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COVER ILLUSTRATION :
Photo by David Lee
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
Photo by David Lee
IN many West Indian Islands, especially but not exclusively those under
Catholic influence, it is customary to keep the Festival of All Saints, or
Toussaint, by cleaning up and adorning with fresh flowers the family graves,
and illuminating them from twilight onwards with candles. In the evening
the family meet together at home, dressed in best clothes and visit the
cemetery, where they stand around the graves, talk, and meet friends and
neighbours. Prayers may be said by the more pious, and "chilibibi", a
mixture of ground parched corn and sugar, is eaten. This is so light and
dry that if a person eating it can be made to laugh, it flies out in all directions,
both through the mouth and the nose. Whilst the atmosphere of the cemetery
is generally one of quiet in any family sociability, it is sometimes an occasion
of rowdyism, since the adolescent likes to compete in the collection of candle
grease and may well raid graves for candles still burning.
Although the illumination takes place the evening of All Saints Day, it
can be more appropriately regarded as the eve of All Souls, since its content
comports to this festival, rather than the former commemoration of
the departed. From the point of view of folk belief the practice appears to
be one of many ways in which the spirits of the family dead are placated
and set at. rest, though one of the few which receives official church support
and approval. The photograph on the cover shows candles on the steps of
the house of a man who could not go to the cemetery but who wished to
welcome the spirits, regarded as abroad on this night of the year.
View of the entrance to St. Joseph Cemetery, Trinidad, with moon
above the Lintel.
Lower St. Joseph Cemetery. Bands of light are the appearance
under exposure, of candles being carried by hand.
VOL. 4. No. 2 DECEMBER, 1955
THE TEACHING OF HISTORY IN THE AMERICAS
J. H. Parry 87
FESTIVALS OF THE CALENDAR IN ST. LUCIA
Daniel J. Crowley 99
LAUNCHING A SCHOONER IN CARRIACOU
Bruce Procope 122
THE SHADOW AND THE SUBSTANCE
Rawle Farley 132
TOBAGO VILLAGERS IN THE MIRROR OF DIALECT
H. B. Meikle 154
QUATER-CENTENARY OF RICHARD EDEN'S 'DECADES OF THE NEWE
WORLD OR WEST INDIA, ETC.'
John A. Ramsaran 161
BALLAD OF CANGA
Eric Roach 165
Translation into Taki-Taki by Albert Helnan 167
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 169
ANDREw PLARSE, La Fantaisic Road, St. Ann's, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad BV.WI,
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The Teaching of History in the Americas
A Study of the place of National and Continental History in the
curriculum of School and University
J. H. PARRY
I-THE PURPOSE OF HISTORICAL TEACHING
UNESCO has for some years been concerned with the use and abuse of
history as a means of promoting international understanding. In the summer
of 1951 a conference of history teachers met at Sevres to discuss the problems
of their trade from this point of view. Despite inevitable and* natural
differences of opinion, the participants reached a wide measure of general
agreement. In the pamphlet' which summarises the findings of the conference,
the following significant paragraphs occur
"There can be little doubt that the majority of history teachers the
world over, called on to justify their work, would find common ground in
a single concept-that of training for national citizenship. The child is one
day to vote, perhaps to serve in the army, to pay taxes, to take a part
great or small in the working life of his native land, to carry out the duties
of a citizen. One of the special functions of history teaching in schools,
therefore, has been to help to develop in children a love of their own country,
and an understanding of its traditions and its ways of life; how the homeland
has become united or has freed itself from foreign rulers, how its system
of government has come into being, what are its distinctive customs and
traditions, what changes have taken place in its economic and social life,
and so on. A survey of history curricula in the schools of the majority of
Member States of UNESCO reveals that the teaching of national history
predominates at every stage of the school course, and is as evident in
countries with a decentralised school system as in those where national control
of education is far-reaching.
"This is understandable and reasonable. But the citizen these days must
concern himself with problems that transcend national frontiers. For men
now live on a globe which is shrinking and a world which is fast becoming
a closely inter-related unit. The swift growth of means of communication has
hastened the exchange of ideas and material goods between remote parts of
the world. Modern scientific progress holds out the hope of a better standard
of life for all. The forces of technical change, building complex industries
which draw their raw materials from the ends of the earth and distribute the
finished goods all over the world, have created methods of transport which
1. C. P. Hill, Suggestions on the teaching of History, Paris, UNESCO, 1953.
makes inter-continental travel a commonplace. Nation is dependent on nation
as never before. This dependence, clear in the friendly intercourse of peace-
time, has been driven into men's minds and hearts by the terrible argument of
war. Men must learn to live together, and the two world wars of this century
have brought in their train the first elaborate attempts to establish
permanent international organizations in the political field, the League of
Nations and the United Nations Organization. The League did not endure;
UN remains, embodying the political concept of the twentieth century, that
of constructive co-operation between the nations of the world. In this concept
lies an element of national citizenship which is vital to modern men"
The writer goes on to complain of past distortion of historical truth in
the interests of national pride, and to recommend history "properly taught"
as a means of inculcating and reconciling patriotism and international
As an analysis of an existing situation, and as a declaration of worth-
while aims, this statement no doubt commands general agreement. Its
assumption, however, that history teaching is necessarily a valid and effective
means towards those aims, is not so clear. History is the study of the doings
of men and women in the past; in particular, of the development of recog-
nisable groups or communities of men and women, measured along the scale
of time. The purposes of such a study have been defined in many different
ways, but three may be mentioned as pre-eminent. The first is self-knowledge.
It has long been a commonplace of philosophy that man should seek to know
himself. We study what men have thought, said and done, the better to
understand what man is. A second purpose is to provide an intelligible
account of the accumulated experience of particular communities, which may
help the members of those communities to understand and to deal with the
predicaments in which they find themselves; for communities, like individuals,
rely largely upon memory, upon experience, to guide their conscious actions.
The historian is the keeper of society's memory. Thirdly, the study of history
is undertaken as an intellectual exercise, a training in the practice of
discovering, arranging and interpreting evidence, in order to establish
conclusions which shall command agreement, or at any rate respect. The
usefulness of such a. mental training for those who are concerned with the
conduct of public affairs hardly needs demonstration. It is relevant to recall
the long list of eminent statesmen, from Thucydides to Sir Winston Churchill,
who have also been distinguished historians. Not all great statesmen wrote
history, but as far as we know most of them made it their business to read it.
History in the past, however, has usually been an aristocratic training,
the preserve of small numbers of people who were well-educated in other ways
as well. Nowadays public affairs are not necessarily, perhaps not even usually,
in aristocratic hands. Political responsibility is spread in varying degrees
through the whole citizen body and it may readily be conceded that the
intellectual qualities fostered by history ought to be correspondingly wide-
spread. The pamphlet just quoted makes this clear; but it makes, or implies,
other claims for the wide study of history. History is to be taught and used
to inculcate attitudes of will and emotion-loyalty and devotion towards one's
own country, friendliness towards other peoples-and to further a policy,-
the support of organs of international discussion and co-operation. It is this
part of the thesis of the pamphlet which raises doubts in the mind of the
working historian. An old fashioned positivist, of the school which exercised
so profound an influence in many parts of the Americas in the later nineteenth
century, at the very time when the study of history was coming into its own,
would reject it outright. Either history is a science, he would say, or it is
not. If it is not, then it is mere story-telling, a minor branch of literature,
or worse, of propaganda; it is not a serious discipline and probably ought not
to be taught at all. On the other hand, if history is a science, then it will
be objective, neutral. Understanding something, in a scientific sense, is not
the same as being devoted to it. A man will not necessarily be made a more
patriotic citizen by studying his country's history, any more than by studying,
say, its geology. This is an extreme view, of course, and one from which
historians have tended to retreat in the last fifty years. Nevertheless, many,
perhaps most working historians today consider their study to be scientific
and objective in some degree at least, and would regard it as an unsuitable
means to the ends which the pamphlet describes.
Although the procedure of the historian differs in important respects
from that of the natural scientist the study of history is in fact marked by
a considerable degree of scientific objectivity; and where the historian ventures
upon judgment, the rules of his craft require him to state the point of view
on which his judgment is based, and so rob him of the power to impose his
own opinions (or those of his employers) upon the inexperienced or unwary,
in the guise of objective truth. History "properly taught" therefore, is not
a suitable or effective vehicle of propaganda, even where the objects of
propaganda command general respect. How, then, can the teaching of history be
legitimately directed to the particular, and sometimes apparently contradictory,
ends of training in national citizenship and international understanding? Not,
to be sure, by abandoning the accepted procedure of historical investigation,
however much that procedure may have to be simplified in order to be
understood by the inexperienced. Still less by suppressing or distorting
historical evidence; no reputable historian would countenance such a sugges-
tion, and the participants in the Sivres conference explicitly rejected it.
Apart from objections based on moral considerations, the "noble lie" is
notoriously apt to be found out, and to recoil upon its perpetrators, however
public-spirited their intentions. The only legitimate way of directing historical
teaching towards stated ends seems to lie in the selection of subject matter.
Now, selection is an essential part of the historian's craft; one of his main
tasks is always the selection of the relevant and the significant from the
great masses of evidence at his disposal. What is vitally important is that
the selection of subject matter to be taught should be based upon the same
principle as the selection of evidence to be included in honest historical
research. It should consider what is relevant for the citizen to know, not what
is expedient for him to believe. This principle, to a gathering of competent
professional historians such as the present one, may appear platitudinous;
but we all know how rarely it is found to be consistently and rigorously
Of course we can have no guarantee that a system of history teaching
based on the principles here set out will foster national loyalty or encourage inter-
national good will. A detailed and objective study of the events leading to the
massacre of Drogheda will not create, in the minds of all Irish pupils, a desire
to know the English better. We must recognize that history-even true history
can be intellectual and political dynamite. All that we can be sure of, is that
history "properly taught" will tend to encourage an attitude of critical intelligence
in national and international affairs. If we want to create citizens who will be
docile and unthinkingly loyal, who will give no trouble to Government, we shall
be ill-advised to teach them history. If, on the other hand, we want a citizen
body to be well-informed, politically alert, vigilant for truth, resistant to
propaganda yet open to conviction by reasoned argument, able to weigh the
possible as well as the desirable-then we shall face the risks involved
whether or not we consider "my country right or wrong" to be a respectable
moral maxim, we shall so educate our young men that they may know
whether their country is right or wrong at any given moment in the past or
present; or at least be equipped to form a reasonable judgment in the matter.
II-THE CONTENT OF HISTORICAL TEACHING
The teaching of history appears to occupy a larger place in school and
university curricula in the American countries-iparticularly in Latin
America-than anywhere else except England (where history in recent years
has outstripped the Classics as the favourite basis of a liberal educ-+ion and
as a passport to the higher ranks of the public service). The UNESCO
pamphlet already cited remarks, of history teaching in the world as a whole,
that "in the most propitious circumstances history is only one of a large
and growing range of subjects which can stake a legitimate claim for
inclusion in the school curricula of an increasingly elaborate world. The child
who is taught history for four hours every week of his last years at school
is receiving quite exceptionally favourable treatment. For most children at
primary level, the principal task of most teachers is the development of the
basic skills like reading, writing and simple arithmetic, and in such circum-
stances history has to find its place in plans for teaching these skills; at
secondary schools level, two hours history per week is probably a generous
average. So far as generalisation is possible, the time available for the study
of history is almost invariably short and more often than not, desperately
The reports on the teaching of history published in recent years by the
Comisi6n de Historia in Mexico show that in most American countries at
least three and often four hours per week are devoted to history in most
school years. In Argentina-where no doubt the tradition of a series of famous
historian-statesmen has affected the prestige of the subject-the time devoted
to history at secondary school level is in some years as much as five hours
a week, more, in fact than to any other subject. In Mexican secondary
schools, also, history, geography and "civics" are highly favoured subjects.
In the United States, generalisation is extremely difficult, partly because
education is almost entirely de-centralised, and partly because considerably
more attention is given there than elsewhere to sociology and kindred studies.
Whether such subjects are suitable for teaching in schools, and whether they
can be regarded as serious academic disciplines, is a matter of discussion;
but at least they must involve some thinking of a historical kind, and they are
naturally studied in conjunction with history itself. In general, then, history
gets a generous share of time and attention in educational systems throughout
the Americas, and this should be a matter of satisfaction to those of us who
believe in the educational value of the subject.
We have seen that in directing historical studies towards the training of
useful citizens, the distribution of emphasis among different branches of history
according to their relevance is of great importance. Few would deny that
the most important requirement, from the point of view both of society, and
of the citizen's own happiness and inner harmony, is that he should under-
stand the history, the accumulated experience, of the community to which
he feels that his over-riding loyalty is due. This will be, as a general rule,
his native country; though impressive claims may be advanced in some cases,
on behalf of other communities-the particular locality in which he lives, or
the church to which he belongs. Then, he must know something of other
countries whose history has been closely connected with his own and whose
culture or policy has significantly affected his country's development. These
other countries may be associated under the heading of a common civilization;
or else geographically, as forming part of the same continent or being grouped
round the same connecting sea. Thirdly, there may be some grounds for
attempting to teach him something of the history of mankind over the world
as a whole, ambitious though such an undertaking may seem. And finally,
there are persuasive arguments for including in any history syllabus a period
of study of some community not directly connected with the student's own
country, but remote from it in space, or time, or both, as an intellectual
exercise and a stimulus to the imagination.
From the point of view of relevance to actual life (not necessarily from
that of intellectual training) the right division of a historical course between
local history, national history, regional history, and so on, is much more
important and difficult than, say, the division of a biology course between
botany and zoology-even if only because the effects of a wrong division
upon the minds of students may have serious social consequences. A
reasonable balance is the obvious aim. If we accept a rough division of
historical studies under the heads of the history of individual states, the history
of the continent as a whole and the history of the world, what is the present
state of the division in American countries today, and how-if at all-ought
it to be changed?
(1) NATIONAL HISTORY
"Nationality" is an ambiguous term. In the precise parlance of inter-
national law it means citizenship of a particular sovereign state; but it can
also be used loosely to mean membership of a nation, whether or not that
nation forms a sovereign state. For "state" and "nation" are not necessarily
synonymous terms, though governments, for patriotic and emotional reasons,
often use them as if they were. "Sovereign state" is a precise term, capable
of legal (and usually of geographical) definition. A nation, on the other hand,
though, it is usually fairly easy to recognize, is hard to define. The elements
which usually produce nationhood are race, language, religion, social tradition,
and political association under a common government; but none of these is
indispensable, and none of them will necessarily produce nationhood. The
basic test is, indeed, the sense of separateness and solidarity; nationhood
exists when those concerned believe in it. This statement, based though it
is on purely subjective considerations, is probably as near as we can get to
a working definition. The history of the last few centuries, especially in the
western world, shows that most groups of people who believe themselves to
be nations sooner or later evince a desire to form sovereign independent states.
Conversely, a group of people, though initially lacking common traditions,
if subject to a common government, whether as a sovereign state or as a
separate province of an empire, will probably, as a result of political
association or of deliberate propaganda, come in time to think of itself as a
nation. The study of American history is very largely concerned with the
working of these two processes--the translation of the feelings of nationhood
into political statehood, and vice versa. For this reason it is especially
important for us to be careful in our use of terms, and to be sure, as far as
we can, of our own accuracy and impartiality in defining topics for historical
study. For by the very definition of topics, historical teaching-often
unconsciously and without propagandist intent-can promote or retard the
processes just described. For the purposes of this paper, then, "nationality"
is used in its international-law sense, and "national history" means the
history of sovereign states. There can be little doubt that for most pupils
this interpretation corresponds with existing loyalties. It meets the require-
ment, already suggested, that historical teaching should concern itself with
the recording and studying of events, and should not seek to influence them.
It corresponds also, of course, to political reality for sovereign states are
the units with which we, as organizers of historical training, have chiefly
to deal. They pay for most of the instruction we impart, and they have the
power, if they wish, to prescribe what we shall teach.
In almost all American countries, national history predominates at nearly
every stage of the school curriculum. Almost everywhere it occupies more
than half the total time allotted to history. Many governments have enacted
formal legislation embodying requirements of this kind for the national schools
throughout their jurisdiction. In Mexico, the Constitution itself lays down
general principles of education; and the programme of instruction for primary
and secondary schools prescribes in some detail the way in which historical
teaching is to be directed towards the inculcation of patriotic and democratic
ideas (though it prudently avoids a definition of democracy, and specifically
warns teachers against racial, religious and other prejudices). In the
United States, the teaching of national history is complicated, in the publicly-
maintained schools, by the fact that education is the responsibility of the
component states of the Union, and not of the Federal Government. In general,
national history appears to occupy a rather smaller proportion of the history-
teaching time in the United States than in most other American countries,
and the proportion at present shows a tendency to decline. It varies greatly
from grade to grade. In the year 1946-47 for example, the proportion in the
seventh grade was 27 per cent., in the eight 76 per cent., in the ninth none,
(because "Civics" takes its place), in the tenth 7 per cent., in the eleventh
84 per cent., in the twelfth 32 per cent. Forty-six of the forty-eight states
require national history to be taught in the elementary schools. A minority of
states also demand state history, though the educational value of such a
field-narrower than national, wider than local, and highly arbitrary in
limits-may perhaps be questioned. Generalisation is difficult; for United States
education in all fields-not only history-is characterized by great diversity,
readiness to experiment, and a wide range of alternatives for the pupil's
choice. It can safely be said, however, that no pupil can pass through the
national school system without a stiff dose of national history.
In most American countries, elementary teaching includes instruction
in what might be called patriotic customs and courtesies. This, indeed, is
common practice in many parts of the world. It may be asked, however,
whether this very important instruction might not logically and conveniently
be detached from history courses and dealt with separately. The respects due
to national anthems, national flags and other emblems, and to high officers
of State (though they can be historically explained) are not primarily
matters of historical study. They are partly matters of conventional good
manners, .partly expressions of devotion. In this, as in all our teaching, we
should try to distinguish between our scientific and objective scrutiny of the
past (as far as we can make it so) and our proper and natural concern to
foster appropriate loyalties in the present and future.
To return to our main theme the historical development of the
Americas has three marked peculiarities. One is its comparative brevity.
No national state has had as much as two hundred years of independent
existence; some have had much less. Even if we push back the beginnings
of national history (as seems sensible and logical) to the beginnings of
European settlement and beyond, the span of systematically recorded history
is in no case more than about four and a half centuries. The second
peculiarity is that recorded history in this continent begins abruptly, with a
series of recognisable events-discovery, conquest, settlement. It does not,
as in the Old World, grow out of the mists of pre-history by slow degrees
in remote periods of time. The change from pre-history to developed recorded
history is achieved, as it were, in a sudden and relatively recent leap. Thirdly,
the other obvious major change in national development, the emergence of
independent states, also occurred abruptly. Of course, there were powerful
pre-disposing circumstances; but the actual events of independence took the
form of political moves, consciously and deliberately designed towards the
ends which they, in fact, largely achieved. Some of these moves took place
simultaneously in the history of a number of states; and most of them were
accompanied by extensive violence. These peculiarities must have profound
effects upon our teaching of national history. Let us examine each briefly
The comparative brevity of the period covered by the national history of
the American states, together with the relatively generous school time allotted
to it, make possible a study remarkable for thoroughness and detail. This is
true for all stages of education, in primary and secondary schools, and at
the universities. Probably in no other region in the world do young men and
women receive a more thorough grounding in the history of their respective
countries, than in Latin America. A number of university institutions offer
national history programmes of great distinction and orginality.
The second peculiarity of the American past-the sudden and relatively
recent leap from pre-history into recorded history-raises educational questions
of a different kind. The pre-history of the Americas is full of interest and
in some parts of the continent concerns communities of great complexity and a
high level of cultural achievement. Much of this achievement has survived in
recognisable form, and has even, in some places, continued to develop indepen-
dently. Many features of contemporary life are clearly pre-Columbian in origin,
and it is impossible to make a serious historical study of-say-Mexico, or Peru,
or Ecuador, without some knowledge of pre-history. It is much more important
for a student of Mexican history to understand the significance of Cholula or
TeotihuacAn, than it is for a student of English history to understand the
significance of Stone-henge. This obviously places an additional load upon
the teacher of history; for though the historian and the archaeologist are
collaborators in elucidating the past, they work with very different techniques;
and the American teacher of history, to be efficient, must to some extent
understand both. If the teacher has the qualifications and the time, and is
prepared to take the trouble, the situation has great educational advantages;
for the study of pre-history, based upon the examination of concrete objects-
buildings, artefacts and the like-provides a valuable and welcome comple-
ment to the study of history, based as it is upon written records. The
importance attached to pre-history naturally varies greatly from country to
country, as do the opportunities for such study; it deserves to be even more
widely recognized than it is at present in many countries as a valuable
Pre-history obviously cannot be fitted neatly into any scheme of national
history; it can be taught more profitably on a rather narrowly local scale,
particularly to young children. Young children naturally have a much clearer
picture of their own district, which is real in their experience, than of the
national state, which to them is rather an abstraction. Visits to local pre-
historic sites, together with stories about the people who inhabited them,
provide perhaps the best of all means for inculcating historical imagination
and a sense of time-faculties which are not natural to young children, but
which are clearly essential for the study of history proper.
The third characteristic of the American past, the dramatic yet deliberate
nature of the events leading to independence, is common to almost all
countries throughout the continent, and in almost all countries has affected the
handling of national history in the same way, though in differing
degrees. Throughout most of the nineteenth century historical teaching,
and writing intended for teaching purposes, in the Americas was
coloured by a suspicion of Europe in general, and particularly of the
European countries against whose governments American independence had
been asserted. Suspicion in the political field was no less intense, because
accompanied by a genuine admiration and affection in other fields. Today
that suspicion is almost extinct, and even school text-books display, in
dealing with the events of independence, some of the objectivity which serious
historians have always maintained. There is a portrait of George III in the
White House and a statue of George Washington in Trafalgar Square. The
story of independence still occupies an extremely prominent place in history
curricula in schools throughout the continent, as is natural, since for most
American countries independence was a uniquely important event. The many
factors of continuity between old imperial province and new sovereign state still
tend sometimes to be overlooked; and the part played by individual leaders of
the independence period still tend to be exaggerated. Of course, the place of the
individual hero in historical development is a matter about which historians
have always argued and always will argue. Educationally, the cult of the
national hero has its merits, for the instinct to "praise famous men" is
spontaneous, natural, and right. It has also its dangers, and the most obvious
danger is that of defeating its own purpose. A boy who is encouraged in
uncritical hero-worship at school is likely to react by an equally uncritical
"de-bunking" when he becomes an undergraduate. We do no dis-service to
the memory of great men if we teach our pupils to see them steadily and
see them whole.
(2) CONTINENTAL HISTORY
The concept of national history, as we have seen, presents relatively
little difficulty, provided we are clear in our minds about what we mean
by "national" National history forms the core of history teaching in most
countries, and must do so. We now have to face a much more difficult
problem how best to introduce the student to the history of a community
wider than that of his own country. The term "community" is important here.
History is the accumulated experience of communities. It is highly confusing,
and probably fruitless to expect the student to learn the histories of a number
of national states as parallel, but separate and largely unconnected stories.
He must be presented, as far as possible, with a single, coherent (though
doubtless highly complex) story. We have to seek a community of
communities-a group of peoples who have reacted upon one another (and
upon the pupils' own national state) for a considerable period of time, and
who have been more closely connected with one another than with other
peoples outside the group. The most obvious principle of grouping is
geographical; but mere physical contiguity does not necessarily mean ease
of communication, and certainly does not of itself prove the existence of a
sense of community. There must be other connections as well-religious,
cultural, economic or diplomatic, or a combination of these-and these
connections must be reasonably close and enduring.
We need not necessarily seek common political arrangements. Few would
deny that the peoples of Europe have long formed a genuine community
of communities, with close economic and diplomatic ties, a common culture,
and a common religion (though with significant variations). They have
reacted upon one another, bargained with one another, copied one another,
fought one another, for many centuries. That they have never succeeded in
achieving political unity, or even in creating enduring machinery for discussion
of common problems and disputes, does not matter much for our purpose.
The point is that the histories of European countries are inextricably inter-
twined, and therefore Europe itself has a history, which can be taught and
profitably studied. A similar, and even clearer example is supplied by ancient
Greece, which certainly formed a very close community of communities
despite the jealousies and wars which divided its many city states one from
another. The American peoples, on the other hand, do at least possess a
common organisation for discussion. But the existence of the Pan-American
Union does not necessarily mean that the Americas, as a whole, form a
suitable unit for historical study. It shows that many responsible leaders
think that all the American states ought to form a community of communities,
It is prima facie evidence that they may be so regarded as doing so at present.
It does not prove that their histories have been closely inter-related-though
they may have followed parallel courses-for any considerable time in the
past. It is with the past that we, as historians, are concerned. We must, as
always, avoid reading into the past our ideas of what we would like to
see happening in the present or the future.
In my opinion there are serious intellectual difficulties, as well as difficul-
ties of organisation, in teaching American history on a continental basis.
This does not mean, of course, that the attempt is not worth making; but
the pattern seems too complicated, the various national histories too separate,
the connections between them too tenuous and irregular for easy handling in
a history of manageable length. It is a commonplace, of course, that both
in colonial times, and in the nineteenth century, many American countries
were in far closer cultural and economic contact with Europe, than with
each other. In the twentieth century, the growth of the Pan-American idea,
the economic preponderance of the United States, the development of air
travel, the weaking of Europe by inter-necine war, have all in their different
ways fostered the growth of an American community; but these are relatively
recently developments, and recent history is always an awkward subject to
teach. In any case, the indications are that a weakened and divided Europe
is as much a factor in American policy in this century as a strong and
confident Europe was in the last. The isolation of the American continent
has sometimes been a policy, but since 1492 it has never been a fact. It is
perhaps worth inquiring, therefore, whether there are not more realistic
alternatives to general American history. One such alternative might be found
in the study of "western" history as a whole. Another possibility is the study
of particular regions in the Americas where the histories of several national states
can be shown to be closely inter-connected. The Andean states, for example,
can be regarded in some senses as a community of communities, possessing
in some degree common history. The same is true, though less obviously,
of the group Argentina-Chile-Uruguay. Probably the most obvious unit, for
our purposes, is the Caribbean area, despite its extreme political fragmenta-
tion; for geography has there imposed a certain unit. The Caribbean peoples
have many experiences, social, economic and political, in common, and may
be said in many ways to participate in a common history. The University
College of the West Indies, in Jamaica, has been offering for several years
past a course in Caribbean History, which has provoked great interest and
lively discussion, particularly among advanced students, and has provided
an excellent complement to the narrower histories of individual islands.
Caribbean history is full of dramatic incident, which helps to make it
attractive also to school-children; and it has the advantage of being the
subject of a number of respectable single-volume books, in both English and
If general American history is difficult to teach and study because it
involves too many separate, imperfectly connected stories, the "regional"
approach suggested above is also open to objection, on the ground of its
arbitrariness. It picks out a section of the continent, chosen either for historical
unity and convenience of presentation, or else for considerations of relevance,
because it contains the pupils' own country; it leaves pupils in ignorance of
the history of the rest of the continent. A useful compromise-or perhaps
better still, a corrective, following on a "regional" study, might be found
in the study of a single limited theme, which in its historical development,
affected the continent as a whole. The evolution and application of the
Monroe Doctrine is an example of such a theme. Another might be the
development of the Pan-American idea and the various attempts to give it
practical political form. A more difficult and, conceivably, more controversial
topic would be the history of relations between Church and State in the
Americas. Such studies demand powers of abstraction and a good knowledge
of the geographical background, together with ability to understand the
requirements of economics and strategy. They can clearly only be undertaken
at the university level; but for the able student they are full of interest, and
highly rewarding. A final suggestion of this sort, for study at university level,
is the history of slavery and the slave trade in the Americas-the nature
of plantation slavery, its economic importance, and the obstacles, in compara-
tively recent times, to its abolition. Experience in the West Indies has shown
the importance of facing squarely and objectively the history of an institution
which affected all the Americas in some degree and which in some countries
left deep scars in social memory. Much of the history writing and teaching
of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its Whig tradition
and its complacent assumption of "progress" conveyed an impression that
slavery, like religious or ideological war, or the habit of massacring political
opponents, was a thing of the unregenerate past, to be made the subject
of brief and tactful allusion, and then forgotten in a world blessed by
democracy. Events of the past few decades in other parts of the world have
reminded us, however, that man's capacity for corporate wickedness is
unimpaired, and that old practices which have been abolished have a way
of reviving under new names. We should let history warn us that we are not,
by the mere fact of living in America, exempt from the possibilities of cruelty
and mass injustice.
The foregoing paper is based upon the UNESCO pamphlet, C. P. Hill, Suggestions
on the teaching of History, Paris, UNESCO, 1953, in which a useful bibliography
may be found; and on the following publications of the History Commission of the
Pan-American Institute of Geography and History.
1. La Enseianza de la Historia en Mexico, por Rafael Ramirez Ida Appendini,
Paula Gomes Alonzo, Jesus Romero Flores, Ricardo Rivera, Rafael Garcia
Granados, Eusebio DAvalos Hurtado, Concha Muedra, Jos6 Miranda GonzAlez
y Josefina Lomeli Quirarte de Correa.
2. The Teaching of History in the United States, by W. H. Cartwright and
A. C. Bining.
3. L'Enseignement de l'Histoire en Haiti, par Catts Pressoir.
4. La Ensefianza de la Historia en Cuba, por Emeterio Santovenia, Antonia
Santovenia, Manuel P6rez Cabrera, Fanny Azcuy y Al6n, Manuel I. Mesa
Rodriguez, Elias Entralgo y Maria Josefa Arrojo.
5. La Ensefanza de la Historia en Colombia, por Miguel Aguilera.
6. La Enseiianza de la Historia en Venezuela, por J. M. Siso Martinez y Pedro
7. La Ensefianza de la Historia en la Argentina, por Leoncio Gianello.
8. La Ensehianza de la Historia en Honduras, por Martin Alvarado.
9. La Ensehanza de la Historia en Nicaragua, por Carlos Molina Argiiello.
Festivals of the Calendar in St. Lucia
BY DANIEL J. CROWLEY
ST. LUCIA'S position between French Martinique on the north and British
St. Vincent and Barbados on the south and east is reflected in her history
and culture. She changed hands at least fourteen times during the wars
between France and Britain in the Caribbean from 1639 to 1803.' At that
time, when she became a British Crown colony, French influences had gone
deep. Creole patois, the language which developed between French-speaking
planters and African slaves, had become and still remains the language of
St. Lucia.2 The Code Napoleon and standard French were employed in the
lawcourts as late as 1842.3 Roman Catholicism is the religion of 93.15 per
cent. of the population,4 and most of the present-day clergy come from the
French province of La Vendee.
The population of St. Lucia is overwhelmingly African in origin. In
a population of 86,000, there are only about 400 whites and 3,000 Christian-
ized East Indians. It is estimated that perhaps 20 per cent. of the Negroes
have some white ancestry.5 Thus St. Lucia is uniquely homogenous among
West Indian islands, both in racial background and in religion. This homo-
geneity has never been seriously disturbed by the development of economic,
political, or religious enclaves within the community. As a result St. Lucian
life has had a consistency and continuity rare in the New World. These
forces have shaped a folk community paralleling in many respects the peasant
societies of Mediterranean Europe.
During slavery the French planters in St. Lucia did not allow marriage
among their slaves, but under the influence of the clergy they encouraged
them to be baptised, to receive a modicum of religious teaching, and to attend
Mass and family prayers.6 That this religious training had significant effects
is born out by the fact that during the cholera epidemic of 1854, only
16 years after the effective end of slavery, there were 173 church marriages
in Castries, as against 35 marriages in a normal year. 100 of these marriages
took place in the two plague months, suggesting that when confronted with
the immediate possibility of death, couples living in irregular unions recog-
nized and complied with the Church's stand on the sacramental nature of
zHenry H. Breen, St. Lucia Historical, Statistical and Descriptive. (London:
Longman, 1844), p. 46 passim.
2West Indian Census 1946, Vol. II, Part H. (Kingston: Bureau of Statistics, 1949),
p. xlv. 98% speak patois, and over half also speak English.
3Breen, op. cit., p. 347.
4West Indian Census, op. p. xxxix.
5Ibid., p. xxiv ff.
6Breen, op. cit. pp. 212-213.
7Catholicus (Rev. C. Jesse FMI), "En Temps Cholera," Voice of St. Lucia,
June 12, 1954, p. 4.
Although there were 2,198 whites in St. Lucia at the outbreak of the
French Revolution in 1789, by 1843 their number had dwindled to 1,039,
which is still over twice as many as live in St. Lucia today. During this
period, the number of coloreds rose from 1,588 to 5,287, and Breen reports
that they owned much of the town property, were merchants, doctors, and
lawyers, and held such posts as Crown Lawyer and Stipendary Magistrate,
and seats on the Legislative Council.8 Many of the freed slaves cleared forest
land or squatted on unused estate holdings, and developed into "a class of
small proprietors and farmers" who also worked in the estate cane fields at
crop time.9 This pattern still holds to a great extent, with the coloreds living
in the towns and controlling much of business and government, while the
blacks live on their small holdings and work for extra cash on the estates,
which are still owned largely by whites.
Each St. Lucian village is dominated by its church, often built by v61lun-
tary local labor.1o These buildings are simple structures of local diorite with
Romanesque detailing and arched windows and doors, and red-painted corru-
gated iron roofs. The interiors have plain white marble altars, and many
votive candles before plaster and cast iron statues of saints, many of whom
are unfamiliar to non-St. Lucian Catholics. Throughout the countryside there
are many shrines placed at crossroads or at the end of straight stretches of
road. These are either large cast metal crucifixes painted luridly with alumi-
num paint, or small wooden 'houses with much architectural "gingerbread",
and with small but complete altars inside. Sometimes these shrines are used
as the goal of a procession or pilgrimage, sometimes for outdoor Mass on
some special feast day. More important, they are used daily by the local
people for prayers as they pass to and from their villages. These shrines
are often small and shabby, but are always decorated with fresh flowers.
Castries, the fast-growing capital of St. Lucia, now has a population of
24,300," and dominates the life of the island. It in turn is dominated by
its church, Immaculate Conception, a large stone structure that escaped the
great fires of 1948 and 1951.12 Next to the churoh lies Columbus Square,
formerly the Place d'Armes, now a tree-shaded square with benches and a
cast iron fountain. It is the scene of most of the festivals and rites de passage
which mark the year and one's progression from birth to death in St. Lucia.
SBreen, op. pp. 165-167.
9Lt. Governor Arthur W Torrens, Report on the Blue Book, 4 Jan., 1846, quoted
in R. Montgomery Martin, The British Colonies British Possessions in the
West Indies, Dev. VIII. (London: John Tallis, no date), p. 125.
ioIbid., p. 126 ft. Just as in 1846, the church at Soufriere was rebuilt and en-
larged recently with voluntary labor of the parishioners.
iWest Indian and Caribbean Year Book, 1954-55. (London: Thomas Skinner,
1955), p. 287.
I2Local wags claim that the plan of a sugar mill was accidentally substituted for
the original plan during the building of the church. This and other examples
of earthquake-proof skeletal cast iron church structures such as the Cathedral
of Fort-de-France are sometimes referred to as "Bally Gothic" after the
popular Martinique rum.
Life in St. Lucia as elsewhere is structured by periodic celebrations and
rituals which mark the passing of time, and the change in age and status of
the inhabitants. An investigation of the traditional activities throughout a
full year should give some useful insights into values and sanctions, and the
way old patterns from various sources have been integrated to give meaning
and beauty to the present St. Lucian culture.
The holiday season in St. Lucia is sometimes said to begin with the
trumpet fanfare on St. Cecilia's Day, November 22. St. Cecilia, an early
Roman virgin and martyr, is the patroness of music and musicians. In her
honor, bands of musicians either with stringed instruments or tuned steel
oil drums parade through the streets and serenade the homes of their friends.
This serenading begins at midnight, and continues throughout the day and
evening. Since it is customary for the musicians to be given drinks of rum
at each home serenaded, the music grows sweeter and hotter as the day
proceeds. The favourite number is "Cecile La Triumphante" originally a
French hymn,'3 but now played in the manner of a fast French one-step. The
fanfare mentioned above opens this "theme song," and besides the battered
trumpet or saxophone, the band includes a home-made banjo, a cuatro
(small 4-stringed Spanish guitar), a set of home-made drums with
cymbal and triangle, and shac-shacs. These latter may be either the hollow
gourd rattles with handles, commonly called maracas in Latin America, or
a traditional St. Lucian form, a foot-long cylinder of metal in which are
enclosed a number of pebbles. Another traditional local instrument is the
baha, a long metal tube which is blown through. The steel drums were intro-
duced from Trinidad about seven years ago, and have become popular with
the town youths.
The next date after St. Cecilia's Day is November 25. the feast of
St. Catherine of Alexandria, patroness of old maids. Since old maids are
exceedingly rare in St. Lucia, there is no particular celebration, but an old
adage states that planting must begin on t-his day if one is to expect good
crops. In practice large scale planting is carried on mostly at the end of the
dry season in May and June, but various crops arc planted throughout the
year, and at least a token planting is begun on St. Catherine's Day.
In 1954, the First Communion of 664 childrenn was also held on
St. Catherine's Day in Castries. First Communion is important for any
Catholic child, but especially in St. Lucia, where the child enters an age-
grade system which he will retain throughout life. The children with whom
one makes one's First Communion are thought of as special friends. and
ages are often computed by means of the First Communion date. Each
anniversary is celebrated, especially the silver and golden jubilees, for which
St. Lucians return from New York, Panama, Curacao, Cayenne, or other places
where they have settled. A golden jubilee in Soufriere on November 19,
1954 honored 39 jubilarians with a special Mass and party. Each deceased
member of the First Communion class was represented by a relative. Some
of the old ladies appeared in traditional doui!lette dresses of gold satin which
have been the talk of the community ever since.
u3Written by PNre L. Lambillote.
First Communion is a week-long affair of Masses, processions, and reli-
gious instructions. Until recently new white clothes were worn on each day,
but now they appear only on the last day. Girls dress in the manner of
brides, with elaborate white dresses and veils, and each carries a heavily
ornamented white satin or knitted sack purse called a "pachit" Boys wear
custom-tailored white suits with short trousers, and a large rosette or bow
of white satin fastened to their left shoulder. The long ends of this "epaulet"
are embroidered with gold chalices and other designs. Each child carries
a candle in the procession, and this together with lhis "epaulet" or "pachit"
is treasured throughout life. The candle is used during the last rites of the
Church when the person is dying or burns at the foot of his coffin during
his funeral. Thus the child's whole life is bound up with his first responsible
religious ritual. After the First Communion, there is a fete for eaoh child,
with toasts in vermouth, sheepshead and pumpkin soup, elaborately deco-
rated cakes, and visits and gifts from relatives and godparents.
November 30 is the feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle, patron saint of
seafarers, fishermen, and fish vendors, all of whom attend Mass in a body,
and hold a rum-drinking fete in a 'hired "society" hall.
By the beginning of December, the festal mood is in the air. Each
Saturday night dances with string or steel bands are sponsored by lodges,
friendly societies, churches, rumshops, clubs, and even by private individuals
who either give private parties or charge a small admission for the public
to dance in their homes.'4
During these weeks steel bands begin their practice parading the streets
followed by large numbers of children and adults dancing in the shuffling
manner of the Trinidad Carnival "jump-up" On other evenings the Boum-
Boums or Bwa-Bwa dancers practice their skits and their drum-and-flute
music in the streets, but without the costumes they wear at Christmas and
On December 5 the village of Anse-la-Raye celebrated the installation
of a new statue of the Virgin in an older shrine known as Laviej Ma M6roz
(the Virgin of Mrs. Monrose).'5 The statue, a small china figure recently
brought from France by a priest returning from leave, was carried in state
held by six little girls in Communion dresses and silver paper wings riding
in the back of an open, flower-decked pickup truck. A procession led down
from the road to the shrine, which is a niche carved in the rocky cliff of a
promontory, visible to the coasting boats. Afterwards a sermon in patois
i4Some St. Lucians who have lived abroad in more Europeanized places claim
the local music is too uneven, and refuse to dance to it. They patronize the
several clubs which have jukeboxes stocked largely with mambos of the
Perez Prado school. St. Lucian "jazz" dance music has affinities with the
"beguine" of Martinique.
'iThe orthography used for St. Lucian Cr6ole is similar to the phonemic Laubach
system used in Haiti. Each letter has only one sound, pronounced approxi-
mately as in English, except as follows: a as in far; i as ee in need; g as
in get; j as s in measure; u as o in move; 6 as aw in lawn; 6 as in bet; 6 as
a in day. Nasalization is represented by and elision by .
was scheduled, but canceled because of rain and the breakdown of the loud-
speaking equipment.'6 The shrine is said to have originally been the gift of
one Ma Monrose in thanksgiving for the saving of her child from a sukuya
who had carried him off. According to another local legend, the shrine was
built to counteract the evil presence of a lajables "with eyes like coals" who
had killed a small child.'7
In early December the women of St. Lucia begin to make or order their
seamstresses to make the necessary dresses for the coming festivities. One
middle-class civil servant got eleven new dresses for the season, together
with hats, shoes, purses, and other accessories, though six or seven new
dresses is more the rule. At least one dress must be red or red print, to be
worn at Christmas Mass. These dresses are made from imported patterns,
and there is a preference for rich materials such as satin, figured damask,
and velvets. Men too get new clothes at this season, and those returning
from work abroad can be identified by the extreme cut of their clothes, their
nylon shirts and archaic yellow shoes.18 The occasions for dressing well are
Mass and daytime parties, when the light is good enough to see the finery. In
the country districts where the subsistence economy limits the amount of
cash available, clothes are fewer but just as elegant. However, country
dances are so energetic that only old clothes are worn to them.
Houses are decorated with twisted colored paper streamers along the
ceilings, and with imported folded paper wreaths, bells, and ornaments hung
in the windows. Sometimes hand-made fringes of colored tissue paper are
also used. For a Christmas tree, middle class Castrians use branches of the
casuarina or Australian pine tree (Casuarina equisetifolia), which are hung
with German glass ornaments and lighted candles or electric strands. New
curtains are required throughout the house. In recent years these have been
made mostly of boldly patterned and colored translucent plastic, to counter-
act the loss of privacy caused by the glass windows which replaced the
cooper wooden jalousies in the housing constructed after the 1948 fire.
The 8th of December is the important Feast of the Immaculate Con-
ception, celebrating the dogma that Mary was the only human ever born
itOnly a few priests are proficient enough in patois to preach in it, but some use
it with telling effect. The following quotation from a sermon preached a
few years ago has become almost proverbial, "Nom s6 pay shes, fibm s6
dif6. Si u mWth pay shes 6pi dif6 u say sa kay fMt." (Man is straw, woman
is fire. If you put straw and fire together you know what will happen.)
'7Belief in supernatural beings or "ja gaji" is widespread in St. Lucia. They
are thought to be obeah practitioners who have sold their souls to the Devil
in return for power to change into giant animals (sukuya) who steal children
and suck their blood, beautiful white women (lajables) who lure men to
destruction, or ti bolom, foetal babies who steal for their masters. For
a more extended discussion, see D. J. Crowley, "Supernatural Beings in
St. Lucia," The Caribbean, Vol. VIII No. II1, June, 1955.
ASNylon, pronounced "nil6" or "dil6" has come to signify anything new, different,
and better. The new ice house in Soufriere advertises "nylon" ice, and
nylon starch and nylon peanuts can be had, the latter being candies shaped
without original sin, the desire to do wrong.'9 In 1954 the Marian
Year ended on this feast by papal proclamation, and a street pro-
cession was held to mark it. Over 600 children and adults took part,
each carrying a lighted candle or a lantern of colored paper. The procession
was over a mile in length as it wound through the town. Women who are
members of the sodalities and confraternities wore their insignia, cloth medal-
lions called scapulars. Men wore the black clothes required for funerals and
other formal occasions. The crowds of people who watched from the side-
walks and balconies commented on the presence or absence of prominent
persons, and on the elegance or lack of it in the women's clothes. Nearly
every prominent Castrian family, white or colored, was represented.zo The
procession ended in Columbus Square where a w6poztwa (repository) or out-
door altar had been set up. This was a framework of boards covered with
white cloth, and with a white canopy of baroque design imitating a baldachino.
The altar and canopy were decorated with fresh and artificial flowers, and with
carpets and candlesticks from the church: As the priest prepared to say
Benediction, a heavy rain began to fall, and although a great many people
had brought umbrellas, the service was removed to the nearby church.
Yearly December 8 is the final day of a novena or nine-day prayer sponsored
by one of the sodalities and celebrated by attendance at Mass and the receiv-
ing of Communion in a body.
On December 11, an A Bwe ("to drink") celebration was held as Aux
Lyons, an isolated village in the hills north of the Dennery Valley. This
village is sometimes called "no man's land" because of the allegedly un-
friendly nature of the inhabitants, who are said to be practitioners of obeah
and illegal rum distilling. The slippery path up the ridge to the village is
closed by a bamboo gate, but once proper contacts were made, sincere hos-
pitality was offered. The village is built on a steep, narrow ridge, and the
houses are of unpainted wood, but larger than usual. Many of the villagers
own small estates, which in part explains their independence.
After a well-cooked meal of Portagi yams, rice, ragout of beef flavored
with cloves and spices, and cocoa, the A Bw6 began. This is an example
of a village fete, in contrast to the island-wide activities previously discussed.
There are other fetes limited to only a part of a village, such as the kutumbas
of the Neg Jin6 or descendants of Africans in Vieux Fort. Some fetes, like
the K61e, an African sacrifice in honor of ancestors, has survived in only one
family. Unlike these others, the A Bwe is calendrical, always being held as
part of the Christmas festivities. Fete is a general term for all parties and
festivals, but "pl6zi" (pleasure) is the preferred term in St. Lucia.
'9The degree of Catholic penetration in St. Lucia can be gauged by the fact
that most people understand this particular dogmatic point, and do not
misinterpret it to refer to the Incarnation, the conception of Jesus by Mary
without human intervention. This latter error is almost as widespread in the
Catholic world as outside it, but not in St. Lucia.
2oIn religious activities of this sort there is almost no pretense to deep emotional
or sentimental involvement, in contrast to similar services in Mexico, Italy,
or even the United States. The services are seen as pleasant occasions by
which one fulfils one's duties with decorum. Dogmatic matters are frequent
subjects of conversation, but ethical applications to everyday life are not
At about 8 p.m. a crowd of villagers filled the central room of the largest
house in the village, as they stood or sat around a long table. The host, a
distinguished old man with Napoleon III moustaches, opened the fete with
a speech in "Frenchy patois" a macaronic language using many French
words incomprehensible to most patois speakers.21 The host asked that every-
one behave properly, and that each should follow him in contributing
"y6 shl6" (one shilling) for his share of the cost of the white rum to be drunk.
This is drunk neat or "fired" with a chaser of lukewarm water. The idiom
for drinking is "wuz6 goj mwe" (sprinkle my throat), and although it con-
tinued for 12 hours, no signs of drunkenness were noticeable until dawn.
All night the singers sang, occasionally freshening their throats with crushed
salt, which had been placed on the tables in bowls.
The songs themselves present a problem. There appear to be nearly
70 of them, dealing in a fragmentary way with "the mistress of the inn",
"Hoist the flag of King George" or the lament of a father whose pregnant
daughter's fiance would not marry her. Although sung in patois, the texts
are so fragmentary that no clear idea of the story can be gained. Each'
singer will eagerly explain the meaning of the songs, but there is no agree-
ment among them. The singing is in the shatwUl-chorus pattern of other
St. Lucian singing, but there is no musical accompaniment. Although the
texts require a great deal more study, they seem to be of 17th or 18th
Century origin, possibly introduced by the French and British soldier. Others
may be Anglo-Saxon ballads recast in patois.
On December 12 the Catholic Youth Organization in the Village of
Dennery staged a snake and mongoose fight, and several other fights were
held between Christmas and New Year. The snake, a 5-foot fer-de-lance
(Bothrops atrox atrox) ,has long been the scourge of the interior, and accounts
for several deaths every year. To combat this pest Governor des Voeux
introduced the mongoose (Herpestes nyula) from India in 1869 and estab-
lished a bounty for each fer-de-lance head turned over to the government.22
The mongooses killed many snakes, but rapidly developed a taste for poultry
Both pests are heartily despised by the St. Lucians, so that no humane
scruples came into play at this fight. As soon as two mongooses were put
in the large cage with the snake, one attacked, was bitten and put out of
action. The second mongoose was more cautious, and as the afternoon
wore on a total of five mongooses were put in the cage. Each did a little
damage to the snake, until he was blinded and had lost much of the flesh
of his head. When the snake died he had bitten four of the five mongooses,
and they were all killed by the boys in charge. The crowd, who paid 12c.
2iThis form of patois is known and used only by a few people, and only for
ceremonial occasions. It has high prestige, being considered more "pure"
than comprehensible patois. Many people report with pride that their fore-
parents spoke "pure" French, and read French books, particularly prayer-
books. Today no more than a handful of St. Lucians can speak standard
z2Sir George William des Voeux, G.C.M.G., My Colonial Service. (London: John
Murray, 1903), p. 167. It is said that countrymen took to raising fer-de-
lances in captivity to insure a steady income from the bounties.
or 1/- admission, particularly enjoyed the antics of a timid mongoose who
squeaked loudly, and acted brave, but ran up the side of the cage when
the snake attacked. Each time the snake or mongoose made a feint, the
crowd shouted "Egas!" in unison.
"Egas h" is perhaps the most characteristic St. Lucian expression. It
derives from "ish" (son) and "garce" (prostitute), but this meaning has
been lost. The word now signifies any sharp contact, a blow, a gunshot,
an automobile crash, a fall, or even a kiss. Action movies are called "Egas
pictures" and the cry rising from the theatre can be heard a mile from
Castries on a Saturday night. Some non-patois speakers use "Egas!"
almost as a greeting, or to punctuate common speech in the manner of the
Trinidadian "E El" A car accident was avoided when the driver heard
a boy shouting "Eeeee 'f, noticed that he was about to drive into a deep
drain, and righted the car before the boy could utter gas l This
feature of the word is particularly impressive when a St. Lucian foresees a
blow in a movie, begin a long-drawn-out "Eeeee and synchronize
the last syllable exactly with the landing of the blow.
On December 13, St. Lucia celebrates Discovery Day together with the
feast of St. Lucy, her patroness, a Roman virgin and martyr who is also
patroness of Naples. This holiday is based on two mistaken assumptions.
There is a legend to the effect that Columbus discovered the island on
St. Lucy's Day, but he seems never to have seen the island. Saincte Alouzie
or Ste. Lucie was used only as late as 1650 by du Tertre, replacing the Carib
name Iouanalao or Hewanora.23 Customarily this day is celebrated by
organized sports, cricket, water polo, basketball, and cock fights, usually
arranged by parish priests, private citizens, or government officers. In 1954
there was no official celebration or prizes, and local rumors circulated ex-
plaining the replacement of a prominent civil servant as resulting from his
overlooking this festival. The particular sport of St. Lucy's Day is walking
out on a greased pole suspended from a dock over the water. At the end
of the pole is a ham or other prize, the possession of any man who can reach
it. Another sport in Choiseul is balloon jumping. Balloons are strung on
a string across the road about 6 feet high, varying with the height of children
competing. Any child breaking a balloon is awarded a prize.
The annual crafts show of the Choiseul girls' club is traditionally held
on St. Lucy's Day, opened by the Administrator. This club under the direc-
tion of Miss Helen Victorin has adapted local methods and materials of
basketry, and introduced other crafts such as mat-making, passepartout, shell-
work, embroidery, and the making of artificial flowers. These articles sell
well to middle-class Castrians and to tourists, and are entirely professional
in execution. Some young women have become self-supporting through their
23R. P. du Tertre, Histoire Generale des Antilles Habitles par les Francois, 1667-71.
vol. i, pp. 158-160, vol. p. 12, and R. Breton, Dictionnaire Caraibe-Francois
crafts while still attending school.zi The club makes and sells decorated
sweets and cakes during their fete.
The middle week of December is taken up in last minute window
shopping and purchasing of gifts and clothes. In 1954 a new Indian shop
opened and caused a sensation by offering Japanese cotton cloth for the low
price of 2/- per yard. A Father Christmas appeared in the streets begging
for Church charities, and was commonly believed to be a prominent society
woman. Another Father Christmas steered the crowds who followed him
to one Creole-owned shop. Small boys with slotted tins begged for "The
Holy Child-hood" but one irreverent citizen checked with Church authorities
only to discover that no such organization existed in St. Lucia. During this
week the schools close, and the country teachers come into Castries for a
3-day Teachers' Conference. About this time an excursion of Martiniquais
arrives to spend the holiday visiting relatives and seeing the sights, such as
the Pitons, the volcanic area, and recently rebuilt Castries.
On December 18 all public clubs he'd dances, and the police force and
police band put on a display at St. Mary's College, the local secondary
school for boys. This performance was the sort of thing West Indians do
particularly well, with the skill and precision less apparent in other aspects
of their culture. The calisthenics were imaginatively conceived, involving
vary-colored torches swung in precision, elaborate drills of the cadence-count
variety, and a finale where the who!e group seemed to fall backward over
a cliff. The police band played Christmas carols, popular songs, local
"calisos", and original compositions by the bandmaster, Joseph Griffiths, the
Barbadian who conducted TASPO I, the Trinidad Steel band which toured
England in 1951.
On Christmas Eve at 6 p.m. Mrs. Doreen Thorpe, wife of the Adminis-
trator, officially lighted the large African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata)
which had been strung with colored lights. Father Christmas then climbed
down from the tree and distributed balloons to the children in the Square.
The Christmas tree stands next to "the gallows tree" where criminals were
hung in past times.
Christmas is celebrated with bamboo "kan6" or cannons, sections of
bamboo partly filled with kerosene and lighted, giving off a loud report.
The fumes from the explosion can be relighted for a second explosion. Other
fireworks include torpedoes which explode when thrown down on a
hard surface, and "kwapo" (frogs) similar to small connected firecrackers.
"Kwapo" are popularly attached to the "pai banan" (banana trash) cos-
tumes of the Bwa-Bwa dancers, for the fun of seeing the masquerader tear
off his costume to keep from being burned in it. Competitive kite flying,
also begins at this time, and continues through the dry season. The kites or
"savulA" (French cerf-volant) have their strings rubbed with garlic, and
slivers of glass or metal fastened to their tails, in hopes that the friction of
24Craft skills have a high prestige as long as they are employed in relatively
non-functional activities. The built-up kitchen pottery and beautiful heavy
floormats of "vetiv&" (khus-khus grass or Vetiveria zizanoides) or "j6"
(Eleocharis interstincta) are made by lower class women and are less
the rubbing strings or the sharp edges will cut loose one's opponent's kite.
Home-made tops called "topi" are popular with boys, while girls play with
"masill61", home-made rag dolls with faces carefully drawn on the smooth
cloth heads. Marbles or "zing" and "morel" a variety of hop-scotch are
also played and have extensive patois idioms. "Tikitok" played by both
sexes, consists of throwing a handful of small smooth pebbles into the air
and catching as many as possible on the back of the hand. At this season
children make a sweet smelling cologne from the canan tree (Cananga odorata)
and use it to clean their school slates.
In the week before Christmas, carollers go from house to house singing
both English and French carols. The leading group, called the Victoria
Amateur Dramatic and Social C:ub or VADSC, was organized among the
poorest children in Castries by Mr. J. Belgrave, who was awarded the M.B.E.
for his effort. The singing is in "Sankey" style, with voice ornaments and
a dragging delivery in spite of the leader's efforts to keep a lively tempo.
Tae voices are generally good and the several child soloists popular with
any audience. Often the carollers are scheduled to arrive during an upper
class party and provide a serenade. In this case sweet drinks and cake are
provided, and the collection is fairly respectable, both from the host and from
passing a plate or hat among the partying people.
During this last week before Christmas small gifts are distributed to
poor children by the clergy, and they are given parties under the auspices
of the various religious denominations and organizations such as the Girl
Guides or the Health Centre. Besides used or inexpensive toys, the children
are given home made ginger geer, sorrel, sweet buns, local peppermint candies,
and sometimes ice cream. Hampers of food made up by public subscription
are distributed by the churches to their poor parishoners, and the Anglicans
provide a large holiday dinner for all the poor of the town.
On the night before Christmas Eve a pig is traditionally slaughtered for
t.he making of black pudding, a blood sausage flavored with herbs and garlic,
and souse, made from the pig's feet, ears and tail, pickled and served
cold with onions and cucumber. The pig's snout is served at "revey6"
jFrench: r6veillon), the traditional meal served on Christmas Eve and Old
Years Night. On Christmas and New Years Day the traditional meal is ham
and fowl served together. Traditional cuisine in St. Lucia compares favor-
ably with any folk cuisine in t-he world in its variety and subtlety.
On Christmas Eve one of the wealthiest French Creole families of the
island gives a party for all their friends and relatives. It begins about 5 p.m.
with a children's party during which Father Christmas arrives and distributes
presents to each child from around a large imported spruce tree decorated
with ornaments and lit with tapers. Then the children are allowed to watch
a fireworks display staged by the older boys and servants in the garden, and
are then taken home. The rest of the evening the guests drink rum punches
or whiskey, and eat an elaborate buffet supper. The guest list includes practi-
cally all the local whites and near-whites "even if they never speak the rest
of the year" plus British officials, ships' officers, clergy, hospital staff, and
other foreigners who are acquainted with the family. A few upper class
light-skinned colored families are represented, but the darker upper class
is conspicuously absent, so much so that Castrians refer to the party as "the
b6ch6 (white) fete" This yearly party is one of the very .few examples of
segregation in St. Lucia, and it is anything but rigid. Not only are most
of the participants related by blood or marriage, but they are also lifelong
companions. Furthermore, the "upper-upper" French Creoles who number
under 200 consider all the rest to be of mixed ancestry. For all these over-
tones and the elegance of the surroundings, the party is always a great success,
with folk dancing and the playing of patois children's games. At
11.30 the party breaks up and most of the participants go off to Midnight
In 1954 Mozart's 12th Mass was sung with distinction by a large choir
to an overflowing church. A large crib set or "kwish" (French: creche)
had been set up in an alcove of the church, and was venerated after Mass.
Then traditionally the middle class Castrians, combining religion with pleasure,
go dancing at one of the public clubs, particularly Lunar Park on a point
overlooking the harbor. The great moment of these dances is the "break-
away" usually signaled by the playing of a local "caliso" "Madiana" (a
beach and night club in Martinique), "Lag6 mw6" (Let me go), or "Bbbbt"
(a local Don Juan). The song is played in short repetitive phrases like the
"syncopation" of Trinidad carnival music. The dancers "breakaway" from
their partners and each dances an ecstatic solo.
For obvious reasons Christmas Day is spent quietly by most Castrians,
but the country people pour into town for the High Mass at 9.30 a.m. This
is the best time to see the finest douillettes and the hoards of antique solid
gold chains, brooches, and bracelets known locally as "Cayenne gold",
because of their source in French Guiana. The douillette is the traditional
dress of the Creole community of Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, the
Maraval Hills of Trinidad, and St. Lucia. It is said to be derived from the
costume of 18th Century Provence; a long, trailing skirt of brightly printed
cotton worn looped up over starched and embroidered white petticoats. The
simple bodice is party covered by a small shawl or "foulard", the ends of
which are tucked into the belt or toyed with coquettishly. A headtie of
contrasting color completes the costume, and in St. Lucia the headtie is
sometimes surmounted by a wide-brimmed straw hat. Another type of head-
tie is the tet kalknd6, pre-tied and expertly pleated, the folds being held in
place by a paint made from gum arabic and yellow ochre. This magnificent
costume is still worn by many market women and older women in the coun-
try, but only the headtie has survived among the younger women.
On the days around Christmas, masqueraders appear in the streets, but
since they are more in evidence on New Years, they will be discussed below.25
On Boxing Day, December, 26, many marriages take place. This season
is favored because no Catholic marriage can be solemnized during Advent,
the month preceding Christmas, nor during Lent which begins in February.
Candid St. Lucians also state that since there is so much feasting during
25See below, pp. 23-25.
this season, it is less expensive to put on one more fete than it would be at
some other season when people were less surfeited. Marriages usually take
place at 4 p.m. and without the nuptial Mass that is normal Catholic practice
elsewhere. The reason for such a late hour is that the fete must go on all
night, and would be too expensive and possibly too difficult to control if it
began in midmorning. This atypical preoccupation with expense reflects the
extravagant nature of a wedding fete, which is more often a validation of
social and economic position than a sacramental union.
During Christmas week the country people parade from village to village
with a Wen Nodl, a Christmas Queen dressed in a fancy red "African" print
dress, and with her court in equally bright and frilly dresses and headties.
They are accompanied by a string band, and are given drinks in return for
the songs they sing, whether French carols, patois A Bw6 songs, or lugu-
brious Sankey tunes, which seem particularly inappropriate in this festive
Catholic setting. Marquis Valley is particularly famous for its Win Nobl.
On December 30 the St. Lucia Government Lottery drawing was held
in Columbus Square in the presence of the Administrator and government
officials, and broadcast over the St. Lucia Experimental Radio. The $1,000
prize was won by "a poor man" in Dennery, much to everyone's satisfaction.
All classes buy lottery tickets, and invest in foreign lotteries such as the
Panamanian and the Irish sweepstakes. Most tickets are bought on hunches
derived from dreams, and an extensive system of interpretation of dream
symbolism for this purpose is in the process of development.
On the Sunday afternoon after Christmas, young children are brought to
the churches to be blessed by the priests. This is the celebration of the
F&t L6zinos&, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, in honor of the
children slaughtered by Herod in his quest for Jesus. The Innocents are the
patrons of acolytes and choir boys.
The New Year festivities are at least as important as Christmas in the
life of rural St. Lucians. A fattened pig is saved for the first meal of the
year, and the finest new clothing is worn at Midnight Mass on Old Year's
Night, in hopes that good food and clothing will remain throughout the year.
In Castries the Mass is attended by large numbers of country people, so that
the Castrians, most of whom have private rented pews, find it necessary to
expel intruders if they arrive late. This Old Year's Night Midnight Mass is
an innovation of the last five years, said to have been instituted by the
Catholic clergy to offset the appeal of the Anglican and Methodist Watchnight
services which draw large numbers of the Catholic congregations, particu-
larly the upper class coloreds and French Creoles. Since nearly everyone is
in one church or another when Midnight comes, there is little notice taken
except the blowing of auto horns or ships' whistles. Services end between
one and two a.m. with much ringing of church bells, and the congregations
go off to all-night dances at the various clubs. The private Vigie Club, ex-
clusively white, held a fancy dress ball on Old Years Night in 1954. There
were also a number of more or less informal house parties where pig's snout
and rice, rum punches, sorrel, and coffee were served.
On New Year's morn it is traditional to kiss everyone of the opposite
sex that one sees. This pleasant custom begins outside the churches after
services, and continues throughout the day, often with humorous results.
Another custom of the day is the giving of oranges or white yams to one's
friends. This is called "zktwen" (French: les 6trennes) or token gifts. After
the orange is eaten, its seeds together with a silver thru'penny are kept in
one's wallet or purse to insure a supply of money throughout the coming
year. A schooner excursion from St. Vincent usually arrives on this morning,
remaining 3 or 4 days.
The greatest number of masquers come out on New Year morning
and the following days. Nearly all come from the country, some from as
far as Dennery Valley, 12 miles from Castries. The most popular masque
is called Boum-Boum or Bwa-Bwa, meaning roughly "nonsense" Mas-
queraders are exclusively men, but they wear women's red dresses and have
headties tied under their chins. Others tie banana trash around themselves
so that they look like animated cornshucks. Their headpieces are conical
structures of bamboo about 1i or 2 ft high, decorated with brightly colored
paper streamers, fringe, metallic paper, braid, and ribbons. Another type
wears cow horns and a home made cloth or paper mask without cutout eyes
and mouth. Most masqueraders do not wear masks, but paint their faces
luridly with ruku, lipstick, and house paint. Bourn Boums are followed by
a band consisting of a flutist, two drummers, and the player of a local cylin-
drical shac-shac. The flute improvisations tend to overwhelm the melodic
line, but most pieces are local "calisos", Trinidad calypsoes, or even Salva-
tion Army marching tunes. The masquers dance a series of steps based on
"winin", the characteristic West Indian dance movement involving the rapid
titling of the pelvis backward and forward and from side to side. The appa-
rent symbolism is intensified by pulling the skirt of the dress into a bunch
at the front, as in the traditional chiffonette dance of Carriacou. Great in-
dividual variation is the rule, and some of the steps resemble calisthenics
Another traditional masquerade is "jab" (French: diable) or devil. The
leader, Papa or Flavien Jab, carries a wooden trident, wears a false beard,
a wire tail, and a suit of "crocus" (burlap bagging), all liberally smeared
with tar and grease. The jabs wear nothing but ragged short pants, and
coat their bodies with tar spotted all over with red spots made from ruku
(Bixa orellana). They carry no drums or musical instruments, but clap their
hands and sing short repetitive refrains such as "Voy6 glo ba mwe, mwA ka
bwil6" (Throw water on me, I'm burning), or Jw6 6pi mwe, pa jw6 epi fam
mwe" (Play with me, don't play with my woman), or "Piti k6 nu piti, a
lAfI nu ka-al6" (Small as we are small, to hell we are going). They threaten
the crowd, receive small gifts of money, then put on a kind of play in an
"unknown tongue" with mock prizefights, drilling and saluting, and a ritual
of mock death and revival, all of which is heartily enjoyed by the crowd.
A third masquerade, Uncle Sam and Seraphina, has recently become ex-
tinct. It was a variant of Moko Jumby, the stilt dancers in this case being
dressed in red, white and blue U.S. bunting. Other masques were played in
the past, such as a camel and a two-headed burro, but these .have been
extinct for many years.
New Years afternoon is spent in the movie theatre seeing an "Egas!"
picture, and then into Columbus Square, where tables or booths are set up
around the promenade. Each table dispenses some special delicacies, such
as "akwa lamowi" (salt fish fritters) or "akwa shu" (grated tannia fritters)
being fried in deep fat on a coalpot, sorrel and ginger beer, fruit juices,
sweet drinks, ham and corned beef sandwiches in small buns, heavy fruit
cakes, peppermint sweets, home made "frozen joy" (popsicles) or delicious
soursop, chocolate or coconut ice cream. During this "Tablaplas" (French
les tables A la place), .hundreds of children play tag and tumble on the grass
inside the Square, people promenade carrying children on their shoulders,
mothers breastfeed their babies, the police direct traffic away from the sur-
rounding streets, and a good time is had by all. One is reminded of French
street fairs and park life. Older children go on special bus rides around
Castries and out as far as Gros Islet, for fares from 2c. to 12c. in "buses"
made by converting large trucks with wooden benches or planks. Each bus
has a name, such as "Happy Landing" "Merci Dieu" "The Eagle Flies
Again" or "Lucilla of Mon Repos" The children sing Trinidad calypsoes
or popular songs, or chant, "Woy Woy, ki b6 shof'" (Oh Oh, what a good
driver). Recently they .have developed a repertory of insults, catcalls, and
clever if libelous rhymes, such as "Woy Woy, du so, i pa ni as6" (Oh Oh,
do so, we haven't had enough ride), or "B6bb, chi6 lawui" (The policeman
is a street dog), "Bobe, waya wjy6" (The policeman is a rusty wire), or
"Ankoj6 ankok6" (Anco J is the name of a truck, "ankok6" is to have
sexual intercourse). Tablaplas continues each day of the New Year holiday
After the big fetes of New Years, St. Lucia is quiet until Carnival. Fet
l6wa, the Feast of the Kings, or Epiphany is celebrated only with a Mass.
There are country bele and d&l d6b6t dances, and in town the clubs have string
band music and dances every Saturday night. There is no blessing of the
throats on St. Blaise's Day, February 12, though this Catholic custom would
undoubtedly be popular in health-conscious St. Lucia. St. Valentine's Day
is celebrated by dances given by such middle class groups as the Girls'
Recreation Club or the Physical Culture Club. Valentine cards are sent only
by foreigners or acculturated upper dlass people.
From January through March fields are prepared for the major planting
which begins at the end of the dry season. Field work is often done by
"ku dmA" (French: coup de main), the cooperative work group known
throughout the West Indies and in Africa.26 The owner of the field provides
food, rum, and a drummer, and the hands sing work songs to help them
work in unison.
Carnival, beginning the weekend before Ash Wednesday, the beginning
of Lent, is in its present form a recent importation from Trinidad. In the
distant past Carnival was celebrated with masque dances, street masking, and
floats on carriages, wagons, or trucks. Music was provided by string bands
26M. J. Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past. (New York: Harper, 1941),
p. 161 ff.
or by beating biscuit tins. In the 1920's there was a mythical Carnival King
called "Vaval" and a Queen was chosen in a contest, but in the last thirty
years observance of Carnival had become desultory, and the old forms of
masque almost extinct. In 1947 the steelband adopted from Trinidad first
came out in Carnival. With it appeared the characteristic "jump-up"
shuffling dance steps, and "hot shirts" for men and "hot skirts" for women,
both made of bright "African" prints. One prominent civil servant appeared in
a black shirt appliqued with orange and red flames, the effect intensified by
flashlight bulbs arranged throughout the design and operated by hidden
batteries. There is still some masking, and recently steel bands and other
groups have come out as Turks, matadors, convicts, the Kon-Tiki Expedition,
gladiators, and the like. Individual masques included Sir Walter Raleigh,
native St. Lucia dress (douillette), a .gardener and an anthurium lily, a
Hawaiian, various ragged "old masques" and a whole range of costumed
children. There are no traditional masques such as found in the Trinidad
Carnival, but a group of female fishvendors danced the "plait-the-ribbon"
or maypole dance (in Trinidad called sebucan) for the Coronation Carnival.
Sometimes the New Years Masquerades turn out at this time also. The road
march of 1955, another institution borrowed from Trinidad, was Kitchener's
"Trouble in Arima" After the street parading and the Queen contest, the
crowds adjourn to clubs for serious dancing.
The traditional food of Shrove Tuesday, the last day of Carnival, is
"bey6" (bathed), a fritter made of flour, spices, eggs, and sugar, and fried
or "bathed" in deep fat, and served rolled in powdered sugar.
Ash Wednesday is marked by Mass and the distribution of consecrated
ashes on the foreheads of the congregation. In Castries T6w6 Bwa-Bwa, the
Burial of Carnival is occasionally celebrated. This is a mock funeral of
Vaval, with an effigy placed in a child's coffin and carried with great pomp
to the cemetery. The "mourners" wear the customary white-and-black
clothes of funeral processions, but the music is carnivalesque. T6we Bwa-
Bwa is not widespread in St. Lucia, but it is the central activity of the "black
and white Carnival" of Martinique, and is also known in Dominica.
Lent is rigidly observed in St. Lucia, with strict fasting and abstinence
from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, though this is not particularly diffi-
cult in a fish-eating community where meat is scarce. The country people
customarily come into the villages for the Way of the Cross processions each
Friday. After the service they go to the fishermen's beach to buy flying fish,
then at the height of its season. These fish are cleaned and salted in buckets
on the spot by the purchasers, and then carried home and dried on a line
as an inexpensive substitute for the popular "lamowi" or salt codfish from
Canada or Scandinavia. The salt used in this process is sold on the beach
in small chunks, just as it came from Anguilla or St. Martin, and is then
crushed in mortars. People often walk from Saltibus to Choiseul, a distance
of 7 miles, just to buy flying fish.27
27Farmers from the interior commonly come to the coast in all seasons to trade
their produce for fish. At Anse Tulu there is a year-round barter system
called "toch6" or tolo6", where breadfruit and ground provisions are traded
for fresh fish.
The dry season or "Cawem" (French: Careme) is another name for
Lent. Mi Cawem, the middle of Lent, is an occasion for a party, paralleling
the mood of Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday in the Church liturgy, when the prayers
of the Mass foreshadow the coming joy of Easter. The Mi Cawem party is
often held on St. Joseph's Day, March 19, the feast day of the Sisters of
St. Joseph de Cluny who teach in the Convent in Castries, and in other girls'
schools down the coast. It is also the day of fete for carpenters, joiners, and
cabinet makers, since St. Joseph was a carpenter. St. Joseph's Day is
First Communion Day for the Convent girls every second year. St. Patrick's
Day, February 17, is celebrated by the Irish nuns, and by the Presentation
Brothers who teach at St. Mary's College, since St. Patrick is the patron
saint of Ireland.28
On Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent, the country people come to
town to receive the blessed palm distributed at Mass. The palm is not braided
into catstairs according to European custom, but is left whole and used to
decorate the shelf or "shapel" which in every home holds a small statuette
of Lavibj, and a small glass of water and oil with a floating wick that is kept
burning throughout t'he year "to keep me in light"
Every Sunday after Mass the men of the parish tend to gather in rum-
shops for a session of camaraderie and rum drinking known as "f-t l6zom"
On Palm Sunday there is a special procession for men, after which the fet
16zom is particularly well attended. Rumshops exist in the littlest settlements
and often have imaginative names such as "Sardusingh's Christian High
Light Saloon" in Dennery.
The services of Holy Week follow the full liturgical pattern, with Tenebrae
each evening, and a Solemn High Mass on Holy Thursday. From the time
the last bell of the Sanctus is rung during this Mass, until the first bell of the
first Mass on Holy Saturday morning, no one bathes or goes into the water.
There is a widely held local belief that anyone who goes swimming on Good
Friday will be drowned. Several years ago two newly-arrived priests all
unknowingly scandalized their parishoners by "taking a sea bath" on Good
Friday. At the sound of the first bell on Holy Saturday, men and boys
jump in the sea or bathe at standpipes, while women bathe at home.29
On Good Friday during the Mass of the Presanctified, obeisance to the
Cross is made. The statues are covered in purple cloth during this last week,
280mer Engelbert, The Lives of the Saints. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1951),
pp. 233-236. The veneration of national patron saints often reflects the ex-
cesses of nationalism. Ecuador is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, and the
Virgin has recently been designated Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces
of Venezuela. In the United States the mid-Lenten party is often held on
St. Patrick's Day if the Bishop is of Irish ancestry, on St. Joseph's Day if he
is German, and suppressed altogether as "breaking Lent" if he is neither.
29St. Lucians have many curious beliefs connected with water. While warm from
exertion one must never drink water, particularly cold water. This "ApwidAs"
(imprudence) results in a "fw6di" (cold) which describes anything from a head
cold to syphilis, though cold milk causes gonorrhea. Swimming while warm
results in cramps and drowning, or 20 years later in elephantiasis, arthritis,
or locomotor ataxia. Crossing water in a boat or even over a bridge is
equally fatal, as is drinking water while ironing.
and those nearest the Blessed Sacrament are changed to white cloth after
Mass. On this day women wear only white, black, gray, or mauve (pinkish
lavender) dresses, just as at a funeral.
During the last part of Lent boys make "wawas", a kind of noise-maker
made by fastening a cylinder of resin, "bw6", to the end of a stick between
two discs of cardboard. A piece of horsehair is fastened around the cylinder,
and the other end of the horsehair fastened to a matchbox decorated with
colored metallic paper. When this bull-roarer is twirled it gives out a sound
described as "wawa" or "rara" Other noisemakers are made with rachets
cut from cans, or with wooden clappers in imitation of those used by acolytes
on Good Friday in place of bells, which are proscribed.
The traditional meal of Good Friday includes salted salmon, mackerel,
or herring, tannia cakes, a salad of carrots and lettuce, rice, and tamarind
jam. Large flat oval ginger cakes are made with scalloped edges, and called
"penny-apiece (creole: pAn6pis from French: pain d'6spice, spice bread.)
Though in Trinidad their name is "kuv6ti po sham" (chamber pot cover)
because of their shape.
Another popular custom of Good Friday is divining one's future by
dropping the white of an egg newly laid on Good Friday morning into a glass
of water that has been warmed in the sun. The egg white takes a shape
which is then interpreted, an altar or a church foretelling marriage, a ship
a voyage, a coffin death.3o
On Holy Saturday after the bathing described above, the priest blesses
the Easter water and baptisnial font. Lent ends at noon, and the favorite
foods one had given up are eaten with new appreciation.
Easter is not particularly important in St. Lucia. After Easter High
Mass, there are family dinners and evening parties, but no traditional cuisine.
There are no Easter bunnies, baskets of decorated eggs or Easter bonnets,
though candy eggs are sold in some stores, and a few upper class people
send Easter cards.
May Day is celebrated in characteristic St. Lucian fashion, with a special
Mass attended by the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Union and the St. Lucia
Workers Union representing the sugar workers and laborers. Afterwards the
unions hold a fete in the Workers' Union Hall in The Conway, the waterfront
district of Castries. A subscription dance also held in The Conway lasts all
day and night. In the past Shuwal Bwa Dadi (Daddy's Wooden Horse or
merry-go-round) made its appearance on May Day, but since the retirement
3oThere are several other methods of divining: by opening a Bible, missal or
Imitation of Christ at random and reading the first text one sees; by binding
a key tightly into a Bible, with only its head exposed, supported by the
right index fingers of two people-if it swings right, your answer is yes, if
left, no; to know whom one will marry, suspend a wedding ring on a hair
or thread over a glass of water and speak the names of likely candidates-
when the ring hits the glass, the name being spoken is the intended.
of Daddy, the Shuwal Bwa no longer tours the villages, but is set up per-
manently at Mon Repos. The prices for rides are given is a song:
Shuwal Bwa Dadi Daddy's Wooden Horse
Ti mamay d6 su Little child ha'penny
Gw& mun kat su Big people penny
Fam may6 d6 go Married women two pence
Bachila si su Bachelors penny ha'penny
Ma Foblas twa go Mrs. Foblas [a fat woman]
Mother's Day is celebrated only by acculturated townspeople, and as yet
Father's Day is not marked. On May 15 the teachers celebrate the feast of their
patron, St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, founder of the teaching order of the
Brothers of Christian Doctrine. They attend Mass in a body and have a party
On May 24, Empire Day is celebrated as a public holiday. The Adminis-
trator addresses the crowd from a kiosk in Columbus Square, on which sit
the Administrator's family, members of the Legislative and Executive
Councils, their families, and heads of departments. Boy Scouts, Girl Guides,
Brownies, Cubs, and other organizations perform a "march past" and school
children sing patriotic songs. Later the children toast the Queen in aerated
drinks or lime squash, and eat buns of sweet bread, cakes, and sweets pro-
vided by the government.
On the last Sunday in May, children bring offerings of flowers, "OfwA
d6fl6" to the church during the afternoon Vespers and Benediction.
The Feast of Corpus Christi, June 17, is both a civil and religious holi-
day. Three w6poztwa or repositories are built in Castries. These outdoor altars
similar to that described for the end of the Marian Year" are decorated with
white cloth, fresh and artificial flowers, ferns and creepers. The wepoztwa
of St. Isidore, patron of farmers, is also decorated with choice vegetables
and fruits, and with large, twisted loaves of bread originally supplied by the
late Ma Gonzague, a baker whose establishment was near the w6poztwa.
A large procession follows the priest, who says Benediction at the three
w6poztwa, which are dedicated to St. Isidore, Lavitj, and Sakw6 K&. The
procession is known as "the fashion show" because in spite of clerical oppo-
sition each woman feels she must have a new dress and accessories for this
occasion, and traditionally they must all be of the same color, dress, hat,
shoes, purse, and gloves.32
The Corpus Christi celebration in SoufriR're is in the imaginative tradi-
tion of Latin Catholicism. The village is situated along a curved beach and
its deep harbor is surrounded by jagged peaks, particularly Petit Piton rising
2,481 ft. sheer from the water. Here the w6poztwa is built on a group of
five pirogues tethered together. The priest and acolytes board this float
32Cf. Breen, op. cit. p. 183. .dress and devotion are the order of the day-
the all-engrossing topics of female society . . the greatest devote is
often the greatest coquette"
and say Benediction as the flower-decked w6poztwa is allowed to drift out
from the beach. Its relationship to t-he faithful on the shore reflects Christ's
instructions to boatmen to push His boat off from shore so that He could
speak more satisfactorily to an assembled crowd. When the service is over,
the w6poztwa is drawn back to shore and disassembled.33
On June 29, St. Peter's Day, the fishermen of t-he community have their
fete. In the fishing villages of The Conway and Soufricre the priests bless
the fishing boats, which are decorated with flowers for the occasion. After
a Mass for St. Peter the fishermen and fish-vendors parade through the streets
in hired taxis and ho'd a party in a rented lodge hall.
On the Queen's official birthday, the second Thursday of June, there is
a parade around the Square by the police constabulary, cadets, scouts, guides,
and other groups, after which some of the adults adjourn to private homes
to drink the Queen's health.
July 16. the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. is the 1ete of the
Confraternity of Mt. Carmel, a religious organization for women, dedicated
to visiting the sick and poor, distributing alms, and having Masses said for
deceased members. This is the usual time for joining the organization, or
celebrating the anniversary of one's joining, just as one celebrates birthdays,
wedding anniversaries or First Communion anniversaries. In processions this
group wear their brown scapulars around their necks, but otherwise under
St. Christopher's Day, July 25, is the feast of chauffeurs. bicyclists, and
taxi drivers. They attend Mass in a body, then spend the day driving their
cars and bicycles through the streets in a procession, honking their horns
continuously. They have the usual rum 'ete in a lodge hall. St. Christopher
medals and other small religious figurines are much in evidence in St. Lucian
St. Anne's Day July 26, is the feast of the laundresses.-u The connec-
tion between St. Anne and laundry is not quite clear but as the mother of
Mary and grandmother of Jesus, she is venerated in France as the perfect
"M&re Chretienne" and patroness of housewives and household tasks. In
a community where only very poor women do not employ at least one
servant, it is easy to see how the saint of household tasks could become the
saint of servants.vi The laundresses are too poor to rent ars for parade,
but they have a fete in a hall in the Monkey Hill or Morne Dudon neighbor-
33jn the evening after this service in 1955, a severe fire broke out and leveled
nearly half of Soufriere's buildings.
jMThere is much variation in the veneration of patron saints. St. Clare is patroness
of washerwomen, St. Martha of laundresses, and St. Zita of maidservants
and housekeepers. Engelbert, op. cit., p. 500.
35Great prestige is derived from hiring servants, and they are much discussed.
In an office hiring only one office boy, he will be referred to as "my staff"
For a similar attitude in Trinidad, see Lloyd Braithwaite, "Social Stratifi-
cation in Trinidad" Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 2, Nos. 2 and 3,
Oct., 1953, pp. 145-146.
In the rainy season from June to September, small boys make "boats"
from matchsticks and sail them in the flooded gutters, called "kanal" or
drains. Slingshots or "katapul" are also popular in this season, being made
from a crotched branch and innertube, and used mainly for shooting birds
and each other with pebbles as ammunition. St. Lucian blackbirds are sup-
posed to pray as follows: "B6 Die, B6 Di6, pw6zev6 mw&, wosh, fizi, katapul,
situ ti Neg" (Good Lord, Good Lord, preserve me from rocks, guns, sling-
shots, especially little Negroes). Another kind of weapon, the seed popgun
or "pbfgon" is made in the rainy season. A piece of female bamboo from
4 inches to 2 feet in length is cut, and a slightly longer stick fitted into the
hollow like a piston in a cylinder. A seed, small fruit, or wad of wet paper
or cork is rammed through the cylinder, so that when a second seed or wad
is rammed through, the first is ejected with a loud noise.
St. Lucian men and boys are excellent swimmers, and make a sport of
cavorting around incoming vessels and diving for coins. To make it possible
to stay far from land without undue effort, boys use a flcat made from a
section of the trunk of a "bwa fla" or balsa tree (Ochroma lagopus). It is
also sometimes sat upon and used as a raft.
Pentecost or Whitsunday, the locally-preferred term, is a moveable feast
occurring 50 days after Easter. Whitmonday is a civil holiday given over
to picnicking, sea bathing, and sports. Picnics are called "maw6n" in patois
meaning "wild".36 In late years it has become a custom for St. Lucian
middle class people to make a schooner excursion to Martinique on this holi-
day. Although Martinique is only 22 mi'es away, and many St. Lucians
have relatives there, little mutual intercourse has developed besides occasionall
smuggling, visits of officials, and wholesale purchasing of St. Lucian fisher-
On Emancipation Day, first Monday in August, similar excursions operate
to Kingstown, St. Vincent. In the list of St. Lucian civil holidays,37 this day
is merely called "Bank Holiday", and there is little formal ceremonial acti-
vity, although it would seem to be by far the most significant day of the
year for a community that was born in Emancipation.
The Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, August 15, is not a holy day
of obligation in St. Lucia as it is in the U.S. This most recently proclaimed
dogma has been traditionally celebrated with a High Mass, long before the
dogma was proclaimed.
August 30 is the feast of St. Rose of Lima, first saint to be born in the
New World, and hence popular with New World missionaries.38 In St. Lucia
there has existed for at least 150 year a curious kind of moiety. The
36Probably derived, like the English "maroon" from the Slpnish word for run-
away slave, "cimarron", which originally designated a mountain peak. The
term was used to designate a picnic in English-spe.lkinig Nassau as early as
1824. Miss Hart, Letters from the Bahamas Islands written in 1824,
Philadelphia, 1827, Richard Kent, (Ed.) (London: Culmer, 1948), p. 27.
37West Indies and Caribbean Year Book, op. cit., p. 282.
aSThe former Carib mission of St. Rose in Arima, Trinidad, still has a festival
on her feast day, and devotion to her is extensive in Mexico and the American
population from Governor to country peasant has been affiliated with either
Sosete Lawoz or Sos6te Lamagrit. Membership is through feeling a prefer-
ence for the rose flower, the symbol of Lawoz. or for t-he marguerite (bache-
lor's button globe amaranth, gromphrena), the symbol of Lamagrit. On
the feast of St. Rose, Lawoz holds a "gwA frt", with the King, Queen.,
Princess, Chief of Police, Soldiers, Matrons, Nurses, Pages, and other society
dignitaries parading throug-h the streets to and from Mass wearing magnifi-
cent robes and carrying gold-emblazoned flags. In the evening there is a
ceremony of homage to the "royalty" a grand march, a dance, and plenty
of cakes and drinks. The special lavic dance form is called "mapa", danced
in a circle and sung by a shAtwNl and the dancers. Both organizations hold
"seances" or singing practices, where the songs praise their flower and deride
the opposite organization and its flower. The positions of "royalty" go to
those who can afford to buy the necessary costumes, but they must also be
popular with the rank and file. Funds to hire the hall and pay for entertain-
ment are obtained by subscription from members and "patrons" from the
wealthier classes, and from fines levied for rude behaviour, failure to give
"royalty" its due, smoking without permission, smoking licences, or taking
sweets or bags of peanuts suspended from cords from the ceiling. These fines
are levied by a "magistrate" in a mock court after the offender has been
arrested by a "police" At various times in their long histories, the societies
have been at odds with both Church and State for quarrdlling, riots, and
extravagance, But conversely nearly all Governors and prominent citizens
have affiliated with one of the societies, many of them actively. Lawoz built
the steeple of the church in Vieux Fort, and gave some of the cloth-of-gold
vestments in Castries. In recent years interest has flagged, but organizations
still exist in each village.39
September 8, the Nativity of the Virgin, is the feast of the Children of
Mary Sodality, "AfA Mawi", an organisation similar to the confraternity,
but wearing blue scapulars and blue satin baldrics. They do works of mercy
give alms to the sick poor, and teach illiterate country children their catechism
in preparation for First Communion. They usually make a three day retreat
including Mass attendance, prayers and meditation, and sermons, ending with
a High Mass on this feast day.
Thanksgiving Day, a legal holiday usually celebrated on the first Monday
of October, is a harvest festival, even though there are not the restricted
planting and harvesting cycles known in temperate zones. The Catholics
sing a Te Deum at Thanksgiving Mass, and the Anglicans and Methodists
give harvest festivals and bazaars where they sell flowers, needlework, and
provisions contributed by their congregations, the proceeds going toward the
support of their schools. A dance is usually held in the evening. Country
dances at this season specialize in the "pika" danced in a circle of alternating
men and women.
On October 17, Lamagrit gives a gwa frt on the feast of its patroness,
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. October 18 is the feast of St. Luke, patron
39Breen, op. cit., p. 191 fi., and Harold F. C. Simmons, "The Flower Festivals
of St. Lucia", The Voice of St. Lucia, August 27, 1953.
ot nurses, who celebrate by attending Mass in a body, and then hearing a
lecture. On October 25, the feast of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian, the shoe-
makers and cobblers have a f6te in honor of these Roman martyrs who were
Hallowe'en is not celebrated with pranks in St. Lucia, but such groups
as the Physical Culture Club, Girl Guides, or Ex-Service Men give dances.
With the end of October, the Miserere which is sung after High Mass every
Sunday during the hurricane season is discontinued. The poem on the hurri-
cane season is:
June, too soon
July, stand by
August, come it must
October, all over.
November opens with All Saints Day, when each family cleans the family
graves, whitewashes the copings or stones, replaces the conch shells that cover
the mound, and refresh the painted lettering on the wooden crosses that mark
the graves. Colored paper wreaths and fresh flowers decorate the graves,
and some families arrange lighted candles on them. This beautiful custom
has no known significance in St. Lucia beyond "it for the dead" It is more
widespread in Martinique and Trinidad.
Remembrance Day is a civil holiday celebrated on the Sunday before
November I1, the armistice of World War I, unless another date is pro-
claimed from Whitehall. The "Last Post" is b'own during the Requiem
Mass of Remembrance, after which wreaths are laid on the war memorial
in Columbus Square. After a marchpast by police, ex-service men. scouts,
guides, and other groups, the ex-service men are invited to the Police Canteen
for drinks and informal speeches.
November 9. Peacemaker's Day, is dedicated to Edward VII. Little
festivity marks the day, though the Methodists have a churchh bazaar, and
Dominica sometimes sends a schooner excursion.
The month of November is dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory.
St. Lucian country people syncretize their African and European traditions
by holding "k6nt" (story) dances in 'honor of dead ancestors during this
month. "We keeping this pleasure for all deads" The k6nt is held in a
temporary tent outside a village, so that the 10 p.m. deadline on drum play-
ing can be ignored. A shit6 or male shatwOl sings in a loud voice an im-
provised topical song beginning each line with "I di, Woy. (He or she
says, 'Oh .) or "I di mwe we" (He or she says, 'I see .). One or two
4OThe popularity of hagiolatry in St. Lucia has led to the following jokes about
patron saints: St. Francis de Sales is the patron of auctioneers; St. Joseph
Cupertino (cup-of-tea-no?) of afternoon teas; St. John Damascene of theatrical
performances; and St. Pascal Baylon of cricketers. Authentic patrons are
hardly less curious, e.g. The Annunciation as feast day of the news dealers.
There are patron saints for old clothes dealers, mountain climbers, clowns,
jugglers, drunkards, prostitutes, thieves, jockeys, playing card manufacturers,
plumbers, makers of precision instruments, and for obtaining a good lodging
while travelling. Engelbert. op. cit. p. 499 ff.
drummers beat out a complex, erratic rhythm against the shat6, and the
chorus by the crowd is made up of the most prominent phrase of the song.
Topics cover all aspects of village life, often by subtle allusion and sugges-
tion. As the shat6 completes his kbnt, .he specifies the number of couples
who are to dance, usually I to 4. The dance mimes the words of the k6nt
in an imaginative and often derisive way, and the steps, though varying
broadly, are built around rapid and complex crossing of the legs by the men,
and "winin" by the women. The variety, humor, and skill exhibited in the
kbnts and other country dance forms suggest that they are St. Lucia's most
important artistic expression, worthy of much more study. The "solo" a
competitive display of footwork between couples in another popular dance
form of the November-December season.
The yearly cycle of socio-religious activities is varied and extended by
anniversary celebrations of birthdays, First Communions, weddings, and con-
fraternity affiliations. Th-oughout life there are the Catholic rites de passage
of Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony or Holy Orders
(two local Creole priests to date). and Extreme Unction at t.he time of death.
The pattern of wakes includes festivities at the night of death, the 9th, 40th,
and year anniversaries, each with hymn singing, folktale-telling, riddling,
and sometimes dancing, and carefully graded periods of mourning symbol-
ized in clothing. Each year t-here are special events, religious activities such
as those connected with the Marian Year, and civil holidays proclaimed by
the government to mark special occasions. The tenor of life is thus one of
order, pleasure, and anticipation, in spite of the serious problems occasioned
by poverty and isolation. St. Lucians in accommodating their ancient West
African patterns to the capaciou:, stucture of traditional folk Catholicism
have created an island of piety, certainty, and innocent merriment in a sea
Launching a Schooner in Carriacou
AFTER six years of sailing, Blue Nose Mac, a schooner belonging to
Dean MacFarlane of Windward in Carriacou ran aground on one of the many
reefs off the Windward coast in May, 1952. Efforts were made to refloat her
but without success and after twenty-nine days of unsuccessful efforts to save
her she was stripped and abandoned.
The Rival Dean which replaced her was built from a draft made by
Jossie Crompton from a verbal description by Dean MacFarlane of the kind
of vessel he wanted. The material salvaged from the Blue Nose Mac valued
at $10,000, together with mahogany purchased from and given by the
Government, was assembled at Erstine Roberts' shipyard. Leo Crompton,
the carpenter, was then shown the draft and asked to build the vessel. The
timbers were made of white cedar and mahogany and the rest of the vessel of
pitchpine. The keel was of greenheart. The spars were pine trees pared
down to shape. Six inch galvanize iron spikes, wooden spikes, pitch, tar,
oakum and iron nails were also used in the construction of the vessel. The
spars, spikes, oakum and pitchpine were imported from Canada.
The keel of greenheart was brought by schooner to Carriacou from
British Guiana. It consisted of a single Greenheart log and arrived already
shaped. It was 44 ft. long, 6" wide and 12" deep. It was placed on blocks
of wood in the shipyard. The stem and stern post were then attached by
bolts to the keel and held upright by chocks. The two centre timbers fashioned
by the carpenter's judgment were then bolted to the keel and siknilarly
chocked. Next the transom and then the bow frame similarly fashioned by
the carpenter were bolted to the keel and ribbons (i.e., pieces of cord) were
run from bow to stern at about deck level on both sides of the schooner. The
carpenter then made patterns of the remaining timbers from pitchpine boards.
These are called moulds. The moulds were fitted upright at the place where
the timbers were to be put and afterwards taken down, put on the ground
and used for shaping the timbers which were then fitted to the keel and
chocked. The keelson (a plank shaped to fit over the timbers along the whole
length of the keel) was then put down and bolted through the timbers on to
the keel. Next the beams and stanchions were installed and attached to the
timbers by knees and flows. The stanchions and beams were arranged accord-
ing to the position planned for the holds and hatches. Then the deck was
floored among other things to keep the hold of the vessel clean. After this
the planks and boards were fixed on to the schooner and the schooner was
caulked. The joint where the stem meets the keel was caulked by boring
holes right through both keel and stem at the points where they met, driving
wooden pins into the holes, splitting the head of each pin and caulking the
split head of the pin. The water line is averaged and is usually 1 to 2 ft.
above the widest part of the bilge of the schooner.
By Monday, 7th September, 1953 the schooner had been built and
painted, and lay on the beach at Windward, her bows facing east towards
the reef and supported by chocks. Her bottom is tarred up to the water line.
Above the water line she is painted dark grey with a yellow band about six
inches wide painted at deck level along both her sides from bow to stem.
The bulwarks are painted white and the rail green. Apart from the jib-boom
imported from Canada complete with stays and the port and starboard guides,
none of the gear has been fitted.
The eve of launching is a helping day. No one is paid and people come
from all parts of the district to lend a hand with the work to be done. The
owner provides rum, wine and food and this provision of food for those
helping is called a salaca, saraca or maroon. The owner makes a salaca for
Monday, 9.00 a.m.
The general atmosphere is one of urgency, the owner complaining about
the work still to be done such as caulking and tarring, and urging all who
have come into the shipyard to help. Presently a man starts to caulk the
galverstrow. Two men, one with a hoe and one with a shovel, clear and level
the ground under and in front of the starboard side, the side on which she
will be cut down. This is to ensure that the wares will be level when laid.
Gifts, including three fowls and a bottle of rum arrive at the shipyard.
Presently the fowls are bled on the vessel, their necks are severed and they
are thrown as they bleed against the keel one at the bow and two at the stern.
Two men follow the fluttering fowls, with rum and water, and, as the fowls
thresh about, they throw it on them.
Meanwhile the hauling preparations for launching are being made.
Previously three anchors had been set-one on the reef 100 yards from shore
directly in front of the schooner, another 15 yards from shore in the same
-v' line as the first, and about
12 to 15 yards to starboard of
SUC,,AEc. this, a third. The first of these
anchors is the main anchor
which weighs about 600 lb.
The flue has been partly
SECC ,N6 cr MAIN ANCHOR IN ,4 BD0 buried in the reef and an iron
bar about 6 ft. long placed
parallel to the shore slightly above the bottom of the side of the flue which
is nearer shore. Behind the iron bar on the shore side five pickets of iron
mangrove 5' 6" to 6' long have been driven into the reef with mallets or
heavy blocks of wood. The top of the anchor is visible above the surface
for about 8" and so are the tops of the pickets for about 8" to 10" The third
anchor is called the starboard luff and weighs about 500 lb. as does the
second anchor. It was originally planned that a port luff should be placed
in the sea but this was never done. The method of securing the main anchor
is shown in above.
Five men in a small boat take a chain to one end of which is attached
a length of rope and carry it to the main anchor paying out the rope to
four men standing on the shore as the boat moves out to sea. Two men
on shore prepare a purchase with a length of I" rope. The purchase is
made of the 1" rope and two blocks each having two shives. The rope is
passed twice through two blocks, one of which is hooked to a rope tied to
a coconut tree and the other block is placed on the beach near the surf.
The chain is attached to the main anchor and the small boat returns to
shore, the men throwing the chain into the sea as they come shoreward. The
rope which is attached to the chain is then secured to the hook of the block
that was put near the surf and twelve men pull on the free end of the rope
on the purchase. This rope on which they pull is called the fall. Pulling on
the fall continues until the rope and chain are taut. This is done to stretch
Five men remove the purchase from the rope attached to the chain and
secure that rope to a coconut tree. This purchase is taken out in the boat
and one end attached to the chain while the other is brought back to the
shore with the aid of another purchase which has been made meanwhile.
Next, work starts on the rollers, which are being made from rough logs
of dogwood, and greenheart, &c. The roller is made by axing the log until
it is roughly a square then cutting the edges so that it becomes hexagonal
and so further cutting and trimming the edges until the log is roughly round.
It is then planed.
Another bale of rope is stretched. At about noon, the strapping of the
vessel begins. Cable is run around the girth of the vessel on the ground with
one end formed into an eye. A length of rope is then attached at one end
to a wooden cleat on deck and passed down and under the cable and up and
under the cleat on both sides of the vessel until the cable is raised from the
ground and is suspended around the vessel. A rope is then passed down
from the deck through the rudder case and secured to the strap and the deck
end is secured to a cleat. The rope supporting the strap is called the hangars
and the operation of supporting the strap by the hangars is called the bridling.
Several temporary cleats are made for the purpose of bridling by nailing
pitchpine laths to the top timbers.
Food is served by the women in pitch-oil tins and trays. The meal
consists of dried pigeon peas cooked with pig's snout, ribs and salt beef,
corn cuckoo in balls of about 6" diameter sliced, rice in balls, white flour
dumplings, green plantain, and sweet potato. The food is served on a plate
and eaten with a spoon and the men sit on the spars which lie in the shipyard
eating and drinking rum.
Work is resumed with the placing of seven shores each approximately
12 ft. long on the starboard side of the vessel. The top of each shore is put
into a pitchpine bracket nailed to the side of the vessel and the pointed
bottom end is put into the sand. Next the wares (pitchpine planks of various
lengths) are placed on the ground below the vessel, ten on the port side and
thirty-three on the starboard. The wares are to ensure that the rollers do
not sink into the sand.
The rollers are placed under the keel of the vessel between the blocks
on which the keel is resting with their ends extending between the chocks and
the shores. They are three in number. The vessel is then decorated with flags.
TO CccCOW T 7 7 E To
sawF -tra mc SCCNQfS
Work stopped and preparations for the Big Drum Dance began shortly
after. Before this, however, a table was erected in the cabin where the
parents' plate, a collection of various kinds of food supposedly for the spirits
of deceased ancestors of the owner to eat, is laid out under a lantern. There
is also a parents' plate at the owner's home in his bedroom. Before midnight
no one may eat from it, the spirits having first choice. But at midnight the
parents' plate is broken and all who wish may join in the scramble for
the food which consists of a sweet drink, a cup of cocoa, and one of coffee,
3 silk figs, a banana, 3 sapodillas, a loaf of sweet bread, a cake, a roasted
chicken, pork, mutton and liver, 3 mangoes, an orange, a-. avocado pear,
4 Jamaican plums, hard round sugar sweets, a roast corn, ground-nut sugar
cakes, peas soup in an enamel carrier, 3 boiled eggs, 3 bakes, rice in balls
and corn cuckoo in balls, sweet potato, plantain, "bluggoe" and corn and
For the Big Drum Dance a tarpaulin is slung between the cocount trees
with one end supported by ropes from the vessel. The dancers and the
drummers led by Sugar Adams arrived. There are altogether three drums. At
about 9.15 p.m. a woman starts singing and the drums begin to beat. People
have come from all parts of the district and are gathered under the tarpaulin
sitting and standing in roughly a square. The open space around which they
stand is called the ring. As the drumming starts the owner enters the ring with
a bottle of rum in one hand, a small glass in the other. He dances and his wife
enters the ring with a jug of water. The owner dances around the ring
pouring rum into the glass and throwing it on the ground as he goes. His wife
follows throwing water where he has thrown rum. This is called wetting
the ring and is done to a Grand Bele tune. After this a Cromanti song is
played. The owner and his wife again wet the ring and dance. Another
Cromanti is played and the owner dances with two towels, one in either
hand, which he leaves on the ground crossed at the end of the dance. One
by one members of his family go into the ring, pick up the towels, dance
and replace them on the ground crossed, until finally someone puts the towels
on the drum, and the drumming stops. Songs and dances of the Manding,
Ibo and other nations succeed one another, accompanied by the drums, and
later a variety of old creole dances, too, until the early hours of the morning.
That day about thirty men had assisted with the work in the morning
and the number had grown to fifty by afternoon.
Next day preparations for launching begin by putting bilge boards on
the starboard bilge of the vessel. Two more pickets are put at the main
anchor and the shore end of the purchase for the main anchor which overnight
had been supported on two boats is secured to the eye of the bilge strap.
A purchase is put from the starboard side of the vessel to a coconut tree.
This is to guard against the vessel falling to port when the chocks are removed
and before she is cut down. A 1" x 2" pitchpine pole about 12 ft. long is
nailed to the forward hatch and on this will be hoisted the name flag. Two
additional rollers are set, one in front of the bow and the other on the port
side of the vessel at the stern.
A check line consisting of a purchase is attached to a strap of 4" wire,
passed through a hole bored in the stem post. The other end of the purchase
is secured by a chain to a large root in the ground. The check line is used
for controlling the speed of the vessel as she rolls forward if it becomes
necessary. The free end of the rope is attached to a coconut tree.
The starboard luff is put down with three pickets in manner similar to
the main anchor. The stem and bow chocks as well as all other chocks are
removed. The vessel now stands supported only by the seven shores.
A band consisting of a fiddle, two guitars, a triangle, banjo and tin
chac-chacs starts to play 'Madeleine Oi' (a Trinidad Calypso) as seven men,
each with an axe, take a drink of rum together and then stand each one
opposite a shore. They are the axe-men who will cut her down. Each axe-man
cuts the sides of his shore alternately and the point keeps sinking into the
sand. This continues until the vessel is resting on her starboard side on the
rollers. The bilge boards protect the side of the vessel from being damaged
by the rollers. During the cutting down men pull on the purchase which
has been erected to prevent her from falling to port. She is cut down in seven
minutes amidst great cheers and as she comes to rest the music stops. During
the cutting down the owner, carpenter and older members of the crowd shout
to the axe-men to take their time and not rush it. The vessel comes to rest
without a sound and caulking the port side of the galvarstrow begins.
The usual procedure on the day of launching is that the priest and god-
parents go around the vessel and on deck with the priest blessing the vessel.
The name flag is then hoisted and unfurled whereafter the cutting down starts.
After she has been cut down she is launched by hauling on the purchases
until the vessel enters the sea and floats. In this case the priest was absent
at Union Island during the morning and several of the god-parents were
late, hence the departure from the usual procedure.
The flag is broken amidst cheers of the crowd. The name was Rival Dean.
All the while the band- is playing. Caulking is still in progress on the port
side and all the blocks, except the one nearest the stern on which the keel
has been resting, are removed by digging holes in front of them and driving
them forward from the port side with an iron headed sledge. The god-parents
then go to the stem of the vessel where a bag made of white embossed chiffon
hangs on a nail in the stem post. A small mallet wrapped in red and white
ribbon is handed to each god-parent who puts a contribution into the bag
and hits the stern of the vessel with the mallet three times or more to the
cheers of the crowd as the music plays.
Some of the god-parents sing hymns from the deck of the vessel and then
the hauling starts with the shanty man singing and controlling the pulling
with a whistle. The vessel is resting on three rollers and one roller is being
held in front of the bow. Men and women are pulling on all three falls from
sea to shore. The men are singing lustily "Long time ago was a very good
XUG IturF 'WI tN AMCM-
The pulling stops for a check of the anchors and it is discovered that
the main anchor is coming (i.e. moving). Men are sent to put extra pickets
and while this is being done the cake sticking and "dancing the cake" takes
place. The cake, a three-layer butter sponge with raisins, iced in white, is
stuck by two of the god-parents, Miss Phillis MacFarlane, the owner's god-
daughter and Mr. Louisey, the Agricultural Officer. All the while music is
being played. Mr. Louisey cuts the cake with knife and fork and holding
the cake on the fork, puts it into Miss MacFarlane's mouth; he then eats a
piece of the cake himself, after which he kisses Miss MacFarlane. The cake
is on a table around which the god-parents of the vessel are standing.
After the sticking of the cake, it is danced from the table by one of
the god-parents who then hands it to another god-parent and so on until
every god-parent has danced the cake.
Pulling is started again by the shanty man blowing on his whistle and
calling "Heave away" The men are pulling only on the port and starboard
falls as the main anchor is being fixed, but presently the pulling stops as
the starboard luff is coming too. It is decided to place port and starboard luffs
on shore. On the starboard side a trench is dug on shore about 5 ft. from the
sea and 14 ft. from the vessel. It is about 9 ft. long and 2' 6" deep, and a
greenheart block about 8' long is put into the trench. The anchor (the star-
board luff) is removed from the sea and buried in the trench with one side
of the flue over the block with the end in the sand under the block. Four
pickets are driven into the sand behind the block on the shore side and block
and anchor are covered with sand.
Meanwhile the roller put in at the stern on the port side is rigged to be
used as a lever. A length of rope is tied to the port end of the roller and
a block is placed under it so that the port end points into the air. This rope
is tied so that there are two free ends. The starboard purchase is secured
at one end to the anchor buried in the sand and the other end of the purchase
is hooked into the strap which holds the check line. On the port side the
purchase has been removed from the anchor and secured to a piece of chain
which has been wound round some mangrove roots and trees on the port side.
One end of the port purchase is hooked on to the piece of chain and
the other to a length of chain which has been shackled to the check line
strap and wrapped once around the bilge strap. When this work has
been completed, pulling re-starts on all three falls to the singing of shanties
with occasional pauses to reset the jack or when the jack slips. At this
stage nine men were using the port stern roller as a lever and the vessel was
moving slowly forward;. Every now and again water was thrown on the
rollers and on the ropes where they passed round the coconut trees and the
vessel inched its way forward to the strains of "Yard, oh! Yard, oh! Bell a
ring a-yard, oh!" and "Come let's join the Rosabella"
During one of the pauses for re-setting the jack "she is wet down" i.e.,
rum is served to the men holding the falls preparing to pull. The pulling
continues with intermittent pauses to reset the jack or free the main purchase
rope which jammed.
Si/E. L VA / /ON OF jC/IOCNf..
Lunch consists of beef, pork, mutton, rice, peas, potato, cuckoo made
of corn, tannia and "bluggoe" There are drinks of rum and wine.
After lunch, the wares are taken from the stern and placed further down
the beach near the sea. Almost immediately after re-starting, the port fall
bursts and the pulling is stopped. The vessel has moved a little but progress
is slow. While the port fall is being repaired barley soup with bits of mutton
and pork is served. About five minutes after the pulling re-starts the block
on the sea end of the starboard luff is wrung and has to be replaced by a
Meanwhile Father Paul, the Roman Catholic priest, returns from
Union Island where he has officiated at a wedding and the people gather
around as he performs the blessing. He stands on the starboard side of the
vessel about 30 ft. from it and by him stands the student priest (novice).
Father Paul begins by reading in Latin from the Ritual a prayer for the
launching or blessing of the new vessel. He then repeats the prayer in
English, after which he addresses the crowd saying how glad he is to bless
this vessel on the birthday of the Mother of Jesus. He hopes that the work
done by the owners and people on the vessel, which shows that they are
not idle but use the resources that God gave them, will be of use and benefit
in Carriacou. He admires the courage of the owner who having lost one
vessel is not discouraged but builds this magnificent vessel. He hopes that
the owner and other people of Windward will run from port to port bringing
goods to Carriacou and that God will bless the sailors who sail on the vessel.
He hopes that they will be christian sailors leading christian lives and support-
ing their families and prays that they will not perish in stormy seas but
will be led by God's hand to the port of safety not only on this earth but
to port of safety we are all travelling to-Heaven. He asks God to save
the vessel and keep it safe for many years.
Father Paul, in white cassock, surplice and stole then walks round the
vessel in an anticlodkwise direction sprinkling it with holy water from a
stoop made of pewter.
When the blessing is finished the men go to the falls and resume pulling,
with the lusty singing of shanties and pauses to set the jack. As the vessel
moves forward the wares are taken from under the stem and set further
down the beach and into the sea. The pulling continues until 4.49 p.m.
when there is rain and everybody scampers to shelter under the hull of the
vessel and in the dog houses which are in the shipyard.
Pulling re-starts to the strains of the shanty "Yard-Oh!" but after
three minutes the hook of the block on the starboard purchase is straightened
by the pressure of pulling and comes off the chain of the starboard luff
hitting a man on his foot. The injury, however, is not severe and the block
is replaced. The rain again interrupts at 5.15 but after six minutes clears
sufficiently for work to continue. An anchor is put on the port side on the
beach in the same way as that on the starboard side. The chain is removed
from the mangrove trees and roots and attached to this anchor. The pulling
continues with great zest and the vessel is moving considerably but at 6.04 the
port fall bursts and the pulling stops on the blast of the whistle. The women
enjoy themselves singing as they help to pull on the falls and are now
singing the shanty "Rosabella" substituting the name "Rival" Rum is
served and the jack reset and pulling starts again. The women sing a new
Pull me over the sea
Edna and Ruby and Monica (Nelly) were there
One of them turn to the mister and said
Pull me over the sea.
(The mister in this song is the writer)
Pulling continues until about 6.40 when work is stopped for the day
because of bad light. The bow of the vessel is now five yards from the surf
and altogether during the day the vessel has been moved seventeen yards.
The falls are secured on coconut trees, everyone has a drink of rum and
Next day the pulling starts about 8.30 a.m. and continues without mishap
to the tackle until 12 noon. The pulling follows the same pattern as the
previous day, except that after being moved about 22 yards there is no
further need for the jack as the bow of the vessel enters the sea. This is about
10.30 a.m. By noon it is gradually righting itself rising from its side until
it floats upright in the water. There is great cheering as the vessel floats
upright. The ship is pulled a little further on the main purchase and a
550 lb. anchor complete with chain is used on the port side to anchor her.
About forty boys and young men swim out to the vessel and begin to rock
her by running from one side of the deck to the other checking themselves
with their hands on the rail. They then begin throwing each other overboard
People are dancing to the music of a guitar and chac chacs and drinking
rum and wine. The music is augmented by a banjo and grows more spirited
as does the dancing. The main purchase is placed on board the Rival Dean
and the dancing and drinking continues late into the afternoon. In the
night there is a dance at the home of one df the owner's relatives where
all who have helped to launch the Rival Dean meet to drink and dance, all
the while recalling incidents which took place during the launching. This
continues late into the night fed by rum and wine.
The Shadow and the Substance
A study of aspects of the economic and social structure and the change in
economic and social relations between whites and coloured
free in slave society in British Guiana
BY RAWLE FARLEY
THE illusion prevails in British Caribbean history that the planter class fell.
This, however, constitutes, at any rate for Guiana, an unexamined
generalisation. The planter class never fell. It was transformed. The cause of
the transformation lay in several directions. There were naturally those who
inherited from their original planter forbears. There were managers and
overseers who rose up into ranks by devious means. There were small men,
smitten with social and economic ambition, who, eventually favoured by
chance and will, made the grade. Sequestrators and speculators never lost
any opportunity presented to become part of the plantocracy. Merchants used
their profits to buy land or took advantage of failing credit obligations to
force the surrender of mortgaged estates. But by far the most spectacular
cause of the transformation was the artful and continuous infiltration into
the planter class of that most insecure group of Caribbean people, the
coloured population who were free. While the administrative integrity of the
Colonial Office, the opportunism of D'Urban, and the self-interest of the sugar
planters in London were furthering the pursuit of political and economic
integration in the Guiana territories the free part of the coloured population
were engaged in using every means to end their unhappy state of suspended
freedom and gain for themselves firm and clear social and economic
In slave society, liberty was the right of the freo whites and of the
coloured free population. The degree of freedom was, however, not the same
for both these sections of free society. The white population, in the main,
enjoyed full freedom, but the freedom, of the coloured free population was
largely relative. Social and economic development under slavery was, therefore,
characterized by the organised demand of the coloured free population for
the substance and not the shadow of freedom. Their demand triumphed in
the years of decision after 1831. But in those momentous years freedom was
instituted as being morally and legally consistent with "the common good of
the great body of the people"' of Guiana. The condition was thus established
whereby social and economic integration might develop pari passu with
In the rest of the British Caribbean, the same social privileges developed,
but the same accompanying conditions did not hold. For territorial integration
was yet to become a substantial reality throughout the area. The climax of
social and economic freedom for the coloured free population coincided with
the triumph of an equal degree of freedom for the coloured slave population
and with territorial integration. The coincidence gave Guiana a unique
opportunity of demonstrating within the British Caribbean the advantages to
be derived therefrom.
The planter class was evidently in origin comprised of the white
population. Not all the white population were, of course, members of the
plantocracy. Members of the white population served as plantation servants
and, in 1784, the West Indian Company devised common regulations to
govern the treatment of white plantation servants and the slaves.2 The
inclusion of the former under this common code no doubt influenced the
institution of "several humane provisions" with regard to the rest of the
slave population.3 The white population were also in origin merchants and
clerks and, on the plantation, served as attorneys, managers, and overseers.5
The attorney of a property was defined by Hillhouse as the person left
in charge by the proprietor during his absence from the colony. As such, he
was responsible for the proper conducting of the concern during the
proprietor's absence and, as a customary allowance, was given ten per cent.
of the net revenue of the property. With long established and extensive
estates where revenues were considerable and the duty of the attorney easy,
a smaller sum was mutually agreed upon. The duties of the attorney varied
considerably. He transacted the mercantile business of the estate, superin-
tended the supply of provisions and clothing, the erection of buildings and
all the ordinary and extraordinary expenses. He regulated the expenses of
the estate in proportion to its income, provided it with a proper and efficient
manager, and ensured that the produce found a good market. Theoretically,
the attorney's duties required his presence on the estate and through this,
he was enabled to form "a proper idea of the manner in which the manager
discharged his duty both with regard to the cultivation and the care of
The attorney and the manager were not usually the same person. The two
jobs required different qualities and these were seldom combined in one
person. The manager's duties included visits to the hospital to see how the
sick fared, to see whether their medicines had the desired effect, and also to
receive complaints and new patients. The manager accompanied the doctor
on his visits to the sick, explained to him the character of different cases,
received his instructions and noted his prescription in a journal kept for that
purpose. Through association with the doctor, the manager gained a practical
knowledge of various remedies and was thus more effectively able to superin-
tend the sick nurse. The manager or a trusty overseer administered and mixed
the prescription of the doctor in his absence.
But his duties extended beyond the hospital. He inspected the works
and the buildings. He supervised in the different departments the manufac-
ture of sugar, of rum, the drying or cleaning of coffee, or the preparing of
cotton for the market. He paid the greatest attention to the state of the
weather, the quality of the fuel, the cleanliness of the boiling house and the
attendance of the overseers and their Negroes to their duties about the
buildings. In the fields, he was concerned with the proper cutting of the
canes, and their weeding and supply, with draining, with the good order
of the plantains, with the alertness of the watchmen, and with the condition
of the cotton and coffee plants. Above all, the manager was the dispenser
The white plantation servants, the coloured slaves, the clerks, the over-
seers, the managers, the attorneys were all cogs in the machine and servants
in high or low degree of the planter class. The planters according to Boling-
broke, were usually persons who possessed a capital of from two to twenty
thousand pounds. "With less than the former", he wrote, "they cannot easily
commence their career, nor do they care to forsake it with less than the
latter.'8 The planter, so Milliroux explains, was either a man who possessed
slaves whom he employed in the cultivation of the products of the soil, or
one who employed in the same manner those slaves who had become free,
taking no interest in those labourers as human beings, "exacting from them
much labour, conceding to them in return less than they ought, and imbued
in the highest degree with prejudice of colour.'9 A soldier, Lieutenant Thomas
Staunton St. Clair, who spent two years in Guiana, makes ai further attempt
to delineate the planter class. "The generality of planter," he wrote "...seem
to entertain but one idea, in which all their thoughts and feelings are con-
centrated, and money, that prime necessity of human comfort, is their only
object."10 For this object, they lived for years in unwholesome and miserable
situations, "sacrificing health and the best years of their lives in discomfort
and wretchedness, in the hope of returning to their native country with a
The white population in Guiana was never large. Its numbers in Guiana
appear to be approximately as follows for the years below
Demerara Essequibo Berbice
1795 1,241 75313
1798 1,595 701s5
1811 210 763'7 60018
1813 For head money
1829 772 614 52323
The planter class was only a portion of the white population and,
therefore, a very small proportion of the total population of the territories.
Milliroux records that between 1822 and 1834 there were approximately in
Guiana only two hundred actual proprietors, of whom one hundred and
twenty-five were absent from the colonies (being represented on the spot by
attorneys) and seventy-five actually resident in Guiana25. Yet this tiny group,
whether absentee or resident, exercised the most extraordinary control over
the social and economic structure of Guiana. They commanded the wealth,
and they set the tone of society.
One of these absentees was Wolfert Katz, a great property owner in
Berbice. Thomas Moody, who was once in charge of his estates attested that
Katz' income from sugar, cotton, coffee and cocoa was over 40,000 a year.
Katz was the owner of over 1,500 slaves and offered security for Moody for
170,000 if Moody would remain in Berbice as his joint partner and managing
man of business, but Moody declined.26 William Fraser, another absentee,
had acquired considerable property, both real and personal in Berbice.27 He
was originally a native of Scotland, but had gone out early to Berbice where
he was resident for twenty years.28 Lambert Blair, who died in 1815 and
was succeeded by his heir James Blair, was perhaps the greatest absentee
landowner in all Berbice. In February, 1802, he bought Le Rossignol, and
at the same time one thousand acres of land on the East sea coast between
No. 41 and Devil's Creek and finally, 1,000 acres between this area and the
adjoining No. 42.29 Lambert Blair was already by 1804 the owner of 20,000
acres of land in Berbice.30
The wealth of the absentee planter class was guarded by resident
attorneys. Many of these attorneys were themselves proprietors. Many of
them managed several estates at the same time. Major Van Holst was the
sole representative of Plantations Belle Vue, Lust Lot Rust, Anna Clementina,
Zorg and Hoop and joint representative of Plantation D'Edward. All these
estates had a total slave population of 731 slaves but Van Holst was himself
the proprietor of Pln L'Enterprise with 85 slaves.3x The table below gives
further data about some of these attorneyships in Berbice and an indication
of the material resources over which they had control :32
Attorney Whether Proprietor Representative No. of Additional
himself or not of Pin Slaves Responsibilities
Lt. I. L. Kip ...Pln Middleburg & Mara Eumania 184
Welvaaron Essendam 228
(60 slaves) Bloemhoff
La Fraternity 162
Capt. F. de Standvastighied 143 Also of several
Maurenbrecher op Hoop Van Beter 158 mortgages on
Ruimzigt 80 valuable estates
de Mieuwe 174 and to a great
vigilantie amount and
q, q. J. H. L.
Capt. J. V. (joint representative)
Mitleholzer Carel & 69
J. C. Wolff Ithaca and 206
Attorney Whether Proprietor Representative No. of Additional
himself or not of Pin Slaves Responsibilities
Capt. H. C. Owner of (Joint representative) 114
Mittlebolzer 12 slaves Ithaca
N. Vigilantie 174
H. D. Obermuller L'Esperance 148 Also representative
Jr. Joint representative of sundry persons
J. L. Maurenbrecher 40
Lt. D. Westrik Owner of 7 slaves Joint representative
Mars Jemania 185
I. Overem- Joint representative
de Liefde & Zuild 234
The planter class was, however, not a closed caste group. Entry into
it was the cynosure of all economically alert eyes. Success was in one way
or another a matter of will, of speculative skill, of good chance, of the use
or misuse of Negro slaves, of chicanery, of really hard work or of the
accidents of birth.
Milliroux thus described one way of climbing into this exalted economic
and social sphere.33 "The planter", he wrote, "arrived in the colony, young,
ignorant and poor; he was employed as overseer for wages by an inhabitant.
In a few months he was sufficiently inured to cause the punishments ordered
by his master to be inflicted under his own eyes; and had learnt the details
of the cultivation of coffee and of sugar cane. From the time he became
manager, he had lived on the plantation; then when his accumulated savings
permitted him, he bought land and some slaves to cultivate, or else he became
proprietor of a plantation in full work. He had not always to pass through
this novitiate, and frequently became a planter by speculation and in a short
time. For that he only had need of money, or for lack of money, much
impudence. There is something marvellous in the recital of speculations made
during the war, and also after the peace of 1815. Then one saw adventurers
buy plantations for 100,000 sterling for which they paid nothing or but
a small sum in cash or gave bills recklessly; so certain were they that a few
crops would enable them to pay the capital.
But the plant class had other origins. John Donner, a member of the
Old Council of Government of Berbice, was formerly a midshipman in the
Navy and later held an official position in the Secretary's Office. He became
a planter thereafter, having mortgaged his estate to Mr. John Ross of
Liverpool in return for a loan of ten thousand pounds.34 A Mr. Monro,
another member of the Old Council of Government in Berbice, was a
qualified physician and a graduate of the University of Edinburgh. He
subsequently became a planter.35 Mr. Scott, a native of the West Indies,
was the son of a Church of England clergyman. He became a planter,
speculatively investing 10,000 on a cotton estate in Berbice.36
A common way of accession into the planter class was through inheritance.
James Blair not only inherited from Lambert Blair but in the days of English
rotten boroughs bought himself a membership of Parliament. He was repre-
sentative of Muirhead.37 William Fraser, who claimed that he could not marry
satisfactorily and had four children born out of wedlock, sought to legitimise
them in 1823 as he then wished to leave the principal part of his property
to them. At the time of his application, two of his children, John Frazer
aged thirteen and George Frazer, aged eight, were resident at Paisley in
North Britain and were at school there. Another child, Jane Frazer, aged five,
was resident and at school in Liverpool, while the fourth child, Anna Maria
Fraser, aged thirteen, was with her mother Mary Stewart in the Island of
Barbados. There were only two ways of legitimising children. The first was
by subsequent marriage of the parents; the second was by obtaining a writ
called letters of legitimisation from the Secretary of State.38 Fraser's petition
was granted 39 and his children became potential entrants into the planter
To own and maintain a plantation in Guiana was an expensive business.
Drainage had to be undertaken, roads and bridges had to be built and main-
tained.40 "The plain truth is," Landowner wrote, "a poor man has no
business with a sugar estate in Demerara; he might as well, on the strength
of being able to purchase an old barn in Lancashire, consider himself qualified
to set up as a Manchester manufacturer. "'4 For men with small capital or
no capital but with the will and ambition to enter the planter class, these
circumstances dictated the methods by which they could realise their hopes.
The conditions of entry were inescapable. To utilise land and buildings, the
owner needed "a large and never failing supply of ready money at command,
to improve his machinery, and to drain and till his fields." He required
sufficient independence to give his canes time to mature, instead of being
forced to cut them young "or at a time when their juice is poor and watery,
and scarcely convertible into sugar, in order to furnish labourers' wages, or
to satisfy the demands of some inexorable creditor." He was obliged to have
the means of renewing and replanting his land instead of trusting to ratoons
year after year. Above all, he had to be in a position to buy his coals and
other stores at the market price, "in place of promising the merchant
fifty per cent. above their value for the risk of trusting him." The needy
landowner was a nuisance and a hindrance to Guiana, only wasting and
frittering away valuable labour which, in the hands of a man of capital, was
potentially "a source of permanent prosperity to it."42
Many managers and overseers, in the face of these weighty considerations,
shrewdly wielded their way upwards with the help of the Negro. They saved
their salaries to buy a Negro whom they hired out to work. The possession
of one Negro eventually made them owners of fifteen or twenty and these
were then formed into a Task Gang. The task gang did a specific quantity
of work, "such as clearing and preparing so many acres of land, draining and
planting the same," for which they were paid by the acre.43 These gangs were
of great use to new settlers. When plantation work did not offer, these gangs
were used in timber cutting to build houses, mill frames, and in various other
works connected with the estate.44 So through the task gang, the manager and
overseer reached up to fortune and to the position of planter.
But there were in this respect individual cases of successful initiative that
bordered on the extraordinary. This was the case of Mynheer Vos, a Dutchman,
who in fifteen years, rose up from a common soldier to become a planter of
fortune possessing an unincumbered estate valued at 20,000 sterling.45 Vos,
as a soldier, bought and sold small articles to purchase his discharge from
the army. When discharged he had a few hundred guilders in savings and
with this he bought a sloop boat, hired a Negro and began as a huckster
selling his goods on various estates. In 1785 he used his profits to buy
500 acres of land and with three Negroes cleared it of heavy forest and
bush to start an active and lucrative career as a planter.
The planter class was also distinguished by a quality of living which was
peculiar to itself and which embodied visible evidence of the advantages
of belonging thereto. In Demerara while most planters were resident on estates,
the richest planters enjoyed the luxury of houses in town. Cummingsburgh
began as an exclusive residential area for such planters.46 It was a compara-
tively simple proposition to these planters to establish such homes. From their
plantations they obtained the necessary tradesmen. The plantation bricklayer
laid the foundation of the house and built the kitchen, and the plantation
carpenters completed the building of the frame as well as the painting of the
new establishment.47 Whether Dutch or British, whether it was the town house
or country house, the planters' residential comfort was in the hPnds of a
profusion of servants.48 Their style of living was so extraordinarily lavish that
in Berbice Governor Beard was able to stem all argument against the
Governor's residential expenses by pointing out that the planters who resided
on their estates in Berbice were in possession of every luxury and comfort.49
But the social pull of the planter class lay in another direction. While
their wealth brought the possibility of luxurious living, the planter developed
an aversion to work as great as his love of luxury. The system of slavery
inevitably corrupted the human personality. The planter who profited from
the slave system was himself a slave of the degeneracy which the system
inevitably bred. All labour was held to be derogatory and "the preordained
and exclusive portion of the slaves." "The planter," Milliroux explained,
"was proud idleness personified the attraction of having nothing to do,
and of living in plenty explains the singular prestige attached to the condition
of a planter. Everyone wished to be he the mania for possessing land
to which slaves were attached was like an hallucination, and lasted until
the approach of abolition."5o
The excessive love of luxury, this contempt of work, correlated with
a powerful resistance to taxation which was necessary to maintain minimum
administrative services. Taxation it is true, could blunt old existing enterprises
and discourage new ones. It could kill marginal firms and weaken the whole
economic strength of the community. Much depends on circumstances. In
Guiana too, after 1807, all was not well and the planters, continually debt-
ridden, could find some justification. The development also of a country like
Guiana was vitally related to the fostering of enterprise, as far as was possible.
But even in the face of these considerations the planters as a whole were too
much opposed to the principle of taxation and with all too alarming a
spontaneity. Resistance to taxation was the source of bitter dispute between
the administration and the planter and the popularity of the Governor hinged
on his attitude to amelioration and emancipation. The years after 1807 were
even more acutely soured by such disputes. The opposition of the planters
found expression in the Council Chambers since their economic dominance
gave them privilege of political representation.
In August, 1816, Bentinck of Berbice reported to the Colonial Office
the resistance of the Council to the imposition of taxes.5' He was forced
without their assistance to ascertain and fix prices or rates of the several
kinds of produce in order to collect the weigh money or ad valorem duty
of 24 per cent. Since these were sanctioned by Charter and the pressing wants
of the country required their immediate payment into the Treasury, in the
interest of the furtherance of the public service, the Governor was forced to
act above the heads of his Council. Members refused to assist him. Not only
did the planters refuse to assist him; they refused to meet their obligations
to the public purse. According to the Governor, they regarded his fixing of
prices even in these circumstances, as "illegal and a bad precedent."52
The opposition was so intransigent that the only solution seemed to be
the complete dismissal of the Council and the use of the Governor's existing
powers of nomination to create a new Council of Government. This is what
Bentinck recommended. "Indeed, My Lord," he wrote, "I fear that unless
the present members of my Council are dismissed, their determined wanton
opposition will still continue, notwithstanding all my endeavours to conciliate
and promote concord."53 The greater the wealth of the Councillors, the
greater the impertinence. The most impertinent planter on the Council was
George Monro, and he was the most wealthy.54 In Bentinck's view, his
suspension would before long become necessary.55
In May, 1817, Bentinck faced the problem of collecting considerable
arrears of acre money. The debtors were some of the wealthiest Berbice
planters. At the time of Batenburg, they had also refused to pay these dues
arguing that the money belonged to the Berbice Association.36 The adminis-
tration needed this money desperately as public buildings were in disrepair,
and so too were communications in the town.57
In January, 1823, the planter class formed a powerful combine and
petitioned Bathurst against a proclamation issued in September, 1822, calling
on them to give at once security of payment at certain stipulated periods or
face levy by execution for the recovery of this acre-money debt.'8 Among the
memorialists were Wolfert Katz, James Blair, and John Turpin, the greatest
property owners in Berbice. They begged Bathurst to relieve them of the
debt which they had imagined through "lapse of time and calamitous altera-
tion in their circumstance" would have been remitted. They pleaded that
the recovery of the money was being instituted at a time when pressure
upon them was "unprecedented in the annals of the colony" It would fall
heavily "in the extreme" on them. The proof was the well-known fact that
the greater part of the district in the colony on which yet rested a considerable
proportion on the uncollected acre-money presented nothing but a tract of
country "where the hand of labour (had) of necessity ceased to exert itself."
The lands upon which the acre money still rested had by long abandonment
returned "to almost a state of nature." The payment of the acre money would
be granting a value for an article "which intrinsically is nothing worth."
Even where cultivation was continued, it would be viewed "only as a
forlorn hope" "the deteriorated value of the produce and the enhanced price
of labour leaving to the cultivators barely the means of defraying the
expenses attendant on their unfortunate undertaking." Many who owed acre
money were living at subsistence level as cattle farmers. The payment of the
acre money would thus make sacrifice of property unavoidable and reduce them
to a state of beggary.59
These arguments are important. They are not all untrue, but they become
extremely suspect when the greatest and wealthiest planters combine with
the marginal to use them to escape their financial obligations. But the argu-
ments are important because they have been used throughout the history
of Guiana and they typify the rotten thread which has run through the whole
social and economic development of the country and which infected the new
intermediate class which rose up after freedom. They represent the illogical
demand for representation and for administrative arrangements which do not
involve the self-sacrifice of those who can pay. Those who gain from the
country must have rights, but no obligations. The circumstances of Guiana
or any other country for that matter made impossible the triumph of this
In 1825, Berbice wanted military protection but at no cost to them-
selves.60 In 1826, the inevitable happened. With the concurrence of the
Colonial Office, the Governor flung out the Old Council6' and nominated a
new one of more reasonable temper.
The privilege and power of the planter class was as attractive to the
coloured free population as it was to the white population who subserved the
plantocracy. The coloured free population came into existence, however, mainly
by moral default. For them, entry into the planter class although apparently
near, because of their origins, proved to be potentially an elusive proposition.
Yet they rose up not only to challenge the power and prestige of the white
planter class, but themselves to become members of that class sharing,
through possession of property, all the influence and status that was derived
from that membership. The decisive advantages they possessed were their
education and blood relationship with coloured slave and white planter
groups, the joint support of whom was of no little avail to the coloured free
in their demand for full civil and economic rights, and the integrity of the
Colonial Office which had the courage to remain uninfluenced by the hysteria
and fears of a powerful and vociferous section of the white planter class.
The coloured free owed their origin, in large measure, to the fact that
the female population was very small in comparison with the male and to
the moral lapse which this circumstance induced. In Demerara, a commtin
method of supplying the deficiency was to send to Barbados and other "fully
peopled islands" for ladies who were always available for purchase or could
be induced to come and settle free in Demerara.62 Many coloured women in
Stabroek even made a business of feminine importation receiving a premium,
besides expenses, for any women introduced from the man with whom they
cohabited. Martinique and Guadeloupe in this way made to Demerara signi-
ficant contributions of free coloured women.63 The newly arrived European
was provided with a housekeeper "a black, a tawnee, a mulatto, or a mestee"
bought for one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds sterling and she
fulfilled all the duties of a wife except presiding at table.64 On the plantation
too, petty proprietors lived in a revolting state of promiscuousness mid many
females, their slaves, and offspring begotten by them. The stranger to the
plantation was offered female company for the night. According to Milliroux,
the majority of the Europeans lived degraded in a state of concubinage with
women of colour and creole hireling, and managers and subordinates lived
One reason was, of course, the legal prohibition of marriage between
white and coloured free. It was not until 1812 that some mitigation of this
condition was made. In June, 1812, Carmichael, the Governor of Berbice,
issued a proclamation facilitating such marriages between lower class whites
and among free people of colour "many of whom were prevented from entering
into that state by the heavy fees of the Secretary's Office." In consequence
of the proclamation, many couples living in concubinage came forward to
By 1823, marriage between whites and the coloured free population was
no uncommon event. In January, 1823, Beard reported that within the last five
or six years, it was "no uncommon thing for the most respectable white and
coloured free people to intermarry and to be introduced, and admitted into
the first society without regard to the relative nature of their situation in
society and the practice and usage of other British Colonies."' '67
In high places, however, this preferable state was still lacking. At the
end of 1822 every member of the Council of Government of Berbice had a
large family of coloured children.68
The numbers of the coloured free population expanded rapidly. In 1795,
the total coloured free population of Demerara and Essequibo was 658:69
by 1811, this population increased to 2,980.70 In 1829, the coloured free in
these territories numbered 6,360.7" In Berbice, the free coloured population
continuously increased from 242 in 179972 to 1,161.73
If not completely surrendered to idleness or poverty, the coloured free
population were primarily occupied at the beginning with manual callings.74
When Bolingbroke arrived in Guiana, the captain of the ship was surrounded
by a band of hucksters, many of whom were coloured free members of the
population.75 Free women of colour organised huckstering on a colony-wide
scale using ten to twenty Negroes and winning riches by their shrewdness.76
The butchers of Stabroek were mainly free men of colour who had bought
their freedom and besides had some monetary security behind them.77
Their social position was, however, most unenviable but easily under-
standable in the circumstances. They were despised by the whites and by the
coloured slave population, both of whom were parentally responsible for their
existence. The white planter class found the same use for the coloured free
as for the aboriginal Indians. They were readily orgafnised as a force to secure
the planters against coloured slave insurrections. In 1798, John Daly, one of
the greatest landlords in Demerara, offered to raise such a force of disciplined
mulattoes to protect the settlement at a time when planters and others who
had property in Demerara were uneasy "lest the dissemination of French
doctrines should so far obtain among the blacks as to render their manifest
superiority in number formidable to and perhaps eventually subversive of
the dominion which immemorial custom and property have vested in the
planters."78 Daly stated clearly that the mulattoes were regarded as an
"intermediate check in favour of the white inhabitants."79
The mulattoes were, however, not trusted by the white planters. The
corps of mulattoes were to be gathered together to act as riflemen "and to
constitute an intermediate force between the white and black regiments,"
but they were to be officered by gentlemen of British birth and extraction.
The memorialists begged leave to state further that there was "an innate
aversion to the Blacks among men of colour, and an almost equal attachment
to the whites.'"80
It was out of these unpromising circumstances, that the coloured free
rose within a quarter of a century to become overseers, managers, and the
planters and pursue mercantile activities and trades whereby some of them
were enabled to purchase landed properties on which the ordinary produce
of the colony was growing.81 At the end of 1822, there was a large body of
respectable free coloured inhabitants "in Berbice many of whom were men
of considerable property in land and slaves and of great influence in the
Among these were a Mr. Henry, a coloured planter of Berbice,
Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Spangenburg. Henry was a principal merchant ita
Berbice as well as the sole owner and proprietor of two valuable estates, one
of sugar and the other of coffee, together with over four hundred Negro slaves.
He was also representative of a mercantile house in London and, as such,
had charge of another large sugar estate in the Colony and upwards
of 350 Negroes more.83 Mr. Henry was reported in 1827 as the proprietor of
unincumbered estates producing no less than ten thousand pounds a year.84
Schwartz was also a principal merchant and a man of property, while
Spangenburg "a gentleman of superior education and of great respectability"
was the attorney representative of others and had under his immediate charge
and care both estates and slaves.85 Another coloured man, Thornton, was an
absentee who lived in Trinidad but possessed considerable property in
The coloured free population could at no time be disregarded by the
white population. They constituted a challenge-the only challenge-to their
social and economic position. With them, there was no fault to be found.
They were loyal and industrious. The great advantage, however, of
the coloured free and the great equalising force in the situation was the
education they had received. Their education commanded respect and lent
their demands dignity and force. To the white planter, the coloured freeman
was a Negro; to the coloured slave population, the freeman was a Negro.
The coloured freeman never sought to escape from this obvious identification.
What the coloured freeman sought was the social and economic acceptance
and integration which logically derived from his education and culture. He
sought, not to be white, but in all respects to be treated as white, which in
effect was a demand to enjoy all the rights and privileges of the planter class
on equal terms in view of his education, his cultural attainments and his
evident industry. This demand embodied a principle vitally important for the
future of social and economic relations in a polyglot Caribbean community.
The coloured free child had the original advantage of being freed at once
after birth and of being educated in England by those who could afford it
from the time he was three or four.87 Of two of the illegitimate children of
the great Berbice property-owner Wolfert Katz, one, George Katz aged
eighteen was about to be placed in October, 1821, as a scholar at an English
University and another, Matthew, also eighteen, was already domiciled in
the Country of Norfolk studying agriculture.88 The Council of Government of
Berbice, all fathers of illegitimate coloured children, had in 1822 some of
their children already educated in the United Kingdom and others still there
who had received "the most liberal and expensive education" to qualify
them to fill situations in Berbice thereafter.89 In May, 1823, the white parents
of the coloured free population noted that the considerable coloured
free population of Berbice was being daily augmented by the arrivals of
young coloured men from Europe where they had the advantage of a liberal
education and had acquired, because of their education, not only character
The rising economic competition and the potential social pressure of the
coloured free population were responsible for the disabilities which were set
up against their progress and which qualified their freedom. Because of their
superior educational opportunities, the free coloured resented the institution
of these barriers which were embodied principally in four Ordinances. By an
Ordinance of 1799., patrols between seven and ten o'clock in the night
permitted to disperse in the streets any assemblage of Negroes and mulattoes
and to confine in stocks any who resisted.9, This Ordinance further enabled
patrols to inquire from coloured persons carrying goods whence they came
and whither they were going. If the patrol was not satisfied, the coloured
person could be detained until the truth was found out. By further enactment,
coloured free persons discovered in town at night or during the evening on
pretense of visiting friends were liable to be ordered to quit the town or to
imprisonment if they resisted.92
Another Ordinance in 1802 regulated the dances of coloured free people.
It would appear that invitations to these dances were extended to the coloured
slave population. This Ordinance forbade this practice and forbade further
the use of the drums or of any other musical instrument used by the slaves.93
Privilege was even to be maintained after death. By Ordinance of 1818, a
public burial ground was established,94 but distinct portions of the burial
ground were to be allotted to whites, coloured free, and the slave population.95
Coloured people were not admitted to positions of public trust, nor were
they eligible for military appointments. There was distinction drawn even in
arrangements for the worship of God. Free people of colour were not to be
admitted to the same pews in church as the whites.96
The regulations, however, which most threatened to disestablish
completely the coloured free population were the Ordinances of 1810 and 1814,
It was these regulations that sparked the organised protest of the free people
of colour, since they threatened their economic opportunities and so their
social chances and virtually mocked their freedom and their education. These
Ordinances of 1st October, 1810 and 4th July, 1814, regulated the proportion
of whites to Negroes to be kept on each estate.97 In October, 1814,
A. A. de la Court, the principal agent for Crown Property in Guiana,
petitioned the Court of Criminal Justice praying for the Court's decision as
to "whether free coloured people with respect to the spirit of (these proclama-
tions) are or are not to be considered as whites."
The Court's order and reply was uncompromising. "Free coloured
people," the Court ruled, "with respect to the spirit of the proclamation of
the Court of Policy enacted on the 3rd June, 1814, are not to be considered
as whites. "98
The protest movement of the free people of colour was set in motion in
March, 1822, when .the Fiscal of Berbice actually enforced the Ordinances of
1810 and 1814 against Adrian Krieger, a representative of Plantation Gelder-
land on the Berbice River and a member of the Council of Government of
Berbice.9 The Fiscal had recently visited his estate and found it deficient in
the number of whites required by the Ordinance of 1814. The Fiscal there-
upon fined him five hundred guilders, which he required to be paid immediately
on pain of legal proceedings. The Krieger case became a test case. In a
petition to the Governor, Krieger demanded a speedy remedy to avoid the
hardships which this action would impose upon him and other estate adminis-
trators and "to counteract the serious effects arising from the infliction of a
penalty of so grievous and harsh a nature." The Ordinance had been a dead
letter until then. He had never for a moment imagined that he was infringing
the Ordinance when, in case of a deficiency, he placed free coloured persons
on different estates as overseers "who after having received the benefits of
education in Europe and desirous of obtaining an honest livelihood in their
native country preferred the occupation of planters to any other and in every
respect proved themselves capable of rendering the greatest services to the
colony by their industry and perseverance.",-
The consequences were serious. The enforcement of the Ordinances would
at once introduce the necessity of removing free coloured people from the
employment they held, deprive them of the means of becoming useful
members of society and also cause a dangerous "division between the white
population and a body of inhabitants in every way assimilated to the whites
except in colour." Krieger did not want any change in the Ordinances, but
suggested an extension of the meaning to include the coloured free
At a meeting of the Council of Government on 1st April, .1822, the Council
rejected Krieger's petition. The rejection of the petition was met next day
by a united demand from the coloured free population praying the Governor
and the Council not only for relief from the Ordinances of 1810 and 1814,
but, among other grievances, adverting to that of having been hitherto
debarred the privilege of being more than non-commissioned officers in
the militia."1o2 The petition of the coloured free constituted a limited but firm
and united demand for the removal of two of the most important disabilities
which debarred them from the enjoyment of the full privileges of the planter
class. The issue was, however, far more fundamental. The issue turned out
to be a conflict between the philosophy of assimilation and the gospel
of apartheid as the basis of social and economic organisation in a polyglot
The coloured free in their memorial reaffirmed their loyalty, their attach-
ments to the interest and welfare of the community, the vital service they
rendered to the Country in times of crisis, and the fidelity and efficiency with
which they had discharged their professional and civic duties. They protested
against their exclusion on the basis that they were not white from the
commissioned appointments by the very regulations of the Burgher Militia
under which every coloured person on an estate was actually ordered to
perform militia service and when every coloured person on the plantations
was actually enrolled with the militia.T03
The principle upon which they based a demand for the reversal of these
obstructive regulations was carefully formulated. It was "that difference
in colour from the white population cannot in justice be attributed to them
as a fault." Their exclusion would be a particular taxation to the coloured
proprietor, "a great hardship on those among the coloured who depend on
their livelihood as planters, managers, and overseers and, in general, on all of
the coloured, whose education and attainments have allowed them to consider
themselves on the nearest approach to the white population (of Berbice)."
The Council of Government considered the petition on the same day.
Adrian Krieger was significantly absent. The Council took into account the
fact that a large proportion of the free coloured population had conducted
themselves "with the greatest propriety", and that "their loyalty and fidelity
stood unimpeached" and that "they ought in consequence to have the
advantages of gaining a livelihood as agriculturists equal with the white
The Council therefore resolved to grant the relief prayed for and to
consider the coloured free population eligible in future to fill the situation
and employment on estates then "exclusively admitted to whites." The
Secretary of the Government was directed to prepare an amendment to the
Ordinance of 4th July, 1814.105
The Council, however, ruled that the removal of these disabilities was
not to advert to or interfere with the granting of Commissions in the Militia,
"the power of granting these belonging exclusively by the King's Instructions
1 0 *
and the local regulations of the Militia to the Governor."106 Despite this ruling,
Beard reported that the Council at once passed by "all the former restrictions
and prejudices whereby free coloured people were placed upon equality with
the white inhabitants, and invested with control and command not on!y over
large gangs of slaves, but also over all the white persons who were overseers
on the estates on which the coloured became managers."107
Nonetheless in September, 1822, he proclaimed his order and direction
that the economic disabilities discussed be removed as agreed on and "that
the free coloured inhabitants be placed upon a footing with their white
brethren and taken and considered for all this purpose of the (Ordinance
of 4th July, 1814) as coming within the full scope, meaning and intent
Then events took an astonishing turn. Local prejudice became excited
as it seemed to do whenever an improvement in the condition of the free
coloured persons or the slaves was attemptedxo9 The Council attacked the
Governor for issuing a proclamation on his own authority. They objected
specially to the coloured people being referred to as "brethren".110
Coloured and white relations split wide open. The coloured population
sternly declaimed against the omissions of the Council of Government. "Your
petitioners," they declared in their memorial to the Governor witness
with regret that neither their education, their attainments, their good conduct,
and even the noblest exertion can elevate them to the consideration of their
fellow-colonists; and to judge of the effects to the cause are considered as-
a body of men incapable of governing themselves and to whom the least
trust or confidence could not be given "II"
The free coloured were on firm ground. The Town Battalion of the Militia
in Berbice turned out on parade one hundred and fifty privateers, over eighty
of whom were free people of colour. Yet there was no free coloured Com-
missioned Officer, as the people of colour demanded. The Governor was moved
to action. In 1822, three vacancies for Lieutenant's Commissions took place
in the Coloured Companies. The free coloured immediately pressed their claims
so strongly that Beard granted them. They appeared to him "reasonable"
in that "persons having so much property at stake in the colony and com-
prising so very large a proportion of its population (nearly five to one in
favour of these persons) should feel an honourable emulation in its protection
and defense"-independent of the sound policy of removing "any little
remaining jealousies or discontent that might exist among them."112 Beard
consulted with the Major and the Adjutant General of the Town Battalion
and appointed to the vacancies three outstanding coloured men-Henry,
Schwartz and Spangenburg."3
The appointments set off a chain reaction; Wolfert Katz expressed ugly
feelings and wrote an even uglier letter to Beard. The letter read as follows: 14
Having consulted with my friends, it is the general opinion that
as the appointments which have given so much offence have been
announced through the Colonial Gazette, the revocation of them must
appear through the same channel and in that case the meeting on
Friday will be altogether unnecessary. But should you decline making
the public atonement, I beg to assure you the meeting may feel it their
duty to adopt measures more repugnant to your feeling and dignity
On 18 December, 1822, Beard addressed the Council and the Council
replied the next day."5 To them the appointments were an "evil" The
Council brazenly declared that Beard's action had "unnecessarily set in
motion" a serious question "which would give rise to feelings unknown"
and open "a prospect of division between those who for all the purposes
of their situation and pursuits in life were living in cordiality and on terms
of mutual good will.'"'6
The Council, Wolfert Katz, John Ross, the representative in Berbice of
James Blair, M.P., attempted to set opinion on fire. Private meetings were
held militia officers far from town were called up and persuaded to resign.
They attempted to stir up discontent among the coloured free themselves.
They threatened the Governor, but all their efforts met with ill success."7
Beard was shocked and appeared ready to go back on his tracks. He
declared that had the Council opposed the measure on 2nd April he would
have paused before making the appointments. "I never could have
anticipated a future objection on their part, more particularly so when I
considered (as the fact is) that every member of the Council has a large
family of coloured children himself I really thought they would feel
these appointments a compliment to themselves and their connections and
that they would be the more satisfactory to them in as much as they were
made quietly and on a very limited scale, not intended to be carried further
without courting public discussion." "Moreover," he added, "Mr. Henry was
the intimate friend and visitant of every one of them.""8
Henry Schwartz and Spangenburg resigned, until the Colonial Office
made a decision."9
Katz and company went beyond the Governor. On 18 December, they
addressed a petition to the Colonial Office, seeking openly to infect it with
the gospel of apartheid.12o The mask was entirely dropped.
It was hard but necessary, these memorialists asserted, that the accident
of colour should exclude men from places of power and trust. The exclusion
of the free coloured on this basis was, in their view, supported by moral
arguments as well as by the soundest principles of Colonial Policy. The
Commissions were obnoxious to them. It was too material a change "in an
order of things coeval with European superiority." The coloured people of
Berbice were not inferior to the "same caste" throughout the West Indies,
but to a full participation of the rights and privileges of British colonies
until civilisation and a competent knowledge of the obligations imposed on
them as parties to the social compact shall have entitled them to that
The memorialists advanced other arguments, but they were principally
concerned with two which were basic to their philosophic outlook. "By
encouraging coloured persons," they wrote, the influx and encourage-
ment of British colonists and adventurers are greatly checked, and of
consequence the Bond of Union between the Colony and the parent state
weakened." The second was an assertion that the greater part of the coloured
class were foreigners "if not by birth, at least by education" and as not a
few had served in the French Imperial Armies, were tinctured with revolu-
tidnary principles. They brought fears of another St. Domingo, Guadeloupe
and Grenada where they added "the part acted by the mulattoes is but
too faithfully recorded in characters of blood.'"121
The white planters advanced the usual arguments of convenience. They
asserted that no object throughout the Caribbean was "so hateful and odious
to the Negro population as a mulatto in authority over them." They pleaded
"that favour shown to the (coloured free) would be to countenance vice
which it should be the end and object of legislation to amend." They made
great play of an expected awakening of jealousy among "the free blacks"
and of disturbance among the rest of the Negro population.
Their attitude was, however, clearly inspired by economic and social
insecurity in the face of the new rights won by the free coloured. The
petitioners did not conceal their contempt of the coloured free who had so
long served them so well. With little exception, they thought, the free coloured
were "little emerged from ignorance above the slave population." They could
not conceal their insecurity. The innovation, they complained, put the coloured
free on an equal footing with Europeans and altered not only the face of
society but sapped the very foundations of institutions.122
This petition marked a turning point in the social and economic develop-
ment of Guiana. The consequences were hardly what Katz and his coterie
would have anticipated. There was no doubt of the intensity of their convic-
tions. Many who shared these convictions and petitioned against the extension
of privilege to the coloured population were penniless and attached their names
to lots of land which had long since been abandoned.123 The social conscience
was roused. Decency and love of social justice triumphed once again over
the depravity to which human nature is also heir.
Beard, still shaken by the endeavours of Katz and the Council of
Government and the representative of the Rt. Hon. Mr. Blair, M.P., expressed
his surprise that the Council should have been so ignorant of the numerous
instances in the Caribbean of free men of colour holding commissions."*4 He
was apparently convinced that in Berbice the original prejudices had well-
nigh disappeared. "Whatever former prejudices and jealousies prevailed," he
wrote, "it appeared to me to have been gradually overcome, and indeed,
considering the great proportion the free coloured inhabitants' bear to the
whites, their education, their large property, their near connection and
relationship with the whites, and their great influence with the colony, it was
but natural to expect these prejudices to give way.
Beard's judgment was not altogether wrong. A subtle and phenomenal
change had come about over the years. In the earlier history of social and
economic development, the coloured free earned the hostile and uncertain
regard of the white planter, enterprising but coldly materialistic, and the
coloured slave population, bound together by the deprivation of their liberty
and knowing not how to look upon the new people of colour who came among
them. The coloured free lived uneasily in the forced role of a buffer group
between white planters, anxious about the preservation of their property,
and the coloured slaves, equally anxious about their liberty. But within a
quarter of a century of discontinuous occupation by Europeans, the coloured
free had earned through their education and through their public and private
life a new economic and social status. The coloured free therefore played a
new role of the most tremendous significance. Their origin lent them now
peculiar social force. They were the integrating influences in a society which
was always in danger of being fractionalised. They were the symbols of a
new age in which economic and social privileges were the right of all men
of good enterprise. It was freedom now which distinguished man and man
and not colour and caste.
That is why "the free blacks" supported their "brethren of colour."
They expressed solidarity of interests with the coloured free appointed to the
Commissions.I6 "Your memorialists," they stated, "being themselves
included in that class of people, which in the West Indies is more particularly
called the coloured inhabitants, never could make any distinction between
that part of the inhabitants and themselves, and have considered their interests
as running from the same source indivisibly one; notwithstanding some
discontented minds of the white population have tried to prevail upon your
memorialists to separate their common interests, a separation which would
naturally undermine the principles of the internal tranquillity and welfare of
this colony by exciting hatred and enmity between the same body of
Their support was joined by the support of that section of the white
population who were united in matrimony with females of colour and
"consequently (had) good reason to be anxious that their offspring should
enjoy the same rights and benefits which they themselves are entitled to."128
The acts of appointment to their way of thinking were "salutory and
prudential" and could not fail "to cement more closely a Union between
the two classes so nearly assimilated in manners, interest, and education."' '129
By August, 1823, the Colonial Office accepted these principles, confirmed
the appointments and, in so doing, gave the gospel of assimilation official
But economic and social rights were not yet completely won. There still
remained in force other "obnoxious ordinances" operating against the interests
of coloured people. It was against these exclusions and restrictions "a result
of the abated but still unhappy colonial system" that the coloured people
petitioned early in 1824.'3' "It is, they proclaimed, "in the fraternisation of
two classes of people distinct it is true by their complexion, but in every
other respect assimilated to one another, and in which important object lays
the growth, prosperity, and grandeur of this colony.
In December, 1825, Louis Thornton, a coloured man who had considerable
property in Berbice, told the Right Honourable Wilmot Horton, M.P., that
he was asked by "the unhappy free coloured colonists" of that territory to
procure an abolition of "the discouraging and degrading distinctions" which
In London, James Blair was still maintaining that it was necessary to
preserve colour distinctions in the West Indies and was preaching the doctrine
of gradualism. In March, 1826, he wrote a letter to Wilmot Horton, opposing
the return of Beard to Berbice.'x But Blair and his kind were like voices
in the wilderness. Even as they preached their own brand of economic and
social dogma, coloured people were winning tacit concessions in Berbice.135
Coloured people bought up pews in church as soon as vacancies occurred. A
Mr. Trimes became the first coloured man to be buried in ground allotted
to whites. Objection ceased to be raised to the appointment of coloured
persons as curators to the estates of deceased persons.'36
In 1830, the prospect of territorial union brought a new fear. The
coloured free still suffered from such "uncharitable" grievances as exclusion
from the right to vote in the Lutheran vestry. But they were equally
concerned with implications of Union in relation to the political and social
rights which they enjoyed over and above the coloured people of Demerara
and Essequibo and with which territories they had never hoped to become
The coloured free of Berbice, since 1822, had made most admirable
progress. Time and experience, Beard wrote home, had long since proved
"the propriety of conceding to the free coloured population those just rights
and privileges which blind prejudice and usurped Colonial authority had so
long withheld from them and placing them at once upon an equality with
the white inhabitants."-'-
Beard had appointed many coloured persons to "offices of Trust and
emolument." One coloured freeman, possessed of very considerable wealth
in the Colony consisting of estates, slaves and money, was only recently
nominated for a seat in the Court of Civil Justice. Beard was in 1830 quite
sure that in Berbice "all distinctions between the white and free coloured
inhabitants (had) at last been completely overcome." He had no doubt "but
that if the present liberal line of policy towards them be continued under
the declared sanction of His Majesty's Government," "the well educated
and respectable part of the free coloured inhabitants" would be found before
long "in the full enjoyment of a fair and liberal participation of those stations
in Colonial Society which are still in some instances considered to belong
exclusively to the whites."
The coloured people, on the eve of unification, however, felt an "anxious
solicitude" not only for the security of the privileges they already possessed
but also for all the other rights, "the solid enjoyment whereof has not yet
been conceded them." They confessed their extreme fear that if the govern-
ment of Berbice were placed under that of Demerara, this would have had
the effect of preventing the extension of further privileges to the coloured free
of Betbice and perhaps introduce the old restrictive system. The coloured free
who directed this memorial to Beard felt justified in their fears as none of
the political advantages which free coloured inhabitants of Berbice enjoyed
had yet been extended to the coloured free of Demerara.4o0
Beard agreed that these fears were not altogether "without foundation"
and, in order to prevent such a doubtful situation arising, advised the issue
of a proclamation "declaratory of their rights."'*1
It was evident that when territorial integration came, the conditions were
not yet completely established for economic and social integration. The
economic and social rights of the coloured free population throughout Guiana
were still somewhat overshadowed. They could more readily become members
of the planter class but their freedom was still somewhat qualified. When the
proclamation of freedom came then, it held the same significance for the
coloured slave population as it did for the coloured free population throughout
the land of Guiana. And since the coloured free of Berbice enjoyed rights far
greater than the coloured free in the rest of the British Caribbean,42 the
significance of emancipation throughout the rest of the Caribbean was no less
than it was in Guiana.
1. Memorandum of Stephen (October, 1831)-Kenneth N. Bell; W. P. Morrell
Colonial Policy-Select Documents on ,British Colonial Policy-Oxford 1928-
2. C.O. Ill/11-Bentinch to Liverpool-26 December, 1811.
4. Milliroux-op. cit.-p.7.
5. William Hillhouse-op. cit.-p.254, 256.
8. Bolingbroke-op. cit.-p.329.
9. Milliroux-op. cit.-p.93
10. St. Clair-op. cit.-p.15
12. C.O. 111/I-Edward Thompson to Secretary of States-22 April, 1781.
13. C.O. 111/3-Beaujon to Portland-24 January, 1799.
14. C.O. 111/73-Van Batenburg to Charles Graham-15 September, 1797.
15. C.O. 111/3-Beaujon to Portland-24 January, 1799.
16. C.O. 111/73-Van Batenburg to Portland-January, 1799.
17. C.O. 111/11-Liverpool to Bentinch-21 December, 1811.
18. C.O. 111/78-Gordon to Liverpool-I November, 1811.
19. C.O. 111/88-Report of a Committee to examine the state of income and expendt-
ture of the Colony of Berbice, 5 January, 1818.
20. C.O. 111/97-Beard to Horton-13 January, 1824.
21. C.O. 111/107-Berbice Blue Book-Enclosure-Receiver. General to Secretary
of States 10 February, 1830.
23. R. Montgomerie Martin-op. cit.-volume 11 -1834-p. 31.
24. C.O. 111 / 109-Beard to Murray,-8 February, 1830.
25. Milliroux-op. cit.-p. 12
26. C.O. Ill / 103-Thomas Moody to R. Wilmot Horton-15 May, 1826. Between
1794 and 1799 Katz was granted over 12,000 acres of land on the West Coast
of the river Corentyn.
27. C.O. 111/96-Petition from William Fraser, formerly of Berbice, then residing
in the city of London-19 October, 1823.
29. C.O. 111/96-James Blair to R. Wilmot Horton-30 July, 1823.
30. C.O. ll l/74-Van Batenburg to Camden-30 October, 1804.
31. C.O. 111/96-Beard to Bathurst-21 April, 1823-Enclosure.
33. Milliroux-op. cit.-p. 7.
34. C.O. 111/ 105-Confidential letter from D. Power, Protector of Slaves-
7 September, 1827.
38. C.O. 111/96-Petition to Secretary of States from William Fraser formerly of
Berbice-19 October, 1823.
39. C.O. 111/97-Beard to Bathurst-28 April, 1824.
40. Landowner-Demerara ofter fifteen years of freedom-London, 1853--p. 28.
41. Ibid.-p. 47.
42. Ibid.-p. 47, 48.
43. Bolingbroke-op. cit.-p.215.
45. Ibid.-p. 217-218.
47. Ibid.-p. 83-84.
48. Ibid.-p. 41, 49.
49. C.O. 111/99-Beard to Bathurst-4 August, 1825.
50. Milliroux-op. cit.-p.7, 8.
51. C.O. 111/84-Beard to Bathurst-12 August, 1816.
56. C.O. 111/86-Bentinck to Bathurst-20 May, 1817.
58. C.O. 111/96-Beard to Bathurst-16 January, 1823-Enclosure.
60. C.O. 111/99-Beard to Bathurst-4 August, 1825.
61. C.O. 111/102-Beard to Bathurst-21 July, 1826.
62. Bolingbroke-op. cit.-p. 44.
65. Milliroux-op. cit-p. 11, 12.
66. C.O. III/15-W. G. Straghan to Carmichael-I March, 1813.
67. C.O. 111I /96-Beard to Bathurst-12 January, 1823.
68. C.O. I 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-24 December, 1822.
69. C.O. Ill/3-Beaujon to Portland-24 January, 1799.
70. C.O. 1111 1-Bentinch to Liverpool-26 December, 1811.
71. R. Montgomery Martin-Volume II-1834-op. cit.-p. 32.
72. C.O. Ill /73-Van Batenburg to Portland-January, 1799.
73. R. Montgomery Martin-Volume II-1834-op. cit.-p. 32.
74. Milliroux-op. cit.-p. 7.
75. Bolingbroke-op. cit.-p. 25.
76. Ibid.-p. 50, 51.
77. Ibid.-p. 52.
78. C.O. 111/2-Turnbull Forbes & Co. to Portland-23 August, 1798, forwarding
a memorial from John Daly, Esq.
81. C.O. Ill /94-Beard to Bathurst-22 November, 1822.
82. C.O. ll /94-Beard to Bathurst-24 December, 1822.
84. C.O. 111/105-Confidential letter from D. Power, Protector of Slaves-
7 September, 1827.
85. C.O. 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-24 December, 1822.
86. C.O. 111 I / 100-Louis C. Thornton to R. Wilmot Horton, M.P.-23 December, 1825.
87. Bolingbroke-op. cit.-p.44.
88. C.O. 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-24 December, 1822.
90. C.O. 111/96-Beard to Bathurst-13 May, 1823-Enclosure.
91. C.O. 111 / 102-Beard to Bathurst-11 January, 1826.-Enclosure.
94. C.O. Ill/97-Beard to R. Wilmot Horton-15 March, 1824. Enclosure-Extract
from Minutes of Council of Government, 7 January, 1824.
95. C.O. 111/102-Beard to Bathurst-11 January, 1826-Enclosure.
97. C.O. 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-24 December-Enclosure.
103. C.O. 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-22 November, 1822.
106. C.O. 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-24 December, 1822.
108. C.O. 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-22 November, 1822-Enclosure.
11 1. C.O. 111/94-Beard to Bathurst-December, 1822-Enclosure.
114. Ibid.-Enclosure George Katz to Beard-16 December, 1822.
120. C.O. Ill /95-White planters and merchants petition to Bathurst-18 December,
123. C.O. I 11/96-Beard to Bathurst-13 May, 1823-Enclosure.
124. C.O. Ill /96-Beard to Bathurst-12 January, 1823.
126. C.O. 111/96-Beard to Bathurst-28 January, 1923-Enclosure.
128. C.O. Ill /96-Beard to Bathurst-13 May, 1823-Enclosure.
130. C.O. 111/96-Beard to Bathurst-1 August, 1823.
131. C.O. 111/97-Beard to R. Wilmot Horton-15 March, 1824-Enclosure.
133. C.O. Ill / 100-Louis C. Thornton to R. Wilmot Horton, M.P.-23 December, 1826
135. C.O. 111/103-Henry and others to Thornton and Pierce-20 May, 1826.
137. C.O. 111 / 10---Beard to Murray-8 September, 1830-Enclosure.
142. C.O. 111/96-Beard to Bathurst-12 January, 1824.
Tobago Villagers in the Mirror of Dialect
H. B. MEIKLE
MANY of us refrain from using dialect save when we want to underline an
expression. For instance, something happens, we become exasperated and
say darg na eat darg (Dog don't eat dog). We are certain now that we have
been understood, and, moreover, have expressed ourselves memorably.
The imagery of dialect bears the colour of the lives of the people. If
a villager calls on another just for a moment he says me only come for take
fire. This is one of the happy creations of dialect. For these neighbours
cook on wood fires and light them by obtaining brands from each other.
Tnere is not much time for talk when on business of taking fire. For the
morning meal must be prepared so that both husband and wife will be
in time for work.
There is much gossip in village life, the favourite theme being human
relationship. If John has returned from Trinidad and set up in trial marri-
age with Jane it is easily explainable. For ole fire stick easy for catch. But
na seh so leh dem hear you (Don't let them hear you saying so). It might
cause enmity. For all you know you might be sitting on de river-stone an'
talking 'bout de river. This caution is a reminder that people at one end of the
island who appear to be strangers might in reality be cousins. In fact cousins
are so many that a man might make specific reference to his cousin-family.
Despite all this, prejudice exists. A man settles in a village where he
has neither kith nor kin and he is referred to as stranger-nigger. In a way
he is suspect and stands alone. If anything happens, there is no one to
take his side. There have been occasions when stranger-niggers have met
their death in villages, and no one came forward to say how or why it
happened. It is curious that after the abolition of slavery the ex-slaves who
became landowners called themselves strangers. Probably they too were
stranger-niggers made so by the difference in caste which land-ownership
Ay and hi are used for drawing attention and expressing surprise. For
instance, Ay gal! a-wey you a-go! You are surprised at someone's behaviour
and you say hi prolonging the i and inflecting the sound upwards. Visitors
from Trinidad who spend a few months here complain that hi has got into
their vocabulary and that they have to make an effort to get it out. No
doubt it is good English, but Trinidadians like other provincials have their
Dialect defies orthography and school-grammar. Changing v into b is
indeed nearly a rule.
The use of a (short) is perplexing. Me na a-go is the equivalent of "I
shall not go" Na is the negative and a-go in this expression is like a-walking,
a-fishing. Long ago you actually heard the old English form: Ah we been
a-fishering, that is. We went fishing. Ah we is the equivalent of all we or
we all. But old English a-fishing is now almost dead.
"Ah" frequently takes the places of is or are. Ah who yuh a-look for?
means What are you looking for or as they sometimes put it, Is wha< you
The th sound usually becomes t or d. They say is dem seh. Dem sehp
is a handy and serviceable expression. Scandal-mongers in particular prefer
the impersonal form. Dem seh is sometimes used as a noun. and a woman
might say with pride Me na in dem seh.
On the whole corruptions are interesting. A man quarrels with his unruly
son and threatens to beat him "four and a half" He means "fore and aft"
In this little community nautical expressions might be the heritage of the
days of slavery and sugar-ships or of more recent times when our coast
was served for commercial purposes by sailing vessels manned by private
A visitor to the island in a certain village bought a dog named Centipede.
A few days later he pointed out that the dog did not respond to its name.
I explained that the former owner spoke dialect and that the dog knew its
name as San-ta-pee. He told me afterwards that he said San-ta-pee and got
An interesting corruption arises from the use of the expression, Be off!
Not long ago a woman was narrating her difficulties. She had separated from
her husband in a village where he had many cousins, and this had caused
her to be unpopular. She lived mainly by gardening and when she sought
help for heavy work she could get none. But after a time the men relented.
One even proposed to set up in house-keeping with her. But she had not
forgotten what she had suffered at their hands. De man bole! she exclaimed.
Ee tink me forget how dem lef me pan me han! You should a-hear how me
be-haff am out a me door.
Massa is master. Maca is food and maca pouchet the remains of food.
Niam means eat. The coconut is lion no doubt on account of its size, and
it is also six-months because people have served that term in prison for the
larceny of nuts. The breadfruit is cow and garden-bread. Not surprisingly
there are jumbie plantains.
Shin is shank or shenk and Oriental Yam is not even rental yam but
renter yam. Melongene has become balongene and path has been shortened
to pa. The local proverb is, Pa far ochroe spoil. Cassava is cassada. The
ankle is sensitive to pain and is called foot-eye and the palm of the hand
han-belly. To strike a person with the flat of a cutlass is to planass or planaisse
the person. Saggai and taddai are both used instead of cutlass.
A love potion in the vernacular of the people is stay-home.. It is some-
times administered by women to freedom-!oving males who go a-coatening
one person after another. So that many village swains politely decline staying
to supper with sweethearts, for stay-home is not infrequently a harmful con-
coction, and has been known to cost more than one man his life.
Bathing has taken the form of badin and sometimes barking. But
barking has a connotation different from the ordinary bath. It is applied to
the act of bathing people in water with an infusion of herbs for the purpose
of casting off spirits. For spirits ride the persecuted. You hear someone say,
Ee a-ride and you look around expecting to see a rider on donkey or
bicycle. Instead you see the person in question tossing and foaming on the
ground, or performing movements on his legs with acrobatic dexterity. The
person is indeed not riding but is being ridden by a spirit which is envisaged
as sitting on the shoulders of the ridden one with legs entwined around his
neck. This image of the legs of the spirit around the neck of the ridden is
also rendered by the expression bow tek am. Here the legs of the spirit
around the neck are visualised as being in the form of a bow and the spirit
is itself referred to as bow.
Anyone who lives long in a village hears of the rookshan bushes. These
bushes are used for ridding the persecuted of malignant spirits. They wreak
destruction among spirits. Destruction, the original word, became ructionn"
and the corrupted form is today "rookshan"
The negative na so frequently used in dialect is probably a legacy of
the days of sugar when many of the estates were owned by Scotsmen. But
there are other memories of Scotch settlement. You might hear an old
villager refer to Scots Kirk. Me bin a-tek me schoolin' in Scots Kirk. In
the 19t'h Century Scotch settlers erected a small building in Scarborough
to serve as a Kirk. This was converted into an Anglican School and the
literate public knows it to be that. But memory is long in those who live by
oral tradition and if the educated have forgotten that it was once Scots
Kirk the old dialect speakers have not. And referring to the building by its
old name these people call to mind an incident in the cultural history of the
In travelling through the villages you might hear a woman threaten to
"raise Bellmanna war" This is an illusion to an incident that occurred
in the year 1876. In that year there was a dispute on the Roxborough
Estate. The discontents were treated to rum. Trouble seemed imminent.
The Riot Act was read and a volley supposedly of blank catridges was fired.
But there was something wrong. A woman was killed and the crowd
now wild broke into the barracks and beat Corporal Bellmanna to death.
In dialect there is abundant testimony of the beliefs of the people. A
white fowl is an important bird to many. Its colour suggests purity and in
an emergency it provides a ready sacrifice to ancestors. You do great injury
to another if you steal his white fowl. Someone who is picking on another
might be told, Yuh modern dead long time. Is na me wha eat she white fowl.
(Your mother is dead a long time. I did not eat her white fowl). This is
equivalent to: I have done you no grievous injury and your persecution is
Dialect expresses psychological truths. Repression is bad so of a person
accustomed to suppress his thoughts it is said: Ting a-go kill ann ah ee
stomach. (Ah here is equivalent to in). Translated the saying means: "The
things that he keeps in his stomach will kill him".
Tobago villagers seem not to have quite made up their minds about how
a brilliant idea is born in the mind of the thinker: Man na know wha ee
a-do for know, they say and pass on to the daily round of village life.
There is an interesting saying among villagers that leads to the assump-
tion that husbands have no extraordinary value. And a young woman pining
for a deceased husband might be advised by an old crony to stop her grief.
The advice would be given in the terse and incisive dialect: Man dead, man
deh ah world. The philosophy is that grief over one man is wasted since
another can be had to take his place. The reason for this attitude may be
that marriage for the Tobagonian is often an economic affair. The man
and the woman are indeed help-meets. And when a husband dies leaving
a woman with three or four children she finds that she cannot maintain them
by her own efforts. She must either marry again or set up with a common
law husband for the sake of a livelihood. But there is another side to this
which is quite evident when children refer to mother and father-words
which are rendered by "Mama" and "Papa" With the children it is usually
Me Mama seh and seldom me Papa seh. One is almost forced to the con-
clusion that in the home father counts for little and that mother is by far
the more important person.
At wedding-dances usually held on the night preceding the marriage
ceremony there is yet stronger evidence of the place of the male in the com-
munity. There is singing and dancing to the beating of drums. The words
of a favourite song are as follows:
Married man ah darg, O!
Single man a-roll, O!
All man ah man, 0.
One a dog and the other a rolling stone. Certainly there is no high
estimate of either. The point is expressed even more forcibly in the saying,
All man ah darg, but married man ah double darg, O!
This being the current outlook the male becomes wily. Me na want cat
in bag, he says, referring to women. He must know them well before
embarking upon marriage. So that pre-marital experiments are frequent and
not uncommonly a man and a woman have lived in a house for years and
become father and mother before marrying.
The villager lives at peace with his neighbours but nevertheless has his
reservations about them. Nothin good a-come out a black hen chicken, he
says. This generalisation requires limitation. But the verdict is not sur-
prising for in small rural communities each man knows his brother through
Proverbs like those referred to above are known in dialect as parables.
The villager reads his Bible and finds a likeness between the hidden mean-
ing of his proverbs and Bible parables. You quote a proverb and he is
surprised that you know parables. These proverbs are usually introduced
with the words De ole people say. Old people here means ancestors and this
brief introduction gives authority to the saying just as The Lord said does
in the Bible. Thus it is: De ole people seh Pickney can eat Mama but
Mama can't eat pickney. Or De ole people seh: Ram goat seh: me na cry
for horn, me cry for livin'; when livin' come horn will grow. The history of
civilisation testifies to the wisdom of the ram-goat.
The economy of words observed by dialect speakers is often remarkable.
Frequently verbs are omitted. A local Hebrew scholar told me that in his
study of Hebrew he was helped considerably by his knowledge of dialect
because of its compactness. Perhaps the reason is that countrymen every-
where use the same short sentences and no elaborate grammar. But there
might be another explanation. Up to about fifty years ago the country West
Indian of African descent learnt his English from the Bible. He learnt many
phrases which he altered to suit the rhythm and accent of his old tongue.
For instance the Tobagonian says is go ah goin' (it's go I'm going) which
recalls Biblical expressions like blessing I will bless thee or multiplying I will
multiply thee. A characteristic expression is, it rain so til-l-l-l-l! and this
conveys the idea of heavy and continuous rain to all who have the dialect.
A similar use of until is to be found in Hebrew.
The romance of Tobago dialect begins in Africa and is continued through
England, Scotland and France. The expressions which savour of French
are hardly the result of French occupation of the island. More probably,
they were brought here by Grenadian settlers in the 19th Century.
Dialect reflects customs and outlook. In it are preserved the moral-
isings that help to hold society together at certain stages of development-
sayings that enshrine a great deal of wisdom.
The following are among the oft quoted proverbs.
Stranger na know burial-grown' Strangers do not know the locality of
the burial-ground. Here the burial-ground represents evil. As applied the
proverb often means that a stranger in a district cannot differentiate between
well-doers and evil doers.
Wha dey ah snake head dey ah bean-stick head. What is up in the
snake's head is also in the bean-stick's head. The bow-stick some say is the
crook-stick used for controlling bushes when cutlassing. Others say it is the
bean-stick that people walk with. Snakes are killed by the means of the
bean-stick which guided by the mind of man is every whit equal to the sub-
tility of the snake.
Han' go han' come. Those who lend a hand in the work of cultivation
go and others come. The saying reflects the impermanence of things.
Not every fly dat light pon you you muse brush. That is, do not offend
everyone who annoys you.
Pa far ochroe spoil. As applied the proverb is equivalent to: "The eye
of the master fattens the cow"
Ashes cole puppy lay down. The ashes is cold and the pup lies down.
Young people take advantage of old people.
Beg fire can' boil dry peas. You cannot beg for fire to boil dry peas.
The cooking of dry peas requires much heat and your neighbour cannot give
enough fire for the purpose. You must collect enough wood and make your
own fire. In other words, some difficulties are to be overcome only by your
Pretty doesn' go in pot. Beauty cannot be cooked or eaten. As regards
value, appearances can be misleading. The saying is equivalent to: All that
glitters is not gold.
Every day leaf dey ah ground' ee mus' rot. Leaves that have fallen to
the ground will rot. Used in the same sense as: "Evil communications corrupt
When you na put clothes outside you na a-look for rain. When you
have not put clothes to dry outside you do not look for rain. In its context
this saying often means that those who have done no evil do not fear revenge.
Calabash na a-bear pumpkin. A calabash tree does not bear pumpkins.
Both the calabash and the pumpkins are gourds. The latter is edible and
the former is not. The proverb is equivalent to: By their fruits ye shall know
You na know where water a-walk a-go ah pumpkin belly. You do not
know how the water in the pumpkin gets there. The Shakespeare lover
might have said, There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt
of in your philosophy.
When you sen' a child, you foot cold but you heart na cold. That is,
when you send a child on an errand that you ought to have done, you have
easy feet but an anxious heart.
Every barrow-hog got dem Saturday. Every barrow-hog has its Saturday.
Hogs are butchered in villages on Saturdays. This proverb is equivalent to,
To-day for me tomorrow for you.
Dem who a-do good for jumbie ah dem jumbie a-knock. Those who
enter into traffic with spirits are the ones who are injured by them. Founded
on the belief that one might enter into commerce with spirits. It is another
way of saying that you reap ingratitude for the good that you do.
Wha dey in de ole goat will come out in de kid. Used in the same sense
as: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.
Children who na a-listen to dey moder drink hot water widout sugar.
The mothers teach the children and those who will not learn will have bitter
Darg foot bruk ee fin' ee massa quick. A dog quickly finds its master
when its foot is broken.
When de pig ask ee moder why ee mout' so long de moder say Pickney
a-come you a-come. When the pig asks its mother why her mouth is so long
she answers: Child you are growing. Experience teaches wisdom.
When green bush fall ah water ee na a-rot same time. A leaf that has
fallen in the water does not rot immediately. The consequences of evil doing
are not immediate.
When trouble a-come shell na a-blow. The blowing of shells heralds an
event of importance. For instance, a catch of fish, a house on fire. But
trouble comes without warning.
Trouble na a-tell massa ee a-come. Trouble comes without warning upon
rich and poor.
Pasture boy na get nothing' for do, ee go shake Gobernor hand. Idleness
leads to mischief.
Goat-dung bin a-wan' for roll long time before win' blow am. Of some-
one looking for cause to quarrel.
When sea a-look for rain, ah so ee a-go. Of someone looking for trouble.
The remaining proverbs require no explanation:
When hag na grow you call am pig.
For me- an' for you coo-coo can' soak in one pot.
Fowl ah house na hard for tame.
Lazy man can' eat manicou libber.
One han' na can' kill lice.
All food good for eat but na all 'tory good for talk.
Ebery day bucket go ah well one day ee rope mus' cut.
All tief know deir broder footprint in de san'
Word ah mout' na load ah head.
Moon a-run day a-catch am.
Cockroach na have business before fowl.
Cockroach na have business in fowl funeral.
If you wan' for see dead, watch 'pan sleep.
Gulley na dey deep enoughh for hide wortless family.
What time mango ripe ee mus' drop.
Man die, grass grow ah ee door.
Hunting darg can' make house darg.
Family cutlass does cut deep.
Me a-brush garden for 'gouti for run race.
Ram goat say Me prefer me mumma dead before de rain wet me
in de evening.
Whey de horse tie dey ee mus' graze.
Behin' darg, "Darg" Before darg, Massa Darg.
Goat don' stray if ee get grass ah ee yard.
Wha eye na see heart na grieve.
When fowl get teeth darg get razor.
Since "beg pardon" dey ah world' little boy mash big man foot.
Donkey ears long an' ee can hear ee own business.
Hag na rub ee back pon gru-gru tree.
Rain fall beef come ah house.
Quater-centenary of Richard Eden's 'Decades
of the Newe Worlde or West India, Etc.'
JOHN A. RAMSARAN
FOUR hundred years ago was published the first substantial account in English
dealing with the discovery of the West Indies. This was Richard Eden's
1555 translation from the Latin of Peter Martyr: The Decades of the Newe
Worlde or West India, conteyning the Navigations and Conquests of the
Spanycirdes, with particular description of the most ryche and large Landes
and Islandes lately found in the West Ocean.' Although it is evident from
such works as Sir Thomas More's Utopia and John Rastell's The Nature
of the Four Elements that educated men in England were acquainted with
the work of European chroniclers on the discovery of the New World, it
was not until the translations of Richard Eden that the New World travel
writings were generally read in England. Eden's translations served as a
stimulus to the first voyagers who issued from English ports to bring back
first-hand accounts of their experiences many of which have been preserved
in the monumental volumes of Richard Hakluyt's Principal Navigations and
Samuel Purchas's Hakluytus Posthumus; or Purchas his Pilgrimes. Richard
Eden was the worthy precursor of the "industrious Hakluyt" and Samuel
Purchas; and his translations deserve to be better known.
In 1553 Eden produced his first literary work, a hurried translation of
the fifth book of Sebastian Munster's Universal Cosmography which he entitled
A treatyse of the newe India., with other new found landes and Islandes, as
well castwarde as westwarde, as they are known and found in these oure
dayes, after the description of Sebastian Munster in his boke of uniuersall
Cosmographie wherein the diligent reader may see the good success and
reward of noble and honest enterprises, by the which not only worldly
ryches are obtained, but also God is glorified, and the Christian fayth enlarged.
In 1554 the English Queen married the King of Spain and their union seemed
to augur a glorious future for their two countries. Stirred by the triumph
and splendour of the marriage procession of Queen Mary and Philip of Spain
Eden set himself the task of making known to English readers the recent
achievements of the Spanish voyagers. So there appeared in 1555 Richard
Eden's translation from Peter Martyr's De Orbe Novo which Eden had read
while still a boy-"olim adolescens perlegi Decades de Orbe Novo a Petro
Martyre ab Angleria' '2. The De Orbe Novo was written in Decades, the first
being published at Seville in 1511. Others followed in 1516, and subsequently
enlarged editions appeared in 1530 and 1532.
Peter Martyr3 is of particular interest to Jamaica besides being the prin-
cipal source of Eden's translation, for while he was Prior of the Cathedral
of Granada he received the rents from the rich abbey of Seville in Jamaica.
He dedicated the money he received to the building of a stone church to take
the place of the wooden one burnt down in the town of Seville, Jamaica.
The inscription commemorating his gift was still in existence as late as the
end of the seventeenth century when Sir Hans Sloane saw it.4 In one of
his letters Peter Martyr mentioned Jamaica with obvious pride and affection:
Mitto salutatem sponsam meam lamaicam insulam ubi non
hyems rigida non aestas torrida, ubi toto anno frondescunt, & una
fructibus onustae acerbis & maturis arbores, ubi semper prata
So Peter Martyr wrote his Latin letters to correspondents in his native
Italy telling them about the news he was constantly receiving about the West
Indies through personal interviews with or communications from sailors,
captains and admirals. Acting as Intelligence Officer for the King of Spain
he wrote bhe Decades of De Orbe Novo which was translated into several
European languages before Eden's translation of 1555. This English version
of The Decades of the Newe Worlde or West India was augmented by trans-
lations from the Spanish accounts of Lopez de G6mara and of Goncalo
Hernandez de Oviedo y Valdes.
The book opens with the voyages of Columbus related in muoh greater
detail than the brief account in Munster's Comographia Universalis. The
perilous situation in which Columbus found himself on the first Atlantic
crossing is revealed in short, quick flashes:
The Spanyardes beganne fyrste to murmure secretly among them
selues and shortly after with words of reproche spake euyll of
Colonus theyr gouernour, and consulted with them selues, eyther
to rydde hym out of the waye, or elles to cast hym into the sea
Ragyng that they were deceyued of a stranger, and outlandishe
man, a Ligurian, a Geneues, and brought into such dangerous
places, that they myght neuer return ageyne. And after .xxx.
days were paste, they furiousely cryed out against him, and
threatened him that he shulde passe no further. But he euer with
ientyll words and large promyses, appeased theyr furie, and
prolonged day after day, some tyme desyring them to beare with
him yet a whyle, and some time putting them in remembrance
that if they shulde attempt any thing against him, or other wise
disobey hym, it wolde be reputed for treason. Thus after a fewe
dayes, with cherefull hartes they espied the lande long looked for.6
Later we follow the Spanish boats along the coast of Hispaniola and
As they coasted along by the shore of certayne of these Ilandes,
they herde nightingales synge in the thycke woodes in the month
of November. They found also great riuers of fresh water, and
natural hauens, of capacitie to harborowe great nauies of shippes.
The numerous small islands afforded Columbus the opportunity of playing
the role of Adam in the New World: he "gaue names to seuen hwndreth
Ilandes by the waye Leauying also three thousand here and there".8
On one occasion, indeed, it seemed to him that "the sea was euery where
entangled with Ilandes".
The general impression left in t-he reader's mind is a panorama of Indian
tribes wandering in the cover of dark-green forests, where parrots flash past
like a streak of emerald and gold; and where women in naked beauty sur-
prise the men of another world who move as in a dream supposing for a
moment that they see "those most beawtyfull Dryades, or the nymphes or
fayres of the fontaynes whereof the antiqnites speaker so much".1o Incongrui-
ties are reconciled as in a dream for these Arcadian glimpses alternate, or
appear side by side with grim presentations of man-eating Caribs or of
hurricanes-'"violent and furious Furacanes, that plucked vppe great trees
by the rootes"." So the Decades succeed one another with repetitions and
reiterations, and then portions of the tale are retold in the words of Oviedo
Shortly after Eden's death a new edition of his Decades was published
in 1577 by Richard Willes under the title of The history of Travayle in the
West and East Indies and other countreys lying eyther way, etc. It contained
hitherto unpublished material on the eastern routes, but added nothing to
the 1555 information on the West Indies. So Richard Eden's Decades of the
Newe Worlde or West India, 1555, had become the standard English work
on the West Indies supplying useful historical and geographical information
about the Caribbean. The islands were no longer for English navigators in
some dim uncertain distance. Sir John Hawkins had made three slaving
voyages and the account of the third one was written by .himself: it appeared
in 1569 as A true declaration of the troublesome voyage to the parts of Guinea
and the West Indies in 1567 and 1568.
Starting with Columbus, more than one voyager had brought back New
World natives to Europe, but there was still a confused picture in people's
mind about the inhabitants of the West Indies. There were stories about
the atrocities of the cannibals side by side with anecdotes like that which
tell's about an Indian sage who advised Columbus to look to the end of human
existence: "If therefore you acknowledge your selfe to bee mortal, and
consider that euery man shall receaue condigne reward or punyshement for
such things as he hath done in this life, you will wrongfully hurte no man". z
Such an instance as this might have led Eden to write in one of his prefaces:
But these simple gentiles lyuing only after the lawe of nature, may well be
likened to a smooth bare table vnpainted, or a white paper vnwritten, vpon
the which yow may at the fyrst paynte or wryte what yow lyste, as yow
can not vppon table already paynted, vnlesse you rase or blot owt the fyrste
Columbus's delusion about his having reached India when he touched
the islands of the Caribbean gave the natives of the New World a unity that
existed only in the minds of Europeans who thought of the diverse tribes
as one huge and scattered family of Indians. However, in many respects
Eden's translation supplied English readers with information not otherwise
available: they learnt much about the plants and animals, the natives and
their way of life, and the climate and geographical position of the Caribbean
islands. So to most people in England four hundred years ago the West
Indies and the rest of the New World extended this welcome in the words
of Peter Martyr charmingly translated by Richard Eden:
We offer unto yowe the Equinoctiall line hetherto vnknowen and burnte
by the furious heate of the soonne and the vnhabitable after the opinion of
the owlde wryters a fewe excepted But nowe found to bee most replenished
with people, faire, frutefull, and most fortunate, with a thowsande Ilandes
crowned with golde and bewtifull perles, besyde that great portion of earth
supposed to bee parte of the firme lande, excedynge in quantitie three Europes.
Come therefore and embrase this newe worlde.14
See Arber, E.-The First Three English Books on America, Birmingham, 1885.
All quotations from Eden's translation are taken from this book which is
referred to briefly as Arber in this article. The reader is referred to this
book and Professor E. G. R. Taylor'sTudor Geography, London, 1930 for
details of Richard Eden's life and writings and his importance as a geographer.
2. Arber, p. 47.
3. There is an interesting essay on Peter Martyr in J. B. Thacher's Christopher
Columbus, New York, 1903-1904.
4. Sloane, Sir.Hans-A voyage to the Islands Madera, Nieves, S. Christophers,
and Jamaica, etc., London, 1707, pp. lxvi-lxvii.
5. Thacher, Op. cit. vol. p. 30.
6. Arber, p. 66.
7. Arber, p. 66.
8. Arber, p. 75.
9. Arber, p. 77.
10. Arber, p. 83.
Arber, p. 81.
12. Arber, p. 78.
13. Arber, p. 57.
14. Arber, p. 64.
Ballad of Canga
By ERIC ROACH
Canga Brown is coming down
Stilted on his legend
Taller than a tall man,
Living beyond his end.
He is a old Ashantee man
Full of wickedness;
Bring obeah straight from Africa;
What he curse don't bless.
They gang him in the cane field;
Wouldn't raise a straw.
"Get up and work old man; look sharp.
"Work is not for Canga."
They tie him to the whipping post
In the greathouse yard;
Big whip peeling off his back,
The missis bawling hard.
Canga working obeah bad,
Throwing all the pain
Hotter than he get it
On the baccra woman.
They let him go and chase him
To maroon in the bush.
"Go you worthless nigger,
Let hungry eat your flesh."
But Canga go and sit down
By a tamarind tree,
Beat drum and call Damballa
Till his belly hungry.
He plant a plantain sucker,
Fill a tub with water,
Fish mullet from the water,
Cut plantain in one hour.
When moon go down old Canga
Put his skin in a jar,
Fly in a ball of fire
Man turn soucouyan !
He suck the white man blood
Till his flesh come dry.
Only three days later
The man lay down and die.
He suck the baccra breeding sow
Till the hog come lean.
"Ent this hog was making pig?"
"Everyone gone, clean."
What give Canga Brown that power?
He don't eat salt nor sugar;
His flesh fresh like Ibo yam,
His blood like clean rain water.
The devil come for Canga
Riding four black horses;
But Canga make black magic
And turn to two jackasses.
"Canga Brown! Ba Canga O!"
"Where the old man.gone?"
Jackass braying loud like hell
Behind the baccra barn.
When God come for the man
And call him "Canga, Canga.
That old sinner tie his mouth;
Not he, he wouldn't answer.
God stretch out his crookstick
"Sinner, get up, go down."
"Look, if I going up or down,
"Lord, call me Mister Brown."
God vex until he laugh in heaven;
Pull a big chair for Canga.
Is that why when the man dead
You hearing so much thunder.
Ballad of Canga
BY ERic ROACH
Translation in the Rural Creole of Surinam (Taki Taki) by Albert lelman
Canga Brown e waka-kon
Tikoko na en tori
Langa moro langa-man
A-e libi pasa dede.
Na wan owru Asjanti-man
Fulu nanga ogri,
Tja obia let' fu Afrika,
San a-e kos' n'e libi.
Den mek'a wroko na tjen-gron
A no wan trusu hanu.
"Kon, broko j'skien, ju lesi-man"
"Wrok' a no fu Canga"
Den tai en na pans-boko bun
A fes' Gran-masra hoso;
Wip' e pir' en baka-buba,
Canga e wroko obia
A-e trow6 skin-hati
Moro faja lek'a kis' den
Baka dji bakra-uma.
Den lusu pur'en, jag'en gw6
Fu jaj6 na busi
"Gwe, no-waarti nengre, frut,
Mek' angri kir' ju trip"
Ma Canga ewaka, a go sid6n
Na s6 wan tamarin-Con,
A nak' en dron, a kar' Damballa
Te en bere angri.
A pran' wan bana-tiki de
A fur' wan prapi watra
Na-a wakra disi a fanga trap6n,
Wan jur nomo a ben kot bana.
Mun-kenki psa, di Canga go
Fu pok' en skin na djogo.
A fr6 gwe n'in' wan faja-star,
So sma e tron adzemi.
A soigi Masra brudu te
A man en skin kon dr6-dr6.
Dri d6 no-mo, Masra did6n
Den tjar 'en na ber-pe.
A soigi Bakra-hagu te
Soso bonj6 ben tan.
"Na meki a hag6 ben de f'meki".
"Now no wan pkien no de"
San krakti Canga Brown so-te?
Na di a n'e njan sowtu.
En meti steifi lek' napf,
En brudu krin lek' watra.
Didibri kon fu kis' Canga
A-e rei fo blaka nasi,
Ma Canga mek' en tapu de
A tron tu ston-buriki.
"Canga Brown, Ba-Canga-o!
Pe-a owru nengre kibri?"
Buriki e bar' a doros6
Na bakra bakadjari.
Gado kon fu kis' a man,
Kar' en "Canga, Canga!"
Owru pikadu-man tai en mofo,
En, a n'e go piki.
Gado trus' en krakatiki
"Pikadu-man, opo, go bron!
Luku, mi Gado, a-was m'e fadon.
Kari mi Masra Brown"
Gado bigin fu laf' a tap's6,
A har' bigi sturu dji Canga.
Na so, di a dede, alasmi
Ben jere fa liba bari.
Letters to the Editor
Having read Mr. E. P.
interesting article "Island Can
Tales" (C.Q. Vol. 4, No. 1), I
will be interesting if I point
certain parallels in the Tobago
of the tale of The Rabbit and th
as it is told by local villagers fror
I have collected tales over a cons
"Sister Margaret" becomes
Tobago version "one wax-doll
described as "very pretty" an
"Bra 'Nancy" is the hero
Tobago story and not Bra
(Rabbit) in the Carib story.
"Bra 'Nancy" regards the wa
dumbness as a result of "love
sight" and strikes her only w
becomes impatient over her delay
it verbal expression.
Anancy "stole" and did not
cated" in the King's water. Th
a great drought in the land and
water-gullies were dry.
The point made by Mr. Bank
the use of the word 'dirty' is inti
In Tobago 'dirty' is used by
not only as a verb but also as
"To dirty in one's pa' (path:
saying meaning 'to bring tro
one's self by one's own evil
Again: "To rub dirty in a
mouth" is, in popular speech,
mean advantage of a person's we
Not only is this word "dirt
figuratively as illustrated in the
above but the word enters into
literal use in conversation as bo
and verb interchangeably.
J. D. ELD:
Banks' The excellent analysis of the theme of
b Folk 'Africa' in West Indian Poetry" brings
think it to light some startling misconceptions in
ed out West Indian thought. The author speci-
version fically states that it is not a "real
e King, Africa" but an "emotional ancestral
m whom 'home' for which the poets long. But
iderable this imaginary Africa is so far from the
real that it negates the force of the
poetry. The poets are nostalgic for the
in the '"past African power and greatness"
baby" which is symbolized by the Pyramids
d "well and the Sphinx. Since Herskovits and
others have shown that virtually all
in the New World Negroes came from a coastal
'Gouti strip of West Africa running from
Gambia to Angola, this nostalgia is a
ax-doll's little misplaced. It may be compared
at first to an Australian of Irish ancestry
'hen he boasting of his ancestors' achievements
to give in building the Parthenon.
Even more unjustified is the objection
that "Negroes dance and sing for
others," and that their arts are prosti-
ere was tuted. On the contrary, it is particularly
all the through the arts that Negroes have
gained the attention and the respect of
a about the world; whether Louis Armstrong,
resting. Marian Anderson, Asadata Dafora,
the folk Katherine Dunham, or Josephine Baker
a noun. in, her bunch of bananas.
)" is a The most serious misconceptions are
uble on those about "some primitive, animal
deeds' quality in Africa," the "great original
person's beast" of the "African jungle," and the
'to take "untamed" sensuality and simplicity of
akness' African life. Alas for the poets, there
y" used are no jungles in West Africa, and
proverbs almost no large wild animals. Those
ordinary West Indian souls who take "the long
th noun road to Guinea" after death will find,
not a "quiet village" of magic and
dancing, but noisy, crowded cities,
ER, eroded fields, mangrove swamps, and
busy industrial areas. At least they need
rough, feel no homesickness for Kingston or
African cultures are far from mori-
bund. The complexities of traditional
African political and family structures,
economics, law, and education fill many
a ponderous tome the poets would do
well to read. "Those who have invented
nothing" are credited with superb
bronze casting, wood and metalwork,
intricate and specialized tools, built-up
pottery, complicated looms, and a
wealth of fabrics and trade goods which
Africa has been turning out for a
thousand years. While West Africans
are not the heirs of the Pharaohs,
neither are they "primitive" savages.
"The Negro writers of the Caribbean
often seem to feel the need to affirm
themselves as something different from
Europeans" and long for "a way of life
that is essentially their own, not
borrowed or imitated." How ironic then
that their poetic expression should be
cast in European forms, and be initiated
by "the European fashion for the primi-
tive," as the author of the article so
clearly documents. What the poets do
not realize is that "the habits of their
souls" are not inheritable from African
ancestors like skin colour or hair form.
On the contrary, culture is learned
behaviour, and "thought-molds" come
with the language one learns as a child.
These are the inechanisms by which
"the great western world holds the West
Indians in fee."
And yet there are aspects of West
Indian life, attitudes learned from one
generation to the next, which can be
shown to have come from Africa; skill
in music, dance, and speech, realism
and a sliding scale of values, respect for
ancestors and belief in the super-
natural, the importance of "fetes" and
low esteem for manual labour, litigious-
ness and delight in quarrels, ridicule,
and gossip, love for the show of wealth
and power even at the cost of wealth
and power, and particularly the pre-
occupation with the outward signs of
class difference. If the poets will not
read ethnographies, let them try Joyce
Cary's remarkable novels of contem-
porary West Africa to see these and
A productive West Indian future
requires no alien Egypt, "unreal"
Africa, nor racial nationalism, but an
informed appraisal of the implications
of racial and cultural mixture, wherein
the West Indies is several generations
ahead of the rest of the world. As a
Jamaican taxi driver once told me, "It's
like coffee and milk, not so good by
themselves, but put them together and
you get something fine."
DANIEL J. CROWLEY,
33, Fourth Street,
6th June, 1955.
Designed and printed at the Government Printing Office, Trinidad, B.W.I.