goombeh Drum and Player is
reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Jamaica.
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R. M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
G. M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
Roy Augier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they would
like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles of Caribbean relevancy will be
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University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this University.
The folksong as a form of oral literature faithfully records and stores the collective
wisdom of a people gained through everyday life and reflection on the implications of the
minutest detail of that life. If it often arouses laughter it can also express pathos and
almost always teaches lessons that transcend the timespace parameters of the particular
situation described or being commented on in a couple of quatrains of narrative poetry
interspersed with a highly memorable refrain. Serious study of such archival richness
often leads to greater knowledge of an entire people's ontology and worldview(s) so
important to a fuller grasp of the deeper social forces of societies like those in the Carib-
bean which are still in the process of active formation.
A genre of musical expression emanating from the imagination of aggregations of
creative human beings working individually and in concert, the folksong remains one of
the most vibrant sources of energy for creative composition and contemporary musical
theatre development whether popular or classic "mode" of expression. Its own vital
presence is one of the surest guarantees for the growth of art-music forms as well as for
the development of curricula concerned not only with music education but also with
music in education. Continuing encounter with the folksong, as a major expression of
cultural phenoma, seems prudent and even necessary for Caribbean contemporary life.
The articles of this issue of Caribbean Quarterly mirror the diverse influences which
went into the shaping of Caribbean cultural history. In Survival of Hispanic Religious
Songs in Trinidad Folklore, Sylvia Maria Moodie brings to our attention the tenacious
habit of folk culture to survive despite the political disappearance of groups and factions.
Here she records the Spanish influence on religious songs of Trinidad which are over-
shadowed by that other Spanish retention, the calypso, which Trinidadians have made
so indubitably their own. With the work of scholars and folklorists such as Dr Moodie,
a conscious revival of such past traditions may well be possible with the schools and other
educational institutions teaching these traditional songs, especially in the "Spanish" dis-
tricts of Trinidad.
Belizean Creole Folk Songs by Ervin Beck demonstrates with clarity the historicity
of folk culture: work habits, trade patterns, geography, ethno composition through migra-
tion, conquests and the passages of armies, etc. are all recorded and passed on to posterity.
Olive Lewin's Traditional Music in Jamaica records the struggle of the majority
group in Jamaica to have its music accepted and become a significant section of the main-
stream. This struggle is not an easy one as practitioners are usually the remote rural
inhabitants who do not generally have access to powerful backers or the modern facilities
for dissemination. Caribbean Quarterly had the greatest difficulty to find, among the
archives of Jamaican libraries and collections, illustrations for the piece. Is this not
occasion and reason to urge researchers, educators and policy determiners to concentrate
on recording with assiduity the traditional culture of the peoples of the region?
Marginalization has been the lot of folk song. hitherto performed far from the eyes
and ears of the colonizers, yet people have sung and performed their art to their undying
credit. As Noel Dexter records in Folk Song Performance in the Caribbean, such pei-
formances are 'no longer backyard affairs. Instead, they have been elevated to the stages
of elite theatres and concert halls all over the Caribbean'. What used to be enjoyed by the
peasant population only has gained 'respectability' and has won applause of those at the
top of the social ladder, as folk music performances have taken on all the trimmings that
go along with 'Art music' (my emphasis). Folk music's long journey home is the selfsame
journey that has to be taken in pursuit of decolonization and total emancipation.
Two poems complete this issue.
SURVIVAL OF HISPANIC RELIGIOUS SONGS IN TRINIDAD FOLKLORE'
SYLVIA MARIA MOODIE
The island of Trinidad situated at about 16 kilometres from Venezuela was a Spanish
colony for three centuries (1498-1797)2 and later, under British rule, it maintained
contact with the Spanish Main (Tierra Firme), through trade,3 the arrival of exiled Vene-
zuelans,4 and the influx of Venezuelan peons who were contracted to work in the coffee
and cocoa plantations. Other Venezuelans entered clandestinely; these were generally
waraoon Indians from the Orinoco delta who, for purposes of trade, frequently travelled
to the southern part of the Island. Some of these Indians established themselves in Trini-
dad as though it were but an extension of their own native territory. Refugees were given
asylum during the constant political disturbances which characterize eighteenth century
Venezuela. It was the peons who exercised the greatest influence in the economy as well
as the culture of Trinidad.s It is very probable that, were it not for these contract labour-
ers, no trace of Hispanic culture would have remained in this Caribbean island.
It is difficult to determine if the songs we have collected were known in Trinidad
before the arrival of the Venezuelans. Perhaps the few Spaniards who had settled in the
island during the Spanish period might have brought along their regional songs. One can
also suppose that the missionaries, the majority of whom were from Catalonia and
Aragon, most probably taught religious songs to the natives, as an intrinsic part of their
task of indoctrination and in the process of the acculturation of the Indians. But various
factors allow us to conclude that the aguinaldos, manzanares and estribillos took root in
Trinidad only after the immigration of Venezuelan peons.6
Trinidad, with its mere 4,660 square kilometres, remained unexplored for three cen-
turies. The Spaniards did not penetrate the island beyond the coastal areas, not only
because of strong resistance by the Indians.7 but because Trinidad, like the other "useless"
islands of the Caribbean, since it lacked the lucrative mineral resources available in other
parts of the Indies, was of little interest to the Spanish Crown and to the many adventur-
ers of the time.8 At the beginning, the Indians welcomed the Spaniards; however, peace-
ful relations seemed to be limited to contractual arrangements,9 and the few Indians cap-
tured during this early period were sent to the islands of Margarita, Cubagua and Puerto
Rico. But the Indians soon became hostile; this hostility was to last for a long time des-
pite the lengthy stay of the Spaniards in the territory. This gave rise to constant clashes
and to the Indians collaborating with the French and English in the sixteenth and seven-
Both encomiendas and missions were established in the island in an effort to colon-
ize, convert and civilize the natives. But neither of these institutions proved successful.
The encomiendas, first granted in 1592 to prominent settlers, became the principal source
of Indian labour and tribute. However, it seems that there were few conversions to Chris-
On two occasions, in circa 1575 and 1595, the Franciscan Order attempted in vain
to found missions in the island; during that time the Jesuits also abandoned their efforts
of preaching the gospel to the Indians.1
In 1684, the Governor, Sebastian de Roteta, complained of the bad spiritual state
of the encomiendas, the lack of priests and religious instructors during a period of twelve
years. Even though the population of the encomiendas slowly increased until their aboli-
tion in 1721, the encomiendas themselves did not flourish. The natives, perhaps unable
to be integrated into the European labour and economic system, were overworked, became
ill, and suffered from malnutrition and disease. This, in turn, caused a drop in productivity
and the decline of the institution.12
In 1687, the task of conversion of the Amerindians was undertaken by the Capu-
chin monks.13 The prefect was Father Tomas de Barcelona who founded eight missions
in various parts of the island with a total of four hundred Indians in each. But these
missions only lasted for forty years. The work of the priests failed after a series of unfor-
tunate events: massacres, epidemics, poor cocoa yield, etc. The martyrdom suffered by
the priests at the hands of the Indians of the San Francisco de los Arenales mission, and
the circumstances surrounding the lamentable event, are a clear indication of the gap
which still existed between the two races.14 On the other hand, when one considers the
pleasant and passive disposition of the Trinidad Amerindian during the seventeenth,
eighteenth and later centuries, it seems that these Indians must have been subjected to
unbearable psychological pressure to have had recourse to such violent and sanguinary
Throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there was a con-
stant reduction in the number of indigenous inhabitants, judging by the figures quoted by
several historians. Vazquez de Espinosa estimated at the beginning of the seventeenth
century about 4,000 .pagan Amerindians and 300 'civilized' Amerindians, the latter
belonging to the 'encomiendas'. In 1765, seven Indian towns (Tacarigua, Arouca, Caura,
Arima, Montserrat, Savaneta and Naparima) comprised a total of 1,277 individuals. In
1784, the number had dropped to 1,491 and to 1,082 in 1785. Of course, these figures
are not exact and seem to include only the more 'civilized' natives who registered. White
residents were always very few in number 60 at the beginning of the seventeenth cen-
tury, 80 in 1670, 28 in 1727, 401 in 1765, 444 in 1777. The black population increased
At the beginning of the seventeenth century there were about 300 black slaves; in
1765, the black population totalled 825, of whom 608 were mulattoes and 217 black
slaves. In 1777 there were 225 slaves and 714 free mulattoes.
With this statistical input we come to the last period of the Spanish era. Jose'Maria
Chac6n was the Governor of the island from 1784 to 1797. According to the Governor, in
1783 there were four non-Christian indigenous towns, and ten Christian indigenous towns
and the two European towns, San Jose de Ortna and Puerto de Espaiia, had a total of
670 and 1,025 inhabitants respectively. The census of 1784 is more detailed. In it we see
that the population in December of that year was 335 whites (Spanish), 765 coloureds
of Spanish origin, 260 African slaves, 1,495 Amerindians: a total of 2,855 Hispanic in-
habitants. Immigration from foreign territories had already begun, and in the-same year
there were 384 white French colonists, 633 of mixed race and 2,027 black slaves from
French territories, a total of 3,044.16
This brief review across the pages of the history of Spanish Trinidad permits a mere
glimpse of the cultural and religious contact between the autochthonous inhabitants and
the Trinidad Spaniards. During the early years, the 'encomiendas' remained in spiritual
abandon for lengthy periods, and the white population was too scant and indolent to
have any influence in the propagation of Christianity among the Amerindians, many of
whom kept on the fringes of European life.17 Although the island was poor in produc-
tion, the Spanish Crown did not think it was advisable to abandon the island altogether;
its geographical situation and its good harbour were strategically favourable. So, about
twenty soldiers were stationed at the mouth of the Caroni river, in the West, and every
five to six years a bishop was sent to this part of his Diocese. The few Spanish colonists
who lived there existed in miserable conditions. In addition, the indigenous population
which was diminishing, constantly struck down by epidemics, isolated itself more and
more as the new colonists advanced. Finally, Chaco'n grouped all the aborigines under
"Corregidores" in two missions, Arima and Savana Grande.18 The missions did not
disappear altogether; under the leadership of some Capuchin and Franciscan monks
missions were founded and dissolved until the first 30 years of the nineteenth century.19
Hence when we enter the British period, we find hundreds of Spanish-speaking Catholic
Amerindians living in former missions. Apart from the missions of Arima and Savana
Grande, there existed the missions of Cumana in the northeast and Siparia in the south.
Also, in other small towns there were Amerindians, people of mixed race and whites who
all spoke Spanish.20
Data provided by nineteenth century historians testify to the presence of these
Spanish-speakers in the last century. In 1830, according to de Verteuil21, there were only
689 Amerindians surviving, and in circa 1880 he calculates that there were no more than
a hundred pure Amerindians in Trinidad. There were, however, many of mixed race. In
the 1880s at the time when de Verteuil was writing his history, the Amerindians lived in
distant forested areas where they preserved their customs, devoting themselves to fishing
and hunting. Families of Amerindian descent spoke Spanish, maintaining "Spanish"
customs they liked to smoke, dance and enjoy themselves, and, above all, devoted them-
selves to the dolce far niente. In San Jose, which at that time had 888 inhabitants, the
majority of the residents were descendants of former Spanish colonists And spoke Spanish.
In the beautiful valley of Caura, Spanish was the universal language. In the Montserrat
area, where there were the "better class" peons and 'Spanish' businessmen, Spanish was
the vernacular.22 The rest of the population spoke French 'patois', the 'lingua franca' of
the masses, while French was the language of the plantation class. However, English kept
on gaining in importance, although it still was regarded primarily as the language of the
ruling British. The stage was being set for Trinidad English Creole.
This is the situation to which the Venezuelan peons adjusted themselves. These
peons Amerindians, mestizos, mulatos were racially and culturally similar to the
Trinidad "Spanish" people. From the fusion of the two elements there emerged the type
known as the "payol", a speaker of the local Trinidad English-based creole, as well as
French patois and Trinidad Spanish.
II. Some Sociological Considerations
The Christmas "parranda" is deeply rooted in the Christmas celebrations in Trinidad,
where it is popularly known as 'parang'.23 Formerly it was known mainly in the rural
areas where the 'payols'24 lived San Jose" (now St Joseph), the old capital, Arima,
Montserrat, Caura, Brasso Seco and other areas; nowadays it is a widely known part of
the local folklore. Until recently, many Trinidadians, especially those who were not of
'Spanish' descent, were contemptuous of this 'payol' custom which seemed exotic and
removed from Trinidad life.25 The resurgence of the parang at the national level has aroused
the interest of many Trinidadians who wish to understand the subject matter of these
songs which are invariably sung in Trinidad Spanish, a dialect understood by the smallest
fraction of the population. Hence the need to transcribe and translate the words of these
The majority of the participants in the parang are from areas described sociolinguis-
tically as "Spanish" places, but very many of them cannot speak Spanish and depend on
the older people to compose and sing the verses in Trinidad Spanish.26
Present day 'payols' can be classified linguistically as follows:
(1) Trilinguals who speak Trinidad English (TE), Trinidad Spanish (TS) and
French patois (FP). These people are normally over 60 years old.
(2) Bilingual speakers of TE and FP with a passive knowledge of TS. They are
usually between 45 and 65 years.
(3) Monolingual speakers of TE with a passive knowledge of FP and TS.
(4) Monolingual speakers of TE with a passive knowledge of FP; negligible know-
ledge of TS.
Groups (3) and (4) are usually below the age of 45. Groups (1) and (2) are the ones who
have been traditional active participants in the parang. Among the members of groups (2),
(3) and (4) there are many who pay little attention to the actual words of the songs and
are careless about their pronunciation. Although some of them cannot speak their parents'
and grandparents' dialect, they do have some basic knowledge of Castilian grammar
which they have learned at the secondary school. But, since they regard the Trinidad
dialect as unacceptable and of low social status, they deny that there is any affinity be-
tween the local dialect and the Castilian they have learned in the class room.
Hence the frequent criticism of the monotony of the parangg', and the accusation
that the language of the parangg' songs is not Spanish but an incomprehensible jargon.
This criticism is justified to a certain extent when the 'aguinaldos' are sung by many who
are either careless about their articulation or who simply ignore the phonology and syntax
of the local dialect and Spanish in general. As a result, the words are unintelligible to
every one. It is not rare to find lead singers of some parang groups who, uncertain of the
lyrics of their songs, are satisfied with an approximation and change the sounds from
verse to verse unashamedly. This uncertainty is reflected in the printed word. Certain
transcriptions which appear from time to time only help to reinforce the idea of the un-
Spanish character of the dialect.
"Gallina no valle el monte,
que te come el manikou;
si no te come te panta,
como bien los ave tu"27
But, in reality, Trinidad Spanish is hardly different from the other Spanish Caribbean rural
dialects.28 However, as McClure Pastner observed, the "payol" tends to denigrate his
Trinidad society has been described as being heterogeneous and plural.30 However,
the Trinidadian knows relatively very little about the customs of those who belong to a
different sociocultural group. Relationships between the various ethnic groups have been
very superficial and there has been a lack of cultural communication among them.31
According to one analyst, this lack of communication is due to the very cultural diversity
among the various groups.32 Of greater importance, however, is the highly positive eval-
uation of "white" European culture by black and mixed aspirants to the middle and
upper classes and the rejection of elements which differed from that ideal. African, indi-
genous and Asiatic physical and cultural features have been undervalued (in that order)
not only by members of the white elite and the dominant segments of colonial society,
but also by members of the black middle class who adopted white sociocultural values.33
On the other hand, among the lower class blacks, Asians and other minorities, customs
and traditions were jealously preserved. This situation facilitated the creation of stereo-
types; for example, the 'payol' was described as wild 'hot blooded', 'waraoon', and a
'cocoa payol'.34 As far as physical traits are concerned, the 'payol' with his mixture of
three races black, white and Amerindian was, according to the ideals of the Trinidad
society, in a favourable position: his hair was straight or wavy, and his skin was light.
With regard to cultural features, however, the following factors probably contri-
buted to the inferiority of the 'payol':
(1) The ruling class spoke English.
(2) The cultural ideal was Anglo-French.35
(3) The absence of a Spanish-speaking elite. (During the nineteenth century,
members of the Spanish and Venezuelan upper class in the island intermarried
with French Creoles and adopted the culture of the latter group.)36
(4) The 'payols' were poor peasants and lived in distant and inaccessible places.
(5) Their level of education was generally very low.
Although many 'payols' were illiterate, some of them could read and taught their
children Spanish. They composed and improvised songs for religious feasts and were very
clever at playing various musical instruments. Gradually, as a result of official instruction
at the primary and secondary school level and due to the infiltration of peregrine ele-
ments, there has been a drop in the authentic 'payol' population and many typical tradi-
tions have disappeared. In days gone by, the "payol" drank "warap" (guarapo),7 he used
the "sebuca'n" for preparing the cassava, he celebrated the 'velorio de Cruz' (Vieil Croix
or Cross wake) and practised the well-known Christmas parang.
At present, there is a growing interest in this culture and particularly in the Christ-
mas parang. This is a conscious attempt to combat the indifference of the several socio-
cultural groups in the island. It is part of the search for a "national identity", an obses-
sion which has characterized the post-Independence period.3
III. The Christmas Parang
The Venezuelan peon, transferred to the British island, continued to cultivate the customs
of his native country alongside his Trinidadian counterpart. Two of these customs
were the Christmas parang and the 'Velorio de Cruz'. In the Christmas parang the most
important symbol was the 'creche' or manger (pesebre), around which Christmas songs
were sung night after night. From the month of November till 15 January 39 groups of
musicians and singers went out 'paranging'. Despite the gay abandon the parang did not
lose its mystical character. Notwithstanding the consumption of alcohol in small quanti-
ties, the religious significance of the festivities was not lost. The 'aguinaldos' or 'serenals'
sung in the parang referred to (i) the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus, (ii) the actual
birth of the child Jesus, and (iii) other episodes taken from the life, Passion and Death of
Christ. These were interspersed with a few non-religious songs such as the 'manzanare' or
the 'guarapo', and dance music the waltz (vals), the joropo and the paseo (or pasillo).
The instruments used in the parang are the traditional string instruments of Europ-
ean origin guitar, cuatro, tiple (small guitar), mandolin, base, violin and one indigenous
instrument, the maracas or shac-shac. Lately, the larger parang groups have been including
diverse instruments, such as the flute and the harp and several rhythm makers scratcherss,
tambourines, etc.). Unlike other Caribbean countries such as Venezuela and Puerto Rico,
in Trinidad membranophones have not been used in the parang, at least, not during the
lifetime of informants. This may be due to the restrictive measures taken throughout the
nineteenth century against the use of drums in festivities of the African and Indian com-
munities,40 measures which probably had repercussions on the 'Spanish' community.
The traditional parangg' often began with two or three men who were soon joined
by several compares (compadres). The visits to the different homes followed an estab-
lished formula. The parranderos arrived at night unannounced while the occupants of the
house were asleep; but, even if the latter were awake, the doors were not opened
until the serenaders indicated in song that they wished to gain entry. After coming into
the house, the serenaders were treated with typical Christmas delicacies and drinks. A
bottle of rum always appeared; singers 'sweetened' their voices with moderate draughts of
this alcoholic drink. The hosts' generosity was rewarded with the excellence of the group's
performance, the multiplicity of the lead singer's stanzas and the amazing swiftness of the
maracas player's arms as he moved them from left to right, head to knee in rhythmic
patterns. The group then took its leave en route to another house. Sometimes the parran-
deros went to distant parts of the island visiting their 'Spanish'confr'eres. Many of the men
were absent for weeks from their homes and village. They abandoned routine responsibili-
ties and dedicated themselves to 'making parang' all over the countryside. This hiatus in a
monotonous existence also provided them with an opportunity for visiting 'Spanish'
friends and relatives in distant areas. Women did not normally participate in these excur-
sions, although they did join in the singing and dancing in the homes, and many could
play musical instruments. But the parang was male-dominated.
At present, the spontaneous parang just described has virtually disappeared. Some
of the older musicians get together to serenade their friends, but most groups are paid to
perform at public and private Christmas celebrations. Almost all these parang groups are
sponsored by a business firm which is responsible for buying the instruments and clothes
of the serenaders in exchange for the wide publicity received. Parang has now provided its
participants with material benefits and fame, but it has lost many of its traditional traits.
On the other hand, general acceptance of this music has awakened in the 'payol' greater
pride in his traditions, a feeling of security within the community due to his experience
and knowledge of a special and recognized area of his country's folklore.
There is also a new dimension to the parang. Each year, from 1965, two parang
festivals have been attracting the best groups in the island and are becoming increasingly
popular with young people. Members of the large audience present at these festivals dance
and clap their hands while the groups perform on the stage of open air theatres. In Vene-
zuela and Puerto Rico, however, the parranda is in a precarious situation. In the former the
parang, deeply rooted in Oriente, is almost unknown in the urban areas, and the 'aguinal-
do' is giving way to the 'gaita' from Maracaibo in the west of the country.41 In Puerto
Rico, the parang (known as trulla) is confined to the rural areas and is sung by old j'baros
(Puerto Rican peasant).
The style of the traditional parang in Trinidad can be analyzed thus:
(i) Two to five men form the nucleus of the parang group.
(ii) The two most important instruments are the cuatro and a pair of maracas.
(iii) The presence of either one soloist who may or may not also play the maracas,
or two soloists who sing alternate stanzas. In either case all the musicians and
others present join in the refrain in unblended unison.
(iv) Singing of the chorus is accompanied by hand clapping. When both soloist
and chorus sing, there are intermittent interjections of 'Ay mano', 'Ay. Ay,
Ay' and other high-pitched cries.
(v) High tone and shrill quality of the singing.
(vi) The soloist usually remains standing in a relatively rigid position if he is not
manipulating the maracas.
(vii) The other participants in the chorus sway their bodies rhythmically, while
some dance in pairs or groups.
(viii) The musicians usually stand during the performance. The 'maraquero' (mara-
cas player) always stands.
(ix) Improvisation in the musical accompaniment. Interest shifts from one instru-
mentalist to the other, from cuatro player to 'maraquero' who take turns at
being instrumental soloists.
(x) The tunes of the songs follow a strict rhythmic pattern and are limited in
(xi) The texts of the songs are primarily traditional with very little improvisation.
(xii) Execution of musical instruments and learning of songs from early childhood.
Oral transmission of texts and music.
(xiii) Arbitrary number of stanzas per session. The singer signals the end of the ses-
sion by overtly declaring in song that it is time to stop the maracas and the
cuatro, or that the musicians must all rest for a while. When there are two
singers involved, each tries to compete with the other in an effort to recall
and/or improvise the best composed and beautiful verses.
(xiv) Serenaders dress according to the fashion of the day with no special attempt
at being "Hispanic" in appearance.
(xv) Importance given to maintaining traditional musical forms.
(xvi) The prominence of the vocal component which has the social function of
relating in Spanish, the story of the Annunciation, Birth, Life (and sometimes
Death and Resurrection) of Jesus Christ to a Spanish-speaking audience.
In the newer 'professional' groups there is
(i) Increase in the size of the musical bands to as many as 25 or more musicians
(ii) Introduction of instruments such as the flute, harp, tambourine
(iii) Greater importance given to musical technique and voice control
(iv) Variety in musical arrangements
(v) Influence of several Latin American beats and of the calypso
(vi) Incorporation of non-religious elements in the 'aguinaldo'
(vii) Increase in the number of female participants as soloists 42
(viii) Poor quality in the pronunciation of the Spanish words. Members of the
group often do not speak or understand Spanish. As a result there is even
less improvisation by lead singers, who now learn the songs from an authentic
'payol'. (Sometimes an imperfect memory causes the indiscriminate amalga-
mation of fragments of several different stanzas.)
(ix) Lack of spontaneity in the organization of the parang band. Everything is re-
(x) Uniformity of dress: 'Spanish' wear; broad Mexican hats, smaller straw hats,
bright skirts and shirts, etc.
(xi) For each Parang group a name: 'San Jose Serenaders', 'Los Muchachos del
Agua', 'Lara Brothers', 'Los Amigos de Lopinot', 'Las Estrellas', etc.
(xii) The term parangg', extended to refer not only to the act of serenading at
Christmas, but also made equivalent to any kind of music and song which is
typical of the 'Spanish' people of the island.43
IV. The Aguinaldo
The aguinaldo, the Christmas parang song, (the term villancico is unknown in Trinidad) is
a composition of hexasyllabic quartets with an indefinite number of stanzas of asonant
1. A la medianoche (At midnight the evening
salio'el lucero, star shone bright, showing
alumbro el camino the way to the true God)
al Dios veldadero.
This is the same metre used in Venezuelan compositions,44 but in Puerto Rico, the aguin-
aldo was written in decimas of hexasyllabic or octosyllabic verses, as well as in hexasyl-
labic quartets.45 The name serenal (serenade) is sometimes used, but it seems to be un-
known outside Trinidad. Perhaps the name originated in the 'sereno' of the popular
refrain or 'estribillo'.
2. Sereno, sereno
Estos son serenos
de la madruga.
The language of the aguinaldos is a reflection of the Trinidad dialect with its archaisms:
semos (somos), vide (vi), trujo (trajo) and its phonological features. The following is a
collection of aguinaldos from Trinidad. No attempt is made at a phonetic transcription.
However, phonological features are indicated in the spelling: veldadero, esplandol, deja',
ma, ahuera, tamos, morfil (verdadero, esplandor, dejar, ma's, afuera, estamos, marfil).
(A) Aguinaldos for singing along the way:
3. La Virgen Maria
se va a Bele'n
y nosotros todos
4. Nosotros nos vamos
de aqui pa adelante,
tu' Ilevas la vela,
5. Cuando Dios nacio,
con su maraquita
(B) The Greeting:
6. Buenas noches doy
saludando a todos
y con reverencia
a mi Dios adoro
(Pedro Ramos, Rio Claro)
7. Buenas noches doy
con gusto y anhelo
en este moment
de much consuelo
8. Se7ores les digo
que pongan cuidado,
porque ha llegado
senor Pedro Ramos.
(The Virgin Mary is
going to Bethlehem, let
us all go along too)
(We are going from
here to some other place,
you are holding the candle,
we are travellers)
(When God was born, he
was born while travelling,
with his little maracas
asking for his 'aguinaldo'
(A good night to every
one, I greet you and
reverently adore my God)
(I wish you a good
night with pleasure and
eagerness at this moment
of great solace)
(Gentlemen, I tell you
because Mr. Pedro Ramos
9. Si acaso preguntan (If by chance they ask you
quien canta en el coro, who is singing in the group
digan que Noriega, say that it is Noriega
gargantica de oro. with the golden voice)
(Regino Noriega, Luango, Maracas)
10. Esta parrandita (This little parranda
de Maracas semos; is from Maracas. We
venimos cantando have come to sing you
aguinaldos nuevos. new aguinaldos)
11. Senora e la casa (Don't blame me, lady of
no me culpe a mi the house, blame the
culpale a la Pascua, Christmas season which has
que me trumo aqul brought me here)
(Jose'Pena, Calvary, Arima)
(C) Signal for a pause in the singing:
12. A mi me parece (I think that we have
que es much cantar, done a lot of singing,
pareme la musica stop the music for me
para descansar. to rest.)
13. Paren las maracas (Stop the maracas and
y la guitarrilla. the guitar. Let us
Respondemos todos all say: Hooray, hooray).
i Que viva y que viva!
14. Nosotros nos vamos, (We are going, we are
nos vamos a dir. going away. Next year
El ano que viene we shall come again).
volvemos a venir.
15. Esta parrandita (All of us together in
de nosotros juntos, this little parang, next
el ano que viene year, which of us will
,quien sera difunto? be dead?)
16. Nosotros nos vamos (We are going back to
por ende venimos. where we have come from.
Estrella de noche Star in the night lights
alumbra el camino. the way)
(Jose Espinosa, Santa Cruz).
17. Yo me voy, madama, (I am going, madam, I am
yo me voy de aqul, going away from here
polque el rey Herodes because King Herod wants
me quiere pelseguil. to persecute me).
18. Bonita la luna,
bonito el lucero
alumbra el camino
de los parranderos.
19. Cuando yo me vaya.
le voy a deja'
de palma no ma.
(E) Aguinaldos of the Annunciation:
20. El angel Gabriel
le anuncio'a Maria
en su vientre santo
un Niio nacia.
21. Tu eres Maria
la reina del cielo.
Tu eres la Madre
del Dios Veldadero.
22. A la media noche
se la aparecio'
Gabriel a Maria.
En suenos le hablo.
23. Maria se puso
cuando ella supo
que nacia el Mesia.
(Segundo Dolabaille, de Lopinot).
24. Despue's del Anuncio
bien claro se ve
que se desposaron
Maria y Jose.
(Ciprian Reyes, d.e Lopinot).
25. Por aquel anuncio
que fue reluciente,
un Hijo en su vientre.
26. Maria concibio
por obra y virtud
a los quince anos
des su juventud.
lighting the way
the parranderos take).
(When I go away
I am only going to
leave a little palm
(The Angel Gabriel
announced to Mary in
her holy womb a Child
was to be borne).
(You are Mary, the queen
of heaven. You are the
mother of the true God).
(At midnight Gabriel
appeared to Mary.
He spoke to her in a
(Mary became pale
when she discovered
that the Messiah was
to be born).
(After the Announcement
it is clear that Mary
and Joseph were espoused).
(After that outstanding
conceived a Son in her
(Mary conceived through
good works and virtue
at the young age of
27. Quince aios cumplidos
tuvo en el camino
diendo a dar a luz
al Verbo Divino.
(Luis Reyes, San Rafael).
28. Esos quince anos
tuvo en aquel trance
dia que salieron
(F) Aguinaldos on the Birth of Christ:
29. La Santa Familia
em Bele'n llegaron
y se la negaron.
30. A la media noche
el gallo canto'.
Bien clarito dijo'
ya Cristo nacio'.46
31. Estas treinta millas
a Belen llego.
(Jorge Ramos, Rio Claro).
32. Maria pario
un Nifio en la cuna
y le alumbraron
el sol y la luna.
33. En Belen de Asia
de la Palestina
se encontro'con vida.47
34. El naciken Bele'n
tierra de Judea
en la Palestina
de la Galilea.
35. Estrellas brillantes
alumbran al Nifo
Que naci6 en Bele'n.
(She celebrated her
fifteenth birthday while
on her way to give birth
to the Divine Word).
(She was fifteen years
old on the day they left
to be counted in the
(The holy Family
arrived in Bethlehem
asking for a room
but nobody gave them one).
(At midnight the cock
crew, and said in clear
words: Christ is born).
(Mary walked these
thirty miles from
Galilee to Bethlehem).
(Mary gave birth to a
Son in the cradle and
the sun and moon shone
(In Bethlehem of Asia in
Palestine where Jesus
(He was born in Bethlehem
land of Judea, in Palestine
(Bright stars of Jerusalem
shine down on the Infant
who was born in Bethlehem.)
36. Alla'ahuera veo
un gran esplandol,
estrellas y luna,
los rayos del sol.
37. En el element
se escucha una bulla:
son los angelitos
38. El nifo es nacido:
en un pueblecito
39. Nacidde Maria
y de San Jose'
el Velbo Divino,
autol de la fe.
40. Nacid'en un pesebre
pobre y miserable.
Dios es de los dioses,
Padre de los padres.
41. En agua cristalina
Marfa le baio',
y despues del bailo
Manuel le nombro.
42. La maldita mula
con aquellos dientes
se comio la paja
de aquel Inocente.48
43. El buey con su cuelno
al Nifio tapaba,
la maldita mula
44. Y si el Niio llora,
algo le lastima.
Quita de este Niho
las pajas de encima.
(Outside I see a bright
splendour, the stars and
the moon, the rays of the
(In the atmosphere there
is quite a noise: It is
the angels singing
(The Child is born, born
in Bethlehem, in a tiny
town in Jerusalem).
(He was born of Mary and
St. Joseph, the Divine
Word, the giver of faith).
(He was born in a manger,
poor and wretched. God
of gods, Father of fathers).
(In crystal clear water
Mary bathed him, and
after the bath she called
(The cursed mule with
those big teeth ate
up the innocent child's
(The ox covered the
Child with its horn,
the cursed mule uncovered
(And if the Child cries,
something is hurting him.
Take away the straw on the
45. Seniora Santana,
la abuela de Dios,
la Virgin Maria
en Belen parid.
46. La Virgen Maria
en Belen pario
un hermoso Nino
que Manuel nombrd'.
47. La noche tan fria'
el buey y su pollina
la calol de daban.
48. Con tijera final
y algodones blancos
le cortan al NiBo
su maruto santo.
49. La cama del Nino
es de terciopelo
Ali se recuesta
cuando tiene sueno.
(Jose'Castillo, Rio Claro).
50. La cama del Niiio
era de morfil
Alh se reposa
cuando va a dolmil.
(Ignacio Molina, de Tabaquite).
51. Cantemos, cantemos,
la Pascua de Cristo
(Marcelina Hernandez, de Luango,
52. Los tres Reyes Magos
bajaron de Oriente
en busca del Nino
en su nacimiento.
(St Ann is God's grand-
mother, the Virgin Mary
gave birth in Bethlehem.)
(The Virgin Mary gave
birth in Bethlehem to a
beautiful child named
(The night was so cold
and they had no protection.
The ox and the young
donkey gave the child
(With fine scissors and
white cotton they cut the
child's holy 'maruto' [penis]).
(The Infant's bed is
made of velvet, there he
lies when he is sleepy).
(The Infant's bed was
made of ivory. He lies
there when he is going
(Let us sing, let us sing,
let us sing beautifully.
We are celebrating the
feast of Christmas).
(The three Wise Men
came from the East,
seeking the Child at
53. Herodes les dice
a los Reyes Magos:
Despues que le adoren
yo voy a adorarlo.
54. Pero el nuca pudo
su intent logral:
destruil al Nion
por la ley del Cesa'.
55. De alli arriba vengo
siguiendo los pasos
del recie'n nacido.
(Rita Guerra, de Tabaquite).
56. Salgan para fuera
Y veran su patio
cubielto de flores.49
(G) Aguinaldos in praise of the Virgin Mary:
57. Maria, tu'eres
la unica hembra
fuiste que pariste
y siempre doncella.
58. Canto a ti, Maria;
Tl acres la mujel
que pario'a un Hijo
59. Maria, tu eres
Madre del Sefor,
Virgen que pariste
sin ningun dolor.
60. Bendita td eres,
que un Nifio tuviste
por la madrugada.
61. La Virgen Maria
se estaba peinando
sus rubios cabellos,
me dio'de aguinaldo.
(Herod tells the Wise men:
After you adore him, I will
(But he could never achieve
his wish: Destroy the
Child according to the
law of Caesar).
(I come along walking
on dew, following the
steps of the new-born
(Come out and you will
see beautiful things, you
will see your yard covered
(Mary you are the only
woman who gave birth
and always remained a
(I sing to you, Mary;
You are the woman who
gave birth to a son
(Mary, you are the
Mother of the Lord, the
Virgin who gave birth
(Blessed are you, Holy
Mary, you had a Son
early in the morning).
(The Virgin Mary was combing
her fair hair, she gave me
her golden locks as a
62. Canto a ti, Maria,
tuviste la foltuna
de parir un Hijo
sin mancha ninguna.
63. Canto a ti, Maria;
tuviste el podel
de parir un Hijo
64. Maria, mi Madre,
Maria mi Esposa,
Maria se llama
la que el cielo goza.
(I sing to you, Mary; you
were fortunate to give
birth to a Son who was
(1 sing to you, Mary,
you were given the power
to give birth to a Son
(Mary, my Mother, Mary,
my Spouse, Mary is the
name of the Queen of
(H) Other verses on the life, passion and death of Christ 50
65. Maria lloraba (Mary cried, and Joseph cried
y Jose'tambien too as they sought their
buscando a su Hijo Son in Jerusalem).
66. Maria lo buscaba
con grandes dolores;
le encontrd en el temple
casa e los doctors.
67. La pobre Maria
y se sentoda llorar.
68. Maria lloraba,
lloro'por su hijo
cuando lo perdiod
69. Maria lloraba
sus lagrimas puras
pol reina y pol madre
de su criatura.
(Alfred Codallo, Santa Cruz).
(Mary in great sorrow
searched for her Son;
she found him in the
temple with the doctors).
(Poor Mary walked so much;
she found a rock and sat
down and cried).
(Mary cried and cried.
She wept for her Son
when he was lost).
(Mary cried; the tears
were those of the queen
and mother of the infant
70. A los doce aiios
entire los doctors:
lo encontro Maria.
71. Aquellos doctors
pues le preguntaron
y de las respuestas
72. Tu me niegas, Pedro,
Criston le decia:
Al cantar el gallo
td me negarnas.
73. Al cantar el gallo
Pedro se acoldo'
despues se arrepintio.
74. Subiendo el Calvario,
tres veces cayo,
a Cristo levant.
75. Subiendo el Calvario
tambien se caia
en su compania.
76. Simon Cireneo,
le di' la mano
a calgal madero.
77. Cristo le decia:
Yo no puedo ma's;
Ilamaba a Simon,
que le ayuda a calgal.
(When he was twelve years,
he stood among the learned
men: there Mary found
(Those doctors asked
him questions, and they
marvelled at his answers).
(You will deny me, Peter,
Christ told him, when
the cock crows you will
(When the cock crew,
Peter remembered, and
(On going up to Calvary,
he fell three times;
Simon Cirene helped him
(On his way to Calvary,
he also fell while
Simon Cirene was with
(Simon Cirene, a fine
gentleman, helped him
to bear the cross).
(Christ said: I can go no
further. He called
Simon to help him carry
78. Con un tono afable
El le contesto:
Salva al Nazareno,
que no puedo yo.
79. Llegando a Golgota,
fue que le cogieron;
pa que no reinara
la muelte le dieron.
80. Y Jesus clamor ,
pues, oigan su voz:
Padre, mi espiritu
encomiendo a Dios.
81. La Semana Santa
cayo'en la memorial
y el sibado Santo
82. Dia Viernes Santo,
dia que el murio
y el Sabado Santo
(In a pleasant tone he
answered: Save the
Nazarene, I myself am
unable to do so).
(When they got to Golgotha,
they seized him and
killed him so that he
would not reign).
(And Jesus cried out, hear
his voice: Father, I commend
my spirit to God).
(Let us recall Holy
Week and Holy Saturday
when the bells sing
(He died on Holy Friday
and rose again on
V. The "Velorio de Cruz"
Spanish-speaking Trinidadians celebrated velorios or vigils several times a year on the eve
of the most important religious feast days of their calendar. The most prominent velorios
were those held on the third of May (Velorio de Cruz), the sixteenth of July (Lady of
Mount Carmel), and the twenty-fourth of October (St Raphael). The Velorio de Cruz, also
known as Veille Croix or Cross Wake, once enjoyed great popularity, but at present very
few velorios are celebrated. Many informants claim that this is due to the unwillingness of
the older 'payols' to conduct velorios on account of the lack of religious fervour of
younger generations who tend to convert these vigils into a secular activity. Another
reason given for the demise of the velorio is its condemnation by non-Hispanic religious
bodies. Unfamiliar with the cultural and religious values of the 'payols', the latter have
regarded velorios as a superstitious pagan practice.
The Velorio de Cruz is well known throughout the Hispanic world. In the Spanish-
speaking Caribbean it is still widely practised:
Puerto Rico: "El Velorio de Cruz o de Mayo es una
reminiscencia de. algunas fiestas espaniolas de indole
parecida. Se adorna una cruz de madera con cintas,
velas, flores ye joyas. Se la coloca sobre un pedestal
en forma de escalera. A veces se pone en el altar un
cuadro de alguna imagen sagrada. El altar es profusa-
mente iluminado y ante el tiene lugar la reparticio'n
de obsequios, que consistent en horchatas, sangnas y
Colombia: "La fiesta de la Cruz coincide con el
moment culminante de la cosecha: se da gracias a
Dios por las mercedes recibidas a lo largo del aio ..."
In Magdalena, Colombia, "levantan una cruz de
madera, que se adorna primorosamente con las pri-
micias de frutas de la region . y flores silvestres de
la serrama ...;los campesinos celebran la cruz taiiendo
el caramillo, las maracas, el tamborcito, la gaita de
cabeza, etc., toman el garapillo y cantan la cancion
honda de versos libres".53
In Trinidad, the velorio was celebrated in a similar manner. The altar, set up in a
private house, was adorned with fruits, candles, flowers and sacred objects. Juanita
Rodriguez, one of our informants, described the preparations for the velorio in this wa.y:
"Yo, como ama de la cruz, tenia que preparalo todo.
Tenia gente pa coital bambd, pa raja" ese bambd y
limpiallo bien. Este es el principio del altal. Uste" tiene
que tenel papel de colol, tiene que tenel flore y cuadro
de santos y siete escalone, cada uno mih chiquito.
Esa cruz ehta ayi vestidita de oro como una reina. En
el altal tiene uste'velas, rosas, flores silvestres, fruta y
un platiyito con el agua bendita y una escobiya
dentro. Pa empezal el velorio uste'se pone a rezal el
rosario, depue se toma cafe' y se canta de'cima. A
media noche se reza el rosario otra vuelta, se bebe
cafe' y se toma guarapo. Si se quiere comel, se come
pastel arroz con frijol y otra comida buena. Se canta
pol toa la noche hasta las seis de la manana, la ama
de la Cruz tiene que dil bajando la Cruz de escaldn
pol escalon. Ahora ya no se canta decima, se canta la
malagueia, que es una mdsica alegre. Se sale de la
casa y todo el mundo va en derredol de la casa
cantando y bailando. Despues se escoge la madrina y
el padrino pa el otro aiio. Si la ama de la Cruz esta
enfelma y no puede asistil, se pasa a la madrina."
(The text is not a phonetic transcription of the informant's words, but an attempt to con-
vey the general impression of the sounds of the dialect.)
Some families celebrated the velorio for generations as a manifestation of their
devotion to a special saint who protected them from harm. Other individuals made a pro-
mise to host a velorio for a certain number of years in return for favours granted by a
saint. An element of superstition was present in this religious exercise, for most 'payols'
considered that unfulfilment of the promise brought ill luck to the individual and his
The velorio can be divided into four major activities:
(iii) eating and drinking
Devotees usually recited the rosary, litanies and various other prayers in Spanish. The
music of the velorio was the octosyllabic de'cima but other aguinaldos and religious songs
were also sung. The melody was the galeron54 which is known by very few people today.
Characteristic of the galeron is the 2 x 4 independent melody which accompanies the
soloist. It uses a combination of binary and ternary beats and successive tonic sub-
dominant dominant keys. The soloist chants the decima, the text of which is always
religious and mystical. Few decimas are available at present and these are very fragmented.
In some cases these decimas are a combination of octosyllabic quartets in which two lines
At least two pauses were made for drinking coffee and eating foods such as rice and
peas and pastel. 5 At six o'clock in the morning the Cross was lowered from the altar, the
malaguenia, a lively tune, was now played instead of the mournful ddcima.56 Everyone
danced around the house and the madrina and padrino of the velorio were chosen for the
following year. This was usually done to ensure that there was someone responsible each
year for arranging the velorio. The Cross was kept by the 'ama de la Cruz', usually a
woman who made sure that the Cross or other important images were safe from harm,
and who was also the chief organizer of the velorio.57
Licencia pido, seaores,
para principiar a cantal
y para asi yo saludal
y para asi yo saludal
a la Santa Cruz de mayo,
i Que'bonito esta'el altal!
Mas bonito esta'el que lo hizo,
may's bonita esta'la santa
sentada en su paraiso,
sentada en su paraiso.
Al pie de tu helmoso altal
el nuestro Dios en persona
encontro a una paloma58
y no le hizo ningfn mal.
A los hombres castigo'
pol vendel el camposanto.
Como el lugal era sacro,
(Give me leave, ladies
and gentlemen, to begin
my song and to bow to
the holy Cross of May.
What a beautiful altar!
More beautiful though
is the person who made
it. The saint is even
more beautiful, seated
in his paradise).
(Our God found a dove
at the foot of your
beautiful altar. He
punished the men for
selling the burial ground.
Since it was a sacred
place he had the bird
el ave mand6 a quital,
Pinto por la humildad
y el Espiritu Santo.
De la arca de Noe'
la paloma se escape
Saltoty volando se fue.
A los siete dias volvio.
La otra, como eran dos,
se quejaba al velse sola
entire las humildes aves
de las tierras y las mares:
no hay como la paloma.
La humildad ha amado tanto
el Rey de la eterna gloria;
formo'el Espiritu Santo
en forma de una paloma:
entire florecitas y hojas,
siempre buscando consuelo,
va volando por el campo
por el sustento de la vida
tan humilde y alecida,
aunque tan triste su canto.
En la mesa hay cuatro rosas
y con la gracia divina,
el padrino y la madrina,
el esposo y la esposa,
Que'cosa tan misteriosa
y punto tan asentao:
cuatro son, pongan cuidao
y dos que vengan ahora:
Maria nuestra Seiora
y Jesus Sacramentao.
Y al Viernes Santo a mediodia
todo se quedo en silencio
adorando al Sacramento.
Cuando le vieron boquiar,
las campanas se han parade
removed. He painted
with humility and by
the Holy Spirit).
(The dove escaped
from Noah's ark. It
jumped out and went
flying away. After seven
days it returned. The
other one, there were
two of them, became
plaintive on seeing
that it was alone. Of
all the birds over land
and sea, the dove, the
humblest of all).
(The King of eternal
glory has loved
humility so much, he
gave the Holy Spirit the
form of a dove: seeking
solace among flowers
and leaves, it flies
through the countryside
and sings a sad song).
(On the table there
are four roses and with
divine grace, the God-
father and the god-
mother, the husband and
wife. What a mystery!
There are four of them,
and two more are coming:
Our Mother Mary and the
Sacrament of Jesus).
(And on Good Friday
at midday everybody
silently adored the
Holy Sacrament. When
they saw him breathe
y el pueblo en gran tristeza his last, the bells
dice la madre Pureza: stopped ringing and
se ha muerto mi Hijo querido. the people were full of
(Decimas sung by Regino Noriega). sorrow. Mother Purity
said: My beloved Son is dead).
The following is a complete de'cima with its gloss. The theme, taken from the afore-
mentioned story of Christ by Perez Escrich, is about Samuel, the owner of one of the inns
where the Holy Family were denied entry. This de'cima was composed by Ciprian Ruiz of
i A quie'n le contare'yo
lo que a mi me estd pasando?
Se lo contare'a la tierra
cuando me la este echando.
Cuando Samiel tomo'el baculo
y marchd'sin dilacio/n
para su eterna mansion
sin ponel ninglin obstaculo
y sin detenelse un rato,
siempre su march siguio.
Y porque detras oyd'
una voz que le Ilamaba,
solo entire si murmuraba:
iA quien le contare'yo?
La voz que se oyo
que le decia: Anda, anda",
era que le trastornaba.
Despue's de all salio.
Cuando a su casa llego"
un niFo le estuvo hablando,
y este'le dijo llorando:
"Anda', anda, Belibel".
Dijo l1: "iQuie'n podia sabel
lo que a mi me esta'pasando?"
Este niiio no contaba
doce meses de nacido,
y era su querido hijo
que de ese modo le hablaba.
Samiel no contest onada.
Sigui' luego a una pradera,
diciendo de esa manera:
ZQuien te pudiera contar?
Cuando yo deje de andar,
se lo contare'a la tierra.
(To whom will I tell
this story? I will
tell it to the earth
when it ejects me).
(When Samiel took the
rod and went to his
eternal mansion, with
no obstacle in his way
and without making a
stop, he continued on
his way. And when he
heard a voice calling
him, he muttered; whom
will I tell my story to?)
(The voice he heard
saying 'Go away, go away
disturbed him. When he
got home a child spoke
and said in tears: Go
away, go away, Belibel.
He said: who knows what
is happening to me?)
(The child was not even
twelve months old. The
child was his beloved
son. Samiel did not
answer, he went out to a
meadow and said: Who
could tell you? When
I stop walking I will
tell it to the earth).
Despues de alli salio Samiel
y paso para un cemiterio,
y los mueltos le dijieron:
"Anda' anda, Belibel".
El se quiso detenel.
Siguieron los mueltos hablando.
De alli se fue triste y pensando:
Con esta destinacion
del cielo la bendicidn
cuando me la esten echando.
(Decima recited by Ciprian Ruiz).
went to a cemetery, and
the dead told him: Go
away, go away, Belibel.
He wanted to stop, the
dead bodies kept on
talking to him. He left
there in sadness and thought
with this destiny and the
blessing of heaven, when
the earth ejects me).
VI. Other religious songs
The following are fragments of two religious ballads well known in the Hispanic world.
According to our informants, these ballads were recited in velorios and in private devo-
1. San Cristo-bate a su puelta con su capio (?) cubielto
rogdndole y suplicando a las monjas del peldon
que le rezen la oracion. la oracion del peregrino.
Cuando Jes6 Cristo vino y se hinco en el altal
por sus pies chorreando sangre y por sus brazos much mas,
acudid la Magdalena con sus panos a limpial.
Tate, tate, Magdalena. no me apresures a limpial.
que esas son las cinco Ilagas que mi cuelpo ha de pasar
por los vivos y los mueltos y toda la humanidad.
El vestio que levaba me lo hubo de manchar.
me lo mancho Jesu Cristo con sangre de su costal.59
(Recited by Marcelina Hernandez, of Luango Maracas).
2. Ciego, dame una naranja, Senora. cojala uste.
Que mujer ha sido esa que me ha hecho tanto bien?
La Madre de Jesu Cristo que va para Belen,
y de Belen para el calvario, y del Calvario a la Cruz.
Pater noster, Amen Jests.60 (Marcelina Hernandez)
The parang and the velorio were the two major distinctly Hispanic activities in
Trinidad. In the past an entire community could be identified as possessing predominant
Hispanic traits. The 'payols' maintained a basic sense of unity and cohesion that provided
them with the security they lacked when confronted with other sociocultural patterns.
On becoming more exposed to other life styles 'Spanish' Trinidadians tended to reject
their own culture and adopt Afro-Saxon values. There were many payols, however, who
unconsciously retained their customs to counteract their inferiority visa vis the wider
The parang is undergoing certain changes in form and function while the velorio is
becoming extinct. Dynamics of population expansion, change in sociocultural patterns
and values, greater opportunities in the field of education as well as an increase in social
interaction across cultures, all contribute to these modifications. The parranda is now
parang. The language of the parranda in future years may well be Trinidad English rather
than Trinidad Spanish. This is all part of the never-ending dynamic process of accultura-
tion in a heterogeneous society.
1. See also S. M. Moodie, "Canciones tradicionales en la isla de Trinidad", Revista de Dialectologia
y Tradiciones Populares, Vol. XXVI (1970) pp. 323 361.
2. For a history of the island during the Spanish period the following works are valuable: P. G. L.
Borde, Histoire de la Trinidad sous le Gouvernement Espagnol, 2 Vols. Paris 1876 and 1882;
Carlton Ottley, An Account of Life in Spanish Trinidad, Port-of-Spain 1955; Francisco Morales
Padrdn, Descubrimiento y Papel de Trinidad en la penetracion continental. Anuario de Istudios
Americanos: Tomo XIV Sevilla 1957; Trinidad en el siglo XVII. Anuario de Estudios America-
nos, Tomo XVII, Sevilla 1960; Jesse A. Noel, Trinidad Provincia de Venezuela, Biblioteca de la
Academia Nacional de Historia. Caracas 1972: Josefina Percz Aparicio, P6rdida de la isla de
Trinidad, Sevilla 1966.
3. L. de Verteuil, Trinidad; its Geography, Natural Resources, Administration, Present Condition
and Prospects, 2nd Edition, Cassell. London 1884, pp. 262-267. I or details on export-import
between the two countries in the XIXth century: also T. B. Jackson. The Book of Trinidad,
1904. pp. 78, 83; Eric Williams, History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. London 1964.
4. Some upper-class Venezuelans married members of the chief white creole families of Trinidad.
For sometime exiled Venezuelans published their own bilingual newspaper The Argos and The
Echo which appeared between 1870 and 1876.
5. C. V. Shephard, The Cocoa Industry of Trinidad, Part IV, Port-of-Spain 1932, pp. 5 6: Donald
Wood, Trinidad in Transition, London, 1968, pp. 32-34.
6. It has not been possible to locate an official document with data pertaining to the immigrants
from the Spanish Main. Eric Williams mentions a suggestion expressed by the British Governor
of the time that Indians from the Spanish Main could be used on agricultural lands in 1802,
History of the People of Trinidad & Tobago,Williams p. 76. This idea was not accepted. L. M.
Fraser tells us that in 1814 one of His Majesty's officials W. H. Burnley, after expressing his
conviction that with a larger population Trinidad could supply all the Caribbean islands, was
opposed to the introduction in the Colony of peons from the Spanish Main since he considered
them a dangerous and undesirable class of people L. M. Fraser. History of Trinidad, Vol. II,
1814-1839, reprint, Frank Cass & Co., London, 1971. Don Manuel Sorzano. former Army
Official, also advised against Venezuelan immigration since, according to him, the peons were a
"dangerous and criminal" class. These opinions are an indication of how fearful the British
administration was of the political implications of the entry of the peons into Trinidad during
the period of the Independence movement on the South American continent.
7. It is significant, the paucity of Spanish toponyms in the central area and the abundance of such
place names on the West Coast. On the other hand, Amerindian names abound in the central
and eastern areas of the island. F. Morales Padro'n, Descubrimiento y Papel de Trinidad en la
penetracio'n continental, pp. 10-11.
8. When interest was shown in the island, it was because of its strategic importance. Morales
Padron, ibid, pp. 22, 58.
9. Rodrigo de Navarrete described Trinidad Arawaks with their "viviendas movibles" (mobile
dwellings) as "New World Gypsies . the friends of Christians and fond of selling and moving
from place to place bartering". Morales Padron, ibid, pp. 101-104. For Gonzalo Ferna'ndez de
Ovicdo, Trinidad Amerindians were "warlike people, naked and worshippers of idols, they eat
human flesh, and most probably possess many other hidden vices". This author undoubtedly
refers to the Caribs; but the majority of Indians, although warriors, were not cannibals. There
were several "nations" of Amerindians in Trinidad, but it seems that the Caribs never really
settled in the island. J. A. Bullbrook, The Aborigines of Trinidad, (Trinidad, 1960); Lewis
Hanke, The First Social Experiments in America, (Gloucester, Mass.. 1964) pp. 51 52.
10. Bullbrook, Williams, ibid.. Linda A. Newson, Aboriginal and Spanish Colonial Trinidad; A
Study in Culture Contact, (London, 1976).
11. De Verteuil, ibid. p. 426.
12. Newson pp. 151- 174, Morales Padr'n, Trinidad en el siglo XVII, p. 30.
13. Fray Matco de Anguiano.Misionaposto'lica en la isla de Trinidad de Barlovento, (Madrid. 1702),
in Relaciones de las Misiones de los P. P. Capuchinos de Venezuela. (Madrid 1928).
14. Fray Mateo de Anguiano, Misiones de la isla de la Trinidad con las Actas y Muerte de los sievos
de Dios Fr. Filix Raimundo de Figuerola y Marcos de Vich, Relacion VII (1713). deals with
the Capuchin Missions, in Relaciones de los P. P. Capuchinos de Froylan de Rionegro (Sevilla
15. '. L. Joseph, History of Trinidad, (London 1837), pp. 141 142.
16. The 'Real Cc'dula' of 1783 opened the depopulated and underdeveloped island to immigration,
through the offer of generous concessions of land for agriculture and commerce, especially to
colonists who owned slaves. Foreign colonists had to swear allegiance to the Spanish Crown and
must profess the Catholic faith. Aparicio, ibid. p. 23: Noel, ibid, pp. 92-101.
17. Joseph, ibid. p. 147.
18. Noel, ibid p. 136: De Verteuil ibid. pp. 286-287 and 438; Newson, ibid p. 220.
19. 1824 marks the disappearance of a mission founded by Aragonese Franciscan monks. De
Verteuil, ibid p. 299. Newson, ibid. p. 9.
20. Yet in 1825 Spanish was taught in only one school, as compared with English and French
which were taught in many more schools. De Verteuil. ibid p. 195.
21. De Verteuil ibid p. 154.
22. De Verteuil, ibid. pp. 288 and 297; W. H. Gamble, Trinidad, Historical and Descriptive, (Lon-
don 1866) p. 39, Newson, ibid. pp. 219-224.
23. The word parranda suffered the following phonetic changes: [paranda] > [para'n] with the loss
of the final syllable and shift from /i/ or /r/ or velar [r] to the retroflex r.
24. See R. W. Thompson, "A Preliminary Survey", Orbis, Vol. VI, No. 2 (1957), pp. 361-362; and
by the same author an article in the Sunday Guardian, Trinidad, 12 June 1966; C. McClure
Pastner, A Sociolinguistic Study of a Rural Trinidad Community, (Brandeis University 1967)
25. R. W. Thompson, article in the Sunday Guardian, 12 June 1966.
26. R. W. Thompson, "A Preliminary Survey", p. 317; S. M. Moodie, "El Espanol hablado en la isla
de Trinidad", (University of Madrid 1970 Ph.D. dissertation).
27. This transcription appears on the jacket of a record of parangg" songs. A phonetic transcription
of the same verse would probably be: gayina no Ba'yCl monte/ ke te komEl maniku/ si no te
kome tc h panta/ komo Bje'n lo saBe tu. That is: Gallina no vaya al monte/ que te come el
manicu/ si no te come, te espanta,/ como bien lo sabes tu'.
28. S.M.Moodie, "El Espanol hablado en la isla de Trinidad"; Thompson, "Preliminary Survey". On
two occasions 1922 and 1931, the hispanist from Santo Domingo, Pedro Henriquez Urena visited
Trinidad and according to him, the Trinidad Spanish dialect was 'normal', that is that "al con-
trario del frances y del ingles de las Antilles colonizadas por ingleses, no manifestaba rasgos
de un fuerte acriollamiento". (Henriquez Urena). However, in recent years there is reason
to believe that a stronger 'acriollamiento' has evolved among the few surviving Spanish speakers.
29. McClure Pastner, pp. 28-29.
30. In the island at present descendants of Africans and Asian Indians are in the majority; there are
also descendants of French, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Syrian-Lebanese, Chinese etc.
31. Bridget Brereton, "A Social History of Trinidad, 1870-1900 (Ph. D. dissertation) University
of the West Indies, 1972. p. 26.
32. Ivar Oxaal, Black Intellectuals come to power; the rise of Creole nationalism in Trinidad and
Tobago, Cambridge, Mass., 1968, p. 22.
33. See V. Rubin (Ed.) "Social and Cultural Pluralism in the Caribbean" Annals of the New York
Academy of Sciences, Vol. 83, Art. 5, 1960.
34. "Cocoa Payol" is a contemptuous term which refers to the fact that the 'payol' traditionally
worked on cocoa and coffee plantations and lived in the 'bush'. Some also regard the word
'payol' to be as derogatory as 'nigger' or 'coolie'. It is interesting to note that the payols refer to
themselves in English as 'Spanish' and in the Spanish language as 'venenzolanos' or 'venezolanos'.
In this article the term payol is used because of its convenience in describing a distinct socio-
35. B. Brereton, ibid p 354: "White Creoles of 'foreign' descent outnumbered 'English Creoles' and
British residents, and were almost certainly more influential in setting the tone of the society.
The foreign Creoles, however, looked to France rather than to Spain, so that we cannot classify
the society as 'Iberian' Indeed, 19th century Trinidad is perhaps best considered with the
French West Indies."
36. B. Brereton, ibid, pp. 19-26; Chapters 4 and 8; Lloyd Braithwaite, "Social Stratification in
Trinidad", Social and Economic Studies, II 1953, p. 79. Exiled Venezuelans who lived in Trini-
dad for political reasons did not identify themselves with the 'peons'. The former were funda-
mentally white. Although there were some mulattos and mestizos among the exiled Venezuel-
ans, they were of a higher class. The peon or payol was often employed by the Venezuelan as
domestic labour. For a description of the life of the 'payol' at the end of the 19th century,
there exists a useful document by Eusebio Valerio who was born circa 1880 in a small village
near Montserrat, Central Trinidad. He was of Spanish, Amerindian and African descent. His
parents, natives of Trinidad, were the offspring of Venezuelans who came to Trinidad at the
beginning of the 19th century: E. Valerio, Sieges and Fortunes of a Trinidadian, Port-of-Spain,
1919, Chapters I and II; Bridget Brereton, ibid pp. 264-268; R. W. Thompson, "A Preliminary
Survey", p. 358, notes 1, 2, 3.
37. The 'guarapo' (warap) is the fermented juice of the sugar cane. The 'sebucan', Amerindian in
origin, is used in the preparation of cassava. It is a strainer made of straw and is still used in
parts of Venezuela and the Guyanas.
38. Trinidad and Tobago has been independent since 1962. Unlike Trinidad, Tobago was never
under direct Spanish influence.
39. In the province of Madrid (Spain), Christmas festivities begin on 30 November, St Andrew's
Day, Manuel Garcia Matos Cancionero Popular de la provincia de Madrid, Barcelona Madrid
1951-1960; In Puerto Rico, they began on 8 December, Pablo Garrido, Esoteria y fervor popu-
lares de Puerto Rico, Madrid, 1952. In other parts of the Caribbean, Christmas festivities also
began at the beginning of December, some finished on 6 January, in Puerto Rico they continued
until 21 January. Some informants in Trinidad say that the Christmas cycle is not concluded
until 2 February, the Feast of the Purification, the date on which all Christmas decorations are
40. Errol Hill, The Trinidad Carnival, Mandate for a National Theatre, University of Texas Press,
41. The 'gaita' is usually a sociopolitical humorous commentary somewhat like the 'ensaladilla' and
calypso of Trinidad. In Oriente of Venezuela, one popular festival is the 'Festival de Miraflores'
in which an attempt is made to maintain the tradition of the singing of the 'aguinaldo' at Christ-
42. In L. F. Ramon y Rivera and Isabel Aretz, Folklore Tachirense, Vol. I, p. 16, the authors com-
ment that in Venezuela, women sing with the men in the areas of black or indigenous influence.
In the rest of Venezuela, women do not sing in the groups.
43. In Trinidad English 'to parang' means to wander aimlessly or to rove around idly enjoying one-
44. Compare with these Venezuelan aguinaldos:
Bajo una palmer Esta noche es noche
se oculto Maria noche de alegria
huyendo de Herodes noche en que pario
que la persegula la Virgen Maria
("Indio" Rivera, Caripano)
In some new Venezuelan compositions, the verses are octosyllabic:
La Virgen y San Jose'
velan el sueno del Niffo
con un silencio de estambre
que es ternura y carino
(provided by Juan Jose Ramfrez, chronicler of Monagas, Venezuela).
45. J. Alden Mason, Porto Rican Folklore, Reprint from the Journal of American Folklore, Vol.
31, No. 121, July-Sept. 1918, pp. 292-293; 425-436.
Marcelino J. Camino Salgado, La copla y el romance populares en la tradicidn oral de Puerto
Rico, 1968; L. F. Ramon y Rivera, "La mdisica folkldrica de Venezuela", Monte Avila Editores,
Los tres Reyes Magos
iban de camino,
derecho a Bele'n
a adorar al Nilo (Puerto Rico)
46. Compare with these aguinaldos from Puerto Rico:
San Jose'y Maria A la media noche
a Bele'n legaron. el gallo canto'
Pidieron posada anunciando al mundo
y se la negaron. que Cristo nacid.
47. The aguinaldos often display a certain degree of erudition and detailed knowledge of Bible
history. Many older composers still base their text on a story of Christ. by the Mexican Enrique
Perez, El Martir de Golgota, which some Trinidadians call the "Spanish Bible" and which is
regarded by the payols as an infallible authority on the daily life of Christ and his times. The
aguinaldo had a didactic function and sometimes followed the tradition of the oestentatious
decima with its love for exotic proper names.
48. Compare with the Puerto Rican aguinaldo:
El buey como humilde/ las pajas echaba/
la maldita mula/ lo descobijaba. (from La Poesia Popular en Puerto Rico, Maria Cadilla de
49. Verses 55 and 56 were also sung for the feast of the Divine Shepherdess (La Divina Pastora),
still celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter in the town of Siparia.
50. Many of the verses which follow were also sung for the feast of Epiphany and at Easter, but
were also heard around Christmas time. Parang is now not as popular at Easter as it was in the
past, although sporadic groups of revellers can still be seen.
51. Note the repetition of a number of verses in different stanzas subiendo el Calvatio; y el
sibado santo, Canto a ti, Mana; Mana Iloraba etc.
52. Garrido, op. cit., p. 84. Mar;a Cadilla Martinez, Poesia popular de Puerto Rico, Madrid, 1933,
53. Olga Autenchlus Maier, "El folklore de Magdalena, Colombia" RDTP, tomo XXI, (1965),
54. Ramo'n y Rivera e I. Aretz, "Galerdn en Tierra Firme" Revista Venezolana de Folklore (Caracas,
1947), in Archivos Venezolanos de Folklore, No. 8, (1967), p. 27; Ramon y Rivera, El Joropo,
baile national de Venezuela. (Ministerio de Educacion, Caracas, 1953), p. 24; Ramon y Rivera,
La Misica folklo'rica de Venezuela, p. 23.
55. The Trinidad and Puerto Rican pastel is widely known in Venezuela as hallaca. It is made of
cornflour stuffed with minced meat, raisins and pepper and is wrapped in banana leaves. It is
popular throughout Trinidad at Christmas time.
56. The instruments played during the velorio were the same as those used for the parang, but the
mandolin was more prominent than on other occasions.
57. The 'ama de la Cruz' carried out functions similar to those of the 'mantenedora' in the celebra-
tion of the feast of Santiago en Loiza Aldea, Puerto Rico, "En la casa de la 'mantenedora' se
guard la imagen (de Santiago) durante todo el alo. Por lo general, las personas que mantienen
estas imigenes son mujeres . si el mantenedor de un santo se encuentra incapacitado para
continuar tomando parte active en la celebration, cede la imagen a alguna persona que se haya
destacada por su devocion al santo y que haya venido participando activamente en la organiza-
cion de la fiesta." Ricardo E. Alegria, "Folklore Puertorriqueio. El Culto a Santiago en Loiza,
Asomante." 4 pp.65-76, 1952.
58. The dove is continually mentioned in religious and secular songs.
59. Jueves Santo, Viernes Santo, dfa de grande pasidn,
Dia que crucificaron a Cristo nuestro Senor.
Por las pies echaba sangre, y por las manos otro tanto.
Paso'por allisu Madre y se la quiso limpiar.
No me la limpie usted, Madre,'no me haga used tanto mal,
Que estas son las cino Ilagas que yo tengo que pasar
por los vivos y los muertos y toda la cristiandad.
(Cancionero Popular de la Provincia de Madrid Manuel Garcfa Matos)
60. Camina la Virgen Pura, camina para Bel n
Y en el medio del camino pide el Niiio de beber.
No pidas agua, mi Niffo; no pidas agua, mi bien,
que los rios bajan turbios y los arroyos tambien.
En la huerta de don Carlos hay un rico naranjal
cargadito de naranjas que nos han de menester;
las cuidaba un pobre ciego, ciego que nada no ve.
Dame, ciego, una naranja para el Nino entretener.
Entre uste, senora, y coja las que sean menester.
Las que cog(a la Virgen salhan de tres en tres,
y las que cortaba el Nino volvian a florecer.
Ya cambinaba la Virgen y el cieguito empezo a ver.
iQuie'n es aquella senora, quien es aquella mujer?
,Quien es aquella sefora, quien me ha hecho tanto bien?
La Madre de Dios y el Niao, el Nin"o de Dios tambie'n.
(Cantares Populares de Castilla, Narciso Alonso Cortes.
Romance recqgido en Briviesca, Burgos).
La po -bre Ma ri a La po bre Ma -
-ri a tan -to ca mi -no ay! del pue-bloSa-
a ri a y del pue
doi .-I i j 1 i 1
mina ri a y- en Be-len lie -go del- pue-bloSa-
%9 !, ii i i I
y en Be- len lie go
-ma ri a
pL ^ [- T r I'U l
Se re o se re nro pa lo-ma
se re no se ra
-I --- ,-- -- i-k-----l-_1
( 4--1'--i-- I I-- w w
Se re no se re no pa- lo-nma
w I Il* r
se re- no se- ra
4r > I r I j-
es tos son se re- no pa lo-na de la ma-dru ga
-., I I imU l
es tos son se re- no pa- lo-ma de la ma-dru ga
Line 3 & 4*
fd 7 rr ., Ij ~-.
es tos son se -
re no pa lo-ma
de la ma-dru g
* Improvisation front Line 3
I )-i-- ~ ~ -
-- I i I
Mo-re -ni ta -lo lar-go y dll g dea cin-t ra mo-re -
i L pc- l r -go y el- ga -a i c ci -tu ra a yer
tar-de-enel pa -se o a la ba -ron tuel-mo- su -ra a yer
a la bar-on tuel-mo- su ra
tarr-de-en el paI se o
TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN JAMAICA
In order to build a nation and prepare for the future, it is vital for a people to know
whence they came and who they are. Hence, it is important to study various aspects of
cultural heritage. Over the years, several individuals realizing the importance of develop-
ing such an awareness have worked with enthusiasm and foresight in the areas of their
special interest. National organizations have also been protecting historical monuments,
undertaking archaeology and oceanographic research and investigating local speech,
drama and dance forms. Apart from the dedicated interest of a few voluntary workers,
however, music lagged behind until 1966 when the Government of Jamaica established a
research project to begin an in-depth study of Jamaica's musical heritage.
This project revealed that, beneath the surface and away from unsympathetic ears
and eyes, Jamaica had a wealth of traditional music inseparably bound up with the day-to-
day living of those who created and made use of it. Traditional music, quite apart from
that used in the educational system and the established churches, was not a social grace or
a commercial commodity, but an integral part of living.
The music which is most alive today has been carefully and, at times, secretly
guarded. It has survived in spite of misunderstanding, suppression and even at times being
outside the law. Because of its deep significance to those who cherish it, prying eyes,
cameras and tape recorders are often not welcome, and even when accepted may result
in a subtle retreat and exposure of surface manifestations only.
This music by its very nature is almost meaningless without its surrounding and sup-
porting lore. It is therefore only healthy and wide-spread respect for the people con-
cerned, for their philosophies and their way of life, which will open doors to the know-
ledge and understanding of these traditional forms of cultural expression which have
been nurtured through the years and can teach Jamaicans so much about themselves, as
well as about their rich ancestral traditions. Most of these ancestors were uprooted from
Africa as early as the sixteenth century. As a result of colonialism there has for centuries
been every inducement for Jamaicans to grow away from their African roots. Music with
strong African characteristics was neither understood nor respected, and has until fairly
recently been considered unwholesome and backward. There is no denying that Jamaican
music has also been genuinely influenced by the music and dance of the European society
which has been here for hundreds of years, but the acceptance of these influences has
been quite out of proportion to their significance. Fortunately, this picture has under-
gone dramatic changes since the 1960s.
The study of Jamaica's traditional music has also revealed a view of life and society
completely different from that popularly held today. There is abundant evidence of the
belief in one all-encompassing and eternal life, which includes the various levels of society:
Gods, Saints and Heroes, Ancestral Spirits, human beings, animals, plants and the
elements. The prime aim of life at all levels is to maintain and, when necessary, re-estab-
lish harmony between all its manifestations, seen and unseen. This view of life holds that
since matter is the manifestation of spiritual things, problems that exist in the world of
matter originate in some spiritual shortcoming, and must therefore be solved at a spiritual
level. This explains why it is the cult leader whose advice is often sought whether the
problem be legal, social or physical. He can guide matters towards the re-establishment of
the vitally important harmony which will automatically solve any problem. Basically, the
question is not how the problem situation arose, but why, and for this one may need to
go beyond the mind of man. which, no matter how brilliant, is limited. To this end, music,
and especially its rhythm, is often used to induce trance states which facilitate direct
communication with Gods and Spirits,unseen sources of information.
In addition to the specific use of music as a psychic force, it is also widely used in
all levels of community activities. When the outside world of jobs, schools, established
churches, mass media and all the trappings of modern living are left behind, the creators
of such music retreat into their own safe familiar habitats physical, emotional and
spiritual. The whole rhythm of life alters and takes on new significance. Music then
stretches across the whole spectrum of life's activities, from secret ritual to ceremonial,
from work and social to recreational. Songs are used formally and informally for praise,
for derision, to teach, to warn, to admonish. Thus, to understand Jamaica's traditional
music, one must understand the total environment of the people who create, adapt and
Our forefathers, brought as slaves to Jamaica, came from various linguistic and cul-
tural backgrounds. Verbal inter-communication was often impossible. Gradually, however,
they learnt to speak in ways that they all could understand. They evolved and passed on
methods of communicating secretly, even through non-verbalised sounds, with the spirit
world, the world of the living and the world of nature and elemental spirits. They learnt
quickly that what could not safely be said could be sung. Songs were used to convey
messages. They still are. Songs were used to express sadness and the pain that was never
far off. They still are.
Ex. 1 All dem ol' one dead an' gone (x3)
An' we nevva to meet again
Mourn Dayka mourn
O mourn Dayka nourn (x2)
An' we nevva to meet again.
Our forefathers also used music to express innate confidence in and knowledge of
that Creative Spirit of which all living things have always been a part and with whose
plans they should work to harmonise. Music was used to bolster belief in the inviolable
law of cause and effect, the laws of Nature which had placed them in the dreadful circum-
stances in which they found themselves. Thus, they used songs to give strength so that the
karma could be accepted in order that the next stage of life could be on a higher plane.
After Europeans began to evangelise the slaves, new influences crept in. In spite of indica-
tions to the contrary, these influences have remained superficial.
Ex. 2 Although the road be rocky an' steep
I ask my Saviour to be my guide
King David slew Goliat' wid a sling
an' a marble stone ...
Chris(t) is coming, an' me no wan'
So me pick up me cymbal, me lick dung
Cymbal a go roll away
There were certain aspects of the new religion that fitted in with the slaves' basic
belief. Christ Jesus, for instance, was highly respected and His life and work could be
accepted without question, with less question perhaps than by Christians. His conquest
of death was also symbolically important. The practice of Christianity, however, puzzled,
and at deep levels still puzzles, many Jamaicans. The instinctive view of creation, life and
death makes it difficult for many Jamaicans even now to accept a religion that seems to
be focused on a particular place and a particular time. For the traditional Jamaican, there
is hardly any line of demarcation between what is sacred and what is secular.
Ex. 3 When I turn my eyes up to Heaven
I saw Mary at her Master's feet
An' me say bam Uncle Rufus sen' me dung
a Brown's tung fe go hear dem sing
dem cyan sing at all a rum dem
want a Mama Tully yard
King David slew Goliat' wid a sling an a
marble stone --
This example illustrates that to the traditional Jamaican the whole world is the
Creator's Temple and all life and all things are in His hands.
It is not possible to determine exactly how the slave forefathers of Jamaica used
music, but it is safe to say that they used it widely. Adaptation, variation and improvisa-
tion seem to have been prevalent. As research has shown, one tune may be used on various
occasions and by very different groups. However, while the words may be more or less
the same, the timbre and the rhythmic setting may vary considerably according to the
function and the particular occasion. On the other hand, words and tune may bear close
resemblance, but be used in totally different styles. Thus, one can carefully transcribe the
melody, words and rhythm, measure the instruments, and get all their specifications, and
yet learn little of the traditional music of Jamaica. It is the intangible qualities so diffi-
cult to express in words, that will truly convey the essence of this music. For the tradi-
tional Jamaican. it has been one manifestation of basic philosophies, attitudes and beliefs;
a vital link with the past from which they had been so rudely uprooted: a link with the
cosmos for which the need was probably more deeply felt in the new setting; a means of
relieving pent-Lip emotions which could and did destroy lesser people. It is likely that it
was ritual, ceremonial, social and work music that were most used and these types of
music still carry great cultural weight.
Short Categorisation of the Traditional Music of Jamaica
Ritual This type of music reflects the attempts of traditional musicians to communi-
cate with their gods, ancestors and heroes as well as with the forces of nature at levels at
which the outsider is only rarely allowed to observe. Such observers know better than to
divulge the secrets of rites with which they have been entrusted. Suffice it to say that
much of the music is improvisatory and largely under the control of the spiritual leader
and traditional musicians. Often it is the work of many years to be able to become a lead
drummer in this sort of situation because accurate knowledge of rhythm is vitally impor-
tant. Confusion of rhythms would be extremely serious. Specific rhythms act on and are
used for specific conditions, in ways similar to particular drugs in the field of medicine.
Ceremonial Rituals which are largely secret are often surrounded by ceremonies which
are more accessible to other members of the group as well as to interested members of the
public. There are also ceremonies that take place on their own. This category of music
deals with a very wide range of subjects such as Baptism, Thanksgiving, Mourning, Invo-
cation through Ancestral Spirits, attention to graves, Spiritual Uplift and in certain cases
services to attract new members.
Ex. 4 Plant de letta pon de seal an' mek
me read it (x3)
Bansman de note a blow
Ex. 5 O poor Wilhel oh. a wch him deh
Hear Wilhel a bahl a wood hole, a
web him deh
Me hear toad a akse fe him, Wilhel
no deh yah
O poor Wilhel oh, a weh him deh
Ex. 6 Day dah light eh, mahnin's star
We say. we dah come oh, mahnin' star
This category of music also includes a wide range of beliefs. They range from those
reflecting ancient African philosophies, as in Ettu, Maroon, Goombeh, and Kumina, to
others which have incorporated Anglo-American Christian thought, such as Pukko and
Ex. 7 All dem stumblin' block will has to remove
We ha' to break down Satan Kingdom an'
buil' up de Church o' God
An all dem stumblin' block will has to
Rastafarianism is comparatively new, yet has exerted considerable influence on
recent Jamaican thought and lifestyle. In Rastafarianism the influence of the Coptic
Church is evident and the prophecies and writings of the Old Testament are highly respec-
ted. In addition, there is strong allegiance to the late Haile Selassie, sometimes referred to
as Negus or RastaTari, The religious music of Rastafari varies considerably, with the best
of it being extremely original and improvisatory, at times hypnotic. Drums and chanting
play fundamental roles.
Although the range of expression is so wide and many of the groups are unsym-
pathetic to each other, there is nevertheless an underlying similarity of thought which
revolves around the basic belief in one life and the necessity of striving for peace and love
at all levels by spiritual means. This is reflected in the music which also is wide-ranging in
style and presentation.
It is interesting to note that in many traditional ceremonies, leadership is taken by
either sex and is completely accepted, regardless of the attitude of outsiders.
Social Music -This refers to life's stages -- Birth, Puberty, Marriage, Death and to acti-
vities concerned with the day-to-day life of the group. Songs in this category are full of
topicalities, substitutions and a characteristic type of humour. They include songs of
censure and advice, songs of praise and derision, songs that show the attitudes and the
social and moral standards of the group.
Ex. 8 My man does'n treat me like he use to do
For he loves annada girl wid me
An' if a ketch dat gal, I'm goin' to beat her
Ex. 9 When me fahda a go dead him nevva mek no will
But him lef one cow fe de whole a we
An' me bigga bredda rob i weh from me
Glory be to God, me ha fe me own, me own
a me own
The life of the slave was short. "Death" was always near, either by separation or by
loss of life. Thus it is not surprising that most of the songs to do with life-stages concern
death. Physical death was a welcome relief from hardship and a chance to live again and
to live better. Those who were left behind were expected through ceremonies, songs,
dancing and the playing of music to help the departing spirit on its journey to another
plane of existence.
Ex. 10 Den I saw my fahda Abraham stretch forth de
palm of his right hand to take me over
Jordan plain --
Say who will go and die for Adam fallen race
I will go, -- I will go
Ex. 11 One blow me blow Sityra, one blow me blow
Sityra me madda, me bradda an' me sista
Bury dung a riba side
Work Songs These sprang from the slaves' need to communicate and to lighten their
distressingly hard work. Talking was often prohibited but they could chant what they
wished to say without incurring the wrath of their masters. Chants took on the rhythm of
the work which they accompanied, and so these songs are as varied as the several tasks the
slaves were required to do. Many also reflect the differences in the tasks to which each
sex was assigned.
- Field labour men
Work gang (bobbin)
- Hauling men
Ex. 14 House cleaning women
Good mawnin' Missa Potta
Good mawnin' to you sah
A come to lodge a complain to you now sah
A plant a piece a red peas a red Sally lan'
Mary Jane and pigen come eat i out sah
Come out a me yahd me nevva call you yah
For yuh house rent money no dun pay fah
Ex. 15 Lullabye women
Done Baby done cry yuh madda gahn a fountain
Sweetie water nevva done yu get i dung a fountain
Milky water nevva done yu get i dung a fountain
The style, texture and scales of some work songs hark back to Africa, but many of
the melodies and harmonies are western European in style.
A few work songs reflect some of the other ethnic influences on Jamaica's culture.
The rice-beating songs, for example, show strong East Indian influence. One song has also
been salvaged out of the Chinese indentured period while another, used for women's
work, refers to the Middle Eastern peddlar of by-gone days.
Ex. 16 Quatty a yahd oh
Some a buy one yahd
Some a buy two yahd
Some a buy half a yahd oh
Ooman is a people
Grumble too much
Dem a wuk dem grumble
Grumble too much
Inna church dem grumble
Grumble too much
When I was in America I
hear de soldiers groaning
0 o pullaway
Sally ha one steamboat a run
Pullaway Yankee pullaway
Pullaway to London pullaway oh
Pullaway Yankee pullaway
Recreational Music There was little opportunity in old Jamaica for the use of purely
recreational music, though celebrations like Jonkunnu and Set Dancing certainly started
during the days of slavery. At Christmas, slaves were by law given time off and, though
life always returned to the old privations and distress, on the whole the slaves seemed
determined to make the most of their short respite. There were processions with drums
and fifes, fully masked dancers and prancing crowds. Influences were at first predomi-
nantly African, but elements of English Morris dancing and mummery as well as French
sets were absorbed the overall style developing into something uniquely Jamaican.
Vestiges of slavery were completely abolished in 1838 during the reign of Queen
Victoria and the significance of this is recorded in the Bruckins music of 31 July to
1 August song/dance contests.
Ex. 17 God bless de noble Queen Victoria
Who set Jamaica free
You no yerri weh me say
You no yerri ban' a play
Deestant marchin' roun' de bood
After emancipation, Jonkunnu was also used as an integral part of first of August
Quadrille and other types of dance music flowed into the Jamaican heritage via the
Ex. 18 Try dear don't tell a lie (x3)
Or I will nevva marry you
Try to tell the truth me dear
An' you will get the ring me dear (x3)
Such recreational music still enjoys great popularity for folk celebrations, as well as thea-
However, Jamaica's indigenous dance-song style is Mento. It is characterized by the
accentuation on or in the last of four beats in the bar and very topical words, which are
often fully understood only by members of the group creating or using the particular
song. The popularity of Mento fell after transistorised media brought foreign popular
music within easy reach of even remote areas of the country, but recent years have seen
it climbing into its own again.
Dance songs related to games are used in Jamaica by both adults and children, but
often on separate occasions. They include ring and stone games which adults use at death
ceremonies, village festivities, and for relief from stress, while children use them for
normal play and also at moonlight gatherings or moonshine dahlins.
Ex. 19 Zackie you knee cyan ben )
Ben i dung )(x2)
Ben i like a leaf pan tree )
Ben i dung ) (x2)
Ben i dung to grun' )
Ben i dung ) (rep.)
Ex. 20 Jump bredda rat, bredda puss a go
Leh, leh, jump an' de leh
Jump, jump, jump fe you life
Leh, leh, jump an' de leh
Music from many other forms of folk entertainment has also survived, for example,
Tea Meetings, and Pleasant Sunday evenings. These grew largely out of European tradi-
tions and have retained mainly European features.
A wide variety of instruments is used at the grass roots level in Jamaica. Of these,
drums are the most widely used. There are several types, for example, Bass, Goombeh
(Ex. 21) (a square frame drum), Tin Drums, Fundeh, Repeater, Kbandu, Side Drum or
EX. 21 GOOMBEH DRUM
6" 1' over frame
peg supporting inner frame
wooden inner frame which presses against skin according to the depth to
which supporting peg is driven thus altering tension and pitch of drum head.
end of inner frame -- -
tapering peg '
Reproduced from the collection of the National Library of Jamaica
EX. 22 RHUMBA BOX
metal thongs stroked by player who sits on box
Photo by Leahcim T. Semaj, Jamaica School of Music collection.
EX. 23 BOOM PIPE
length of tjm -..--.
into whiin th
player blows. W-
Ex. 25 opening bars of song as transcribed by 3 musicians.
Rattler, Playing Cyas as well as drums made from whatever material is at hand that can
simulate the sound needed. Other instruments used include Fiddle, Guitar, Banjo,
Bamboo Saxophone, Benta, Bamboo Fife,Penny Whistle, Maraccas, Triangle, Tambourine,
Sticks, Shakkas, Rhumba Box (Ex. 22) (the bass version of the Sansa or Likembe), Paper
covered Combs and Boom Pipes (Ex. 23) (lengths of Bamboo, some blown into, others
hit on the ground each producing a sound of specific pitch).
In Jamaican traditional music, melodies often go beyond the scope of the twelve
semitones of the well-tempered Western scale, and would be badly mutilated if forced
within those confines. Music which definitely grew from European roots can of course be
transcribed without suffering much loss in the process. (Ex. 24, Ex. 25 (a), (b), (c), and
(d).) The vast majority of rhythms used, however, can at best only be approximated on
paper, and often a percussion instrument is used improvisatorily for hours. In addition,
Jamaican traditional music rarely exists without a movement and mime dimension.
Because of these characteristics, conventional transcription is a most unsatisfactory way
of documenting this music for general use and, moreso, for posterity. It is therefore of
paramount importance that high quality sound tapings be supported by visual documen-
tation. It might also be useful for the African diaspora to give serious thought to finding a
suitable way of transcribing its music. If Jamaican traditional music is to form the basis,
of local Fine Art music, and it must, it has to be made widely available in forms that are
usable to those trained in this area of the Art. Until a more practical method of transcrip-
tion is found, some of the richest and most interesting sources of inspiration will be lost.
Jamaica's popular musicians have fortunately not allowed themselves to be restric-
ted by these problems. Since 1962. popular dance music and songs containing much
social commentary have flourished. This music has evolved through Ska and Rock Steady
to the now internationally accepted and popular Reggae, having originally emerged from
Jamaican religious/ceremonial music. Rastafarian philosophies and musical styles have in
recent years exerted considerable and increasing influence on both words and music.
Traditional music of Jamaica is as varied as the roots from which it has sprung.
Some of these have fortunately been identified. Others have probably already been lost in
antiquity. Every day an old Jamaican dies, irrevocably taking with him/her irreplaceable
wisdom and knowledge of the past. Every day outside influences increase. So daily the
task becomes more difficult as well as more urgent. Some Jamaicans are aware of this, but
too many still remain mentally and emotionally enslaved to ideas and attitudes which
cause them to bury their heads in the sand ratner than face truths which would compel a
thorough cleansing of the mind. Too many Jamaicans are still eager to identify with
cultures that are foreign, believing that these, by their very foreignness, must be superior.
Grass-root Jamaicans are generally not plagued by these conflicts. Certainty of their
own being saves them. They know that they are inseparable parts of society as they see it.
of worlds seen and unseen, through which runs that one Consciousness which unites all
into one indivisible whole. Uprooted from their native physical environments, theirances-
tors had to leave drums, flutes, masks, inter alia. behind. They treasured them in their
memories. They carried their spiritual strength and deep-rooted artistic talents with them.
What seemed like centuries of inactivity and forgetfulness were like seeds, within
which lay the possibilities of a glorious rebirth.
Jamaica will always owe a debt of gratitude to those who have nurtured its music
traditions in spite of separation, persecution and suffering, as well as the many whose
hard work and dedication have sought to preserve this rich musical heritage. They have
made it possible for Jamaicans to know themselves, and strengthen the foundations on
which the nation's future may with confidence be built.
BELIZEAN CREOLE FOLK SONGS
The work song in traditional Afro-American cultures is a call-and-response song in which
the lead singer, who frequently does no manual labour, sings out the call while a group
of labourers returns the one-line response as they perform the work. The function of the
song is to regulate the actual flow of the work. Likewise, working tools sometimes add
a regular percussive effect to the rhythm of the song.1
This essentially African use of song is illustrated by the "digging sings" of
Jamaica as collected before 1907 by Walter Jekyll2 and as still used in Trinidad in the
1930s3 and in the Jamaican countryside as late as 1968.4 Roger Abrahams has also
studied similar songs used by fishermen in Nevis, Tobago, and St Vincent.5 The call-
and-response work song survived into the 1930s in the United States primarily because
of the convict-lease system in southern prisons, which preserved the tradition of com-
munal labour in work gangs. John and Alan Lomax gave "special attention" to these
songs in their important collection, American Ballads and Folk Songs.6
A Belizean Creole folk song that seems to fit this description is the well-known
Go to Kellyman Town, go tell dehn gal me di bruk rockstone
Go to Kellyman Town, go tell dehn gal me di bruk rockstone
Bruk dehn one by one.
Bruk dehn two by two.
Bruk dehn thfee by three.
Bruk dehn four by four.
Women of the Baptist family of Burrell Boom,
recorded by Shirley Warde in 1956-57.
dehn = those
di bruk = am breaking
Call Response Call Response
Evidence suggests, however, that "Kellyman Town" cannot be regarded as a truly
Belizean work song. Both Walter Jekyll and Martha W. Beckwith have published Jamaican
variants of the same song, with Jekyll's appearing as early as 1907.7 Although one
Belizean informant associated "Kellyman Town" with Kelly Street in Belize City, the
word "Kellyman" probably should be regarded as a Belizean transmutation of the "Gallo-
way road" (site of a stone quarry) in Jekyll's variant.8 Similarly, the apparently non-
sensical response, "Kellenby!" is probably a slightly altered version of "Gal an boy"
of all versions reported by Jekyll and Beckwith.
Although the lyrics suggest that the song originated with the communal labour
of quarry workers, it was being used as a song to accompany a stone-passing game when
Beckwith recorded it in Jamaica prior to 1928. Like the other Jamaican digging sings,
whose descended variants became used as dance tunes in Jamaica as well as Belize,
"Kellyman Town" probably was used for purposes other than the enhancement of labour
from the time of its earliest use in Belize.
Wood Harvesting Activities
The only song in my collection that is clearly a call-and-response work song in the
sense described above is one from Seferino Scott, a native of Orange Walk who had spent
much of his life as a woodsman. He called the following song a "log-rolling song":
Run, Johnny, run, boy, caulkin [?] on your block today.
Hey, yey! Bur-ah-yin da yagga [?].
Monkey play the fiddle and the baboon dance the tune.
Hey, yey! Bur-ah-yin da yagga.
Seferino Scott, recorded by Shirley Warde in 1956-57.
a Call I Response
p L Call Response
V i ww, wr I W
No testimony regarding the precise use of this tune by loggers has been preserved.
Research into logging procedures and terminology may help clarify the meaning of
"caulking on your block" as well as "Bur-ah-yin da yagga".
Thus, evidence so far collected suggests that the use of the traditional call-and-
response work song has not been as widespread in Belize as elsewhere in Afro-American
cultures a situation that probably derives from the nature of the labour associated
with traditional Creole culture in Belize. The economy of Belize has, until recent years,
been based on wood-harvesting activities first logwood, then mahogany and chicle.
Yet work songs have traditionally been found in agricultural societies, which require
much communal labour, rather than in forest-harvesting cultures, which require relative-
ly less. For instance, in Africa the collective work song is common in the cultures of the
open savannah, but uncommon in the rain forest belt of the Yoruba, Ewe, and Ibo
peoples. Perhaps Belizean labourers have tended to resemble the bush-cutters in Liberia,
who sing while they work, but only intermittently and casually.9
In this casual use of song, working Belizeans have, of course, sung songs with no
specific connection with manual labour in their lyrics or percussive effects. Leonie White,
for instance, recalls pounding out rice in a mortar and pestle while singing the familiar
song from Anancy stories, "Me Elinor, Elinor, gai-na-yo me doh doh." Just as many songs
can be used as quarrelling songs, so almost any song can become a work song insofar as
it is used to accompany, and therefore lighten, the burden of work.
Belizeans have also composed songs about work. Many songs, for instance, refer
to ordinary domestic labour, whether housework or field work. Some examples are
"And I Won't Give a Damn", "And I Work Underneath Till He Come", "Bring Me Half
a Hoe", and "You Can't Walk Da Me Planwalk". 10 Of these call-and-response dancing
songs, the last two deal with agricultural contexts, which might point to origins or earlier
use in communal field labour.
Along with Seferino Scott's log-rolling song, four others in my collection were
used in or are specifically concerned with the logging industry in Belize. Since they
document and express the experience of the typical, traditional Creole who hired him-
self out for pay in logging operations, these five songs more than any others seem to
epitomize the uniquely Belizean contribution to the work songs of the world. Only
Scott's is call-and-response; one is verse-and-chorus; the other three illustrate more
free, lyrical structures.
In Scott's song, the reference to Monkey fiddling and Baboon dancing suggests
that it may also have been used in an Anancy story. A song by Percy Gillett, which
definitely comes from an Anancy story, may also have been used to accompany logging
operations. In the tale, Anancy first sings the song, followed by the ladies and then by the
children. Gillett sings Anancy's lines in a bold baritone, the women's in a high voice,
and the children's in a falsetto.
0, cut in a row, brother
Cut in a row,
And a cut in a row.
Percy Gillett, recorded by Shirley Warde in 1956-57.
Gillett sings this song in the tale, "Anancy and Brudda Crane"," in which Anancy
cuts down the tree holding Crane's nest in order to steal the treasure cached there.
Anancy first builds a "conga barbecue" around the huge tree: that is, he constructs a
platform large and high enough to enable a gang of woodcutters to chop at the tree with
ease.12 The words, of course, call upon a fellow labourer, or labourers, to cut together
and/or evenly: "Cut in a row." In the narration proper, Anancy/Gillett echoes the sound
of the axes with the words. "Ju jing! jing! de chop!"
It does not take much imagination or additional evidence to suggest that there
may have been some kind of tradition of communal work song in logging camps, and
that perhaps Anancy's song was one actually used in real life and then naturally inserted
in a story that depicts the animal-trickster as a wood-cutting hero.
After being pressed several times to sing a work song, Christabel Bevans, whose
husband Edward worked in logging camps for sixteen years, sang the following log-
O Tony Bey!
O ho Tony Boy!
0 Mister Yorke.carry me down to Burrell Boom [?].
O ho, ho, ho.
Yeh hey Tony Boy!
Ho To-Tony Boy!
O Mister High Man run me down to my a Bomba [?] home.
O this da the time,
This da the time,
This da the time,
This da the time,
When Creole going home.
This da the year,
This da the year,
This da the year,
When Creole going home.
O ho, Tony Bey!
O Mister High Man bring me down to Bermuda, hey.
O ho Tony Bey!
Christabel Bevans, 26 August 1975
Burrell Boom = on the Belize River
Bomba = Bomba Bank on the Northern River
da = is
Bermuda = Bermudian Landing on the Belize River
, r ^ u *; r, Ir --ij *
3 3 D.C
Immediately after singing the song, Christabel added the spoken comment: "And
here the log 'da da de ding ding ding' tumbled right down, right down the hill." In
contrast to the call-and-response songs and the short work song just discussed, Christabel's
song is in a more lyrical form. As Christabel sings it, it also becomes a wistful lament
over not being able to go "home".
Lament becomes outright social protest in two songs that deal with difficult work-
ing conditions in the logging camps. Cleopatra White's song is about a logging foreman
who overworks his men:
O, Captain Ginger,
I no come ya fu you kill me,
I come ya fu you work me.
Yes, Captain Ginger.
CHORUS: For one year and six months,
I no see me Lola [?].
Carry me back da Lola,
Lowland da me country.
Yes, Captain Ginger, do sir,
Me no come ya fi you beat me.
Me no come ya fi you kill me.
Yes, Captain Ginger.
Cleopatra White, 8 July 1978
ya = here
fu, fi = for
da = to, of
lowland = Perhaps Belize City, since it is built on the
marshy delta of the Belize River.
-. F I
I I I -. .
One informant pointed out that the normal contract for cutting logs in the bush
was only four, six, or nine months not the eighteen months of hard labour cited by
the person in the song.
Probably the best-known song about labour in Belize is "Iguana Creek", which
also documents the difficult terms of the "contract" under which the work is done:
I'll never go back to Iguana Creek
Not as long as life exists.
I'll never go back to Iguana Creek
Not as long as life for me.
They work men from six to six.
One dollar [?] twenty-five per day.
You may carry your wife
You may carry your sweetheart
But she won't be no use to you.
I'll never go back to Iguana Creek
Not a Waika do you need.
You may carry your wife
You may carry your sweetheart
But she won't be no use to you.
All I plea and all I ask my friend
To see the captain to slacken my contract.
Home, home, sweet home, my boy,
There is no place like home.
Duncan Pinkard, recorded by Shirley Warde in
Waika = Mosquito Indian (skilled logger)
0 ~z ~1I 1 1, I I I
% rd Ai-0-0 do do p I -
Although one informant says the song refers to the building of the Western High-
way bridge over Iguana Creek in 1938, more people associate it with logging operations.
Ed Casasola of Belize City, who used to drive trucks that hauled logs out of the bush,
S1 4_ I4 Pzf
remembers hearing the song sung by one man while logs were being loaded by a gang
of men into the trucks.
The songs and other evidence cited here suggest that there is a definite tradition
of the work song in Belize, but that it does not conform to the typical pattern and use
of the work song in many other Afro-American cultures. Over three hundred years of
logging in Belize must have generated many more work songs than are printed here and
that deserve being brought to public attention. Such songs are not only interesting
compositions in their own right, but also important documents in the history of labour
Belizean Creole Boat Songs
Until recent years, Belize has relied on coastal and inland waterways for its major
routes of transportation. As Narda Dobson points out, the present network of roads was
initiated in the 1930s and the first extensive development of all-weather roads occurred
only in the 1970s with completion of the paving of the Western Highway from Belize
City to Belmopan.13
Now that bus and truck have virtually replaced the boat in internal transportation,
Belizeans are understandably showing an interest in recreating the history of boat trans-
portation while oral and written records are easily accessible. Hence the significance of
Vernon Leslie's essay, which documents the beginning of boat service to San Ignacio,14
as well as Charles John Emond's, which concerns boat trips up the coast and down the
Northern River to Orange Walk Town.15 The unfortunate and untimely death of Leslie,
who expected to write a monograph on boat transportation in Belize, means that the
history will be delayed. It is to be hoped that someone else will be found to complete
the important work that he began.
The written history will not be comprehensive, however, unless it also takes into
account the way water traffic has stimulated the imagination and artistic creativity of
the folk who plied the waters. In particular, a number of Creole folk songs document
the experiences of travellers on the coastal, Sibun and Belize River waterways. For
the historian they are important because they retain the names of individual boats
and allude to general and localized incidents associated with water traffic.
The motorized doreys that plied the Sibun River are memorialized in a song learned
by Adelia Dixon of Belize City around 1932:
Looku, three gunboat come:
Sunrise, Radio and Dominion.
Dehn di fight fi bigger coco.
Dehn di fight fi bigger plantain.
Dehn di fight fi bigger potato.
Dehn di fight fi bigger yampa.
Shuboon, three gunboat come:
Sunrise, Radio and Dominion.
Dehn di fight fi bigger orange.
Dehn di fight fi bigger coco.
Dehn di fight fi bigger bukut.
Dehn di fight fi bigger yampa.
Shuboon, Shuboon, Shuboon.
- Adelia Dixon, 21 July 1978
Looku = Look!
Dehn = they
di fight= are fighting
fi = for
coco = potato-like vegetable
bukut = long, hard, black fruit with pungent odour
01'1 ,h '3 L II i i r I
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len- vi p ; IW J l0
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19P' I- J' Ir II
These apparently highly competitive vessels were called "gunboats" because of
the exploding noises that their engines made. An alternative designation was "bum"
boats, a term that echoes the "boom" or refers to the "bomb"-like sound that they
produced. Radio was owned by Oziah Morter of Belize City. The identification of the
other boats requires further research.
Songsters frequently refer to "Cayo boat songs", by which they variously mean
songs sung or composed on the boats that travelled to Cayo (now San Ignacio), or songs
that refer to events and boats associated with that traffic. At least three songs fit into
the latter category. All of them are tinged with romantic love, and two of them suggest
the bilingual experience of Creoles who travelled from the English-speaking coast into
the Spanish-speaking interior.
The first one refers to St James's Boom, which is located across the Belize River
from Burrell Boom and therefore was passed early on the trip to Cayo:
As I was going along St James's Boom
I fell in love with a cottage girl.
And O! And O! And O! And O-i-O!
And O! And O! And all she said to me,
"Look at my finger and remember me."
Oswald Sutherland, 20 June 1976
Sutherland says that the speaker in his song is a boatman who proposes to a village
girl, only to have her stall his advances by showing him an engagement ring on her finger.
Sutherland learned this song from Leslie Gentle of Belize City, whom Sutherland cites
as the composer of many Cayo boat songs, including perhaps this one.
Adelia Dixon's Cayo boat song tells an incomplete story of a Creole man courting
a Spanish-speaking girl whose father apparently disrupts the affair by means of trickery.
I went down to Cayo in January.
I met with a nice Spanish gal.
I met with a nice Spanish gal, my friend.
She was the prettiest gal to me.
Then I ask her in English,
"What is your name, young lady?"
And she answered in Spanish to me,
"%Quien sabe? i,Quien sabe, senor?"
Then she answered in Spanish to me,
",Quien sabe? i,Quien sabe, senor?"
But e daddy da mi wahn tricky old man.
But she was the prettiest gal to me.
Then I say, "Dame tu mano Izquierda.
Dame tu mano izquierda.
Dame tu mano izquierda, mi amor,
Que esta mas cerca de tu corazon.
Dame tu mano izquierda, mi amor,
Que esta mas cerca de tu corazon."
Yes, c daddy da mi wahn tricky old man.
But she was the prettiest gal to me.
Adelia Dixon, 22 July 1978
i Quien sabe?= Who knows?
e = her
da mi= used to be
wahn = a
Dame tu mano ... = Give me your left hand, which is
closest to your heart.
A r 1 Ir Ad
Another Cayo boat song by Sutherland makes a satiric use of Spanish dialogue:
You yerri Quesik? You yerri Quesik?
You yerri Bellona blow?
Get up, open you door,
Fa you lover di out a door.
Panya call me. "Digo yo. Digo yo."
Panya call me. "Digo yo."
Get up, open you door.
Fa you lover di out a door.
Oswald Sutherland, 20 June 1976
You yerri = Did you hear?
Fa = for
Digo yo = I say.
r-" K I OI
S3 D.S. al Fine
Names of Boats
Quesik and Bellona apparently are the names of boats owned by Carlos Melhado
and Sons that travelled from Belize City to San Ignacio. When the boats "blow" their
horns, people along the shore open their doors and come to greet them. Although the
"Digo yo" could come from a "panya" (Spaniard) along the shore, Sutherland says it is
spoken by the Creole, who uses the only Spanish he knows in trying to communicate
with a potential Spanish "lover".
This apparently discrete song is embedded by several informants in a longer song,
the fullest version of which comes from Violet Gabourel and Adelia Dixon:
[All dehn gal da] Sand Point Bay
Cungo go burn down Heron Dale.
All dehn gal da Sand Point Bay
Cungo go burn down Heron Dale.
Fi-me turkey da fi me-wahn.
Me no buy ahn ti me and you.
Fi-me turkey da fi me-waln.
Me no buy ahn fi me and you.
You yerri Quesik?
You yerri Cairo '
You yerri Bellona blow?
You yerri Quesik?
You yerri Cairo?
You yerri Bellona blow?
So get up, open you door.
For you lover di out a door.
So get up, open you door.
For you love di out a door.
0. fi-me turkey da fi me-wahn.
Me no buy alin fi me and you.
Fi-me turkey da Ii me-wahn.
Me no buy ahn ii Ime and you.
-Violet Gabourel and Adelia Dixon. 21 July 1978
dehn = those
da = from
Cungo = Let's go
Fi-me turkey da fi me-wahn = My sweetheart belongs
only to me.
ahn = her
fi = for
Cleopatra White's vanmnt substitutes Cutish for Quesik and Colon for Cairo in
the list of boats.
c= 108 i
V nJ I rJ' r I I II
i FFine 2
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Sw it I ,
\\ lJ i [ IJ I I I I I r i
One question to ask about this song is how its three parts the burning, the
turkey, the boats are logically connected. Another question concerns the meaning
of stanza one: Does "burn down" refer to a big dance, as Cleopatra White insists, or
to a literal burning? And are Sand Point Bay (Sunshine Bay in Laurel Hall's variant) and
Heron Dale (Heron Bay for Cleopatra White; Herring Bay for Oswald Sutherland) in
Jamaica, as Sutherland claims? on the Belize River, as Dixon and Gabourel insist? or
on the Northern River, as Cleopatra White says?
Some evidence toward answering these questions may be contained in a song about
coastal boat traffic sung by Hubert Gardner and composed by his brother George around
CHORUS: Be careful how you talk, gal,
Be careful how you talk.
Although you dream say Heron burn,
Be careful how you talk.
The scandal start da market
When wahn woman tell e dream.
E say, "Old Heron burn right up
And e let out lot a steam."
You dream say Heron burn up
And e let out lot a steam.
You see weh you cause, you woman,
With you nasty slippery tongue.
Hubert Gardner, 26 July 1978
wahn = a
e = her, she
weh = what
V I A II- ,
S Verse 3
fr I N I I I P
According to Gardner, one day the Heron H was several hours overdue in its
regular trip to Belize City from Punta Gorda Town. A woman in Central Market began
a rumour that the boat had burned up, causing much consternation among those who
heard the report. However, shortly after the rumour had spread, the boat appeared,
So perhaps the line "burn down Heron Dale" in the Gabourel-Dixon song original-
ly referred to the presumed burning of the Heron H as the opening lines of Laurel
Hall's variant would indeed allow: "I light me candle da Sunshine Bay/Fi go burn down
the Heron Dale [italics mine]." Following this line of thought, Sand Point (or its
equivalent) was located between Punta Gorda and Belize City. and "burn down" refers
both to the rumoured fire as well as to the intense dancing (with one's "turkey") that
usually accompanied this song when it was most popular in Belizean Creole culture.
Concerns like this may be more convincingly clarified through more research in
oral and written sources for the history of boat transportation in Belize. And, conversely,
these boat songs may also contribute to the reconstruction of that history. They will
certainly add the human, expressive dimension to the historical facts.
In several earlier essays on Belizean Creole folk songs and earlier in this essay I have
tried to identify different genres of songs and offer representative examples of each type.
I have described songs in terms of structural features (call-and-response), function (work
songs, quarrelling songs) and content (topical songs, boat songs).'6 I will now survey five
additional kinds of songs and, in most cases, illustrate each type with a single example.
The Nursery Song
Since "nursery song" designates function rather than structure or content, any
song that a mother or nursemaid may choose to sing to an infant belongs in this category.
The designation is imprecise, as is also the case with work songs and quarrelling songs.
Nevertheless, some songs are obviously nursery songs because of content and/or
restricted use. One modest example comes from Violet Fuller of Belize City, who, like
her mother, was a nursemaid for many years:
Baby can play kurachi.
Mama can play kurachi.
Granny can play kurachi.
Violet Fuller, 3 July 1978
Sit IM I r I rpm IM I -. -
The song is for use with a very young baby, rattle in hand. When the nurse sings
"Kurachi", she turns her hand, thus encouraging the baby to imitate her and activate
the rattle in a patterned way.
The Salvation Army Song
Oswald Sutherland of Belize City knows three "Salvation Army" songs that he
says arose from and were used in the worship and evangelistic services of that Protestant
group, which remains active in Belize today but was even more influential in 1920-25.
Although some such songs were no doubt brought to Belize by missionaries,
many apparently were composed in Belize in the course of regular worship services.
According to Sutherland, members of the audience would pick up a key phrase from
the preacher, repeat it with hand-clapping and then improvise a catchy tune for it.
Of Sutherland's three songs which also include "Look Here, Sinners" and
"When I Go to Heaven" the following has the most celebrative, lilting tune and the
most imaginative lyrics:
I'll put my finger on the golden pen,
The golden pen, the golden pen.
I'll put my finger on the golden pen
And write my name up there.
Write my name,
O write my name up there.
Write my name,
I'll write my name up there.
So I'll put my finger on the golden pen,
The golden pen, the golden pen.
I'll put my finger on the golden pen
And write my name up there.
Oswald Sutherland, 20 June, 1976
6 4 4-
11 Id o-o
S. D.C. al Fine
Sutherland also recalls this tune being played by the trumpet of Salvation Army
band between singing of the stanzas by members of the church.
The Kunjai Song
Some Creole songs have lyrics that call upon dancers to imitate certain actions.
Violet Gabourel of Belize City calls them kunjai songs. Her designation, which is not
in widespread use among Creole songsters, may be related to gunjai, the word the Caribs
of Belize use to refer to a dramatic dance performed together by a man and a woman.17
Such Carib and Creole songs have in common an imitative action performed by persons
dancing to the songs.
Since prime examples of the kunjai genre have been printed (but not called such)
in earlier essays, none will be given here. All are call-and-response songs whose improvised
lyrics in the "call" focus upon a related set of activities.
For example, "Guruzondo" calls upon the dancing "young gal" to shake various
parts of her body: "O young gal, shake you belly." "Palmer William" asks dancers to
imitate ludicrous actions attributed to relatives: "Show me how you grampa dance."'8
And many, but not all, of the lines of "Cyaan Peepee" describe steps that the dancers
should execute: "Wheel am back way." "Chemise 0" and "Junior Call Me to Shashay"
may also be part of this tradition.19
The School Song
Oswald Sutherland and also knows three songs that he learned in 1926-27 when
he was a student in Standards 5 and 6 at the Holy Redeemer Primary School in Belize
City. They are "Jubilee!", "Merry, Merry Christmas", and "We Are the Boys of the
Sisters' School". All were composed by Fr. Barnard Abeling (d. 1947), a priest in the
American Jesuit Mission from 1898 to 1901 and then again from 1907 to the late 1930s.
He wrote the songs on the blackboard and then taught them to his students, usually
in connection with a special event, such as a school Christmas programme. Abeling is
also remembered in Belize as the composer of 'Twas the Tenth Day of September",
which is sung by Belizeans on National Day every 10 September.
These school songs somewhat strain the traditional definition of "folk song",
which usually refers to a song that exists in a number of variant forms because it was
passed on orally from singer to singer after being composed but not written down -
by an author, whose identity is often unknown. But since the written versions of these
school songs were soon erased, and since the songs have survived exclusively through
oral transmission, they can legitimately be regarded as folk songs.
"We Are the Boys" represents the tradition and also contains some interesting
We are the boys of the sisters' school.
Belize is our home.
Happy are we to welcome you
And hope you will be glad you've come.
Ho! Ho! McConkey!
And the wind is blowing strong.
Ho! Ho! McConkey!
You must come along.
We are the C.O.F.
You must understand.
Loyal and true
We will always be to you
And the C.O.F.
Then let us march, march, march.
Keep the flag held higher.
Fly the right.
Keep your flag on high and
Fly [flee?] the wrong.
Let your hearts be ever true and strong.
Three cheers for the C.O.F.
Oswald Sutherland, 23 July 1978
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IF" 1I 11 I kc"
JJJl ,. IF ... r
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if '1 '" I I [ II
Catholic Church in Belize in order to counter the influence of the popular, but non-
religious, Ancient Order of Foresters Friendly Society, which offered its members
insurance and other mutual aid. The reference to "McConkey" used as a by-word
here is obscure.
The Creolized Sentimental Ballad
Just as the school song shows academic culture moving into the folk tradition,
so the Creolized sentimental ballad shows a genre from popular culture being assimilated
into folk art.
When asked to sing "old" songs, many informants first responded by singing their
versions of sentimental ballads from late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain
and America. Such songs were commercially produced and reached a mass market by
being printed in songbooks and sheet music. They found their way into Belizean
homes and schools by being sung around the piano, heard over the radio or played on
Key lines from some informants' sentimental ballads suggest the flavour of this
popular genre: "Once I loved with fond affection", as sung by Violet Fuller; "In her
hair there was moonlight", by Eulalio Smith of Rancho Dolores; "Light of my heart,
like the sun", by Rosita Sutherland of Rancho Dolores; and "O, here am I alone to die,
Love", by Doris Young of Rancho Dolores. Even though these songs have survived in
Belize through oral transmission, they were sung almost entirely in standard English
diction and performed in an especially "sweet" manner not much Creolized at all.
The best example of the way the sentimental ballad can be absorbed into the
Creole folk tradition is a long, complex song from Leonie White of Belize City:
San Jones came down the other night
From goddie knows where.
Invited everybody was to have a gambling game.
Miss Jones came back,
Miss Jones came back,
Miss Jones came back
When the money get slack
To pay back Baby Baby and his own.
Says I, "You coon you terraccoon.
You coon that live next door."
Says I, "You coon your terraccoon
You coon that live next door."
0, you jump ina room
And you jump out of bed.
Baby, come and kiss your papa.
You jumped ina room
And you jump out of bed.
Baby, come and kiss your papa.
Mother gone and lees me.
Sorrows break my heart.
O, Mother, lay me down to sleep
For I have no mother tonight.
Take good care of your mother, my boy.
Take good care of your mother, my boy.
For it is a blessing God given to you, my boy.
For it is better, better than gold.
I thought I heard when the church bell ring.
I thought I heard when the church bell roll.
Stand fa the midnight.
Come in the dark night.
Cap'n and e wife came down to see.
Stand fa the main line.
Stand fa the back line.
And a cunjie rock upon e cunjie.
Cunjie rock upon e cunjie.
Cunjie rock upon e cunjie.
Rock upon e cunjie,
Rock upon e cunjie, cunjie,
Cunjie rock upon e cunjie.
- Leonie White, 10 July, 1978
goddie = godmother
fa = for
e = his
cunjie = hammock
A I I I i i
S" i I F F 1
,X I.F I IF I
- ,', l I| i -
A Tempo 1
I Fast waltz tempo
: Not as fast, but still in one
i rtr 10 1W P i
O I r
I l 1 I I I I I I I
X' I J I I I i il Ir'F.
%.,W o I I i l! I, , ,. .
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XiP I -
VII I I I I I'|
or, iFast, in twvo
Q I [ I 1 Ii
A. i r i I
I 1 6 "-, 1 6a.
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Looked at as a whole, the lyrics, of course, make little coherent sense. They are
apparently a hodgepodge of lines from various songs mostly popular sentimental
ballads, as indicated by the admonitions to "my boy" and the cliche' references to
mother, orphaned child, gambling game and church bells.
Leonie, however, would not agree that the song suffers from incoherence. She
hesitated not a bit in moving from line to line and stanza to stanza. She has melded
disparate elements from songs that, being heavily didactic, sometimes make too much
explicit sense and has created a suggestive, haunting lyric that retains the "emotional
core" of the songs, if not their literal surfaces.
Leonie calls the song a "lullaby", a designation that is supported by frequent
references to baby and mother but that is made most apparent in the especially careful
and tender way in which she sings most of the song.
From the first line, Leonie flirts with Belizean diction and rhythm. But only near
the end, with the "Cunjie rock" section which is most explicitly the "lullaby" of the
song does she finally break into genuinely Creole diction and beat. Even though the
syncopated beat there undermines the lullaby effect, such a conclusion is fitting and
even symbolic, since it signals the Creole assimilation of and mastery over alien cultural
Some of the work upon which this essay is based was supported by grants from the Penrose
Fund of the American Philosophical Society and the Faculty Research Fund of Goshen College.
1. John Storm Roberts, Black Music of Two Worlds (New York: Praeger, 1972), pp. 28, 67, 133.
2. Jamaican Song and Story (1907; rpt. New York: Dover, 1966).
3. Roberts, p. 67.
4. Olive Lewin, "Jamaican Folk Music," Caribbean Quarterly, 14 (1968), p. 50.
5. Deep the Water, Shallow the Shore: Three Essays on Shantying in the West Indies (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1974).
6: (New York: Macmillan, 1934), p. xxxiv.
7. Jekyll, p. 199; Beckwith, Jamaica Folk-Lore, Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society,
21 (New York: American Folk-Lore Society, 1928), pp. 90-91.
8. One variant in Beckwith refers to "Maniwell Bay", p. 90; the other, to "Manuel road", p. 91.
9. Roberts, p. 140.
10. For a text of "Won't Give a Damn", see Ervin Beck, "The Answer Songs of Leonie White,"
Belizean Studies, 8 (July 1980), p. 14; for "Planwalk" see Beck, "Call and Response in
Belizean Creole Folk Songs," BS, 8 (March 1980), p. 15.
11. Shirley Warde, "We Jus Catch Um." Folk Stories from Belize (Goshen, IN: Pinchpenny Press,
1974), pp. 29-32.
12. For a drawing of a conga barbecue, see Philip Sherlock, Belize: A Junior History (London:
Collins, 1969), p. 81.
13. A History of Belize (Trinidad: Longman Caribbean, 1977), p. 9.
14. "The First 'Cayo Boat' Trip," Belizean Studies, 5 (March 1977), 16-18.
15. "Of Boats and the River," Belizean Studies, 7 (November 1979), 21-28.
16. "Call and Response in Belizean Creole Folk Songs," Belizean Studies, 8 (March 1980), 10-20;
"The Answer Songs of Leonie White," Belizean Studies, 8 (July 1980), 10-22; "Belizean
Creole Quarrelling Songs," Southern Folklore Quarterly, "Folk History in Creole Topical
Songs," Belizean Studies, 8 (November 1980), 17-24.
17. Richard E. Hadel, "Carib Dance Music and Dance," National Studies, 1 (November 1973),
18. For texts of "Guruzondo" and "Palmer William" see "Call and Response", pp. 17, 19.
19. For texts of "Cyaan Peepee", "Chemise O," and "Junior" see "The Answer Songs", pp. 15, 16,
20. Tristram P. Coffin uses this phrase to refer to the "impact" that is preserved through oral
transmission of a ballad even though narrative details are lost or changed. (" 'Mary Hamilton'
and the Anglo-American Ballad as an Art Form," Journal of American Folklore, 70 (1957),
FOLK SONG PERFORMANCE IN THE CARIBBEAN
Choirs and choral ensembles performing Caribbean folk songs have increased significantly
over the years in the Caribbean region. The Frats Quintet, the Jamaican Folk Singers,
National Dance Theatre Company Singers, the University of the West Indies Singers from
Jamaica, the Mausica Teachers' College Choral Society from Trinidad, the Hewanorra
Voices from St Lucia, the Emerald Community Singers from Montserrat, the Kingstown
Chorale from St Vincent, the Police Male Voice Choir and the Emmel Singers from
Guyana, if not known throughout the region, have made their mark in their country of
Folk song performances are no longer backyard affairs. Instead, they have been
elevated to the stages of elite theatres and concert halls all over the Caribbean. What used
to be enjoyed by the peasant population has gained 'respectability' and has won the
applause of those at the top of the social ladder, as folk music performances have taken
on all the trimmings that go along with Art Music. These performances have also been
given the blessing of the Church as Folk Masses. Songs from our religious folk heritage
or religious songs composed in folk idiom are now included on the programmes of most
church Sunday afternoon concerts. In Jamaica, the number of classes for folk music in
the syllabus for the Music Festival is being viewed with alarm and deep concern by some
music teachers. With the increasing popularity of folk music presentations has come a
change in the background of the performers themselves. These are no longer exclusively
folk musicians, for each choir has one or two musicians who can boast their Royal
Schools of Music certificates and diplomas.
Not everyone is able to hear live performances of these many groups scattered over
the Caribbean, but thanks to the recording industry and the foresight of some of these
groups, recordings have been made. These, while fulfilling the requirements of sound, are
still inadequate for measuring the groups' total impact in terms of performance, for all
over the Caribbean a great deal of attention is now given to the visual aspects of perform-
ance. Folk songs are now 'staged'. Performers are now appropriately costumed, and a
whole new dimension has been added, as they no longer merely stand in formal choral
pattern swaying from left to right, but present their music with appropriate 'movements'.
This seems quite a logical performance technique when one is dealing with work-songs or
songs which are derived from, or are a part of, a particular folk-dance form. But this treat-
ment is now successfully used for lullabys, topical gossip-songs and others, with the aim
of highlighting and complementing music and words, and not being, in itself, a separate
input. Some groups, as one might expect, have gone overboard to create movement
sequences which stand out apart from the songs themselves. In spite of this, one sees the
addition of movement as a very necessary and relevant ingredient of folk song perform-
ance in the Caribbean where, in the folk tradition, the two elements are so naturally inte-
grated that it is difficult to say where movement begins and song ends.
The arrangement of the folk song is another aspect of performance that has been given
serious attention in recent years. This is probably because we have become increasingly
aware of the fact that the success of a performance, to a large extent, depends upon the
style and choral technique involved in creating arrangements. It is true that some of our
folk songs naturally resist any elaborate choral arrangement, or even accompaniment
which is so often indiscriminately used. Some folk melodies are able to stand on their
own without any vocal or instrumental dressing. They seem so perfect in themselves
that in decorating them we detract from their inherent beauty. In fact, such an act
borders on the sacrilegious, for there is that 'sacred' element in folk music which demands
careful treatment by even the most skilled choral arranger. If he fails to recognize this,
and does not approach folk music with the awe and respect it deserves, it is very often
because he fails to see that the music he is working with has already been 'arranged' by
those who, through an oral tradition, have created and preserved it.
As the songs have moved from village to village, sometimes through a number of
generations, phrases and words have been added, others have been dropped, the melodies
have been altered here and there, so that what we now have is a beautifully 'distilled',
artistic creation with structure and form (as one finds in Art Music), and an emotional
content which is pure and unpretentious. The music has become the perfect vehicle for
carrying the words and vice versa. As the melody crystallizes, normal speech rhythms can
be identified, while, at the same time, we get a glimpse of the lives of the people who have
created the songs. Let us look, for example, at the song 'Sammy Dead.'
SAMMY DEAD OH!
Sam-my plant piece-a corn dung a gul-ly (M m) an i'
i I KI IN J I I
bear till i' kill poor Sam-my (M m) Sam-my
dead, Sam-my dead Sam- my dead Oh (M m) Sam-my
dead Sam- my dead Sam- my dead Oh (M m)
This song is a classic example of a well-constructed melody. It might not be as compli-
cated as one of the best melodies of Art Music, but its simplicity is what gives it charm
and immediate appeal. The words flow just as our folk would say them, and the shape of
the melody not only patterns speech inflections but also helps to heighten the emotional
impact. The musical accents are natural, and careful analysis will reveal the employment
of 'sophisticated' musical techniques. Devices such as phrases and answering phrases,
repetition, sequences, have been used to create a musical gem with sufficient balance and
contrast which, for many of us, is exclusive to Art Music.
One cannot over-emphasise that some folk songs, as trivial as they may seem, come
very close to ideal, if not perfect, creations. What we fail to see has been long recognized
by our revered composers of European Art Music, who have had to turn to folk songs
time and again for inspiration and direction. There is always the danger that some musi-
cians, failing to appreciate the nature and simple beauty of the folk song, tend toward the
ornate and produce arrangements which are very pretentious and hollow, and often lose
the essence of the material that gave them birth.
In the Caribbean, we are happy to note that our arrangers have not very often gone
overboard in this direction. On the other hand, some beautiful arrangements utilizing
the various techniques of choral writing have emerged. One instructive example of this is
Olive Lewin's arrangement of the Jamaican work-song "Missa Potta" (Recording -
Jamaican Folk Singers Vol. 2/71). This piece rightly employs a polyphonic texture which
preserves, and even highlights, the energy which this melody contains, and which would
be lost in a purely homophonic setting. Patrick Prescod in the Vincentian folk song "No
wuk today" gives us an arrangement which is appropriately less rhythmic. but which
captures the harmonic texture one would get from workmen 'in the field' (Recording -
We Kinda Music The Kingstown Chorale). Taking the popular Jamaican folk tune
"Dis long time gal" which is more often sung and played in its mento form, Marjorie
Whylie has created a beautiful arrangement in waltz-time. (Recording NDTC Singers
(Dynamic Sounds, NDTC 001/72) The use of these varied techniques by our own musi-
cians demonstrates the high level of folk song choral arrangement which is coming out
of the Caribbean today.
It is also interesting to note that a number of our musicians have been able to
successfully capture the style of their folk music tradition to create folk songs which have
been absorbed into the repertoire of some performing groups. While some of Irving
Burgie's commercialized compositions have been successful, Barbara Ferland's "Evening
Time" stands out as a "classic" in the category of Caribbean composed folk songs. From
the opening line to the final cadence of this piece, Miss Ferland has captured a style
which comes over with the flavour of a traditional Jamaican folk song. It is true that the
poetry is excellent, having been composed by the distinguished Jamaican poet and folk-
lorist, Louise Bennett, yet these words, in other hands, might have created a mediocre
melody or one which could not easily be identified with Jamaican folk music. Looking at
her first line,
Lyrics: Louise Bennett Music: Barbara Ferland
S i ir r i r
Come Miss Claire tek de bankra off yu head mi dear (etc.)
we have a melodic rhythm with accents which reflect the Jamaican speech pattern, along
with a downward swooping flow of notes which imitates the speech inflection of that line.
On the other hand, there is just the right amount of syncopation to give it a good folk
quality. Ferland's melody has withstood the test of time, and it is because there is a great
deal of admiration, love and respect for that creation that it has found its way into the
repertoire of some folk song groups, with its authorship acknowledged.
Other well thought-out and beautifully composed songs worthy of note are "Ode to
an Artiste" by N. Cadet of St Lucia (Recording: the St Lucia Jems Hewanorra Voices,
WIRL Records, WO50) and Market Day Medley by V. Brongo Brown of Montserrat
(Recording: Folk Creations The Emerald Community Singers, WIRL Records, W073).
The recorded arrangement of "Market Day" is somewhat disappointing, but the song
has a delightful melody and words which immediately identify it with folk music. Cadet
has composed a song, with interesting rhythm changes, which is sung in an arrangement
which displays a neat blend of solo voice and chorus. It is indeed a pity that the nu-
merous recordings of Caribbean folk music are not widely distributed throughout the
region, and that our radio stations do not use these recordings sufficiently. Jamaican
listeners were delighted to hear the interestingly presented programmes of Trinidad
Parang music on a local radio station.
The development in Caribbean folk song performances only serves to highlight the
attention which is now given to the folk tradition of the region and the need for per-
formers themselves to hear and learn from each other. It is always a pity that the groups
which attend CARIFESTA spend most of their time performing and never get a chance
to 'rap with' or listen to each other. This is to be regretted because there is so much we
can learn from each other by way of repertoire, style and presentation. It is hoped that
this will be corrected in the next Festival, and that the numerous performing groups,
scattered all over the Caribbean, will continue to take seriously and treat with respect
our rich folk heritage.
The afternoon belongs to my grandfather:
You cannot take it away
Though the mind darkens
And the children's laughter
Has strayed like messages.
I am near the verandah,
Lost in my nets of thought
Which I brought from six ...
A very long way.
You cannot sentence memory to death ..
It returns through the years
Lulled into hymns.
If I close my eyes
Time will forget me ...
I hear an old lady reading from Rilke .
She finds the best line
That poets don't have to rhyme anymore.
If I close my eyes
My hands will forget me ...
I'm up in the plum tree
Near to the sky;
If I leave, I'll never come back.
Here in this distance birds fly,
They fly, but they do not sing.
The night waits in the house
Safe and peaceful as candles
Or carts pulled by trusty mules ...
My grandfather waits in the house.
You know, the moon is just a violin
That longs to be repaired.
IN THE WIND
the new deer path some deer
follow opposite downwind
it isn't enough to stand
still as a tree among
the circle of pines
labouring like thoroughbreds
whipped furiously round
and round the white
verticals of betting fence
with snow fastsharing
leafshelf and foot-
faults while the hunter
inhales the last grey-
white clouds of
cigarette smoke before
moving out to stalk
the model of innocence
at the first crunch of
bony branch or twig
the deer tap their canes
anxiously as the blind
begin probing the unsure
intersections of a dark world
Keith Q. Warner. Kaiso! The Trinidad Calypso a Study of the Calypso as Oral Litera-
ture, Three Continents Press, 1982, 155 pp.
It is virtually superfluous to say that a publication like this fills on obvious gap in the
documentation, analysis, and understanding of one of the most dynamic art forms in the
Caribbean. Both author and publisher are to be commended Warner for perceiving and
acting on this need, the Three Continents for recognizing the value of this topic to Carib-
bean studies in particular and to orature (oral literature) studies in general.
Warner does not tread completely virgin territory. But in this study he brings a new
assessment to bear on a wide range of disparate source materials from books, journals,
newspaper articles, editorials, and public letters, occasional publications, interviews, and
student analyses of the calypso done at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.
The author's main contribution lies in his consciousness of the on-going processes
of change which affect oral art forms: he emphasises the effect on content of colonialism
and political independence in Trinidad, the home of calypso; changes in public expecta-
tions, tastes, and educational standards; the interrelation of music and lyric, of lyric com-
poser and singer, of calypso format and the recording industry, and between radio and
calypso's limited seasonal popularity.
This is perhaps the first time that these issues have been treated in an extended
study of the calypso. It should not be the last, in that each of these areas affords a treatise
in itself. Given its financial resources, the vibrancy of the calypso as an art form, and the
educational level achieved in Trinidad and Tobago, a more self-regarding society would by
now have produced far more studies, and far more detailed documentaries of the genesis,
methodology, and performance techniques of individual calypsonians, of the organisa-
tional and financial workings of calypso tents, of the close but sometimes strained rela-
tionship between audience and performer. Why, for instance, does audience A respond
to a smutty calypso, while audience B boos the calypsonian off the stage? And what
value judgements cause fervid calypso addicts to turn away from this form of music
as soon as carnival ceases?
Similarly, much work remains to be done on the metaphoric and aphoristic lang-
uage of the calypso. Warner only devotes one page to examples. However, extracts from
various calypsoes in the book reveal a close relationship between the idioms, cliches, and
proverbs of everyday Trinidad speech and the phrasing of calypsoes. From "Jean and
Dinah" alone (p. 62) one could cite 'feeling bad', 'for good', 'make out how they could',
'in for a penny, in for a pound', 'competition for so', 'trouble in town'. From another on
p. 64 'ain't fraid to talk', 'who don't like it', 'fight finish'. From p. 72 'boil down',
'dog eat dog', 'survival of the fittest', 'don't bother'. Again, from pp. 76-77 'acted as a
lord', 'spare the rod', 'die by the sword', 'who vex loss', 'get to hell outa here', 'I couldn't
care less', 'who's not with me is my enemy', 'lock, stock and barrel', 'shut up and have
respect', 'tower of strength'. From pp. 80-82 'sons of our soil', 'every hole, nook and
cranny', 'flattered ... to deceive', 'eat my coo-coo', 'put me in a monkey pants', 'open up
your behind' (i.e. flog mercilessly). So that while it is very true, as the author asserts on p.
126, that in V. S. Naipaul's Miguel Street (and for that matter, in Trinidad conversation
generally) "a calypso is introduced as the culmination of an argument or discussion,"
the relationship between the language of the calypso and popular speech is a mutual and
dialectic one. On the one hand, the calypso relies heavily on proverb, cliche, and idio-
matic expression for immediacy of effect and reference indeed, the success of Shorty's
"Who God Bless" among others of his, and of Sparrow's "Dan is the Man" etc. is direct-
ly traceable to the fact that such calypsoes are anchored in time-hallowed sayings believed
by the society or in familiar rhymes. On the other hand, original phrases, or familiar
phrases articulated in a novel context in the calypso, themselves pass into the vocabulary
and linguistic repertoire of Trinidad and the Eastern Caribbean. Merely to quote a pithy
calypso line or phrase carries with it the powerful semantic and effective force of literary
quotation and rhythmic recall the elliptical, surface de-contextualised utterance whose
meaning and application are immediately decoded by the cultural community to which
the art form speaks.
A dialectical relationship also obtains between changes in the art form and popular/
academic discussion of it. On p. 26 Warner makes the one-sided comment that the evolu-
tionary process in calypso "might be slowed down somewhat as a result of all the atten-
tion being paid to" it. "Drastic changes will be fewer once processes become more formal-
ized." While this may indeed constitute one type of response, academic documentation
and analysis of the calypso may lead to conscious changes and experimentation, espe-
cially given the rising educational standard of performers, the influence of international
pop music, the rapprochement between scribal and oral literatures, and between the
theatre and calypso's own theatricality. Lancelot Layne's Neo-calypso is one example of
a formalistic wind of change, while Peter Minshall's intellectualisation of the carnival
masquerade has ruffled many feathers. At the same time, no one could claim that at this
juncture these represent popular trends, and popular appeal is of the essence in the whole
The extensive subject matter thrown up by discussion of the calypso is not easy
material to organise, and Warner's book suffers from some faultiness in this respect,
though certainly not enough to make the book over-repetitive or unmanageable. But one
such difficulty is apparent in the failure to differentiate between language and form in
Chapter 2 entitled "The Language of the Calypso". Another is produced by adherence to
patent thematic hallmarks of the genre, whereas by identifying the underlying motif of
confrontation, discussion of kalinda and robber-talk (both treated in Chapter 2) could
have been unified with sexual exploitation, treated in Chapter 4.
The very vexed question of calypso's history is surveyed in Chapter 1. It is quite
normal that the genesis of an oral art within a predominantly oral culture should be
shrouded in mystery and controversy, and Warner handles this matter without getting
bogged down in the sometimes acrimonious debate that surrounds the issue. But some
points in this section attract my comment.
Warner follows some, but not all, analysts and practitioners in defining the calypso
as an off-shoot of the newsy, satirical, and didactic song traditions of West Africa. His
detailing on pp. 38-39 of the formulaic methods by which calypsonians have traditional-
ly attempted to distance themselves from their fabulous tales also indicates that the genre
is linked to the African folktale tradition. The opening and/or closing formulae in the
African narrative art function as devices whereby the storyteller indicates that his utter-
ance (story) is lie/fiction. It may originate in a ritualistic request for divine permission to
indulge in the 'perverse', but instructive, use of language. These formulae serve to mark
off from reality the imaginative exercise and the mimicry and dissembling of the semi/
theatrical performances in societies where language was only sound rather than a nexus
of sound plus written, printed and recorded reproductions. The West Indian folktale still
maintains these formulae in the cryptic 'Jack Mandora, me no choose none ('this is not
of my doing)' (Jamaica) and 'Crick, crack, the wire bend/ That's the way my story end'
(Trinidad) which significantly uses an image of fracture.
On p. 15 Warner quotes Errol Hill's theory that the noms de guerre beloved of
calypsonians derived from the influence of school history and international wars. Sobri-
quets, however, provide another link with African custom and thought, and reflect the
interconnection between kalinda and calypso (their obvious phonolgical link hints at
etymological and semantic ones). Nicknames are given to adults, or assumed by them, to
celebrate heroic deeds in games, hunting, battle, or civic action. These 'strong names' or
'praise names' proliferate in African epics and sacred verse, and find their way into the
pages of, for example, J. P. Clarke's Ozidi and Wole Soyinka's plays. And one only needs
to compare the Trinidad calypsonian's flair for extravagant application and the magnifi-
cent titles assumed by Nigerian popular band-leaders. One may add further that the
opening signature used by Sparrow in his early calypsoes and by bandsmen of the John
Buddy and Fitzwilliams era was O ya! This Yoruba exclamation is used in the same place
and for the same purpose in Nigerian Yoruba dance music since it means 'Get ready.
Warner himself on p. 40 is vague about the genesis of 'robber talk' and gives the
impression that it evolved in Trinidad. But, like 'praise names' among clan communities,
boasting is a type of verbal performance closely linked to adversary situations. Since
words have long been thought to possess magical power, speech has been used by genera-
tions of warriors in disparate societies to exercise fear by auto-suggestion at the same time
as to instil dread in the enemy. The wild fantasised boasts of the Trinidad robber mas-
querade echo those of Anglo-Saxon war poetry, of men facing spirits in Achebe's Arrow
of God, of the engraved declarations on Pharaonic stelae, as well as of David's challenges
in the Psalms.
And since the robber's hat is identical in design to the chieftaincy hats still worn in
the Rivers in Nigeria an area of intense and highly organised slave trading might not
the robber have originally signified more than the highway robber we have imagined it
portrayed? And might his boasts exemplify the life-and-death power of the Heads of
those formidable slave-trading commercial Houses in Calabar and Bonny and Brass?
The African matrix Qf the early calypso is reinforced by the legend told by Mitto
Sampson, quoted on p. 9, that the first calypsonian was the slave of a Frenchman who
held calypso competitions at his 'court' in a cave. Gros Jean the Chantwell was probably
the first named calypso master, though it would be a misunderstanding of the composi-
tion and transmission processes of folk song to credit one individual with its genesis.
Apart from this, the legend invites comparison with the pivotal role played by cabildos
in the development of African music in Cuba. Cabildos were national (i.e. tribal) associa-
tions of Africans and were the only organizations allowed Cuban slaves. These functioned
as self-help organizations and social clubs, but they also formed the nexus of secret
religious societies. Although in Trinidad similar associations existed in the 19th century.
they were unofficial. The Yoruba. Kongo. Hausa. Fon, and probably the Igbo. devised
such organizations throughout areas of Trinidad where they settled. An examination of
Yoruba songs used and nurtured in these social and religious groups shows that the identi-
cal minor-key melodic line of at least five Yoruba chants in the Shango religion were
co-opted by the early calypso, that Kalinda songs were sung in Yoruba. that the mepris
(abusive) song tradition was vibrant, and that African national groups formed their own
masquerade bands for Carnival (as in Cuba), accompanying their parade with African
melodies and lyrics. These data point to the fact that even as calypso was diverging in
form, purpose, and language medium from its mainland African sources and developing
as a creole secular musical form in the 19th century, it was synchronously being fed by
locally extant African musical forms, both sacred and secular. Indeed, as an aside to Errol
Hill's recall of the appeal of the Boer War to the popular colonial imagination in the late
19th century, one may add that the Kongo in Trinidad celebrated in Kikongo song the
bloody victory of the English over the Mboz (Boers) at Majuba Hill.
Warner's consideration in Chapter 6 of the creative use of calypso techniques in
Trinidad scribal literature came too early to include Earl Lovelace's Dragon Can't Dance
(1982). While Naipaul's Miguel Street and much of Selvon's work. including Moses
Ascending (1979), are clear examples of this interplay, one would like to point to the
calypso's wider effect in early Naipaulian works, as witness the cuss-cuss, the humorous
anecdote, and the abrupt, ironic reversal of condition/action which characterise the
narrative elements of Mystic Masseur, Suffrage of Elvira, and to a lesser extent, House for
Mr Biswas. After all. what could be more in the mode of calypso irony and 'scandal' -
than Pundit Ramsumair's metamorphosis into the neo-colonial politician. J. Ramsay Muir,
in the final sentence of Mystic Masseur?
Perhaps because Warner addresses himself to an in-group audience, he falls into the
occasional error of using a pronoun with ambiguous reference. For example, p. 41 "In
another calypso, 'Royal Jail', he" (meaning Sparrow); p. 81 "reading to him (?who) a
letter". On p. 27 "The work" apparently refers to The Lonely Londoners rather than the
immediately preceding A Brighter Sun.
There are also a few examples of infelicitous phrasing. "This ... has played a very
large part in the obsession of the Trinidad male, hence the calypsonian mirroring this atti-
tude, with proving his manhood . ." (p. 95). Also, on p. 115 "from . view" would
better have followed "looking" in "Who ever thought of looking at the yearly bother of
children noisily trying to procure mangoes from a well-endowed tree from the tree's point
There are only two misprints. A "now" on p. 67 should be "not", I think, and the
start of the Rohlehr quote on p. 136 has been omitted.
These are certainly inconsiderable errors in a finely produced book of thoughtful
analysis, rich documentation, maps, illustrations, photos, and musical scores. One hopes
that this work will stimulate more work and searching discussion on this worthy topic.
Michael Burnett, Run Go a Kingston and Jamaican Music, Oxford University Press,
Two books on Jamaican music, written by Michael Burnett, have recently been
released by Oxford University Press. Run go a Kingston consists of ten Jamaican songs
arranged for school instruments. The other book, Jamaican Music, looks at a number of
topics on Jamaican music for interest to 11-14-year-olds. Both books are useful texts
for the classroom.
Jamaican Music forms an interesting introduction to the music of that country, and
should be valuable even to the average reader. It is ideally suited for school rooms outside
the region, and should be well received by the teachers of Jamaican children in Britain
(for whom I suspect the book is primarily intended).
There is a brief introduction on Jamaica's history, geography and economy, and the
development of the island's music is traced from the time of the Arawaks to the present.
There is an examination of folk instruments followed by facts on the music itself, under
the headings: Religious Music. Music for Work and Play, and Dance Music and Reggae. The
information given is beautifully illustrated by black and white photographs, maps and
interesting sketches and diagrams. Each topic is rounded off with some questions for the
Burnett also includes samples of Jamaican music, which are not only written out
with words, but with chord charts for instrumental accompaniment as well. All progres-
sive music educators will welcome this inclusion and agree with Burnett that "reading and
fact-gathering should never be a substitute for listening or playing music".
The other book, Run Go A Kingston, is primarily for music-making with the use of
instruments commonly found in schools. Burnett uses different types of Jamaican songs
to produce simple but beautiful and interesting instrumental arrangements. To the tunes
he adds accompaniments by way of "descants",and accompaniments for chord and bass
instruments, as well as for untuned percussion. He also gives useful suggestions for per-
Burnett has included the words of the songs arranged and suggests that songs may
be sung as well as played by the music class. However, some of the songs, although set in
keys suitable for instruments, would present some difficulty to the average music class,
which would find the settings too high. Some of us, especially Jamaican teachers, might
also be unhappy with some of the rhythms given for untuned percussion, which do not
give the arrangements the "accustomed flavour". This is particularly true of the mento
Nevertheless, in our Caribbean schools where one hardly finds a well-structured
music programme, and where teachers are constantly on the look out for new and interest-
ing material, these books should prove very valuable.
NOEL G. DEXTER
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Dr Sylvia M. Moodie
Dr. Ervin Beck
Miss Olive Lewin
Mr Noel Dexter
Dr. Maureen Warner-Lewis
is lecturer in Spanish at the Department of Language and
Linguistics, St. Augustine Campus. UWI. She does research
and has published in the area of the Hispanic elements in
Trinidad society including language and folk beliefs.
professor and Chairman of the Department of English at
Goshen College. Indiana, USA. did folklore fieldwork in
Belize in 1975-76 and 1978.
is Cultural Officer in the Prime Minister's Office (Jamaica).
She is the founder and Music Director of the famous
Jamaica Folk Singers.
Director of Music of the University of the West Indies,
Mona, Jamaica, is also the Musical Director of the University
is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the
University of the West Indies. Mona. Jamaica.
writes from Maryland, USA. He has been widely published
in too many journals to list.
is a young poet writing out of her native Jamaica where she
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