: NUMBER 4
Cover Illustration :
NEW TOWN HOUSE:
Reprinted from a copy in the collections of the
University of Florida Librairies
Reprinted by permission of
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES, Kingston, Jamaica
A Division of
KRAUS-THOMSON ORGANIZATION LIMITED
Printed in Germany
VOL. 3. No. 4.
TRINIDAD TOWN HOUSE
Colin Laird 188
FRENCH AND CREOLE PATOIS IN HAITI
Edith Efron 199
THE CHOICE AND USE OF WORDS
Sir Thomas Taylor 214
FORM AND STYLE IN A BAHAMIAN FOLKTALE
Daniel J. Crowley 218
COCO AND MONA
M. Sandmann 235
J. A. Borom6 237
PHILIP SHERLOCK, University College, Jamaica, B.W.I.
ANDREW PE.IRSE, Caribbean Quarterly Editorial Office, La Fantasie Road, St. Ann's,
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, B.W.I.
Single copies can be obtained in the British West Indies from booksellers or from
Resident Tutors of the Extra Mural Department, in the various territories whose addresses
Trinidad and Tobago
Hector Wynter, Extra Mural Department, University College
of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
Rawle Farley, Regent Street, Belize, British Honduras.
Stanley Sharp, Extra Mural Department, St. John's, Antigua.
B. H. Easter, Bridge Street, Castries, St. Lucia.
A. Douglas Smith, Boy Scout Headquarters, Beckles Road,
St. Michael, Barbados.
Adolph Thompson, 78, Carmichael Street, Georgetown,
Norman H. Booth, La Fantaisie Road, St. Ann's, Port-of-
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE
Subscribers in British West Indies
(4 issues post free)
Subscribers in the United Kingdom
Do. do. United States of America
Do. do. Canada
Do. do. Haiti
$1.50 (B.W.I.) or 6/3
Fill in the form below and send with subscription to:
A. C. PEARSE
Caribbean Quarterly Editorial Office,
La Fantaisie Road,
St. Ann's, Port-of-Spain,
"CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY" SUBSCRIPTION FORM
N a m e : ......................................................................................................
I enclose.......................... in payment of......................... subscriptions)
valid from Vol................No..............for 4 issues.
Date: ............................................ ......
A MAN talking about the house he lives in is not bound to be interesting. But
when the man is himself an architect with a flair for black and white illustration,
and when the house is a fine example of a peculiar yet attractive style of
cosmopolitan Caribbean architecture, there is a chance that the man talking may
command one's attention. Such is Colin Laird's contribution "Trinidad Town
House" It is also part of the unfolding of a deliberate policy, already discussed
in Caribbean Quarterly (Vol. II, No. 4, Page 48), of "mobilising through the
Department of Extra Mural Studies not only scholars but curious laymen, collectors,
writers, social workers, teachers, photographers, artists and technicians to document
and study the West Indian World."
Since the words were written the Department has established its Local Studies
Programme, with its centre in Trinidad, and Mr. Laird's work was one of a number
of projects undertaken by students in a class led by Dan Crowley, an American
anthropologist who has been assisting in the Programme. We are also publishing
in this issue a stylistic comparison by Mr. Crowley himself of the art of story
telling as practised by two Bahamian "old-story tellers" This essay was awarded
the Jo Stafford Prize in American Folklore for 1952.
Edith Efron's article of Creole and French in Haiti is taken from the manu-
script of a book, as yet unpublished, which the author, an American, has written
out of her experiences and studies during the last seven years of residence in Haiti.
Mr. Borom6, who is on the staff of New York City College, contributes a short
article on Maceo, whose exploits are little known in the British Caribbean. Dr. Elsa
Gouvefa, who reviews Professor Knaplund's book "Sir James Stephen", was born
in British Guiana and is now on the staff of the History Department of
the University College of the West Indies.
Finally, we are publishing posthumously some thoughts of the late Sir Thomas
Taylor on the choice and use of words, a subject which he frequently attacked
Trinidad Town House
or the Rise and Decline
of a domestic architecture
THE sub-title though a little facetious gives the
clue to the importance of a study, no matter how
superficial, of a certain period of domestic building
in Trinidad. A period that showed the logical
cu'minaition of a marriage between indigenous peasant
building and imported European architccture. A
marriage which produced a building type in the
1880's possessing most of the ingredients that raise
building to the realm of Architecture.
The Amerindian peasant house of tapia and clay
I?9 from the Main, though more numerous in number
and though a very strong ancestor of the present day
peasant house played the minor role in the evolution.
It supplied the local colour, the use of local materials.
The white settlers houses with their European
background and traditions were the main influence.
The most colourful characteristics of the houses of
these most colourful characters, settlers, vagabonds,
adventurers, rebels and colonists, were mimicked,
copied and embraced by all and by the turn of the
twentieth century became one of the most clearcut
idioms of the Trinidad vernacular.
Near in time to the standards of their
homelands and with leisure and money to repeat
these standards, we clearly see the personalities
of these men mirrored in their houses.
all mixed with a dash of nostalgia for
Vi t --. tie j
l l vJ hCs
and yet the houses achieved a very high
degree of suitability to the climate, a quality
which was very soon to be sacrificed for other
It can be seen from the other islands of
the Caribbean that there existed as far as local
materials allowed a more or less standard type
of Estate house. This type of house represented
the solution to the immediate problem of
shelter and protection, once this was reached
then came the embellishment and elaboration.
In Trinidad the typical Estate House from
which the town house developed had the
A simple square or rectangular plan,
without galleries or porches, mostly in two
storeys, the lower storey often used as a store,
the upper one being divided as economically
as possible into the living rooms and bedrooms.
Outhouses serving as kitchens, barracks,
stables, &c. The ground floor of brick or brick-
dressed stone. The brick imported as ballast
at the rate of one million bricks per year
whilst the call for imported articles was small.
The stone, either imported Irish stone or more
often local stone from Carrera, the prison
island. Other load-bearing materials for the
ground floor would be pise-rammed earth or
clay, or nogging-a timber-studded framework
for rubble lime cement infilling or for lime
plastering on a wattle background. The upper
storey was mostly built in timber, imported
pitch pine or cedar from Canada, despite the
excellent cedar in the Island. This importation
of timber exists to this day mainly due to the
impatience of the West Indian to allow the
timber to season and be non-productive for a
year. The timber frame of these upper storeys
was faced by timber, boarding, or shingles, tile
hanging or metal sheet hanging, the metal
sheet being the flattened containers of imported
lime, foodstuffs, &c.
The roofs of timber, perhaps close boarded
for interior effects, were covered by slate tiles,
brought in as ballast or with imported cedar
1 3 *
cya .t-, 4 -S.t. & ttjt'cU.
v+4 .*. P-1, &,+ P
-rJ,. CLLJ ^t, -4',
J^ +4L- ^t 1-
HT- + &
Windows w e r e generally Barbadian
Shutters or jaldusied louvres. A little glass
sometimes coloured possibly to discourage
insects was used, often as a clear storey
light. The details of the houses were very
simple and robust, suggesting a shipwrights'
work, eyebrows over openings, to throw off
the rain, squared-hipped roofs, small gable
vents at the ridge of a hip, clipped eaves
against hurricanes and roof pitches of 450
All these were common to most West Indian
Islands as far North as the Bahamas and
endorse the shipwright theory.
By 1860 these characteristics had
changed through the influence of the peon
house, experience and through external
forces (economy, shipping, &c.) to the
The bricks fast disappeared, possibly
due to the fact that capital imports
(machinery, food, l u x u r y articles and
materials, &c.) exceeded the exports. The
colony flourished and money was spent still
more on luxury articles, and on further
The stone was also disappearing as the
Government commandeered all the Carrera
stone for road building (a great scandal arose
over a claim by the Government that it was
building roads so cheaply, but the free stone
and cheap labour from the prison island of
Carrera had not been counted). Pise was
not good enough either practically or for
prestige reasons. The houses were furnished
most lavishly, thus one couldn't expensively
paper, drape tapestry or hire an artist to
paint a picture on an 'earth wall' Nogging
came into general use, finished with lime
plaster rendering, a trade in which the
Trinidadian excels to this day. Cement was
introduced and mixed with lime. As so often
happens in all architecture, the past was
imitated by scratching in or painting stone
The upper storeys were still of timber or
nogging. The timber often papered internally
on a hessian background.
Roofs, the slates remained for quite a while.
Eventually 'galvanized' corrugated iron sheets
displaced the slates as shipping became more
selective and expensive. Roofs became the
crowning' glory of the houses, the silhouette
against the sky, a glut of towers, pinnacles,
Pitches became much steeper, 600 and over.
Expense was secondary to effect. The larger the
roofing material unit the lower the pitch for
weatherproofing, but not so here.
This tour de force was crowned with row upon
row of crestings and finials of cast iron, possibly
for lightning conduction although they are
still made out of timber in the present day
houses. There is a good case for visually stopping
the upward movement of the roof slope with such
a device. The more sophisticated gable end
displaced the hipped roof. The gable had carved
barge boards and carved extensions to the
internal roof trusses. All such features apart from
their exuberance in detailing showed a step
forward in the refining of the architecture. By the
turn of the century the standard roof construction
was timber trusses covered by 'galvanized' on
close boarded pitch pine with perhaps up to 2"
of pitch mixed with sand directly under the
The gallery was discovered. A natural choice
yet only in a few cases are the galleries and
verandahs an integral part of the house such as
is seen in Venice or Spain. They appear in the
majority of cases to be an afterthought. Still
perhaps a hang-over from the gallery-less early
estate houses. There is a possible functional reason
for this. With these galleries came the wrought
iron rails, brackets, posts, spandrels, &c., very
quickly replaced by the cast-iron work of Glasgow
that was sweeping across the world to all the
colonies and to the Eastern United States. Some
of this was first-class work and is still well in
evidence to this day. This work possibly made a
Trinidadian house look very much like a New
Orleans [house], a South African or an Australian
house and it was twenty years before the
Trinidadian had time to digest this new feature
and interpret it into the cheaper wood. Once more
we see a standard foreign idea gradually changed
T .~bY ~-t ., rrF
T 04L <- d It.re
tp~ff 4ttt^j sLA*~
into a vernacular. However whether in cast iron or
wood this filigree work became the main motif in
the external facades. The ventilation problem was
solved very cheaply and efficiently by the jalousie
with the occasional glazed window.
The eaves were extended three or four feet past
x i' i'the wall face. The clipped eaves of the Estate house
common to the Caribbean as a whole were found not
to be necessary in Trinidad. The eyebrows over the
S openings were displaced" by the georgian window
surround and pediment.
The plan remained very much a box divided up
classically into rooms regardless of aspect. Possibly
the houses were so 'airy' that the present day accent
G on planning and orientation was not necessary The
occupants' way of living determined the room plan.
The rooms were higher, ceilings boarded and beaded,
mostly flat, sometimes dished at the bottom to follow
the slope of the roof rafters. The galleries from
8' 0" to 12' 0" in width were added to all four sides
of the house block if necessary. All rooms opened
onto this, the gallery serving as an adjunct to and
as a secondary circulation area between the rooms.
Internally corridors were rarely used, circulation
being directly between or through rooms. Thus the
gallery provided this additional privacy.
As will be seen in the following detailed descrip-
tion of a particular house, No. 9 St. Clair Avenue,
not a feature from the previous fifty years of
European architecture was missed, and wherever
|j j there was no European precedence then the
Trinidadian influence crept in and often openly
mixed with the European.
j ^.^- ST. CLAIR, PORT-OF-SPAIN
S The success of St. Clair as a planned high-class
domestic development merits some mention. After
L more than half a century its scale and beauty
present a fine lesson in town planning by a
Government. Official covenants and conditions
controlled individual private developers.
-Throughout the nineteenth century, down-town
Port-of-Spain was the scene of considerable building
activity. The building requirements of expanding
commerce and wealth increased by the losses through
the two great fires of 1808 and 1895 with their
-(' ,-, consequent revision of the building laws calling for a
higher standard of construction. During the century the Government and Municipal
buildings, cathedrals, churches, schools, markets and stores all became established
and the need for domestic suburbs became urgent.
In 1880, the Tranquillity Lands, North of -the town and bordering the fine
Savanriah were divided into lots, forming Cipriani Boulevard, Victoria Avenue,
Stanrriore Avenue and Tranquillity Avenue. The lots were auctioned by Govern-
ment 'under a 199-year lease at peppercorn rent.
An abandoned sugar estate at St. Clair to the West of the Savannah was
soughtt by Government in 1884 as a stock farm for cattle and horses. The
proceedings of the sale were so long drawn out that a prominent Englishman,
presumably independent of the Government, made a definite offer and bought it
over the Government's head. Within a week he sold it to the Government
showing a clear profit of 2,000. St. Clair Avenue was formed along the southern
boundary and auctioned in lots. In 1896, Sweet Briar Road was laid out and
auctioned. The stock farm was moved in 1899 and was divided up and auctioned
four years later.
No. 9 ST. CLAIR AVENUE-See Cover illustration
1884, Her Majesty Queen Victoria to Eugene Cipriani. $1,360.00 for approxi-
mately 24,000 square feet of land (half an acre). 199-year Crown Lease at rental
of one shilling per annum.
L. L / .LLLU.'tU14L
T 9siM.a 1
1. Not more than one dwelling hou se must be erected on each lot, and no
other buildings other than for servants and other appurtenances of a dwelling
2. The house built is to have a minimum value of 500 excluding the out-
houses and is to be used solely as a private dwelling house, no barracks or other
buildings capable of being divided into separate tenements shall be erected.
3. No building erected upon such a lot shall, without the licence of the
Governor be used as a shop.
4. There must be twenty feet clear between neighboring houses and also
between the house and St. Clair Avenue.
The building was presumably built by Cipriani. By 1900 it was owned by
J. H. King, an official on the Government Railway, and in 1927 the house was
sold to Henry Israel Jeffers.
The building has most definitely not been radically added to or changed
from the original. Part of the gallery has been enclosed into a room and into a
bathroom and lavatory, well in style with the original and presumably in 1927
The actual building is 35' 0" by 50' 0", 1,750 square feet. This is surrounded
on four sides by a lean-to eight feet wide gallery, adding an extra 1,200 square
feet. Considerable outhouses are ranged along one side of the rear garden, a large
kitchen with slab for the coal pots, a marble-floored Roman bath, five feet by
ten feet and three feet deep with a capacity of one thousand gallons of water,*
a stable, three servants' rooms, a garage or coach house, servants' lavatory, a hen
house and a washing sink.
*These baths were kept filled with water, the water continually flowing. This practice
became an issue in the Water Riots of the early twentieth century resulting in limiting
the depth of the water to about six inches by breaking part of the wall down to this level.
The house is raised off the ground 3' 6" on concrete piers. These may be new,
replacing timber or pis6. The raising of the house is common to all such houses.
Protection from snakes and insects, protection of timber from earth-borne termites,
ventilation of floor timbers and rooms through the floors, catching the prevailing
breeze and also the visual importance of approaching upwards to a building. The
timbers to the house, mostly original, are in fair condition, evidence of the fine
quality pitch pine.
The main walls, round the perimeter of the 35' by 50' block including the
two front bays, carry the roof. These walls are of nogging, in good condition,
and lime plastered on both sides. Stone courses are etched into the front rendering
and there are decorated raised panels to the bay windows.
The internal partitions are 3" by 4" timber studs with 2" by 4" rails. All
covered with 12" boards. The boards tongued and grooved with beading on one
side (the important side) and a centre bead down the board to reduce the scale
of this decoration, a most apt refinement. The edges of the studs and rails are
all beaded. These studded partitions take the braces and struts for the roof timbers
and carry the close-boarded flat ceiling at truss tie level. The roof covering is
of slate on battens with pugging in between the slates. Rooms are thirteen feet
high, all with conventional mouldings.
It is thought that the rough side of the boarding was papered. This was
common practice about this time, the paper being pasted to hessian tacked to the
timber. Europe had undergone a revival of good wall papering by Morris and his
contemporaries and the richness of Victorian decoration must have been very fine
and more suited to these houses with their airy ventilation, lavish entertainment,
sun glare, luxurious plants and many servants, than to the English Victorian house.
This is of a very high standard, whether it be the copying of European
Georgian details, or wh :her it be the carved filigree; perhaps the latter is a little
crude in detail but then it is mostly used externally and achieves the desired
effect. Internally nothing is onissed. Moulded upon moulded architraves, raised
panels in the doors, the intricacy and number depending on the importance of the
door in the life of the occupants, plain and moulded blocks at the meeting of
mouldings, skirtings, ceiling cornices and picture rails, the Georgian line mouldings
with gilt if necessary or the classical orders complete with dog toothing, egg and
dart, dentals, bird beaks, astragals, &c.
Where the item has no precedence in European architecture, there we see
the Trinidadian timber brackets, light perforated spandrels, gallery posts, barge
boards, fascias, ventilation panels above doors, the doors 9' 0" high and the
architrave enclosing the panel above making a visual opening of nearly eleven feet.
There is no attempt or even shame in allowing components of different scale,
nature and proportion to meet each other at odd points. The foot of the rafter
may not have a strut immediately underneath it, two mouldings joined together
WJ"9 0- (L.'
titM l; .tfJ t.* l .
need not line up in a repeating pattern and so on.
This is not noticed and shows how far such things
need be taken. But it does suggest that the com-
ponents are not purpose made, they are bought
already carved and cut and put in place regardless.
Another point about some of the patterns
used, both geometric and floral, is that
the former often tends to be derived from the
structure and technics. The case of where six
timber members meet in a joint, a very difficult
joint, the intersection is hidden by nailing a block
of wood over it, this cut to a diamond pattern
perhaps and painted a different colour. There are
other examples of this, where the capabilities of
timber are stressed to the extreme, beams are
opened up and the decorative members follow very
closely what one would these days dd with a
knowledge of structural mechanics. This openess
of beams, members that would elsewhere be solid,-
is quite logical. Solid members would not allow
ventilation, so railings, beams, brackets, &c., are
all pierced and whittled down to a minimum area.
The timber railings give a very fine effect by being
open when viewed directly at right angles, but
when viewed obliquely they appear quite solid,
possibly for privacy, a rare quality in such openly
planned and constructed houses.
Mention was made previously of the slight
crudeness of the local timber patterns and
mouldings. In fretted timber panels no attempt is
made to hide the fact that it is cut out of a timber
board, normally one would expect the craftsman
to lovingly make the section of the leaf stalks
round and to show the folds of the petals and
leaves, but this is not done. One can see that it
was not necessary, the aim isi to perforate for
function rather than for decoration. The decoration
is not to be admired as a single detail but is purely
a part of the effect of the house, the sum of many
crude carvings. It must contrast with extremes in
sun, shade, colour, plants and general surround-
ings, therefore it is in itself extreme, bold in its
approach. The subtleties of the mists and hazy
atmosphere of Europe and its sophisticated people
are not required. This treatment of the individual
ornament as a part of the whole, its subjugation
to the whole of the design allows one to appreciate
the general form of these buildings very easily
and where there have been no additions this
form is most simple and straightforward,
approaching the elegant. One can easily see the
effect at which the designer aimed, the free
standing tower, from ground to turret roof,
connected to the main block of the building by
galleries, bridges and other dynamic features.
One can see the heavy bulk of the solidly built
house projecting up through the surrounding
skirts of galleries, overhangs and still further
The newspapers give an idea of the extrava-
gant life, European exiles, exaggerating even
the pettiest social occasion. Sugar was King.
A German doctor, the only chiropodist of his
kind, visiting Trinidad, half a page advertise- -s6 4-.. P(,j A ..
ment, liberally dotted with coats of arms of all
the European Royalty and gentry, his former
clients, with recommendations in full, only
Trinidad for a few days.
The carpet bagger and his patent medicine.
The visits of Princes and Dukes in their yachts.
The Governor's din ners with the 72nd
Battalion's band playing, the roast being piped
The announcement for weeks on end of the
arrival of a thoroughbred horse. The social
sailing and arrival lists. Even a trip to Tobago
warrants a notice The importation from Europe
of complete large houses, cut to size and
assembled under European foremen.
All this is also seen in the houses. Every
effect is concentrated the front, to the public
view. Filigree enrichments, porte cochere, glass. /'
it is only in the front that the glass window is
used in its awn rights. In other places it is just
a single panel in a long line of jalousies. In the
front it is featured. Bay windows. Even the roof
dormers are glazed. The single-storied houses
gain importance from this apparent second i
storey. Marble steps up to the front entrance,
the entrance itself with quite an elaborate door
and possibly a large lamp. The gate posts and
cast iron gates, magnificent gate lamps, private
street lights, the sweeping driveway, the roman- ,
tic figured ornamental fountains and the 1. 2'].-, ,4 Q4
Despite all this however the houses are
eminently suited to climatic conditions. The
gallery surround, sheltering the painted wall
from the sun and rain and providing extra
external living space and breaking down the
glare of the bright sky. The lightness and
low heat conduction of the timber, the
exposure of underfloors, and the jalousied
walls to the breeze, the painting of the roof
and the many other features described,
make these houses far superior for comfort-
able living than the mass of houses that have
since been built.
French and Creole Patois in Haiti
"This obsessed Heart, which does not correspond
To my language and my clothing,
And upon which bite, like a clamp,
Borrowed emotions and customs
From Europe-do you feel the suffering
And the despair, equal to none other,
Of taming, with words from France,
This heart which came to me from Senegal?"
HAITI is one of the many countries in the world that has two languages, and a
"language problem" The official language of Haiti is French, the tongue spoken
formerly by her colonial masters; all of Haiti's official institutions use this language.
Creole is Haiti's unofficial language, which has been inherited by modern Haitians
from their slave ancestors. Before describing the nature of the serious conflict
engendered in this country by the existence of two languages, it might be wise to
indicate, at least briefly, the relationship of one to the other.
Creole stands roughly in relation to French, as French once stood in relation
to Latin, although it is no more correct today to call it a corrupt French than it
would be to call French a corrupt Latin. It is an independent and well-integrated
tongue, colorful and savory, preferring poetic imagery to abstractions, rich in
proverbs and sayings, singing and musical in expression. Its basic vocabulary is
French, composed of words which streamed into the slave language from early
French buccaneers, planters and colonists who brought their local French dialects
to Hispaniola from Normandy, Picardy, Brittany and Anjou. Indian words also
enrich the language, often used to describe local fruits, flowers, and animals. A
large number of African words, applying to religious beliefs and customs, to foods
and cooking, to household objects, have remained in the Creole tongue. Many
characteristic Africanisms are prominent in Creole, notably a repetition of words
for emphasis (He runs, runs, runs; it's sweet, sweet), and a strongly developed
sense of onomatopoeia (he fell down, ban! He slapped her, v'lap, v'lap!). From
neighboring Santo Domingo and from returning emigrants from Cuba, many
Spanish words filtered into the language; and finally an American Occupation left
behind it a series of English words. In general, however, the vocabulary is
dominantly of French origin, many of the words and forms being archaic, and
incomprehensible to the modem Frenchman.
Faced, on the one hand, by academic French, the language of the civilised
White world, spoken by few citizens, and Creole, a language of Black slave origin,
spoken by all citizens, Haiti has evolved a characteristic myth of language to deal
with the situation. French has become the official tongue, the language of intellect,
of social distinction, the language of the elite; while Creole has been pushed into
the background, receives no formal status at all and is termed the language of the
mass. The dlite and the mass are thus not only declared to be separated by religion,
by culture, by social and political status, by sexual mores, by color, &c. &c., but
by the very tongue they speak. This linguistic difference is felt to create an abyss
between them. Indeed, Fr6deric Doret, a Haitian educator, once went so far as to
speak of the "two Haitis" so tragically divided by two languages.(') In this
affirmation, there is as little reality as in all others which visualize Haiti as being
composed of two culturally distinct groups. The two languages actually complement
each other in Haitian life, serve a vital function in the split culture of the Haitian
people-French being the linguistic vehicle for the formal-public-official European
cover of all Haitian institutions, and the lively and popular Creole expressing in
all its rich nuances, the living mores of the country themselves.
The significant fact that language strongly implies class status-a total absence
of French decidedly placing the Haitian in the unschooled lower classes-intensifies
the social snobbery toward the native tongue. The uneducated Haitian feels an
immense pride in his child who goes to school and becomes "educated", who can
"really" write and speak the French language; and conversely, the French-speaking
Haitian who has emerged from the lower classes may feel real shame over his
exclusively Creole-speaking family, keeping them out of sight of his more educated
acquaintances. A Haitian folktale incorporates both these prejudices into a
"A man by his first marriage, had a daughter, Ginatone, who received
a very elegant education in another country. The man remarried, and had
seven daughters, to whom he preferred Ginatone. This excited their jealousy
and the jealousy of their mother. They decided to kill her
"When the husband, who was often absent on business, returned from
a trip (he found her missing). His wife, reproaching the conduct of his
daughter, said there was nobody who could speak French to her. The father
thought this explanation true, and forgot his daughter, whom he believed to
have returned to the land of her childhood "I2)
Where purely Creole-speaking people are not able to use French in those
formal circumstances where it is felt to be desirable they attempt to have it spoken
for them. And at the major religio-social ceremonies of lower class life, there is
often a peasant notable, or a bush priest (pret' savanne), or simply a slightly more
educated member of the community, who is requested to rise, and say a few words
in French-much as one might say grace before dining. This, it is felt, lends
dignity and prestige to the occasion. Where extreme formality and a note of genuine
chic are desired-such as in demanding the hand of a girl in plafage or marriage-
a letire de demand, written in French for the lover by some French-speaking local
citizen, is considered correct and elegant-in the past, it was even compulsory-
although neither the sender of the letter nor the girl's parents who receive it are
1. Doret, Frederic-Ecrivan Haitiens, p 186
2. Bastion, Remy- Anthology (op. cit.), p. 52
able to read a word of the document, and must have it translated for them. Indeed,
if the peasant or working-class Haitian desires to be truly ostentatious, he will even
attempt to speak a sort of pigeon French, feeling that only this language can do
justice to a significant occasion. In a charming passage in Gouverneurs de la Rosde,
Jacques Roumain has one of his lower-class characters complain humorously, but
a bit boastfully, nevertheless, about the need for parler-franfais when courting
"In my time, the whole business of girls was nothing but a peck of
trouble and difficulty. You had to use special manoeuvers, feints, parler-
franfais, oh, a whole bunch of monkey-shines. And finally you found
yourself placid for good, and tied up like a crab, so to speak, with a house
to build, furniture to buy, not to mention the dishes
"And so I began, in my Frenchiest French: "Mademoiselle, depuis que
je vous ai vur, sous la galerie di presbyte, j'ai un transpo' d'amou' pou'
toi. J'ai ddja coupd gaules, poteaux et paille pou' batir cette maison
de vous." (3
As the classes rise, and the urban population is increasingly exposed to French,
and as the children of the intermediary classes spend longer years in the city schools,
the preoccupation with speaking French becomes even more serious and invades
everyday life. On calls, when receiving visits, at parties, weddings, dances, and
particularly when meeting and conversing with people who are not intimates or
family members, French is felt to be obligatory, no matter how poorly it is spoken,
no matter how richly Creolized it may be. Justin L'H6risson in one of his novels
describes the language of one such member of the middle classes, who has become
a bourgeoise upon the acquisition of wealth by her husband:
"And the former reader of the cards, Madame Velleda Petite-Caille,
did the honors of her salon admirably. She spoke French 'by routine', and
apart from a few mistakes in pronunciation, one would have thought that
she had received the most excellent instruction. She said, for example,
'Mercir je vous remercir' with the most perfect aplomb. Her witty guests
pardoned everything in her except this Mercir, je vous remercir, which she
was unable to correct, despite the violent remonstrances of her husband,
who, because he had a great facility of elocution, thought himself a
Sensitive to each others' snobbery of language, urban Haitians are fond of
making fun of each others' mistakes in French; there is even a Haitian version of
Sam Goldwyn, or a male Mrs. Malaprop-one well-known middle-class politician
whose "Creolisms" in French are recounted with gusto in thousands of homes, and
to whom all new and hilarious "Creolisms" are attributed, whether he has actually
committed them or not.
Edmund Wilson has remarked of the local broadcasts in Port-au-Prince that
they "are often made in invertedly macaronic language of Creole supplemented
3. Roumain, Jacques-Gourverneurs de la Rosde, pp. 53-54
4. L'Hdrisson, Justin-La Famille des Caille, p. 252 of "Ecrivains Haitiens"
by French". (- This is actually a fairly good description of the language spoken
socially by most urban Haitians, save for a most highly educated minority.
Some notion of the poverty of the French language as it is used among middle-
class urbanites, who attend Haiti's public schools for only a few years, can be
obtained by the statistics of admission to the final examinations of the students in
the course moyens el supdrieurs of Port-au-Prince, the primary schools: "Out of
2&3 candidates" reported Le Nouvelliste, on September 7, 1950, "only 17 were
admitted to take the examinations, after the eliminating test in French"
French is spoken best in that most educated group, the Bourgeoisie, which
provides the major part of the clientele for the private secondary schools and the
universities, and which includes the greatest number of well-travelled people, and
professionals who have often studied in France. Men, better educated, usually
speak a more cultivated and literary French than women, although among women,
the younger generations speak better French than their mothers and grandmothers,
who were rarely educated to any significant degree at all. Even in the bourgeoisie,
however, purity and academic correctness of speech remain a matter of degree. A
strong Creolisation of the language occurs regularly, in almost everyone's speech,
errors in grammar, gender, and syntax are common, and while the educated Haitian
believes the French of his class to be extremely pure-Jules Faine writes that "The
Haitian adores to speak French and speaks it with purity, with an elegance that
almost attains a certain coquetry"-(6) this is, on the whole, far from true. Only
among intellectuals, professionals, and writers, for the most part, does one find
French used, at times, as a reasonably living language; and even among the
writers, Bellegarde comments:
"The conflict between Creole and French is clearly manifest among
certain of our writers. Their style lacks in spontaneity and in naturalness.
It often has the air of a peasant dressed up in his Sunday best. French is
not, for them, a pure and flowing expression of their ideas and sentiments.
They do not write, they formulate." (7)
In an article on the future of the French language, in Haiti, Pradel Pompilus,
an educator, has recently written: -
"My researches have brought me to interest myself in the spontaneous
development of French in our milieu, and in order to gather (information)
I do what any good investigator does: I spend hours in theatres, more
attentive to the comments of the spectators than to the play or film; take
rides on buses, with no precise destination; I wander, on the evenings of
public concerts, among groups of strollers. How many times have I returned
to my home in consternation, asking myself if the domain of the patois had
not been extended, in spite of the real progress of elementary and secondary
education-and if the French language is not declining in Haiti."(8)
5. Wilson, Edmund-The Reporter, May 23, 1950
6. Faine. Jules-La Philologie Creole (Preface)
7. Bellegarde, Dantbs- Haiti et ses Problhmes, p. 67
8. Pompilus, Pradel-Destin de la Langue Francaise en Haiti, an article appearing in
the Revue Conjonction, No. 37, February, 1952, pp. 6-7
Despite the myth, Creole is Haiti's living tongue in all classes. In the biggest
business houses, in the corridors of the National Palace, in Government bureaus, at
the elegant family dinner table, at the Bourgeois cafes, one hears Creole almost
constantly. "It is the language in which all the small business of Haiti is
conducted, as Leyburn writes.(9I It is in Creole that the educated Haitian curses,
it is in Creole that he tells his jokes, it is in Creole that he makes love, it is in
Creole that he gossips with his friends, it is in Creole that he grumbles about the
Government, it is in Creole that he repeats the slang, the funny expressions of the
era, the wise cracks and political jokes that course through society-it is in Creole
that he lives. "Who, asks Ernest Douyon, with universal candor, "is the man
of standing, who is the society woman who in private does not continually use
That the educated Haitian loves to speak Creole, even positively relishes it,
is obvious. One need not even listen to his crows of pleasure over some deliciously
funny turn of phrase, some pithy Creole remark or saying which expresses so
perfectly the point of some devious local situation. One need merely observe the
sudden vivacity of his facial expressions, the volatile quality of his gestures, the
gleam in his eyes when he is speaking Creole. His entire body, his face, his voice,
so rigid, restrained and expressionless when he is speaking French-the correct and
distinguished language-bursts into easy, gracious movement when he speaks
Creole. He is at ease, he is visibly enjoying himself. Indeed, nothing seems to
touch both educated and uneducated Haitian so deeply and immediately as to
discover that a foreigner shows exceptional virtuosity in Creole. This will be met
with cries of joy among "aristocrats" as well as peasants.
Aggressively snobbish towards Creole in public, most educated folk feel impelled
to denounce the language, declare that it is vulgar, ugly, crude, that it hurts their
ears, and even, in some cases, maintain that they hate it or "never speak it"
Interestingly enough, women, who, by and large, speak French far less well than
men, seem more inclined to make these charges publicly against the native tongue.
Possibly this is felt by them to be a compensation for inadequate French. The
collective disdain for Creole undoubtedly reaches its absolute pitch when the
educated Haitian travels abroad, even for a few months, and-as so often happens
-returns to Haiti, insisting to all who will listen that he has forgotten how to speak
Creole! Making deliberate mistakes in this language, he constantly asks for help
in remembering words which, somehow, elude him, and rolls his r's madly in that
essentially r'less tongue. This failure in memory notoriously afflicts Haitians who
have been to France, and return with sharp French accents-Haitians call this,
mockingly, talking pointt' or 'pointy'-which invade what little Creole is left to
them, after their trip.
So great is the official respect for French, and the contempt for Creole, that
in educated homes of the middle class and Bourgeoisie, children after three or four
years of age are scolded, and even beaten, for speaking Creole, despite the fact
that their elders use it constantly, and are disciplined into talking French. In
some homes, the formal rule is established that while the parents may speak to
9. Leyburn, James-op. cit., p. 304
10. Douyon, Ernest-Preface to Philologie Creole, by Jules Faine.
the children in Creole, the children must reply in French, both as a token of
"respect" and for "practice" One of Haiti's most brilliant intellectuals recalls that,
as a child, he was obliged, one week in each month, to polish his own shoes, empty
the chamber pots-and talk French! Thus, early in life, the Haitian child is
systematically trained in a duality of attitude toward language! In the highest
classes, as in the lowest, he speaks Creole with relish, at every opportunity; indeed,
because it is often denied to him, the child of the upper classes loves it even more
as a bootleg pleasure. Nevertheless, he learns to look down upon Creole as an
inferior tongue. And in most cases, the upper middle class child grows up like his
elders, to speak Creole constantly, to deny that he does so, and is, by adolescence,
fully prepared after a trip abroad to pretend that he too, has suddenly "forgotten"
his mother tongue.
The official myth of language, is, one might even say, nothing more than an
extension of this individual "forgetting" on a national basis. The official stand on
language simply "forgets" that all Haitians, including the "61ite" speak Creole,
and maintains, in this absent-minded fashion, that French is the "national" tongue.
And where the tendency to "forget" the maternal language may force Haitians
into adopting individually ridiculous postures and attitudes, the official "forget-
fulness" for a century and a half has precipitated the entire community into a
series of entirely irrational situations.
One may find, for example, that in a majority of churches, priests are
declaiming sermons in French, destined to exalt and uplift the souls of their
audiences, and turn them away from the primitive faith of their ancestors-sermons
which might as well be delivered in the purest of Latin, along with the rest of the
Mass, for all the comprehension they evoke in most of their hearers. Leyburn
remarks that he has met "priests who though they have lived in the country for
a generation, have never learned the tongue used by ninety-five out of a hundred
of their parishioners all the time, and by a hundred per cent. of them some of
Where individual rural priests and pastors have been motivated by a sincere
desire to bring Christianity to the Haitians in their parishes, they have, of course,
learned Creole, and have even made use of a few experimental catechisms and
prayer books prepared in the Creole language. Also, as the number of Haitians
entering the clergy has augmented, Creole has been increasingly used-particularly
by Protestant churches, who train their Seminary Students to deliver Creole
sermons. But the majority of clergymen are still Frenchmen, serving in the towns
and cities, and the social pressure of the linguistic myth relieves them of the
necessity to learn Creole. Hence, in a majority of cases, the Haitians continue to
receive their formal religious training and instruction in a language they can barely
Several decades ago, Frederic Doret reported with pleasure that:
a group of members of the Catholic Association of Haitian Youth
of the City of Jacmel, has undertaken, in their sphere of action, to throw
II. Leyburn, James-op. cit., p. 129
a bridge across the gulf that separates the two Haitis They have assigned
to themselves the humble role of catechists, catechists who are entirely
resolved to obtain results, for they are taking the road to the hearts of their
listeners, by commenting in Creole the instruction of the French Priest." (12)
Similar tiny groups of evangelists dedicate themselves, today as well, to the
propagation of religious instruction in Creole, conceiving of this as a most
revolutionary manner of communicating with the "hearts of their listeners" The
extreme potency of the national myth of language is so great, that it occurs to few
Catholics that the national religion might just as easily be conveyed to all Haitians
in Creole, to begin with, and save these feeble, if generous, upper class gestures of
solidarity. Evidently, even those who most strongly object to the tangible results
of the language myth continue to think in its restrictive terms, and nobly throw
Creole bridges across a "gulf" which does not exist, to join together "two Haiti's"
which have never truly been separated, save in the official imagination of the
A similarly irrational situation exists in national political life. Inheritors of the
French political institutions, the Haitians have and cherish all the forms of French
parliamentary democracy. A President is elected, a Constitution exists (although it
is constantly changed to suit contemporary contingencies), Senators and Deputies
are elected from the different districts of Haiti, and, in electoral periods, the People
are declared to be "Sovereign"--the candidates for offices invariably going before
the electorate to ask for its votes. But-due to the myth of language-political
leaders, during electoral campaigns, stand before masses of wondering partisans,
and make long and dramatic speeches in French, well-interlarded with quotations
from the classic French poets. Although the listeners are incapable of making head
or tail of anything that is being said to them, they applaud the gros franfais, the
dramatic delivery, with tremendous enthusiasm.
While even the modern President, such as Vincent, Lescot and Estim6 (all of
whom spoke Creole incessantly in private), permits himself to make an occasional
speech in Creole to a wildly delighted popular audience, all of the important
announcements, discourses, and policy speeches of Haitian Governments are made
in French-which the average citizen does not understand. The law makers in the
Parliament also conduct their business in French. The laws, when made or changed,
are published in French in the official gazette called Le Moniteur-which cannot
be understood by the majority. The public newspapers which give political news
are also printed in French. Thus, no official political institution in Haiti is in any
way directly comprehensible to the vast mass of its people-for not one utilizes the
language spoken by the people.
This of course does not imply that there is no national political life in which
the people participate, for it has been shown already that such is not the case.
Behind the facade of French Parliamentary Institutions, the true political life of
the country pursues its own destiny-an underground and unrecognized institution,
its "constitution" the by-laws of the intricate Master-Slave relationship, its forum
the secret gossip sessions of the eternal politically discontented, and its language,
of course, Creole. Open "opposition" almost never emerges through the French
12. Doret, Frederic-Ecrivains Haitians, p. 186
1 4 *
Parliamentary Institutions, which do not represent public opinion, but which exist,
for the most part, to keep urbanites in political jobs. Since "opposition" is a
private, concealed rather than official, public phenomenon, its natural language is
Creole, rather than French. And furthermore, since "opposition" is the major, if
not the only, political attitude of the vast majority of Haitians in all classes, the
political opposition, being thus an essentially democratic, if revolutionary,
movement, invariably and instinctively talks Creole.
Thus, when the political atmosphere permits it-usually after the fall of a
Government when there is a period of free expression-" opposition" leaders go
out to the "Masses" and deliver resounding harangues in Creole, which are meant
to be understood and are understood by the people. The most notable "opposition"
politician in the recent era has been young Daniel Fignole, a leader with a
tremendous popularity among Le Peuple. His speeches are invariably made in an
earthy and resounding Creole, and when he ran for election to the Chamber of
Deputies in 1950, he genuinely and democratically won his votes-democratic
elections, in Haiti, being politically compatible with the Creole language alone I
Nevertheless, when in Parliament, Fignole. like everyone else, has spoken French
and his partisans for the last few years have understood little or nothing of what
their representative has been saying in the national tribune.
Similarly, the only time that Creole appears in the newspapers is to express
an "Opposition" point of view; and during the last electoral campaign and the
Constitutional Convention which preceded it, La Nation, the left-wing paper, ran
a series of articles in Creole. One of these articles expresses so excellently the
relationship between French language-and-Official Government, as opposed to Creole
language-and-the-Opposition, that it is quoted here at some length, translated from
the Creole: -
"The newspapers are full of news of what's going on at the Constitutional
Convention. They're talking about the "Battle of Oratory" And what do
you think this "Battle of Oratory" is? It's talking French, yes, talking
beautiful French, making beautiful sentences, as if the people needed men
to spout French at their heads. The people are wasting away, unemployment
is in its flanks, it can't find food to eat. What are you telling the people
about "Battles of Oratory" for, heh?
"Talk to the people about things which can solace its misery; tell the
people that the Constituents are giving it a Constitution to strangle it. But
don't you dare talk to the people about "Battles of Oratory", about French
sentences that are being made at the Convention. What the hell do the
people care about the Constituents' good French, for God's sake l Ever
since cucumbers have been fighting with eggplants, the Haitian Negro is
talking French as hard as he can, and it's brought him nothing
"It's not talking pretty French that's going to relieve the misery of the
"Very often you see a woman and a man holding each other's arms,
walking down the street holding tightly to each other. You think they love
each other so much? You're wrong. Each is holding the other up so they
both don't fall down in the street, they're so hungry. There's the truth l
"So now go talk to this man and woman about an "Oratory Battle",
about the lovely little French that the Constituents are speaking-they'll
give you a sharp kick in the pants I" (3)
The popular master-slave mechanism of politics, working through the peppery
Creole language, dominates all Governments, despite their restrictive use of French.
And if the "Masters" know well how to exploit by means of French, the "Slaves"
know equally well how to resist and exploit in retaliation, by means of Creole. As
Le Fumiste, a humorous anonymous contributor to the newspaper Notre Temps,
wrote during the last elections: -
"After a thunder of applause, the big fat candidate jumped heavily to
earth, landing upon the toes of a chef de bouquement (a local political boss)
who, without moving from the spot, called out:
"Maitre, ou pald bel francd mais elections coutd cht"-"Master, you
speak beautiful French, but elections are expensive I" 14)
No better example can be given of the Master Slave mechanism at work; and no
better indication to the r6le of French, as public-master language, and of Creole
as private-slave language can be found, either!
While the problems created in religious life and in politics by the linguistic
conflict are grave indeed, the myth of language attains its highest point of unreason
as it manifests itself in Haiti's French-style educational system, which conveys
"culture" to the Haitian people via the French language. While this constitutes no
problem in higher education, it creates a serious impasse in popular primary
education. In most primary schools throughout the Republic one may find
ill-paid middle-class teachers proud of their relative mastery of the French tongue,
conducting their classes in this language before a group of awestruck, uncompre-
hending children of peasant, proletarian, or lower middle class origin. No Creole
texts are used by the Haitian school system; the language of the country is unused,
untaught. The Haitian child must be educated in French, a language he does not
speak and almost never hears at home.
Where such men as Bellegarde deplore the "puerile maternal patois" and the
"vicious habits of speech" of the Haitians, which conflict so unhappily with the
official language of Haiti's educational system-('s) more rebellious educators have
taken an opposing point of view and criticize the use of French in the primary
educational system of a Creole-speaking country. Needless to say, the former point
of view is the one which has dominated official Haitian life for a century and a half.
The minority pleading for primary education in Creole has been too small to affect,
in any measure whatever, the stolid and almost holy conviction of the majority of
educated Haitians that French is, by its intrinsic nature, the only possible language
of education and instrument of "culture"; and that, if Le Peuple cannot learn
French, Le Peuple may simply remain illiterate.
The people who have been fighting Creole education have a series of traditional
justifications for their attitude. One hears most often that Haiti will be isolated
13. La Nation, Nov. 24, 1950
14. Notre Temos, Sept. II, 1950
15. Bellegarde, Dantts-Haiti et ses Problemes, p. 67
from the outer world if her primary schools use Creole-as if the vast majority of
Haitians are not presently even more isolated by their total illiteracy and ignorance.
One hears also that Haiti's dominant claim to distinction and "originality" is her
French language and "culture" -which would instantly be lost to her if her school
system used the Creole language-Creole, presumably, in its unofficial state not
constituting a menace to the official French "culture" Finally, and most often,
one hears that education in Creole is a total impossibility, because Creole is not a
"real language" Bellegarde has written: -
"Creole, having neither grammar nor a written literature, cannot
constitute the material of methodical teaching, unstable, subject to continual
variations in its vocabulary, in its syntax and pronunciation, it has none of
the characteristics of a fixed language, and can neither be transmitted nor
conserved save by oral use."(16)
This is, on the whole, the notion held by the vast majority of educated Haitians
about Creole. As Christian Beaulieu, an advocate of Creole education, wrote
irritatedly of this concept, "To listen to these people, one might think that
writing comes before the creation of a language, that the spoken language is
somehow the instrument of the written word which has pre-existed since all time-
instead of being merely a graphic representation of the auditive image created by
the word itself !" '7)
The United Nations report on Haiti, in 1949, agreed that French is a desirable
language for secondary and higher education, and certainly for the University
level-maintaining that "the fact of being integrated in the large current of the
French culture is, for Haiti, an advantage of inestimable value the knowledge
of French not only permitting her access to the great treasures of occidental
civilization, but also a perfect means of participating in the scientific and technical
progress of the modern world."(19) Nevertheless, the UN explicitly recommended
to the Haitian Government that Creole be immediately instituted in the primary
schools. This has not yet been done. It is obvious, however, that eventually the
sheer pressure of popular need, if not the sheer pressure of logic, will force some
future Government to take the final leap into linguistic reality.
There is one small group of Haitians which, more than any other, has struggled
painfully with the deepest implications of the myth of language in Haiti, and has
wilfully plunged to the very heart of the conflict, in an effort to attain some
comprehension of its inner meanings. This group has been Haiti's literary men and
intellectuals-those for whom language and its subtleties are of passionate
importance, those who, if they are to have any validity, must express with the
greatest of fidelity the culture to which they belong.
The claim which educated Haitians have laid to the French culture, since
Independence, has been based, chiefly, upon a purely literary or verbal concept.
16. Bellegardes, Danths-Haiti et ses Problemes, p. 45
17. Beaulieu, Christian-Les Griots, Vol. 4, No. 4. Vol. I, No. 1939, p. 589
18. U.N. Report, pp. 52-53
Haitians who are literate, speak, read and write French, and for them this has
been the principal factor of cultural identity; her writers and poets in the past have
written uniquely in the French language. Haiti's best known literary spokesman
for her traditional demand to be recognized as member of the French cultural
community has, in the modem era, been Danths Bellegarde, who expresses,
admirably, in the following passages famous in Haiti, the intellectual essence of
the official or conventional Haitian attitude toward language and culture:-
"The Haitian national culture has manifested itself for more than a
century in work of real value, written in the language particular to Haitians,
the French Language." 00
"The Haitians, by their constant commerce with the books in which the
French have laid down the treasures of their intelligence and sensibility, live
and evolve in the atmosphere created by the ideas, the traditions, the French
"Who could deny this influence of language upon thought?
"For us to think 'bantu' instead of thinking 'French' we would have to
put to use the innumerable bantu dialects spoken in South Africa. And since
we might not possibly find enough competent professors to teach them to us,
we would have no other recourse but to emigrate en masse, and to go and
live among the Kafirs.
Here, one has a supreme example of the power of the educated Haitian to
"forget" both the existence of his native tongue, and the presence of the over-
whelmed majority of the population which does not understand French words, and
has never read any French Books! Similarly it illustrates the power of the educated
Haitian to "forget" the existence of his vast and complex African-Slave heritage,
and concentrate only on the French-Master heritage.
On the other side of the arena, stands a small minority of "new" intellectuals,
which has emerged within the past three decades. These have largely rejected the
orthodox, or Bellegardian point of view, in favor of a greater measure of cultural,
and linguistic realism. Looking about them at the Americas, in which they live,
rather than keeping their eyes hypnotically fixed on L'Acaddmie Franfaise, this
minority has finally perceived that Mexicans, Cubans, Argentinians, &c., speak
Spanish, that Brazilians speak Portuguese, but that none of these nations, for all
that, have the "cultures" of their original mother countries. Thus, in his
revolutionary "Ainsi Parla L'Oncle" published in the '20's, Dr. Price Mars
distressed his Haitian reader by saying that the French language itself, as used
in Haiti, must reflect rather a Haitian culture than that of France, and, he pointed
out, that it was perfectly possible for Haitians, using the medium of the French
language, to "bring to the world a notion of art, an expression of the soul which
might be at once very human and very Haitian."(22)
Radical as these ideas were for the Haitian milieu, they were to evolve still
further. It has been increasingly maintained by the most modern that even Haitian
19. Bellegarde, Dantes-La Nation Haitienne, p. 348
20. Bellegarde, Dantes-Haiti et ses Probletnes, p. 15
21. Bellegarde, Dantes-Dessalines a Parl, pp. 164-5
22. Price Mars, Jean-Ainsi Parla L'Oncle, p. 190
French, with all its local implications and altered meanings, does not fully express
that part of the Haitian which so freely flows in Creole. The sociologist, Ren6
Victor points out the impossibility for our novelists to render in French certain
qualities of mind as they are expressed in Creole; and the necessity for these
novelists to transcribe these expressions, in quotes, as they stand. (23)
There is no question but that today, to quote the poet Carlos St. Louis "the
inadequate character of French as a carrier of Haitian sentiments forms,
ordinarily the subject of literary discussions among young writers. "Haitian
literature", he reports, will never be original as long as it depends (exclusively)
upon the French vocabulary". (24) More and more, modem writers are using Creole
in their work. And where Georges Sylvain, in translating the Fables of Lafontaine
into Creole several decades ago was considered a veritable revolutionary (as was
the poet Oswald Durand who wrote Choucoune and other poems in Creole)-today,
there are few important modern writers who have not experimented with and
published at least a few Creole poems, and who have not begun to use Creole
expressions and sentences in their novels.
In one of Jacques Roumain's earlier novels, he puts the poet Roumer into the
tale, as a prominent character, who talks exultantly about a Creolized poem he has
written. From Roumer's short monologue, one gains a strong impression not only
of the immense relish with which the "new" intellectuals greet the use of Creole
in literature, but of their triumphant pleasure in rebelling against the conventional
literary regulations which prescribe the use of this tongue in serious writing:
Roumer: "For example, listen to this magnificent Alexandrine verse which
is going to make our dear Afro-Latin (I almost said Affreux-
Latins) intellectuals go wild with anger-those guys whose
lips more purple than the grape open only on the imperfect
Ta fesse est un boumba charged de victuailles!
(Your buttock is a boumba loaded with victuals!) 'Ta fesse
est' do you hear the hissing and boiling of the hot fat falling
into the bowl?; un boumba oh, marvellous! that word makes
you think of the explosion of a bomb, of an impetuous behind,
of a volumninous and' blackened casserole; charged de that's a
preparatory stop; then, brusquely: victuailles! That, oh that's
perfectly sublime, that 'tchousille' of the burning grease in the
This poem, to which he refers, heralded, in Haiti, by the tiny group of Creole
experimentalists, is today recognized by most intellectuals as one of the first serious
efforts to write goo l.oetry using the native tongue alone or in combination with
French. Today, while Roumer is still probably the best Creole poet in Haiti, other
and younger poets-notably Morisseau Le Roy and Pierre Mayard, have written
voluminously in Creole, their work being widely known and well loved by most
23. Victor, Ren6-Essais de Sociologie pp. 19-20
24. St. Louis, Carlos-Preface to "Panorama de La Po6sie Haitienne"
25. Roumain, Jacques-La Proie et L'Ombre, pp. 18-19
of their fellow writers. Certainly the most imaginative experiment with Creole in
the novel form was Jacques Roumain, whose Gouverneurs de la Rosde not only
offers passages of pure Creole, but attempts to Creolize French in a systematic and
stylized way, thus creating a Haitian "atmosphere" which few other novelists have
yet achieved. Creole is slowly being liberated from bondage, is being recognized,
today-although by a tiny group of avant-garde intellectuals alone-as a vital
instrument of Haitian expression.
While it has required more than a century to produce a rebellious avant-garde
"discovery" that the Haitian "soul" or personality could not be exclusively
expressed by academic French-this truth has long been known to the Creole
language itself I While Haiti's official institutions are describable, and can be
expressed in the French language, the unofficial or private mores of Haiti are almost
invariably described or expressed by Haitians in Creole. French is the carrier for
the official, mythical or for the inherited covering of the national institutions; it
is the carrier for the idealization of these institutions. But Creole is the carrier for
the living mores themselves, expressing not only the implicit French-master ideal,
but the conflict between the ideal and the reality.
It can hardly come as a surprise, therefore, that the Creole language should
contain within itself as articulate a commentary on the Haitian's conflict between
French and Creole as upon all other such conflicts. Eight popular Creole sayings
can be quickly listed, which illustrate the Haitian's most intimate feeling about the
relative functions of the Creole and French languages in his life-and which, by
extension, convey his feelings about the French component of the Haitian mores:
Fai' la France (To make like France). This is a common Creole expression,
used in all classes to describe, nastily, a man who talks a lot and says nothing,
who attempts to sound important, but who is not to be taken seriously; it indicates
pretentiousness, snobbery, and hollow verbiage.
Crdole pall, Crdole comprenn' (Creole spoken is Creole understood). This is
an expression which can be used in either language, French or Creole. When
interpolated into a delicate, veiled, or diplomatic conversation, it signifies a great
deal: "I don't have to say too clearly what I mean. You understand the implica-
tions. You perceive the real sense of my words" Used freely, even in a French
conservation, it implies that the real meaning or sense of language exists in Creole,
while it is masked, or even absent, in French. Creole, here, is the symbol of true
C'est Criole m'ap pald avd-ou, oui! (Listen, its Creole I'm talking to you!)
In Creole conversation, if a listener does not seem to understand, or is pretending
to misunderstand what is being told him, he may be, brought up sharply with this
comment. By implication, one may be permitted genuinely or deliberately to
"misunderstand" in French, but one has no right to "misunderstand" in Creole.
Where Creole is, presumably, the language of comprehension and of truth, French
is, by implication, the language of bluff and of mystification.
Pald Franfais (To speak French). This is a popular term, in use by all classes,
to indicate the offering of money or a bribe to someone; the actual negotiations,
while perhaps being carried on in Creole, are called "Speaking French", foi this
is presumed to give them a more respectable allure. Here, the French language
itself is used as the symbol of distinguished duplicity, and the glossing over with
respectability of dishonest thoughts or acts.
L'ap mandi charity en Franfais (He's asking for charity in French). This
expression will be used to describe that individual who is begging, grafting,
extorting money, with a steady stream of explanations, apologies, and promises
intended to make his act seem less reprehensible. He may be talking fluent Creole,
in the process-but, where an honest request for a gift of money without the
pretense of paying it back is merely called "asking for charity", any effort to
deceive the giver, to camouflage the real parasitical intention is called "asking for
charity in French" In this saying, as in the one which precedes it, the French
language is the symbol of a respectable or proper coating of dishonest thoughts
Finally, there are two Creole sayings of enormous cultural significance, the
first used to indicate loyalty in a man: "Si Monsieur avd-ou, I'a v'al nans Guinde
avd-ou"-(If that man is with you, he'll go to Guinea with you!)-and the second
indicating a traitor: "Sais attention, oui! C'est Franfais, oui!" (Watch out for
himl He's a Frenchman, he is!")
From these few sayings, in constant use in Haitian society, one perceives very
clearly that, for the "Creole-thinking" Haitian, French is the language associated
with bluff, camouflage, indirection, duplicity.
The insistence that French words are "hollow" that the French language has
been emptied of its meaning, has lost contact with reality, that evil motives lurk
behind a camouflage of French vocabulary, is to be heard and read constantly in
Haiti. Indeed, when Haitians translate such "Creole thoughts" about French into
French, they invariably pen such paragraphs as:
"Unhappily, people adore, in our country, to gargle words, sonorous
words, with hollow resonances. These are the strong points of those idiots
with their petrified brains who refuse to look reality in the face."126)
"Political professionals who have been allowed by the citizens to run
our political life, have finally emptied those words of their content which
once served to denounce the most cruel injustices." (27)
These are, indeed, complex and profound observations. They are made only by
those Haitians who are highly educated. Ironically enough, most of them are
unaware, apparently, of the fact that theii "primitive patois" Creole, had made
these very observations long ago l Indeed, how much more subtle and appropriate
is the malicious "C'6 Creole m'ap pal6 avec-ou, oui!" which defies the listener to
pervert the thought, which defies him to falsify the idea, than the quiet morality
of Edmond Paul, Haiti's earliest sociologist, who wrote, in French, "To speak
Creole in order to express a correct thought will always be worth more than to
speak beautiful French in order to express a false thought." (28)
It is almost incredible that it should have taken more than a century for
Haitian intellectuals to "discover" that Creole, rather than French, expressed most
26. Jean, Grevy-Le Nouvelliste, Oct. 6, 1950
27. Notre Temps, Sept. 4, 1950
28. Paul, Edmond--Oeuvres, p. 326.
fully the Haitian "soul" or personality. Had they merely listened to themselves
talking Creole, as Pressoir recommends, they might have discovered it in the earliest
days of Independence! Actually, as the Creole language itself suggests in the
strongest of terms, the official French institutions of Haiti, which form a cover and
a camouflage for the local mores, are treacherous symbols. By their utilization of
French, the large majority of the Haitian people are prevented from participating
in them; and in return, the very mistrust and incomprehension of them by the
people, render them meaningless, hollow, empty and symbolic. They are simulacres,
specious imitations, as Hibbert said, indirectly, in giving this title to his novel
satirizing Haitian life.(20) And similarly, the French language, which expresses
these symbolic institutions, assumes itself a symbolic function in a society where
it is largely unknown. As Stenio Vincent has remarked, "French is, for us, a
borrowed language, a language of a representation; the word representation has no
literal translation into English. It is defined by Larousse as meaning: "exhibition;
the action of putting something before the eyes" And, by the means of an official,
incomprehensible language, the major official institutions of Haiti are actually
exhibited, put before the eyes of the outer world, and put before the eyes of her
people, who can neither understand them, nor use them-and beneath whose envious
adoration of them lies a profound distrust and hatred of them.
Only in the last few decades have those most sensitive, advanced, and
imaginative people-Haiti's intellectuals-begun to penetrate through the oppressive
wildernesses of Haiti's complex mythology of language and culture. Their major
discovery, in this epoch, remains, on the whole, the discovery of the validity of the
Creole language-the native language which, in its popular sayings, has always
revealed a penetrating understanding of those very myths of language and culture
which have caused it to be rejected!
The Choice and Use of Words
SIR THOMAS TAYLOR
First Principal of the University College of the West Indies
ANY well-developed language has an enormous history behind it; it is a depository
of a tradition handed down by word of mouth and by reading the written language
of the generations before. The English language is particularly full of tradition
because it comes from so many sources, the Germanic languages as well as Greek
and Latin, and it has all kinds of odd feelers stretching out into the Orient as well.
But any language is changing all the time. We do not speak the language of a
hundred years ago; we do not speak the language of twenty years ago. There are
new words, new meanings, new phrases, new usages. There is danger that these
changes may lead to a debasing of the language all over the world, and there are
signs that the English language is being debased. My plea is that we should realize
this and do our best to fight against it. We may or may not have some particular
affection for the English language, but that is not the point. We should do our best
to preserve from debasement any well-developed language.
What then are some of the signs of this process?
One of the obvious ones is the way in which we are apt, through mere mental
laziness, to use as few words as we can. In certain circles only two words are used,
to express praise or disapproval-swell and lousy. Everything is either one or the
other. Sometimes the vocabulary is enriched by adding the word fine and some-
times by adding yet a fourth but much less desirable word, but often that is all.
Another obvious example is the kind of thing we see at the cinema where most
films are described as colossal, the greatest ever and a number of other standard
superlatives. By their constant use these words lose all their meaning; the coinage
is debased. In Glorious Technicolor. The word glorious has lost its meaning; it is
a splendid word and now in that context it only raises a laugh. I have wondered
how a film distributor could nowadays describe a really outstanding film. I sup-
posed he could say This is really an outstanding film", but I don't suppose he will.
This brings to a point which I want to make, the extraordinary power to move
of simple English words when used with skill. We have a very fine example in
Jamaica, at Port Royal. Many of you will have seen the inscription on the King's
Battery. "In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson. You who tread his footprints remem-
ber his glory." To me the effect is tremendous and that is not because it deals
with Nelson. It is the words themselves, the simple words. I wonder how a film
producer would have phrased it. And I know another example. In my College at
Oxford after the First World War it was agreed that a memorial stone should be
placed in the Porter's Lodge through which every resident member of the College
passes every day. Various inscriptions were proposed and then the Principal of the
time produced shyly-he was a shy man- his inscription and everyone agreed at
once that there could be nothing better. It reads, "This stone is set here so that
those who pass by may be put in mind of Earl Haig and the Brasenose men who
fell in the Great War 1914-1918." Apart from the date and the name of the
College, which he could not avoid, it is written enti-cly in words of one syllable,
simple Anglo-Saxon words. Words of one syllable carefully chosen and producing
a more powerful effect than all the polysyllables in the world.
Let us leave this point and talk about another debasement of the language,
what may be called the bureaucratic debasement. I remember going to New York
during the last war and seeing a printed notice stuck on the wall near every light
switch in every room and office I entered. New York was taking air-raid precau-
tions seriously and as far as I remember the notice read, "Illumination must be
extinguished when this accommodation is vacated" What it should have said is
"Put out the light when you leave", but it did not. It said "Illumination must be
extinguished when this accommodation is vacated" This is a gross distortion of
language. It arises, I suppose, from people thinking that to be official you must
be pompous or verbose or anything except simple and direct. We are surrounded
by examples of this kind of thing and the worst of it is that young people brought
up with these polysyllables resounding in their ears are beginning to think that this
is normal English and to use it spontaneously. I was in the Colonial Office recently,
in the charge of a not very senior civil servant, youngish woman. We had to go
to another office on another floor and when we got to the lift, there was a notice
on it saying "Lift service suspended" One wonders at first what it means; lifts
are usually suspended. Then one sees that it means, "This lift is out of order", or
"This lift is not running" The civil servant stopped in her stride and said "Oh,
what a nuisance; we shall have to use the stairs; the lift service is suspended"
in a perfectly natural voice. In ordinary conversation she had not said "Oh what
a nuisance; the lift's not working" She had used the artificial and pompous
phrase in a completely natural way. I suppose after years of this kind of choice
of words she thinks and speaks like that. I imagine that before very long when
she reads a sentence such as "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the
floods drown it", she will be translating in her head in order to follow it and that
the translation will be something like "Multiple aqueous immersions are unable
to extinguish the amatory propensity, neither have inundations the capability of
causing its death by submergence."
Then there is the other vice so increasingly common in official English and not
uncommon on all sides: the unthinking use of a few standard metaphors. The
metaphors change with the years; avenues are not explored so often as they used
to be, and many more stones are left unturned. This vice arises from sheer mental
laziness. A speaker or writer simply used stock phrases and worn cliches to avoid
mental effort in finding suitable ones. And often with complete disregard of the
absurdities. to which the stock phrase leads him. Some of you may remember
A. P, Herbert's spirited and justified attack on "bottleneck" It became a standard
phrase when questions of supply were pressing. But it was 'soon in the region of
the absurd. I have heard people talk about the biggest bottleneck. The bigger the
bottleneck the less the interference with the flow of the liquid. If they wanted to
talk of bottlenecks, they should have said the narrowest bottleneck, not the biggest
bottleneck. And then there was that magnificent phrase used, I believe, in the
House of Commons, "A series of interconnected bottlenecks". That may suggest
a lot of complicated plumbing or a lot of glass tubes running all over the place,
but it is absurd. Here is another example. A lady, a very serious lady, was reading
a report issued by Unesco. Suddenly she burst into laughter. I asked her why and
she read from the report "'The idea of an optimal population for this planet is an
inflated balloon and it has many large holes." How the balloon remains inflated if
there are many large holes was not explained. Laughter should be the automatic
response to this kind of nonsense which arises from an unthinking use of stock
And now, I am afraid, I shall have to turn by venom against our friends of
the Press. There seems to me no doubt whatever that the journalists are debasing
the English language. They have their excuses, or what they would call their
reasons, but they are doing it. Since we read their productions daily and can hardly
avoid doing so, we should be on our guard against their baleful influence. We
should consider their choice of words and their style as something separate from
English and not allow it to seep into our brains and ruin our own choice of words.
One of the causes of the trouble has been well diagnosed by Stephen Leacock. He
points out that in the old days a newspaper was written to be read, propped up
against the marmalade, by a man eating a slow breakfast in a club, or by a retired
banker on a leather sofa half asleep, or by a clergyman sitting in a wicker chatr
under a pergola in the garden. The modern newspaper with its flaming headlines
and almost hysterical tone is designed to be read by a man hanging on to the straps
of a crowded underground train, or by a man standing on one leg, or by a man
having a quick shave or a man waiting to have his teeth drawn by the dentist. The
result is over-statement, as with the film distributors, and continued over-statement
leads to the debasement of words until they cease to have any meaning. To quote
Leacock again, a man arrested on a charge of murder is described at once as a
slayer or a gun-man or possibly a thug, no attention being paid to whether he has
yet been convicted. In the old days he was described as "the accused who is a
grocer's assistant in East London" Leacock adds "That designation would knock
any decent modern story to pieces"
And then, of course, there is that remarkable language, which is certainly not
English and is used by journalists in various parts of the world and used to some
extent in the West Indies, the language of head-lines. This I do not think to be a
danger because it is so artificial. I first went to the United States over twenty years
ago and I still remember being puzzled by a headline which read "Solons debate
jobless aid" I knew Solon as a Greek law-giver but did not know there could be
several Solons. I had to enquire what it meant and was told it meant that the
Upper House of the State legislature had discussed unemployment relief. Solons
was a kind of code word chosen because it is short. Every word is chosen for the
same reason. The whole story must appear in the shortest possible sentence, so
that unemployment relief becomes jobless aid, an investigation becomes a probe
and so on. I shall be accused of inconsistency here; I have earlier pressed the
claims of simple words and here am I holding up their use to ridicule. My justifica-
tion is, of course, that in a great deal of the compression of the headline, short
words are used in an unnatural and non-traditional sense, not because they are
appropriate but because they are short. Mate is used in the headline instead of
husband because it is four letters and not seven. But no one meets a lady in the
street and says, "Good morning, Mrs. Jones. How is your mate today? Is he
better ?" I will say no more about the language of head-lines which I regard as a
somewhat objectionable curiosity.
One could go on about this subject for ever. It gives one such a fine opportunity
of voicing one's prejudices and I confess frankly that I am strongly prejudiced
against slipshod and thoughtless use of any language. Languages are splendid
instruments like violins and like violins they demand care and thought and practice
if they are to give forth the splendid sounds of which they are capable. Let us
use polysyllables wisely. Let us laugh when we read "Owing to unfavourable
meteorological conditions" and let us tell the men who wrote it that he should
have written "Because the weather was bad." Let us avoid surrounding ourselves
with bottlenecks and blue prints. The purpose of language is to express our
thoughts. Talleyrand cynically altered this definition and said its purpose was to
hide our thoughts. Later the Scandinavian Kierkegaard said yet more cynically
that its purpose is to hide the fact that we have no thoughts. Let us try to get
back to the first of these purposes and let us occasionally give some thought to
the way we use the English language.
Form and Style in a Bahamian Folktale
BY DANIEL J. CROWLEY
IN the study of folklore the analysis tf form and style has been avoided largely
for three reasons: the traditional stress on collecting the maximum number of
types, the lack of a sufficient number of variants for purposes of analysis, and
the paucity of information on the settings and functions of folklore in
specific cultures under consideration. This paper is an attempt to analyze
the elements of form and style by comparison of two variants of the same Marchen
as told in the Bahamas today. These two variants were recorded during January-
March of 1952 in the course of field work at Tinshop Corner, Blue Hill Road,
Grant's Town, a suburb of Nassau, New Providence Island, Bahamas. This
Marchen, which approximates Type 300 in Aarne and Thompson's The Types of
the Folk Tale, was chosen for study because the variants are reasonably parallel
and were collected from recognized past masters of the medium. Thus both variants
incorporate the major elements of the Bahamian form as it emerges from the
104 stories collected, while at the same time showing the originality and artistry
of each story-teller. Furthermore, they illustrate an aspect of the acculturative
process in handling of African, European, American, and local West Indian
Bahamian folktales, whether Miirchen, explanatory tales, or animal tales, are
referred to as "old-stories'. They are not "told", but "talked" in the Bahamian
idiom. According to one informant, the stories originated when it became necessary
to stay in the fields overnight because of their distance from the settlements, as
the nearer land became worked out. The farmers huddled around a fire, afraid
of the many spirits which the Bahamians believe haunt their isolated islands. To
control and assuage their fear, they told stories. Some of the stories were better
than others, and were remembered and retold by the hearers. Sometimes a clever
man would add a "sing' or a dance, or would include a happening of the day,
or would use the personality of one of his hearers or of a well-known villager as
a character in his tale. These stories became so popular that after a while they
were told in the village, and became known to all. Regardless of whether this
Bahamian theory of origin is historically accurate, the stories are now universally
known. In the last generation the "advanced" class of New Providence Islanders
have tended to deny their knowledge of these stories. But even here developed
stories were collected from acculturated high school boys who had access to radios,
moving pictures, and books. In the Out Islands, the twenty inhabited islands
scattered around New Providence over a thousand miles of treacherous ocean, the
"talkers" of old-stories have great prestige, and each child is proud of his increasing
At the present time in all the islands, old-stories are talked in the evenings
among the family, or when friends are visiting and the events of the day have been
thoroughly discussed. Children often initiate the talking of old-stories, and tell
stories to each other. The adults may join in, directing the stories toward the
children at first, but soon pacing the story to keep the attention of all present.
Long after the children are asleep the old-stories continue. There is no implication
that they are not adult fare, and actually many of them are beyond the
understanding of the younger children.
The primary function of these stories is entertainment, but they also educate
by providing vicarious experience for the hearers, sharpening their wits, and
informing them on a great variety of subjects.
Every effort was made to record the stories in a natural situation. After our
neighbors had gotten used to the idea that the white "tourists" in their lane wanted
to hear old-stories, our house was full of people each evening. People sat on boxes
or stood around, leaning against the walls. Some sat on the floor and others looked
in through the low windows. The microphone was held by the talker, and addressed
as if a person. Occasionally a talker would get excited by his story, dance around,
or wave his arms, including the one holding the microphone. One acculturated
individual began, "Good Evening. This broadcast is being brought to you through
the courtesy of Mr. Nathaniel Webster." After each story was recorded, it had
to be played back at least once, so that the talker could bear how he sounded.
Weeks later he might return with a friend, and request a replaying of a particular
story for his friend's appraisal.
The audience is expected to make its contribution to the effect of the stories,
and no story is complete without active audience participation. In a variety of ways,
the story-talker employs the cry, "Bunday!" which requires in response either
another "Bunday!", "Eh!" "Yeah," "Alright," or some comment or answer
to a question the talker has asked. This mechanism is used to begin and end the
stories, to rivet wandering attention, to point up a climax, to approve the actions
of a character, to refer to riddles, and in a variety of other ways. In practice, the
answering cries of "Bunday!" were only given by a few in the audience, usually
other story-talkers or the older boys, but these responses served their various
The audience was remarkably silent during the talking of the stories. No word
was said, no whispers or side conversations, but there was much coming and going,
shuffling of feet, slamming of doors, and playing with dogs. If, as rarely happened,
the attention of the audience began to wander, an explosive "Bunday!" called
them back to the thread of the story. When a joke or humorous happening occurred
in the course of the story, laughter on the part of the audience was intense and
of long duration. Tears of laughter came to many eyes, and there was much slapping
of knees, clapping of hands, and agonized rolling on the floor in helpless merriment.
This form of expression is socially approved, and I believe often exceeds the actual
Grant's Town is the home of the lower class Negroes of Nassau, many of whom
have recently moved to New Providence Island from one or another of the Out
Islands. In the neighborhood of Tinshop Corner, there were many mixed-bloods
from Eleuthera Island, and even greater numbers of very dark-skinned Negro
families that have migrated from the eastern shore of Andros Island in the last
ten years. These Andros Islanders have only a small intermixture of Caucasian
and American Indian strains, and because of the desolate and undeveloped nature
of their huge island, they are comparatively unaffected by the rapid changes which
have been taking place in Nassau. It was among these people that Dr. Elsie Clews
Parsons began her monumental collection of West Indian folklore. Several of her
Andros informants of 1916 are the immediate ancestors of old-story talkers recorded
in Grant's Town in 1952. Both informants considered in this study were born in
Behring Point, Andros. Albert Gay, who talked Story A, is a 48-year-old fisherman-
on-shares and the grave-digger of Behring Point. Ezekial "Zeke" Mackey, 27, a
second cousin of Gay's wife, is intermittently employed as a building laborer in
Nassau, where he has lived for the last five years. He is the talker of Story B.
At the suggestion of Dr. Richard Dorson, the texts have been written in orthodox
spelling with only occasional attempts to represent pronunciation, thus making for
maximum comprehension. Responses from the audience are written out in capital
letters, and translations, clarifications of the texts and descriptions of the talkers'
actions are enclosed in parentheses.
I. FORMULAIC OPENING
VARIANT B, by Ezekial Mackey.
Sunday! BUNDAY! This was a time, not
in my time, it was nothing but a time,
when parakeet shit and reach it (?), and
old people take it and make season(ing).
Boy, you know it, hey! YEAH! In the days
when Constitution causing your hand to get
square besides.' BUNDAY! AND THAT! And
what everybody will say? BUNDAV! Ehhh!
Bundayl BuNDAY! Eh! Once upon a
time, not my time but in old people time
when they used to take fish scale to make
shingle, and fish bone to make needle; we
call it new invention today, but then that
was just as the olden style things.t Alright!
II. THE INVITATION
Now I tell you about the strong man that
live in the land, they call the giant. One
day, the giant, you know (nassally), he's a
funny voice, he's wicked, he wicked as hell,
because no man could a never get by him
yet to kill him. So one day, the King had
one daughter they call Maddy Greenleaf.
He say, urn um, hold it awhile,3 he say,
"This is the onliest way I could get after
this bloody giant in the land, if I put out
There was a man through the land by the
name of Marble. They used to call him
Marble because he used to eat people so
far, and nobody know what would be his
name, but then his name was Marble. The
complaint comes to the King, say that this
man is through the land, and eating up all
the people that are in the land. "Well, he
being a King, well all we could do now is
to of told the King," that the King didn't
1. This may refer to the serious depression which followed the liberation of slaves
in 1834. The Bahamian freedmen worked so hard merely to keep alive that their hands
became broad. J. M. Wright, "History of the Bahama Islands, with a Special Study of
the Abolition of Slavery in the Colony," G. B. Shattuck (ed.), The Bahama Islands.
(New York: Macmillan and Johns Hopkins Press, 1905) p. 565 ff.
2. A Bahamian version of the familiar saw that ideas known to our ancestors are
often rediscovered by modern science. Old people and "old people time" are looked upon
with great respect by Andros Islanders.
3. Gay is so active in enacting his stories that he sometimes forgets the thread of
his narrative. Comments of this kind serve to concentrate the audience's attention while
giving Gay time to recollect himself.
VARIANT A, by Albert Gay.
a invitation. So everybody get around his
building, and they call the King's name.
What you call it? BuNDAYv! BUNDAY! (The
King's name is Bunday). Hey! ! Hmmmp!
He read over the invitation, and he read
it, and he put it, and he gi(ve) it over-
head. (The King reads it and hands it over
his shoulder to be put on a bulletin board.)
know what he going do. Now the King said,
"Now what I'll do is to send the soldiers
through and through the land, see if they
could come cross this man by the name
of Marble." Anyway, the King didn't stand
(around doing nothing), but he send soldiers
through the land. The first crowd of soldier
meet him (pause). Marble, he take
down the first crowd of soldier, and every
one was dead. A second crowd, he take
them down. They fell dead. Cause they
couldn't shoot him with bayonets, and they
couldn't machine gunning him, and they
couldn't put bullets in him, because he
wouldn't die. King send some of his last
crowd of soldier, "And if he don't die then,
well, I don't know what to do." He send
the t'oid (third) crowd of soldier, which will
be the three (third) set. "Go and hunt for
a man by the name of Marble, any man
that you meet in the land, because there's
a warning that no man should be in the
land different from the man of Marble.
Anybody you meet in the land now, take
him!" And when they get in sight of
Marble, Marble take them down. "Jeez
Christ, the King say, "what can I do!
I'am a King, and I supposed to rule the
land. What could I do!" (The King's
speech is accompanied \with "low comedy"
gestures, shoulder shrugging, turning the
hands palm-upwards, and drawing the ends
of the mouth down.)
111. THE CpNTESTANTS
So one day this boy pass by, they call Anyhow, was a man by the name of Jack.
Bouky Forbes. He read it. He tell the King, Said, "Master King," he said, "I hoid
say, "Well, hmmmp," he say, "Master (heard) that the land is in a uproar." The
King," he say, "you know something," he King say, "Sure!" Sav, "And what may
say, "I'll pick that up." (i.e., "I'll accept be it?" He say, "It's a Marble, it's a man
the challenge.") The King look at him. He by the name of Marble in the land," he
say, "Boy, you's a fool. Damn, something say, "and fast as he could get here," he
like you could kill that giant!" Say, "Yes say, "Marble is through here now." (The
sir, I'll take that chance." Hmmmp!" he King fears that Marble's next objective is
say, "Anyhow, no one will let me, I to eat him.) Jack says, "I'm one man
wouldn't give no chance (odds) on that." that'll take care of Marble now it's me."
He say, "You wait awhile." He say, "I King says, "A dirty little boy like you!
think somebody else going take up this I send soldiers, so many thousands soldiers,
thing." He look at the boy. "You ain't and Marble was taking them down; what
suitable for my daughter nohow; you can't happen to you!" "Oh," Master Jack said,
kill no giant to get my daughter."4 "believe me." "Boy Oh Boy," Master King
Hmmmp. Bouky Forbes pass (i.e., gives up said, "go ahead." If you could kill Marble
and goes on down the road, spoken tragi- today, you know what happen to you
comically by the narrator). So anyhow, this now? You would marry to my daughter
boy they call Nansi, Nansi pass pass (by). Greenleaf, and which you know I have two
4. This unique motif of excluding an unsuitable contestant reflects the Bahamian
concept of the father's responsibility in choosing his daughters' mates.
Nansi read this invitation what he see over-
head. He say, "Damn, he say, "I going
stop in here." Say, "This look like some-
thing damn good for me." He say, "Master
King!" He say, "Hello Boy." He say,
"Don't call me no boy cause you know
I'se the strongest man in the land different
from the giant I could beat him." ("I'm
the strongest man in the land with the
exception of the giant, and thus I have a
chance to beat him.") "Hmmmp," he say,
"well, what's your name?" "Hmmmp,"
he say, "I name Nansi, the strong man,
Nansi." Say, "Yeah." Say, "Anyhow," he
say, "what you read out there," he say,
"I see on your invitation out there," he say,
"any man that kill the giant in the land,"
he say, "he'll do something to that gal you
got there beside marry him (her) (i.e., he'll
have pre-marital relations with her). The
King say, "Yeah, that right, I put out
there." Bunday! BUNDAY! So anyhow, he
.vent out. And the same time he went out,
another fellow come behind him, you know,
they call Jack. And this boy wicked, Boy,
he wicked as he (ell), ain't that true?
Don't argee me. (Gay falsely imputes a
critical attitude toward Jack's "wicked-
ness" on the part of the audience.) They
call that mankee tankee (?) to see us some
againi. Ahem! So this boy they call Jack
read this invitation. He say, 'Anyhow,"
he say, "I'll take a chance, Master," he
say, "but nevertheless," he say, "if you
don't see nothing," he say, "I ain't get
nothing," he say, "but if you see any-
thing," he say, "I get it." Say, "Alright,
Boy," he say, "since you want the chance
Damn, Jack going. He travel. He going
choosy. He take a three arrow(s) in he bag
(the sailbag that every Bahamian fisherman
carries), and he going up in this tree where
the giant live. Now his foundation where
the giant live, you know, where the
giant live. Now his foundation where
he live, I ain't tell you no lie, cause vou's
laugh if I wasn't to tell you the truth, little
daughters, Greenleaf and Maddy Glass.
Greanleaf is the prettiest goil (girl)." Jack
say, "I love that goil! Well, I love that
goil, so this is the only possible chance
that I could get into her," something as
how I love that goil there. (The narrator
leers at a shy adolescent girl in the
audience, and she becomes the picture of
confusion). I. love you, Baby! "So this
was the onliest possible chance that I could
get that goil now, is to try to kill this man
by the name of Marble." So don't go,
Honey, don't go yet. (The narrator
addresses the shy girl, while the audience
laughs.) "Try to kill this man by the name
of Marble." So anyway now, OK. Well,
Jack went out. The King said, "Anyhow
you going, you remember me, if you kill
this man by the name of Marble, you will
marry with my daughter Greenleaf." Bouky
hear of that thing. Bouky come in. (The
audience laughs.) Bouky say, "Master
King," he say, "What is this thing I heard
about you?" The King said, "What is it?"
I heard that the man in the land (is) eating
up all the people." The King say, "Sure!
Can't get him killed. Oh me, Bouky." "Oh
me, Bouky! I as big as he is, I is, me,
Bouk', I'll kill him. Now I sure I could
kill Marble, but I was a (proven) man
already, 01' Bouk', you got it (the solution)
Master King!" He coming back with the
same cry that the soldiers come back.
"Send me and I'll kill the man." "Aye,
Bouky, go and kill the man, and if you kill
the man, you will marry to my daughter
Greenleaf. That'll be your present, and I'll
do my best toward you and her.s "Yeah,"
Bouky say, "Ahhh, God damn, that a
thing Bouky like, God damn Now
Boukyv done (don't) kill the man just like
he done said yet, but it just like he done
kill him (in Bouky's mind). The King said,
"Alright, go ahead then, Bouky,"
That time, Jack was two days ahead.
Alright, Jack been two days ahead. Jack
come to this Marble in the tree. Marble
is in the hole, and Jack was in the tree.
Jack went through the land, and before
he met the Marble (the narrator sings), "I
want a Marble in the land, low down, low
down; Kill ten thousand man at a blow,
low low down, low low down." Every
5. This sentence could have come from a Bahamian parental letter giving a requesting
suitor permission to court a daughter of the house. An exchange of such letters functions
as an engagement and as a contract.
bigger than the island, YEAH! the whole
Bahamas Island, but that's the tree growed
there, and that where he live. You know?
So this day the giant went out and the
boy had chance to get in the tree. When
he get in the tree, the giant come in that
evening; Hmmmp, he start to raising hell
you know, saying he smell a little blood
and things offl a Englishman, but afterwards
he never did look up, cause he never did
know that sunrise near.6 Haw Il The little
boy sit down, he sit down on the ground,
he get he something to eat when he done.
As he get going together knocking with
this boy up in a tree, take he arrow,
ah! (incomprehensible phrase). The
first one he throw down, he throw on the
giant head. The giant say, "By Goorymee"
say, "Damn, since I been in this country,"
say, "nothing never bit like this yet."
Say, "Where the hell these sand fly mos-
quitos come from, kicking (biting) me like
this. Hmmmp." Anyhow, take a nap.
Sunday! BUNDAY! BUNDAY! Anyhow,
giant take his nap, all the hair (air?) started
talking, "I do know, I do know, I do know
I do know I do know I do know cause sand
Ily sand fly sand fly sand fly." (The buzzing
of the insects.) Bunday! BUNDAY! So any-
how he did went to get a nap again, any-
how, but the boy wake him up. He throw
another arrow, and he throw at the same
spot. Bunday! So the giant say, "These
damn doctor(?) fly fooling around with me
and things, I don't know what the hell
wrong with them out there," he say, "but
anyhow, I going try this now. Anyhow I
try to get this." Well, before he could finish
his nap, the boy throwed another one in
him, and that cramp him.7 He fall. What's
that! (incomprehensible comment from the
audience.) So he falls (over). After he fall
(over), he fall to the ground (out of the
tree), he lay down. So the boy wait for
about ten or fifteen minute, he come down.
IHe look at the giant, he say, "Yeah, damn,
I got him.
VI. TEETH AND
Now this giant got a set of ivory teeth
in he mouth, that the King want, you see.
They value money (are worth money), not
the scrambling, I talking about the teeth
time the Marble shove his fist, there's a
hundred and ten thousand man gone. Aye,
John Went Brown, Jack look, he see the
Marble down in the hole. Jack standing
in the tree. That's the Marble down there.
Take an arrow there, and didn't stand,
but didn't stand, but he throw down the
hole. Wham! (a loud report like a gun.)
Marble scratch he head. "By damn, the
first night I been here the mosquitos start
biting me." He thought the damn mosquitos
biting him. Another damn bullet in he
head. Say mosquito biting him. Jack shove
the second bullet in him. Ram! Ram!
Deadly poison bullet now. They
different from (those) the soldier had.
"Damn, by damn, he said, "sand fly is
thick this evening." lie rub all his arm and
things. "One biting my head," he said,
"and one biting my shoulder," he said,
"that give me damn many to feel itch."
Aye, God, Jack didn't stand, but Jack
stitch another arrow again, and he shove
him again. Ram! "Oh damn," he say,
"things getting too tough for me. "God
damn," he says, "I got to quit the hole.
God damn it." And you know how the
Marble count a damn doing then. (i.e.,
"you can imagine how Marble disliked
doing that.") So he lift up his tail then,
and start making for the hole, and when
he get to some other hole that he dug
hisself, Jack throw another arrow down on
him. Ram! "God damn it, and I lick the
Marble down in the hole." Marble say, "I'm
down. Who I'm down by I don't know, but
I'm down Enough."
TONGUE As PROOF
The King now; as they were coming, the
King tell them all he want from the
Marble, to prove that the Marble was killed,
the Marble was a man having a golden teeth
6. This is a parody of the flowery metaphor of preachers describing death.
7. "Cramp" suggests death while swimming, a common death for fishermen. It is so
liared that Bahamian women are discouraged from sea bathing, and are often unable to s mit.
now, they value a couple million and
thousand and t'ing in it, you know. So the
boy taking he little pocket knife and he cut
out them teeth, and he put in he sail-bag.
Hmmmp. Now he make out he t'ing again.
He say, "Anyhow," he say, "I tell you
what I going do," he say, "I going home,
with these teeth.
The little boy they call, you know, you
know who I mean. YEAH. You know who
I mean? YEAH. Uhhh, so he say he going
take a travel to walk with this boy to see
where this giant is in the land too. "Some
day," he say, "He'll get by." Bunday!
BUNDAY! So anyhow, Anansi walk, walk,
walk. He get in this land, the man done
dead six week ago. Ummm, what Anansi
do? Now he a big strong man. Boy, Nansi
strong, don't fooly him, he big strong as
hell. Damn, the man done dead six week
ago. Nansi didn't stand. Nansi, he take he
name (he has his reputation to keep up).
you know, he come he knife in he pocket,
well, little knife, you know, little little little
sport; I think I got one here myself what
t'ing Anansi own. Wait awhile. I going show
it to you now. You think I lie? See here.
(The narrator produces a small penknife
from his pocket, opens it, and hands it
around to be examined.) Damn, and he
make him champ, you know, but he
scared of that damn giant cause the giant
strong as hell. He don't know if the giant
dead or he sleep, but he want take a chance
at him. Hmmmp. Say, "Hot damn," he
say, "I think I going take a damn chance
at kill this boy, anyhow." Say, "Damn!"
He make the attempt but he jump back.
You know, he don't know how to chance,
cause the giant strong as hell. He say,
"Damn," and he made a couple attempts
at him, but anyhow, but he did juke (stab,
as with a fish grains) him in the head with
a knife, and fall down on top of him, you
know, hold him down. YEAH! Say, "Stay
down, God damn, Nansi got you. Stay
down, strong man got you. I hear you
strong, you damn giant, you. Stay down!"
And when he hold the giant down, the
giant been dead so long, you know, all he
wrist, he elbow, everything gone inside the
giant and everything, cause, you know,
just something like when a man in the
clear (i.e., dead), you know, that when he
and a ivory tongue. It was a special-made
man different from any other man. (The
audience laughs). Was made special for that
purpose. Jack take out the golden teeth
out the Marble, and the ivory tongue.
Different from that he hadden a brass
teeth, too, and a human tongue. (The
audience laughs.) Jack take out the golden
teeth and the ivory tongue. He went. He
went on his way going to the King.
Up come Bouky coming behind. He took
out the brass teeth and the human tongue.
God damn! He shove a couple bullet and
arrow into Marble too, and say he kill him,
but he meet the Marble dead. He take out
the Marble brass teeth and a human tongue.
"Well, I caught the Marble and I'm going
to the King with that forthwith, and I
know that I will be the husband of
Greenleaf, which is been wanting a goil a
long time." OK. Now, Jack went on his
way before him, but Jack tarry so long on
his way, that Bouky beat him to the deal.
Bouky went to the King first.
bury for about three or four weeks, and
you know how he is, he corrupted (decom-
posed). And all he see all that corruption
come up, he say, "By damn, he fat.8 Boy,
damn, this fat. Hot damn, I got him. I got
him, damn, this fat! Stay down, damn
strong man got you." Anyhow, he went to
work and he take out a little scramble of
what he could a find in he mouth anyhow.
So he put them in he sail-bag, and he going
up to the King.
VIII. THE IMPOSTOR IS REWARDED
When he get up to the King (the narrator
laughs suggestively), the King daughter
was upstairs.9 Now he feel so good herself,
he say, "You know what kind of greasy
God damn you got today," cause he done
kill the giant. Ha ha ha! That's a wicked
boy (approvingly)! Damn, you know, Bulla
(an "Africa" word of unknown proveni-
ence, said to mean "brother"), when he get,
he say, "Master King," he say, "I got
him! I got him, damn! This me, Nansi.
God damn! This me, Nansi." King say,
"Yes, you got him. Let me see what you
got to show from him. Well, he take out
he material out of he sail-bag, little
scrambling of teeth and things. The King
say, "Well, this got to be something off
of him, must be kill him for true. Like
this sol" So he say, "Well, Master, give
me the gal." He say, "Bulla," he say,
"the gal upstairs," he say, "but wait
awhile," he say, "I got to know how you
fixed." So what I want you to know, he
was a doll-up right, he was a doll-up right
to meet the gal. Well, he couldn't put up
too much of conversation with the King.
He say he had to go where the gal is. He
make for upstairs, but when he get up
there, the gal was to her bed. He say,
"Well Sister, you got to get up cause you
know, I done win you. I kill the giant."
He say, "What are you going do for me?
Fix me now, let me get me a little fixing."
The gal say (lisping), "But you got to wait
awhile." "No, damn, no wait, no damn
wait, no wait at all, no wait!"
When Bouky went to the palace which
is the King('s), which is called Buckingham
Palace, went to Buckingham Palace. Is the
same King now what are reign now.
Buckingham Palace, you understand, you
know what I'm talking about! Buckingham
Palace, he went to Buckingham Palace. He
ask the guard if he can see the King. Told
him, "Yes." Went into the King, said,
"Here is the Marble I killed. I have gain
the Marble golden tongue and he ivory
teeth," which it was brass teeth and a
human tongue. The King said, "Well, you
shall marry to my daughter seven o'clock
tomorrow morning." It was surprise to the
poor man, because he was a common man
by the name of Bouky, he was a common
man. "When I married to the King's
daughter, I ain't got nothing, but by the
King I'll live, because he got something,
and after I got married to his daughter,
I will live."lo "Seven o'clock tomorrow
morning, Mr. Bouky will marry to my
daughter." (The audience laughs.)
8. "Fat" foods, or what we might term richness or greasiness are highly prized in the
Bahamas. Hence there is a suggestion that Nansi intends to eat the giant.
9. The great majority of Bahamian houses have only one storey, and hence, an upstairs
is suggestive of wealth.
10. This paragraph reflects the importance of family approval and family financial
solidarity. At the same time, it shows a recognition of class distinctions on the basis of
both color and income, new to Andros Islanders, but frequent in New Providence. Workers
returning from contract labor in the United States are often discontent with their inability
to own the luxuries they have seen.
IX. JACK'S CLAIMS ARE RECOGNIZED
So anyhow, before he could get he fixing,
you know, this boy arrive with the teeth,
you call Jack. When the King behold the
boy, with these teeth, he say, "Well, this
the man for true. He say, "This the man
Eight o'clock that night, the message
went to him by the bodyguard, said, "Here
is the man by the name of Mister Jack,
he's here," and said, "he has brought the
golden teeth and the ivory tongue. What
you going do for this?" The King said,
"The Marble isn't had two of them. No!
Hie had one." He had two tongue in fact,
but it wasn't two of the special kind that
the other were. Anyway, the King said,
"Tell them to march up about seven-thirty
tomorrow morning." OK, cause the bride
doesn't get dress before seven o'clock,
won't reach the church before seven-thirty.
Seven o'clock Jack come back and meet
Bouky and Greenleaf done dress to go to
the dance, you know, churches He say,
"Master King," he say, "here is the
golden tongue and the ivory teeth I have
brought to you." He said, "What happen
to this, Mister Jack," he said, "and
Mr. Bouket" (aside), call him polite, you
know, he don't want call him Bouky, being
his son-in-law, Mr. Bouket. "Mr. Bouket
done brought me the ivory teeth and the
golden tongue." "It's a lie, Master King,
test these two." He tests them to see that
the tongue that Jack had was the ivory
tongue, and the teeth was the golden teeth.
X. THE IMPOSTOR IS EXPOSED
Say, "How Anansi get these scrambling, Said, "Now Mister Jack, I'll ask you this
and this the man now," say, "he bring opiniono, you all being a common man, see
the main ting." Well, Bulla, call Nansi what you all says. What would be the
down from upstairs, you know, and tell furthest step to take with this man, if he
him, say, "Now Nansi," he say, "listen," had been tolden a lie, what could be my
he say, "you kill the giant, eh?" He say, step now to take with him?" Jack said,
"Yes sir, I kill the giant," he say, "but "Your step, Master King, to take with
you got to fix me up decent now," he says, him," he says, "put him in a tar barrel,
cause you know I going to be married." light him afire, and just roll him down the
He say, "Well now you kill the giant," hill." The King said, "I think that's very
he say, "well, listen," he say, "well, these true. What I'll do now, I'll do that." Call
here what come out of this gentleman bag," up Bouky. "Bouky," he said, "what
he said, "this look different from yours; happen to the Marble, you kill the Marble
this the giant main ting now what I want." or you meet the Marble dead?" Bouky
Hie say, "Well, now this fix." He say, said, "I have killed the Marble." "You
"Well, listen," he say, "tell me something, have killed the Marble and you have tolden
11. This slip of the tongue suggests Mackey's hierarchy of values. The bridal procession
from house to church, and followed by an all-day dance, is the ritual among the Catholics
and Anglicans of Behring Point, but Baptists are married in late afternoon.
Nansi, why is that bha2 so?" "Hush your a lie. And what I'll do now, just put you
mouth, Master King," he say, "I fix like in a tar barrel and light you afire and roll
this," he say, "ain't you know that the it down the hill, and that would be a right
way the tailor fix me?" He say, "No, idea." Put Bouky in a tar barrel, light
Nansi." He say, "Listen Boy, Jack." He him afire, roll him down the hill.
say, "Yes sir." He say, "Take that damn
t'ing out of Nansi pocket; see what the hell
that damn t'ing he got like that so." And
that boy take that damn t'ing fly out,
damn! He say, "Nansi," he say, "why you
so lie so damn much and wicked?" Nansi
say, "Hush your mouth, Master King." He
say, "You going take him away. Away with
him!" Carry him a little way down the
road. Anansi, you know what he do that
damn soldier, he kill ten thousand and nine
of them afterwards. (The audience laughs.)
XI. FORMULAIC CLOSING
And I was passing by, and I meet the Jack and Greenleaf married in peace, live
boss man on the way, and what you think in a piece of candle grease. It was surpris-
he say to me? Say, "And that's why you ing to everybody to see how those two
can lie so to your Master." That's the couple live. Now who don't think my old
truth, so they call me. Hey! Eu! story is true, just can ask the captain of
the longboat crew, and ask Bernard,13 he
upholds me; he could tell you better.
(Bernard Wallace replies, "Thank you.
Form in folklore may be defined as those elements of structure and organization
which set one body of stories off from another in the minds of the narrators and
their audience, or by some means of scientific analysis. Bahamian old-stories are
differentiated from riddles, anthems (sometimes a kind of ballad, sometimes a
hymn), or literary stories by a series of conventional forms. These include the
various functions of the cry "Bunday!" as well as formulaic openings and closings,
the inclusion of "sings," the use of tall tales and "a lie upon a lie," the stringing
together of motifs in a variety of combinations, and the use of stock names without
stock characterizations. These elements are the materials of the old-story talker,
and the ways he employs and embellishes them may be termed his style.
"Bunday Il" or one of its surrogates nearly always appears at the beginning of
each old-story to quiet the audience and to direct attention to the talker. Both
narrators employ it in this fashion, as do most other Andros Islanders. In the body
of the story, "Bunday!" is the answer to the narrator's question about the name
of the King and "what everybody will say." It is used to provide a parallel to
12. "Bah" is a Yoruba word meaning "to hide," and a Mandingo word meaning "big."
Either meaning fits the context, which is the climax of the extended play on the word
"fix", referring to Nansi's being "fixed up" sartorially, "fixed" financially, "fixed" in
the sense of having large genitals, "getting a little fixing" meaning sexual intercourse, and
being "in a fix" with the King.
13. It is unusual to call on a particular member of the audience for responses, and
is considered a compliment. Bernard Wallace is a 17-year-old relative of both narrators.
the experience of a character, as when the sleepily spoken "Anyhow, take a nap,"
is followed by a loud "Bunday!" just as the nap is disturbed by the bites of the
insects that in reality are arrows. "Bunday" expresses approval of the action or
personality of a character on the part of the narrator. "Alright," "Ehhh!" and
"OK" are used similarly to "Bunday!" but with less intensity and without requiring
an answer as strictly as does "Bunday!" These expressions tend to be used as
markers for the end of one thought and as a "breather" while the talker prepares
the next thought. In view of the existence of this mechanism, an aside by Albert
Gay can be seen to be stylistic, and allowable only because of the special require-
ments of so broad and rapid a style. Actually, a wide range of variation will be
seen to be an integral part of the form of Bahamian old-stories. At one point the
audience, in the person of Zeke Mackey, refuses to give the required answer but
substitutes a weak "Yeah. This is not an attempt to detract from Albert's story,
but rather to keep him talking the story rather than commenting on it. Another
example of this speed-up technique occurs at the end of Albert's story, when he
answers his own "Hey!" with "Eh!" This insures a suitable ovation to mark
the end of the story, something like a performer applauding for himself as a sign
to the audience that applause is welcome. "Bunday!" and its surrogates provide
the Bahamian old-story talker with an invaluable means of gaining attention, and
capable of an infinite variety of effects.
Although Parsonsi4 found rigid adherence to the formulaic openings and
closings of old-stories, contemporary Behring Point talkers take as great liberties
with them as they do with "Bunday!" Compare the formulaic beginnings of both
stories with the "standard" form most frequently encountered, "Once upon
a time, not my time but in old people time, when they used to take
fish scale to make shingle and fish bone to make nail. Mackey uses the
formaulaic denouement of the tar barrel, while Gay originates an ending in keeping
with his character's personality. The formulaic closing which begins "And I was
passing by was considered by Parsons to be the sole opportunity for individual
variation in old-stories. This variation is called a "flourish," and allows the talker
to authenticate the happenings of the story by putting himself at the scene. A
"typical" formulaic closing of this kind would be, "And I was passing by, and
I say, 'You shouldn't ought to do like that, Mr. Jack,' and the kick he kick at me
kick me here tonight to tell you this great big wonderful lie." Albert Gay goes this
one better by placing himself and "the boss man" both at the scene of the story.
In spite of the use of "Master" the "boss man" was Albert's designation for me.
Thus Albert uses his technique of answering falsely imputed criticism as a kind
of artificial audience response. At the same time he brought both of us into his
story, and made a joke at my expense.
Mackey varies the formulaic closing, "They married in peace, lived in peace,
and were buried in a pot of candle grease," but he has to make a social comment
on it. "Who don't believe my old story is true, ask the captain of the longboat
crew," is another formula, but asking authentication from Bernard, a member of
the audience, is Mackey's own technique of audience participation.
14. Parsons, E. C., Folk-Tales from Andros Island, Bahamas, Memoirs of the American
Folk-Lore Society, Vol. XIII. (Lancaster, Pa. and New York: American Folk-Lore Society,
1918), p. x.
The "sings" that are inserted in stories are another example of the wide range
of variation not only allowable but prestigeful among Bahamians. A story may
have as many as five different "sings" that can be inserted at one particular point
in the narration according to the taste of the narrator. Usually these "sings" have
some words or phrases in common, but the ideas expressed and the music used are
radically different from talker to talker. Great interest is shown by talkers on
hearing new "sings," but I know of no example of a newly heard "sing" being
adopted. There is a feeling that one's own "sings" are "right," especially within
family groups such as these Behring Point people. However, in a situation where
people are less tensely conscious of their antecedents, new "sings" are readily
accepted, according to the native New Providence islanders, who consider
the Andros people provincial. As a result, the "sings" of the talkers from
Behring Point tend to be the same or similar, and variation seems to increase with
distance. However it must be remembered that in spite of the inaccessability of
most Bahama islands, there is a great deal of inter-island contact through the
omnipresent fishing boats. I believe further study would indicate a wide distribution
of most "sings" as it has in reference to the distribution of old-stories,1'
These "sings" are often hummed or sung by women at their work, and thus
partake of the nature of folksongs. The music seems to derive most of its effects
from Moody and Sankey hymns as sung in the West Indies, a melancholy quality
combined with strongly stressed rhythm and a variety of effects taken from part-
singing and from popular music. Another feature of some "sings" is the so-called
"talking in tongues." All or part of the words of the "sing" are made up of
nonsense-syllables that have a pleasing sound when combined with the music. An
example would be, "Voon, marimpa teya, voon. Often recognizable words are
used for the same effect, as the "low down, low low down" refrain. While such
effects are very much appreciated it must be noted that a story is considered
complete without a "sing" of any kind, at the discretion of the narrator.
Tall tales are inserted in many stories as part of the description of characters
or situations. The typical form includes the impossibly exaggerated description of
an object or person in the story, then a claim that this is the truth, then a statement
such as "If I was to lie, I tell you the ship had 8,000 storeys above the water,
but I tell you true, it had only 3,000 storeys. This may be termed "a lie upon
a lie," using the Bahamian idiom. Tall tales in single form also occur frequently,
for example, concerning the tree that is bigger than the whole Bahama Island.
Even here Albert piously vouches for the truth of his story.
The major element of form in Bahamian old-stories is the motif. Stories are
never titled, but a given set of motifs are thought of as fitting together. As with
other aspects of form, there is much conscious variations, and even borrowings
from other motif-complexes. Mackey's motion of "deadly poison bullet" as well as
the concept of a giant living in a world on top of a huge tree, and one who "smells
blood and things off a Englishman," are borrowed from familiar old-stories, the
latter a version of "Jack and the Beanstalk."
The concept of characterization in old-stories seems to fall between form and
style. Technically, Bouky, Anansi, Jack, Greenleaf, and even the King and Marble
are stock characters. Bouky is so well known that his very entrance gets a
laugh. Nansi is still a kind of trickster, as in Africa. But the confusion comes
when we find Bouky in Story B in the role of Nansi in Story A. "B'Bouky", which
means "hyena" in Wolof, is the usual "fall guy" of old-stories, a man, boy, or
goat lured into foolish actions by his insatiable greed. Nansi or Anansi, meaning
"spider" in Twi and Ewe,16 is usually clever and conniving. This latter characteristic
explains why Albert employs him as the imposter, while still retaining the Bouky-
like lack of control in his scene with the girl upstairs, and later when the King
inspects his clothes. Nansi's "no wait, no wait at all" speech expresses
a well-known Bahamian sentiment also exemplified in the current folksong,
"Watermelon Spoiling on the Vine," and would be more typical coming from
Bouky. It may be noted that Albert approves of Nansi's "wickedness" as he does
of Jack's, in that both are crafty and self-seeking.
The concept of the King is perhaps less traditional than that of the trickster-
imposter. Mackey's King is George VI, and lives in Buckingham Palace, while
Albert Gay's is more similar to a King in a European story. But both are given
to low comedy gestures, and to unkingly expressions such as "Sure I" and "Jeez
Christ!" The King's tragi-comic plight is a popular situation in old-stories, and his
inefficient, inelegant actions are entirely consciously conceived by the narrators.
High position is respected. but is also open to ridicule. Formal manners are second
nature to Bahamians since so many of them have been house servants, so that the
ready availability of the King or lese majesty of saying "Hush your mouth, Master
King," are actually a convention to make the story go smoothly. The King has
guards who bring him messages, in Story B.
Jack is the hero of most old-stories. He is always described and referred to as
a "boy" and his youth, poverty, dirtiness and his Negro race all serve to intensify
the degree to which he is the underdog. Sometimes he wins out by charitable actions
that result in magic gifts, but more often, he is a trickster; in many stories he is
interchangeable with Rabby, Anansi, or B'Short-tusk.
Greenleaf, the King's daughter, is nearly always the heroine, and she has
very little to say. If the King has more than one daughter, the second is called
Maddy Glass, but Albert calls his heroine Maddy Greenleaf. Since she is "the
prettiest goil in the woild" she might be termed the Bahamian Helen, but unlike
Helen, she can be a figure of fun. Her classic remark, "Oh, but you got to wait
awhile," spoken in a limping drawl, is certainly playing up the humor in the
The giant and "the Marble" may be considered specialized versions of B'Devil,
the villain of old-stories. The giant says, "By Goorymee," which is the
Devil's euphemism for "Glory be" which he can't say, "because it be praising his
enemy." "The Marble" has some characteristics of an animal, such as raising his
tail, and living in a hole of his own making. The fact that he is referred to as "the
Marble" suggests that his name is a descriptive noun, possibly "the marvel." In
another story collected in the Bahamas, children are killed and buried "in the
marble place," which is not a cemetery but a rocky wilderness. The hole where
16. Turner, L. D., Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect. (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1949), p. 51.
Marble is found suggests a burrow or warren, but more likely refers to
a "banana hole." "Banana holes" are a natural phenomenon in the Bahamas,
deep crater-like holes filled with rich loam in which grow lush vegetation. It is
possible to conceive one of these holes as a habitation. These "banana holes" are
similar to the "cockpits" of northwestern Jamaica.
Although not particularly apparent in these two stories, the usual pattern of
address for male characters is their name preceded by a sound best represented
by B' or Buh. This may be the same form as the "Brer" of southern United States,
and is thought to signify "Brother," or it's "Africa word" translation, "Bulla."
Even titles are preceded by B' such as B'Parson, but they are never used in
reference to women.
It has been stated above that style is the result of the way each old-story
talker uses and reworks his traditional forms. Every effort has been made to play
down the "quaint" aspects of Bahamian speech, since this is not a study in
linguistics. Standard spelling alone can not screen out the flavor of the Bahamian
idiom, with its lack of special possessive forms and of gender differentiation in
personal pronouns. But these and other features of speech are so consistent that it
is easy to become used to them, and to keep them from unduly influencing style
analysis. More difficult to screen out is the occasional lapse into "King's English"
that Edwards noted in 1895.17 These may explain the high-sounding words and
phrases, such as "Forthwith!" or "killed." Other unexpectedly elegant phrases are
"By the King I'll live," and "What may be it?" Bahamians are familiar with
legal terminology through the institution of the Magistrate's Court, where cases
concerning 25 or less are tried before large and interested audiences in open
court. Archaic pronunciation is a feature of the oratorical style of preachers. Phrases
or words such as "Behold," and "Away with him!" suggest that literary European
stories have been heard by the talkers, but it is improbable that they were read,
since Albert is illiterate and Zeke, while able to read a newspaper, has no access
to collections of tales, and would consider such borrowing contemptible. In any
case, high-sounding phrases are a frequent feature of Bahamian speech.
Ideally, recordings of the stories should accompany any discussion of style.
Only then can the quality of the acting be appreciated, and its exact functions
discerned. The talkers use a wide range of tone, pitch, and stress to dramatize what
they are saying, and to keep the attention of the audience. The words are spoken
with a variety of nuances conveying fear, lust, pride, disbelief, &c., beyond the
actual meanings of the words themselves. These effects are particularly illustrated
in Section V of the texts. They are combined with gestures, some subtle, some
extremely broad, a lifted eyebrow, a hand flipped over, an obscene shift of the
While both talkers employ these effects, Albert Gay is the recognized past
master, and the huzzahs are led by Zeke Mackey, who considers himself Gay's
leading disciple. Albert is a bright-eyed, snaggle-toothed little man, a fisherman-
on-shares, and the grave-digger of Behring Point. He is married to Muriel Wallace
17. Edwards, C. L., Bahama Songs and Stories, Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore
Society, Vol. III. (New York: Stechert, 1942 (reprint), p. 19.
Gay, a cousin of some of my neighbors, and his fame as a talker of old-stories was
so great that they insisted he come the 55 miles from Behring Point so that I could
hear his stories. They arranged his passage in a family-owned fishing boat. He
combined this pleasure trip with a visit to the Government doctor for treatment
of a serious foot disease that had already cost him several toes. His impressario,
Stanford Joseph Lewis, carefully explained that he was at his best late at night,
when he had worked himself up with an occasional tote of rum. This proved to be
the case, but he started off more highly-powered than any other talker. He had a
good deal of trouble with the microphone because the cord got in the way as he
"danced" his stories. In his short stay of two nights and a day, he recorded five
stories and lead a number of partially improvised "anthems," told riddles, and
sang hymns and spirituals. While talking old-story, Albert rolls his eyes, spits,
directs the story toward some particular person in the audience, sometimes stops
the story altogether and does a few rumba-like dance steps with his hand on his
abdomen like a girl, meanwhile humming or singing in his croaking voice.
Albert introduced a property, a knife like Nansi used, to the delight of the
audience, who strained to see it. He got a fine theatrical effect by repeating "I do
know, and "sand fly" over and over, to suggest the buzzing of the supposed
insects. He tends to use repetition of set phrases or words, such as "in the land,"
or "Hmmmp!" and varying them or their setting in many ways. He also repeats
sentences and phrases to accentuate them. He employs much more dialogue than
the average talker, and because of his vocal characterizations, the dialogue is very
much in the nature of theatre. To me it seems his particular forte. He also draws
scenes of genre life that are very effective; Jack eating his lunch, or Nansi confronting
Greenleaf upstairs. He has a taste for the risqu6 that appears in all his stories.
The extended play on the word "fix" is a case in point. Another favorite device is
reproving the audience for not believing him, even when they give no evidence of
disbelief. This technique is exemplified by the scene mentioned above where the
knife is shown as evidence.
Ezekial Mackey, Albert Gay's protege, recorded 22 stories, the maximum from
any informant. "Zeke" affects a small red beret or "bop hat" worn on top of his
head. Although very proud of this hat, he would always remove it for photographs
because "it make me look like a little monkey or something." A long-standing case
of conjunctivitis has given his eyes a blood-shot, red-rimmed appearance, and his
voice is nearly as cracked as Albert's. He came uninvited to the first story-talking
session, and initiated most subsequent ones.
Mackey's style owes much to Gay, and partakes of the same style elements
such as gestures, dance steps, a singling out of a particular member of the audience
(his leering, and saying, "I love that goil" is a prime example), and the use of
innuendo and theatrical dialogue. Some of Mackey's dialogues are almost
soliloquies, such as Bouky's speech getting up courage. Mackey stories are
slightly more logically consistent than Gay's, but this is not an outstanding trait
of either talker. Familiarity with politics, world events, famous people, money,
telling time, and social usages are more apparent in Mackey's stories, because of
his ability to read, and his five year residence in New Providence Island. He has
a great curiosity about unfamiliar or incomprehensible things. He tends to analyze
these confusing things in his own terms, and this is particularly devastating when
applied to nonsensical or fantastic conventional forms, such as "when they used
to take fish scale to make shingle," "John Went Brown, or "they live in a piece
of candle grease." He also analyzes the moods and emotions of his characters
at various stages in the story, for instance Marble's recognition of defeat.
These two informants have certain characteristics in common, both as men
and as story-talkers. Mackey learned many of his stories directly from Gay, and
there has been a constant interchange between them and other talkers of old-story
in their two communities. Both informants are deviants; both are extremely poor
and work only intermittently; both have a fondness for rum; both are sharply
intelligent and capable of being caustic; both are beloved and defended by their
friends; both are sentimental, demonstrative, extreme in gesture and thought,
unstable; and both are recognized as superior talkers of old-story.
It can be seen that there are no great style differences between these two
talkers, although the differences are significant of the amount of variation, and
more important, the kinds of variation allowed within the traditional forms. Since
both talkers are considered excellent by their audiences, they probably represent
a "fine art" level of old-story talking, as against the more pedestrian styles of
other adult talkers or the special stylistic devices current among children when
they talk old-story. It is particularly interesting that the personalities, experiences,
and tastes of the talkers are so apparent in their stories.
In view of the above evidence, I must disagree with Parsons' statement that
"The tales allow for individualistic variation, deliberate variation, only in their
conclusion."'s It is difficult to discuss old-stories in any but theatrical terms, but
if this is allowed, it would seem that the Bahamian old-story talker is at once
playwright, director, and cast, and that he calls upon his tradition for theme,
theatrical conventions, and a modicum of characterization. The effectiveness of the
old-story as an art-form is attested by its vitality among acculturated Bahamians
Bahamian old-stories often coincide, motif for motif, with European types.
The stories under discussion may be classed as Type 300,1' wherein the hero I (c)
kills the giant IV (f), and cuts out his tongues V (a) to use as proof against the
imposter V (b) who cuts off the giant's head (in these stories, "scrambling" or
"brass teeth and a human tongue") and claims the princess. The hero intercepts
the imposter on the wedding day VII (a) when he secures recognition by presenting
VII (c) the giant's tongue (or teeth). These six interrelated motifs constitute a
story separate in the talkers' minds from other rescue stories such as Type 302,
also recorded in the Bahamas, and concerning grateful animals, magic weapons,
transformation, and the ogre's external soul in an egg, as well as the descent into
a lower world, the hero's abandonment by companions, and a denouement similar
to Type 300.
18. Parsons, op. p. x.
19. Aarne, A., The Types of the Folk-Tale, translated and enlarged by Stith Thompson,
Folklore Fellows Conmmunieations, 1928, XXV, No. 74. (Helsinki: Snomnalainen Tiedeaka-
temia, 1928), pp. 46-47.
Edwards considers stories of European types to have been "translated" into
old-stories.2o There can be little doubt, considering the complex of motifs above,
that the two texts of this study came from European models. But as Hartland
comments, they are "the worst for wear."21 The major significance of folklore for
the anthropologist is not so much how stories are similar, but how and why they
are different. Bahamian old-story talkers tend to simplify the intricacies of plot
in favor of dialogue, acting, singing, dancing, and character analysis. The hero as
a poor shepherd has new meaning when he becomes Jack, a Bahamian Negro,
who wins the hand of the King's daughter. In Gay's story, Bouky was disqualified
even to compete, while in Mackey's story, the success of the imposter, Bouky,
surprises even him. Thus Jack's success is the success of the underdog, the much-
abused West Indian Negro, in spite of racial, social and economic inequalities.
Other specifically West Indian elements, in these stories include the bethrothal
promise, the marriage ritual and dance, the familiarity with "cramp" and the lack
of familiarity with weapons, the legal and highflown language, the consciousness of
the improbabilities of miscegenation, and even the prestige of gold teeth.
The complex of motifs are certainly European, and may have been introduced
to the ancestors of the present Andros Islanders in Africa by Portuguese, Spanish,
or English slavers, in the Carolinas :before the Loyalists brought their slaves to
Andros in 1783, or in Andros itself by Scottish, Bermudian, Bay Island, or
Seminole immigrants. The telling of tall tales is also European,22 as is much of the
Most interesting of all are those aspects of African life and culture that persist
in old-stories. The extended play on words, the use of a series of verbs to express
a complex action, the formalities concerning "Mr. Bouket," the inclusion
of "sings,"' '23 the patterns of audience response, the concepts of characterization
and many of the characters themselves, the guessing of the unknown name, and
the reference to riddles would seem to have come from an African rather than a
European background. Indeed, the giant with ivory teeth may well have been an
elephant. The elements that make this story "the worse for wear" are in reality
the very qualities that give it meaning to the Bahamians. It is significant that the
story in these two texts is unreported elsewhere among New World Negroes.4
Only thoroughly embellished and reworked versions, versions of which only rare
story-talkers are capable, have been able to catch the interest of West Indian
20. Edwards, op. p. 19.
21. Hartland, E. S., The Legend of Perseus, Vol. III. (London: David Nutt, 1896),
p. 11, footnote 2.
22. Botkin, B. A., "Liars and Lying Tales", Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary
of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend, Vol. II., M. Leach, (ed.). (New York: Funk and
Wagnall, 1950), pp. 617-618.
23. Waterman, R. A., and Bascom, W. R., "African and New World Negro Folklore,"
Leach, op. cit.. pp. 19 and 21.
24. Cf. Beckwith, M., Jamaica Anansi Stories, Memoirs of the American Folklore
Society, Vol. XVII. (New York: American Folklore Society, 1924), p. 115, story 90, for
ogre-killing by underdog hero and proof of tongues; p. 148, story 113, for other rescue
motifs. Cf. Parsons, op. cit., p. xii, for African origins.
Coco and Mona
WHEN I look out from my house in Mona towards the Port Royal hills, my eyes
meet two magnificent coconut palms. How often did I look at them without knowing
that some day I would spend some considerable time studying the word coco, and
that by some irony of fate this word should be coupled with mona, which means
in Spanish either the female monkey or a pretty girl.
After I had crossed the ocean and studied in the libraries of Madrid and Lisbon
the story of coco and its connection with mcna began to unfold itself and make up
a tale fascinating enough to be retold to the layman.
Long before the Portuguese under the intrepid leadership of Vasco da Gania
dared sail East round the Cape of Good Hope and found in India the "Indian nut"
they knew the word coca and its variant coca Coca was an old Portuguese word
inherited from Latin, where coca meant "several nuts" or "one big nut" Now
it is a cheap joke the world over to compare a aut with a head. In this way coca
came to mean "skull" We have only to think of our caps, connected with the old
cappa of which it was said that it got its name Irom caput "head", in order to
understand why a word for head was used to dernote a headgear. The particular
one used in Portugal was formidable enough. I hate seen pictures of the coca, a
black hood covering and hiding women's heads and face with black cloth. No
wonder that women so adorned should be feared 'my children and sometimes be
considered as witches even by grown ups.
Soon black hoods with slits for eyes were called coca, and at the same time
evil night monsters got that name. When the feast ot All Souls was celebrated,
children hollowed calabashes, cut eyes and a mouth into tae shell, furnished it with
burning candles and frightened other children and old maids with these noancitrous
cocas. Where there are witches, there are also sorcerers, and besides the feminine
coca came into being the masculine coco.
When the Portuguese sailors met with the Indian nut and considered the little
face at the base of the hard shell, they were reminded of their calabashes with the
menacing eyes and the mouth. Hence they called the Indian nut coco. This tale
can be pieced together from Vasco da Gama's travels (described in the Robeiro)
and from Barros Chronicle.
Meanwhile the Portuguese word coco had made its way to Spain, where it
still denoted a frightening figure, but in a rather vague sense; the associations with
hoods and calabashes had gone. In Spain they formed a verb cocar "pulling
frightening faces" which became very closely linked to the monkey or mono, mona.
Many texts of the Golden Age show this connection. So when the Spaniards first
saw the coconut on the shores of the Pacific Ocean-by the end of the 15th Century
there were not yet any coconut palms in Jamaica-the face on the nut was for
them a monkey-face, as chronicler Oviedo tells us. Name and shape fitted well,
and soon people believed the nut had originally been called coco because of the
monkey-face found on it. We know better, but many lexicographers have believed
this tale, and one finds in respectable books this monkey story as the true version
for the origin of coco.
Now our history of coco and its connection with mono has a fascinating
development in the 17th Century. Cocar and its synonymous expression hacer
cocos had lost all its association with anything frightening and simply meant
"pulling faces" "making gestures" after the fashion of monkeys. So we read in
the Diablo Cojuelo by Guevara, 1641, how damas and lindos (dandies) study the
expression of their faces and their postures in front of mirrors, not unlike monkeys,
and this was called hacer cocos. This passage in Guevara's book clearly reveals
that hacer cocos had made its way intc the mundane vocabulary. If we observe
these prettily dressed human monkeys perform before mirrors we can easily imagine
how a young galant would call a pretty girl he loves "my little monkey", and
that this term was reciprocated by her. So it came to pass that the word for monkey
(mono, mona) became in the course of time synonymous with "pretty" Now we
have seen how closely mono was linked with hacer cocos "making gestures" When
the word for monkey was promoted to "pretty", what could be more natural than
that the monkey gestures should transform themselves into "manifestation of
affection between young pretty people of both sexes"? This is indeed what has
happened, so that nowadays moxo, mona means both "monkey" and "pretty",
and that hacer cocos denotes manifestationn of love"
The transition from "to make gestures" to "manifest affection" is no isolated
occurrence. The gestures of the mime were once designated by mimar, a word which
now means "to spoil children by love" And there is a third instance of this in
Spanish, but to explain this would lead us away from our main theme which was
the entanglement between cowo and mona. And by a curious association we are
back at the scene described at the opening of this article.
Under the swaying coconut palms at Mona all the chronicles, the dictionaries,
the encyclopaedias, the focloristic material, tales of witches and cradlesongs which
had to be consulted before these pages could be written, seem far away indeed.
BPL( here it started, and here it ends.
J. A. BOROME
DURING the early morning of 1st April, 1895, a furious storm descended upon the
eastern end of Cuba. The angry, heaving Atlantic hurled gigantic waves against
the shore; rain fell in torrents. Slowly from the ocean shadows emerged a small
schooner, rising and falling as it approached the land. When but a few feet from
its goal, the swelling waters seized the vessel, drove it aground and capsized it.
An instant before, a handful of men had leaped into the waves and made for
the rocky beach. Scrambling to their feet, they heard a Spanish gunboat firing
upon the abandoned schooner, and speedily sought protection: in the brush that
lined the Duaba shore. In this dramatic manner did Antonio Maceo and his
companions return to Cuba to begin once again a military struggle against
Maceo! The name was a magic one. Born 14th June, 1845, in Santiago de Cuba
of a Venezuelan father and a Dominican mother, he combined in his being the
Spaniard and the Negro. His father, a prosperous commercial man, had acquired
three country estates; and in his youth Antonio was employed on the estates in
cutting cane with the machete and related agricultural tasks, and also in carrying
supplies to and produce from the country to town, on horseback.
He received a modicum of elementary education, sufficient for practical
purposes. Rugged outdoor training and parental emphasis upon moderation
accounted in large part for Antonio's development into a splendid figure of a man
almost six feet tall, with a large frame and broad shoulders. Muscle and sinew were
so balanced as to make for great agility in action and, in quieter moments, for
.asy, dignified bearing. His pleasures were simple conversation (he spoke slowly
to conceal a stutter) and dancing. Neither tobacco nor liquor passed his lips.
On 9th October, 1868, Carlos Manuel de CUspedes, in the Oriente region, called
upon Cubans everywhere to raise the banner of rebellion against Spain. The following
Jay the Cry of Yara proclaimed for the independence of Cuba. Cespedes freed
his slaves; several Cubans did likewise; and leaders and an army arose in the
Oriente region. Antonio Maceo and two of his brothers joined the army
(12th October). In time the entire Maceo family-sacrificing comfort to patriotism-
During the war that ensued Antonio Maceo rose rapidly from the rank and
file to Captain, to Colonel, to Major-General. He came by an extraordinary prowess
in the saddle and in the use of the few weapons that he possessed. In his hands
the machete became a weapon par excellence, and its swift and effective use struck
terror among the Spanish troops.
Spain, however, substantially supplied her forces and constantly increased
their strength, and they were able to ring the rebellion within the eastern portion
of the Island where the insurrectionists, not well equipped, turned .-perforce- to--
By 1878 the tide of battle had so turned against the Cubans, who fell to
quarreling as to whether they wished independence, autonomy, or annexation to
the United States, that a majority were relieved when offered a settlement by the
Spanish general Martinez Campos. They willingly accepted the Pact of Zanj6n
which provided among other things for the freedom of slaves who had fought
during the war, and for political concessions to Cubans.
Maceo and a minority absolutely refused to entertain any compromise upon
the principles of independence for Cuba and freedom for all slaves. They would
not lay down their arms. Although in an interview with Maceo, Martinez Campos
sought to persuade him to agree to the Pact, the rebel leader was soft-spokenly
adamant-and his corps supported him unanimously. Fighting resumed between
the Spaniards and the Cuban minority. The latter shortly gave up the highly
unequal struggle, and Maceo left Cuba to solicit funds and arouse interest in the
cause of independence.
His odyssey carried him back and forth from Jamaica (1878) to New York,
to Haiti (1879), seeking and visiting communities of Cubans, pleading for financial
support, but collecting very small sums. The Spanish Government kept a vigilant
watch on his movements and did not scruple to contrive his assassination. Several
attempts were thwarted.
Maceo was not wealthy and had a wife to support-Maria Cabrales, whom he
had married on 16th February, 1866. He settled down in Honduras (1881) as a
salaried Commander of the Honduran army. A political change brought his
resignation. In 1886 he turned to Panama. There he contracted to erect wooden
houses for workers flocking to De Lesseps' ill-fated canal project. In 1891, having
obtained a large land concession, Maceo turned to Costa Rica where he founded
and directed a Cuban colony in Nicoya that soon throve mightily upon sugar cane.
Absorption in business did not preclude cultivation of the mind. Keenly aware
of his limitations, Maceo sought to bridge the educational gap. In Honduras he
had taken private lessons in French, geography, public administration and history.
He continued to read widely (Cervantes, Heine, Hugo) and to develop and deepen
his views. Books and experience brought him to a detestation of dictatorship and
despotism, a firm vigilance against racialism, a hatred of imperialism, a belief in
free thinking, and an acceptance of anti-clericalism. Central to all his living and
ruminations was the desire to liberate Cuba and to see it launched as a republic.
In 1882 Maceo received a letter from Jos6 Marti in New York (with whom
he was not personally acquainted) about the possibility of a new war. From that
date began a collaboration which eventually included Maximo G6mez, who had
fought in the Ten Years War, had signed the Pact of Zanj6n, and had lived to
regret it. Their aim to free Cuba completely and finally.
Gradually, after many disagreements and disappointments, plans were set
afoot. When Maceo and his companions landed at Duaba in 1895, the second phase
of the struggle had opened.
After the men had landed and scrambled away from the beach, they had
become separated. Some were discovered, tracked down, and killed by enemy
troops. Others were brought to the brink of exhaustion by starvation. Maceo sur-
vived for five days on oranges alone. By llth April weak and barely able to walk
he fell in with a villager of Guayabal who guided him to insurgent forces that had
been building up at Vega Ballaca.
Meanwhile, Martf and G6mez had landed with a group. All came together on
The strategy of the 1895 planners was to bring the war home to every portion
of the Island. It was to be guerre d outrance. It must not be limited to a portion
of the East as it had been during the first phase.
This time the Spaniards again sought to bottle up the war in the eastern part
of Cuba. They erected a trocha extending from the northern to the southern shore,
across the centre of the Island, and fortified it to the hilt. All to no end. Maceo,
in a brilliant campaign, carried all before him in the East, then swept through the
great trocha-following G6mez, his Commander-in-Chief-and on to the West.
He outmanoeuvred the enemy at almost every turn. They built and repaired
trochas; he unobligingly broke through them. He eluded elaborate ensnaring
operations and snatched victory from situations that seemed to spell defeat. He
did not await opportunities, he made them. So mobile was his strategy that no
one could be certain where he would strike next.
The world sat up in admiration at his bold exploits. In England, in France,
in the United States individuals eagerly picked up their newspapers to learn of
the latest Maceo moves.
By January 1896 Maceo had reached the western -end of Cuba, and not
without having come within a few leagues of Havana itself-to the utter con-
sternation of Spain and her island supporters.
Inability to control the man on the white horse demoralized and depressed
General Martinez Campos, who indeed had barely escaped capture at the hands
of Maceo. Resigning his command, the general was succeeded (February 1896) by
Valeriano Weyler, more inclined to ruthlessness. Weyler Oinstituted the concen-
tration camp policy that roused public opinion in the World, Old and New; and
he pushed harsh measures punishing those who aided the rebels. Yet he was no
more successful in dealing with Maceo than his predecessor had been. The "Titan"
rode up and down the western end of the Island gaining recruits by the hundreds.
In December 1896 Maceo, summoned to a conference with G6mez in the East,
found a strongly guarded trocha from Mariel to Majana barring the way. On the
night of 4th December (again the sea was angry and it was raining) he and a
few trusties were rowed over the choppy waters of Mariel Bay in a tiny boat.
They advanced towards the outskirts of Havana.
Maceo became extremely depressed in spirits. On the night of 5th December
his deceased relatives appeared to him in a dream, speaking for an end to his
fighting. Try as he might, he could not entirely free himself from the mood of
On 7th December Maceo's slight forces reached San Pedro, a very few miles
from Havana. Plans were made to attack the suburb of Marianao that night.
After lunch-at one o'clock- Maceo relaxed in a hammock, listening to Chief
of Staff, Jose Mir6, read of their past military triumphs. Suddenly there were cries :
"Firel Firel" Shooting was heard. Maceo-momentarily stunned-was helped
from the hammock. Buckling on the belt that supported his machete and revolver,
he saddled his horse, shouted for his men to rally themselves, and hurried into
action. The fighting raged furiously between the Spaniards and the Cubans. It soon
appeared to be turning in favour of the latter.
Maceo, angry at having almost been trapped, now directed a fierce counter-
attack to annihilate the enemy. The redoubled thrusts began to carry the day. As
he prepared to dash into the centre of the Spanish forces Maceo touched Mir6
on the arm and said, "It is going well. Hardly had he uttered the words when
a shot rang out. Maceo for a second or two swayed on his horse, then plumped
to the ground. Quickly several aides gathered about him. A doctor examined the
wound. There was no hope. Commander Juan Manuel Sanchez supported Maceo
in his arms. Hoping to restore the breath of life he pleaded with fervour, "It is
nothing General. Do not fear." Maceo opened his eyes. His hands moved slightly.
Eagerly the anguished men crowded around. As they raised him towards his horse
that they might convey him to a safe place, a second shot rang out. It penetrated
the General's heart.
Desperate exertions to remove the body from the field by G6mez' son and
others were foiled by clouds of bullets that compelled the dismayed Cubans to
An eclipse of the sun then added to the gloom of the day.
After the Spaniards had retired, the Cubans returned to search gropingly for
the remains of the General. As evening shades hovered over the scene, they came
upon the corpse of Maceo, and next to it, that of G6mez' son. Fearful lest they
be defiled, should the Spaniards discover their resting place, the warriors bore the
bodies away under cover of night. At Cacahual, a Cuban family, sworn to
secrecy, saw to the secret burial.'
The world of 1896 that had often heard tales of Maceo's death, thought the
Spanish announcement of it mere wishful thinking. But scoffing and skepticism
vanished before G6mez' official confirmation of the doleful tidings. While millions
in Europe and the Americas mourned the passing of Maceo, Cubans everywhere
were preparing to place him in their unbuilt pantheon.
1. It was the Republic he laboured to have established that eventually provided a fitting
public burial and an impressive monument on the Malecon.
The Editors, Caribbean Quarterly
The article on "West Indian Reptiles" in the latest issue of Caribbean Quarterly was
of particular interest to certain St. Lucians. Mr. Underwood has suggested explanations for
the presence of the fer-de-lance snake in our island which, I think, deserves publicity.
There is an old legend here which attributes the introduction of the venomous reptile
In question to the planters of the early colonisation period. The latter are said to have put
the fer-de-lance in the forest area, in order to keep their runaway slaves from taking refuge
there. Apart from the inhumanity of such a step, it would seem to have been a case of
"cutting off one's nose to spite one's face" and I do not believe there is any foundation
to the story.
Another explanation has been recorded by Pere du Tertre in his Histoire Naturelle Des
Antilles Habitdes Par Les Franfois. In section VIII of Chapter II, entitled "Des Couleuvres de
la Martinique et de sainte Alousie" he relates the tradition then current, about A.D. 1654,
amongst the "Karaibes" of Martinique. The latter maintained that the poisonous serpents
there had been introduced by their enemies, the "Arroiiagues" Exasperated by the raids
which the "Karaibes" carried out on their settlements on the mainland, the "Arrofigues"
collected a large quantity of venomous snakes, put them in "panniers" and "callebasses",
took them over to Martinique, and let them loose. Du Tertre does not seem very convinced
of the veracity of this story, but the information which he gives in the section on poisonous
snakes and different ways of treating snake-bite is most interesting.
To come to Mr. Underwood's suggestions, it would seem quite plausible that St. Lucia
got its first fer-de-lance snakes either from cargo-carrying ships or from floating vegetation.
The harbour at "Carenage" (now Castries) was considered in the old days as exceptionally
safe, and many a sailing vessel put in there. Coining from Demerara, Trinidad or even
Martinique, one or more of them may easily have brought the parents of our present pest.
As for floating vegetation, there is definitely a sea-current from South America which brings
debris to the windward coast of St. Lucia at certain times of the year. A message-bottle
dropped in the sea off Brazil, was washed ashore in the neighbourhood of Cannelles some
time ago. I have also been told by a local botanist that specimens of South American
plants have been found here.
In case some of your readers would like to see du Tertre's words in the original,
I am appending them at the end.
REv. C. JESSE,
Extract from Ptre du Tertre's Histoire Naturelle Des Antilles Habites Par Les Franfois,
Chapter II, Section VIII.
DEs COULEUVRES DE LA MARTINIQUE, ET DE SAINTE ALOUSIE
Plusieurs personnel s'estonnent avec assez de raison, de ce que les Isles de la Martinique,
et de Ste. Alousie, 4tant situtes au milieu de toutes les Antilles, qui n'ont point de bestes
veneneuses, produisent neantmoins des serpens, don't les piqueures mortelles ont fait perdre
la vie & tant de Frangois, de Sauvages et de N&gres.
Quelques-uns croyent que cela precede de l'intemperie du climate: mais avec peu de
fondement, car il se trouve des terres voisines, et presque sous un mesme degr6 et paralelle,
oia neantmoins on no voit point de semblables serpens. D'autres croyent, avec plus do
probability que cela vient du terroir qui est extr6mement pierreux, et tout semblable &
celuy dans lequel les viperes de l'Europe se plaisent davantage.
11 n'est pas hors de propos de rapporter icy l'opinion des Sauvages sur cette matiere.
Quelques-uns d'entr'eux nous ont asseur6, qu'ils tenoient par tradition tres-certaine de
leurs peres, cela venoit des ArroiUagues, nation de la terre ferme, ausquels les Karaibes de nos
Isles font une tres-cruelle guerre. Ceux-l, disent-ils, se voyans tourmentez et vexez par les
continuelles incursions des nostres, s'aviserent d'une ruse de guerre non commune,
mais extrdmement dommageable et perilleuse A leurs ennemis; car ils amas-serent grand
nombre de ces serpens, lesquels ils enfermerent dans des panniers et callebasses, les
apporterent dans l'Isle de la Martinique, et 1a. leur donnerent liberty, afin que sans sortir
de leur terre, ils pussent par le moyen de ce4 funestes animaux, leur faire une
guerre immortelle.- (sic C.J.)
JAMES STEPHEN AND THE BRITISH
COLONIAL SYSTEM 1813-1847. By Paul
Knaplund (University of Wisconsin Press,
Men of high principle and strict integrity
always run the risk of being taken for
fanatics. Their convictions, because they
are strong, often alarm the timid. Their
consistency, to the unsympathetic, appears
to be no more than an obstinate dogma-
tism. Contemporaries misjudge them, some-
times harshly. There remains, however the
possibility that history may vindicate them
-as it seems now to be vindicating James
Stephen of the Colonial Office.
It is hardly surprising that Stephen
should have been accused of fanaticism. His
father, the elder James Stephen, a member
of the famous Clapham Sect, had taken a
leading part in the agitation for abolition
of the slave trade, and was regarded as one
of the extremists in the struggle for the
extinction of the institution of slavery
itself. The son, James, bred in the atmos-
phere of "Clapham" Evangelicalism, with
Wilberforce's sister for a step-mother, was
known to share the humanitarian sentiments
of his father. Indeed, when, in 1813, he first
began to act as legal adviser to the Colonial
Department, he did so in the hope that his
work might be of some service to the cause
of the enslaved populations in the British
West India Islands. After 1825, when he
joined the permanent staff of the Colonial
Office, he devoted much care to the revision
of unsatisfactory amelioration laws sub-
mitted by the unco-operative slave colonies,
using his official position to ensure that
the promised amelioration policy should be
more than a sham. Needless to say, he was
unpopular with the West India interest
from the first. As his influence grew, with
his promotions to the office of Assistant
Under-Secretary in 1834, and to that of
permanent Under-Secretary two years later,
be drew the fire of other groups, chief
among them the colonial reformers and the
systematic colonisers. One of the highlights
of Professor Knaplund's book is the
study of the clash with Edward Gibbon
Wakefield, over the constitution of the
colonising companies for South Australia
and New Zealand-a clash at once famous
and misunderstood in colonial history. It
serves to illustrate the peculiar bent of
Stephen's mind, his unfailing concern with
fundamental principles in government. his
independence in dealing with important
persons, his distrust of vested interest. It
indicates also how inevitable it was that
Stephen should become an object of hostility
and of attack. By 1847, when ill health
forced him to resign his post as permanent
Under-Secretary, he had become one of the
most abused men in England.
The times were partly to blame for
Stephen's misfortune in this matter, as
indeed the conflict with Wakefield suggests.
As Professor Knaplund points out, great
issues, affecting England and the colonies,
were being debated during the years of
Stephen's connection wiith the Colonial
Office, and tempers often ran high. Within
the space of a single decade, the discussions
of parliamentary reform in England, of
slave emancipation in the West Indies, and
of self-government in the Canadas, precipi-
tated the government rudely into action.
Ideas were shifting, and institutions with
them. Concepts of political and economic
organisation were being analysed, criticised,
remoulded. England was changing, the
colonies growing; and somehow, the Colonial
Office had to keep these two separate
developments in step. Issues of principle and
detail urgently demanded attention, yet
opinions differed as to the nature of the
problems involved and the means of their
solution. Certainly, the times were difficult.
It was the task of Stephen and his
colleagues to grapple with the difficulties as
best they could. The effort to deal with
them forms the core of matter around which
Professor Knaplund has built his book, with
Stephen as its central character: "Its
objectives" in his own words "are to throw
light on the British colonial administration
and to show how James Stephen sought to
steer the economic, social, and political
evolution of the colonies into channels
paralleling those chosen by Britain in the
second quarter of the nineteenth century."
The chapter heads indicate how wide was
the field over which Stephen ranged in the
course of this work. For they cover
land settlement and colonisation, slavery,
religion, church and education, shipping,
tariffs, trade, currency, banking, law,
courts, justice, and self-government in the
colonies. Using the law reports and minutes
of the Colonial Office, Professor Knaplund
has built up a vivid picture of the problems
of colonial administration as they appeared
and were dealt with during these critical
In his preface, he promises to let Stephen
speak for himself; and this promise he
keeps. The portrait of the man which
emerges is striking, though incomplete.
Stephen was a lawyer by profession, and
his reports show him to have been a very
competent one. The technicalities of law
never ensnared him, however, for his out-
look, as Professor Knaplund indicates,
was more political and philosophical than
legalistic. His mind was neither narrow nor
diffuse. He valued individual freedom and
equality before the law; he disliked coercion
and fought against all attempts to use law
as a buttress for discrimination. He -as
convinced that there are certain basic
principles of human relationship-it has
become usual to speak of them as human
rights-which no law should ever transgress,
since law exists or should exist to protect,
not to destroy them. His habit of mind
was humane; his political philosophy liberal
-shaped in part by the Evangelical, in
part by the utilitarian, tradition. His faith
in justice and mercy was sustained by a
profound religious conviction. His opinion
of human nature was formed by the
scholarly interest in history which gained
him a regius professorship in modern
history at Cambridge after his retirement
from the public service. It is impossible to
read Stephen's views, as they are presented
here, without reflecting how clear his mind
was, how consistent, and yet how flexible.
He possessed a rare combination of tech-
nical knowledge and philosophical con-
viction, with an intellectual distinction
which enabled him to hold the unity in
balance. Stephen achieved integrity of
thought, without rigidity of mind.
Professor Knaplund's book makes one of
its most important contributions by estab-
lishing how mistaken are the charges of
bias, obstinacy, and obstruction which have
been made against him. He appears, not as
the obscurantist official that Charles Buller
and Wakefield saw fit to paint him, but as
an honest, energetic, and thoughtful public
servant, fully conscious of the limitations
of the imperial structure within which he
worked, and of the necessity for its trans-
formation. The impartiality of his mind,
which has been questioned even by recent
historians, can scarcely continue to be
doubted. Professor Knaplund shows, for
instance, that, far from being unduly
favourable to the missionary societies, as
some writers have suggested, Stephen was,
in general, "very critical of them and of
their representatives. It has also been said
that Stephen tended to prejudge issues
involving the negroes in the West Indies
and indigenous peoples elsewhere. It is true
that he attempted to protect them from the
abuses threatened by European colonisation,
and that he was violently abused in conse-
quence. But, the recalcitrance of the old
West India society, and the will of the
planters to continue into freedom the system
of caste which slavery had fostered in the
West Indies, are shown too clearly in this
book to permit in future the argument that
Stephen was tilting at shadows when he
expressed distrust of the planter govern-
ments. His trenchant criticisms of minority
rule, whether in the West Indies or in
Wakefield's projected companies, were
solidly based upon past experience, and
upon the observation of human nature
which had convinced him, as it has
convinced many other acute observers, that
great and irresponsible power corrupts even
the best of men. He had enough independ-
ence to hold and express his views in the
face of critics outside of the Colonial Office,
and also in disagreement with his own
political chiefs, the aristocratic and strong-
handed Lord Stanley in particular. Yet
Stephen was a man by no means incapable
of changing his mind, willing to act
expediently where no important principle
was at stake, and with a firm grasp of the
reality of intractable social facts and forces.
He fully deserves the restrained eulogy of
the author, who speaks of him as "that
rara avis, and idealist with common sense.
It is a tribute both to his knowledge and
to his ability that after his retirement he
continued to be consulted by the political
heads of his former office; and in recognition
of his service, he was knighted and became
a member of the Queen's Privy Council.
It is nearly a century since James Stephen
died. But his fame is growing among
students of history; and it would be fitting
if, through this book, his achievement
could become familiar to a wider public. It
is a book which should be read by all who
are interested in the ends and means of
government. It gives us, not the whole
man, since Professor Knaplund disclaims
any intention to write a biography, but a
portrait of one of England's greatest civil
servants-this man. with his weak eyesight
and uncertain health, who, by sitting behind
a desk and writing, helped to shape the
destinies of an empire; who pursued
righteousness without self-conceit. Perhaps,
after all, he was, in his devotion to duty,
a kind of fanatic. It is to be hoped that
the interest in his work, which Professor
Knaplund's book is sure to arouse, will help
to create an increased interest in his
personality and life, and that the biography,
which Professor Knaplund has not written,
may soon be undertaken, that our under-
standing of James Stephen himself may
ELSA V GOVEIA