Author Archives: Carol S

Green Lizard Guards Ackee Tree

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One late afternoon, I ventured out to the backyard to pick some Ackees that had opened on the tree. Our housekeeper who unfailingly kept a sharp eye on any and every crop which was ready for harvesting, for some reason kept omitting to clear the tree of the precious fruit. I was curious to know why?

Armed with a long, tapered, picking stick, fashioned with a metal hook on the end, I began my sojourn.

Six or seven ackees later, the housekeeper appeared through the kitchen door, amazed that I had found so many of the fruit.

I took the liberty then, to ask why she had not already stripped the tree? Her answer was simple:

“A hell of a green lizard live on dat tree an me an ‘im a nuh fren.”  “Look ef yu nuh see ‘im?”

Sure enough, a quick search of the tree revealed the presence of the lime green watchman who allegedly lorded over the ackee tree.

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I must admit, the lizard did look a bit intimidating. It lay still, observing my movements as if deciding whether to act on it or simply ignore me.

Historically, lizards found in Jamaica are all said to be harmless.  Personally, I feel that is a questionable matter, especially after being chased at the age of ten by a serious-looking ground lizard.

However, on this occasion, history was not going to be put to the test as just then, the groundskeeper who had quietly come up on the scene, without a word, made a quick, jerking lunge towards the Ackee tree.

The movement was so fast, my brain cells were still actively processing it when the groundskeeper came towards me, machete outstretched.  Hanging hap-hazardly over the sharpened blade was none other than the  mangled corpse of the green, ackee tree watchman.

Before I could register my distress upon the innocent killing, the groundskeeper blurted out, while pointing to the dead lizard:

“Ah one a di worse py-son (poision) dis yu nuh. Ah it dem tek kill one a mi girlfren dem, wha’ day.”

I wasn’t sure which was more curious. Exactly how his girlfriend was poisoned? Or exactly how many girlfriends this tiny, aging wisp of a man boasted?

I was about to pose the question when he spared me the banter:

“Yu know how dem dweet?”

Not waiting on any particular answer the groundskeeper continued.

“Ef yu put it out inna di sun and mek it completely dry out it cyan shred up like powder.  Ah it dem tek sprinkle inna anyting an gi’ yu. All inna cornmeal.”

“Ah so dem py-son mi girl.  Gi’ har inna cornmeal porridge. Stone dead!”

With that the groundskeeper walked away with his trophy, stopping only momentarily to hurl the green reptile over the fence into the bushes beyond, before resuming his duties.

As I watched him in the distance, I could not help but wonder, who actually felt the need to conduct an experiment of this kind to discover its use? And how do others find out?

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Needless to say, my ackee dinner was divine and the helper was extremely relieved the green guard of the ackee tree was gone forever. However, cornmeal porridge for me will never be the same.

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“Ruckus” In De Yard

The English language is a beautiful sound when spoken correctly. The Jamaican “English” on the other hand  is even more delightful, colorful, expressive and downright amusing when spoken incorrectly.

We refer to this type of broken English as Patois.  For some of us, it is still difficult to understand the real thing when confronted, but we have to admit, had they used the Queen’s English to express themselves, it would have made for a very boring tale.

Take for instance, this poor English Magistrate who presided over a case brought before the Court.  Your Honor was commissioned from London to head court proceedings in Kingston.  This was back in November of 1972 when we still had British influence in our judicial system.

Little did he know, with all his qualifications, knowledge and experience, he would have to rely heavily on his Clerk Of The Courts to assist in trying this case.  Here is a copy taken from the original post dated November 19, 1972  in the Jamaican Gleaner, written by reporter Rudolph McDowell:

Ruckus in de yard
By Rudolph McDowell

MR. HENRY STAID, Resident Magistrate, sighed deeply as he contemplated the witness in the box. A large female, given to much gesticulation and a deplorable tendency to verbosity.  Added to this, Mr. Staid was still having trouble with the language he daily had to contend with in the Court. At times he found it utterly incomprehensible, and he was secretly annoyed with those friends in England who had warned him that one of the advantages of a post to Jamaica, was that, unlike Asian or African countries, English was the spoken language.

He had struggled painfully to cope with the situation, but at the end of six months, he was still leaning heavily on his Clerk of the Court and kindly police officers for interpretation, not only of language, but also of the significance of allusions which were often totally beyond his comprehension.

During a pause between two bursts of volubility on the part of the witness, the Magistrate managed to interpellate question on the matter under jurisdiction.

‘You said…’ but before His Honour could proceed further the witness had caught her second breath.

‘Yes, Miranna”, she said sturdy arms akimbo, ” Gatta is de real cause of de ruckus in de yard. She an’ You-nicey have indicated feelings fe one annodder over a man for a long time NOW”.

“Now, now” said the Magistrate feeling his way through the murk of evidence. “You say that Gatta was the cause of the” — er-ruckus in the yard. Who is Gatta? Mr. Clerk, is Mr. Gatta to be called as a witness?”

“No Sah,” interrupted the witness before the clerk could reply. “Gatta is not a him. Gatta is a she.”

Then as the Magistrate raised an enquiring eyebrow, “Is a ‘ooman, she name Gatta, Sah.”

“Oh, I see. Her name is Gattasa.”

‘No Miranna is not Gattasa. Is Gatta, Sah”

“Gattasah?” .

“No, Miranna. Gatta Sah,

As matters appeared to be getting confusing, the Magistrate asked the Clerk if this was the name of a female- “Is she to be called as a witness?”

Cleric: “Yes; but her real name is Smith”.

R.M.: “Then why is she called Gatta’?”

Witness: “She real name is Gatta Simit, Miranna”.

R.M. to Clerk:  “I thought you said her real name is Smith.”

Clerk: “Simit is the local pronunciation of ‘Smith, Your Honour”.

R.M. — “I see. The real name of the witness to be called is Miss.— or is it Mrs. — Gatta Smith?”

Clerk: “It is Miss, Your Honour, and her full name is A-ga-tha Miranda Smith. But in local parlane it is “Agatha, abbreviated to ‘Gatta,’

R.M. “Dear me. What a length of time to get at the root of a simple matter”.

Clerk: “Yes Your Honour”.

R.M- reading from his notes: — “You said that Gatta was the cause of the ruckus in the yard?”

Witness: “Yes Miranna. Mek de ruckus start.”

R.M. “What is this — er- you stated that Gatta did? What is a ruckus? – –

Witness: “A ruckus is a little bangarang, sah.”

R.M: — “What is a bangarang?”

Clerk, anxious to have the case proceed:— “Your Honour, a loud disturbance wit’ or without violence”.

R.M. “I see. And you referred to a person whom you somewhat affectionately called You-nicey? I take it that the person referred to usually acted the part of peace-maker, whenever, er-ruckuses occurred in the tenement premises?

Witness: — “You-nicey,  peacemaker Miranna? A she a de cause of all de trouble in de yard anytime bangarang bruck out because of her su-su mouth.”

R.M. “I take it then that she has a physical defect of which she was acutely conscious and resented any reference thereto?”

Witness: — “Miranna”. ‘I don’t understand.”

R.M: — “She didn’t like any reference to her defective mouth? Then why is she called “You-nicey?’ I thought it was a term of regard or affection”.

Witness: — “No sah- You-nicey is her name”.

Clerk: “It is a Biblical name, your Honour — Eunice — locally p r o n o u n c e d ‘Younicey.”

R.M. “You referred to Younicey’s su-su mouth. What is the actual nature of the defect? Is it a hair-lip or a dislocated jawbone?”

Witness:— “Ef her jawbone did dislocate, den we would always have peace in de yard. Is de way she susu an’ mek labrish dat cause de trouble all de time”. ”

R.M.:— “What is labrish. What are the ingredients used in its manufacture that are the cause of trouble?”

Clerk:— “Labrish is another word for gossip, Your Honour”

R.M- “Dear me. The matter seems to be getting more and more complicated. I think we had better adjourn Court for the day. Tell all the parties in this matter to come back again on Thursday next week.

Prisoner in the dock:— “No, Miranna. Mek we finish wid it today. For ef you put it off dem gwine bring Mouta Massy Mirri fe come yah, and tell lie all day. After all, my matter is a simple, one, sence mi no sey what dem sey me sey, so you can jus’ dismiss de matter right away an’ don’t badda bring up de ruckus in de yard”.

R.M- “No, no. The matter has to be gone into thoroughly. The Court will now rise”.

Court Sergeant: “All will now stand. Court adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow

Statistics Predicted Hurricane Would Hit Jamaica In 2012

I was busy researching material online for my next post, when I came across a startling discovery.

It had been statistically predicted that the next time Jamaica would be hit by a tropical system would be before the end of 2012.

My intention was to resource information that could possibly explain the theory of Jamaica’s luck in escaping major hurricane hits, in spite of their imminent and definitive threats.  It is a long known fact that on many occasions, just hours before a direct hit should occur, storms seem somehow, to miraculously veer away from the Island, as if being pulled by some huge magnetic force.

In the course of my research, I came across a website simply titled Hurricane City.  They posted statistics showing Kingston’s history with tropical systems.  Some of it I really didn’t understand too well but take a look at the last section (this was posted it seems, at the end of 2011):  Statistically, it was predicted Kingston would get hit by a tropical system this year – they predicted on or around September – we got hit in October.  How curious is that?

Here is a copy of the postings:

Current weather(br)=brush (ts)=Tropical Storm (bd)=Back Door,meaning coming from over land from opposite coast.Not all names are noted,also storms before 1950 were not named.Not every stat on every storm description is given.


Years within 60 miles
1874,1879ts,1880br,1880,1884tsbr,1886,1895br,1896,1898tsbr,1899ts,1901tsbr,1903,1909tsbr,
1910br,1912,1915,1916,1917br,1918tsbr,1924ts,1928ts,1931ts,1932ts,1933ts,1933br,1934ts
1942ts,1944,1951,1980,1988,1994ts,2004,2005br,2007,2008ts
36 times in 140yrs end of 2011

Names from list above
Charlie,Allen,Gilbert,Gordon ,Ivan,Dennis,Dean,Gustav,

Longest gap between storms

29 years 1951-1980

How often this area gets affected?
brushed or hit every 3.89 years

Average years between direct hurricane hits.(hurricane force winds for at least a few hours)
(14h)once every 10.00 years

Average MPH of hurricane hits. (based on advisories sustained winds, not gusts)
110mph

Statistically when this area should be affected next
before the end of 2012

Hauntings At Skull Point, Jamaica – Part 2

Previously, I related a story contributed by a popular writer, to the Jamaican Gleaner. It involved a ghostly legend surrounding some strange-looking trees in an area known as Skull Point in Mile Gully, Jamaica.

Well, as it would happen, our heroic writer encountered yet another mystery, not too far away from what he termed “the whispering trees.”

Personally, the name of the area alone – Skull Point – would be enough to keep me at bay. Our writer, however, had a nose for news. A talent that placed him, once again, on the chilling scent of mystery and ghoulish hearsay.

According to an old shopkeeper in the Mile Gully area, legend had it that long ago, a slave named James Knight from the Lyndhurst Estate in the parish, became a Christian and started preaching to fellow slaves. This angered his owner who ordered Knight beheaded. The slave’s killers carried out the order, placing Knight’s skull on a pole, then planting it in the community as a warning to all other slaves. It is said that because of Knight’s violent death, coupled with  the fact that he wasn’t given a proper burial, his spirit has since been roaming the community and in particular, an old abandoned church.

Intrigued by the alleged ghostly sounds witnessed by parishioners, our roving reporter set off on a trek to the haunted site. There had been numerous recounts of unexplained noises coming from within the crumbled ruins of the old church.

The Plot thickens:

The reporter stood hesitantly on the steps leading up to the church, shrouded in a deathly silence, broken only momentarily by a passing vehicle. An emphatic shout whistled from the motorist, “Mind di duppy dem run out pon yu!” (translated: Be careful of ghosts coming out at you).  Then the car was gone.

Wrapped in the eerie stillness surrounding, the reporter slowly made his way to the entrance of the church. As he stood poised in the entrance way of the gutted ruins, he suddenly became motionless.

Coming from inside was a crescendo of high-pitched squeals, unlike anything the writer had ever heard.  He resembled it to that of a maniacal symphony. Rooted to the spot, the writer took a few moments to regain his composure, forcing himself to continue inside, despite the obvious sounds of doom awaiting.

Several moments later, he breathed a deep sigh of relief, realizing the origin of the legendary nemeses to be caused by a huge swarm of bats, disturbed from rest and now frantically flying to and fro. Confident he had dispelled yet another mystery, the curious reporter began taking a series of photos to prove to the Community and readers alike, that the flying mammals were the only inhabitants of the old church and clearly, the guilty noisemakers .

What’s your take on this?

Completing his descriptive report, the proud writer began assembling his photos to add to the Copy.  Wide-eyed, he quickly scanned through each of the targeted shots he had taken.  He could not believe his eyes. Each and every photo he had taken had a clear view of the church from all angles.  The only details missing – were the bats.

“Where are the bats?”

The Hauntings Of Skull Point – Part 1

Recently there was an article published in the Jamaican newspaper – The Gleaner.  It was written by a well-known contributor.

On a visit to a certain parish in Jamaica, he  had made a stop at a local bar where he overheard a strange conversation between the bar cashier and a local parishioner.  From the discussion back and forth between the two, it was apparent, something weird and mysterious was surrounding an area known as Skull Point, located in Mile Gully, Manchester.

Immediately, the writer’s instincts kicked in, realizing there was an interesting story afoot.  Upon the departure of the parishioner, the writer began to quiz the cashier about the earlier discussion he had overheard.

From the information, he gleaned, there were some unusual-looking trees  that grew in the area of Skull Point  said to be possessed by ghosts.  According to local legend, the ghosts lived on or around  the bottom of  these trees and could be heard whispering among themselves at various times of the day.

Naturally curious, the writer traveled to the area to view the trees in question.  Strange looking trees they were. Unlike any the writer had ever seen.

While there, he came across a farmer known as “Shaky”, who up til that day, had been carrying his goat to feed on the grass surrounding the alleged haunted site.  Somehow or other, Shaky did not seem to be aware of the chilling legend. The writer recounted the strange goings on as earlier related by the bar cashier.  Shaky admonished he had never witnessed any such thing.

So, together they stood, waiting for signs of any ghostly banter.  However, the only sounds to be heard came from Shaky himself.  He was afflicted with a bad case of the hiccups.  For the next few seconds, before another hiccup interruption, they listened intently, waiting for something to happen.

At that moment, the gently swaying breeze caused a rustling of the leaves of the trees. The writer wondered aloud if that may have been the origin of the legend. He felt confident they had unmasked the true story here.  Not so for Shaky though.

In spite of the writer’s calm, Shaky declared most assuredly, he was packing up his goats and fleeing the area, never to return.  When asked why by the writer, since they had clearly conducted a fruitful investigation, Shaky’s response was “Mi ol’ but mi nuh fool.” ( I am old but not foolish).  He was not planning to come back to be taken away by any tree trunk “duppy” (Jamaican term for ghosts).

Tune in for my next post: The Hauntings Of Skull Point – Part 2 – Story of the Haunted Abandoned Church,

Dog’s Tail Boiled To Treat Cold

Do not worry – No animals were harmed in this process!

Dog’s Tail is the colloquial name given to one of several plants or bushes used by herbalists and some country folk in Jamaica to treat various ailments.  Depending on what district you are in at the time, the name can change (not necessarily to protect the innocent).

A botany study was conducted some years ago by G. F. Asprey, M.Sc., Ph.D. (B’ham.), Professor of Botany, U.C.W.l. and Phyllis Thornton, B.Sc. (Liverpool), Botanist Vomiting Sickness Survey. Attached to Botany Department, U.C.W.l.  to document the names of plants and weeds grown in Jamaica that were traditionally used by herbalists in the  treatment of  illnesses and diseases.

It was found that different plants sometimes will have the same name. The study was initiated primarily to categorize the commonly known names with the Latin botanical equivalent.

In their publication entitled:  MEDICINAL PLANTS OF JAMAICA. PARTS 1 & 11. mention was made that in some parts of the Island, breakfast was not the name given for the morning repast. Instead it was substituted with the phrase “taking” or “drinking tea”.  Among the poorer families a cup of bush tea with a small piece of bread or porridge constituted the morning meal.

After reading the Study, I was surprised to learn there were so many medicinal plants occurring naturally in Jamaica.  I have to admit though, many of the commonly used names for these plants, I have never before heard in my life.  I have listed below a few of the names I found very interesting, if not downright comical.  Do you know any of them?

Hug-me-close – common weed – makes tea for colic and colds
Red Head – plant used as an emetic to stop bleeding. Also as worm medicine for kids
Dog’s Tail – tea for colds, “for the belly” and as a wash for sore eyes.
Hog Hook – used internally and externally for colds, coughs and fever.

Libi-dibi – used to make a gargle for sore throats
Stinking Weed – dried seeds are beaten and used as coffee substitute. Also good for kidney and bladder complaints.
Wandering Jew or Rolling Calf Bed – used in treatment of colds
Heal-I-and-Draw – excellent diuretic used by many. Also for colic,  wind and convulsions

Jackass Breadnut – used as a cold remedy
Grease Bush – general beverage for coughs and colds.
Dog-Flea Weed – used for treatment of wounds, also for dog baths for fleas
Creeping Ox-eye – used as a tea for fever and colds

Devil’s Guts – used as a love charm. Also tea used as general beverage for colic in kids.
Pepper Rod – make tea for colds
Carry-me-seed – remedy for fever. Sometimes used for genitourinary infections.
Hug-me-tight – used in a bath for female weakness
Search-my-heart – used as a general drink for colds

Dog’s Tooth Grass – tea made by boiling roots – good for kidneys.
Pig Nut – used in nervous and visceral disorders also for stomach aches
Donkey Weed – treatment for colds and kidney troubles
Duppy Pumpkin – used for colds and as an ingredient in concoction for lame foot or stiff neck
Ratta Temper – used for loose cough.

Duppy Poison – used with sarsaparilla and china root to make a tonic good for blood
Cockroach Poison – pounded with lime juice and used for ringworm treatment.
Clammy Bur – used alone or with licorice  to make tea for colds.
Mary Bush – leaves chopped and mixed with fat and rubbed with castor oil to provide plaster for boils and bruises.
Police Macca – used for colds and malaria – also for kidney and bladder infections. (yellow buttercup weed)

Gotta love Jamaica….

Refs:

 http://www.herbaltherapeutics.net/Medicinal_Plants_of_Jamaica.pdf

http://www.jaherbs.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=74:rat-ears&catid=25:the-herbs&Itemid=55

Banana Drama – World War II

Generally, when Jamaicans think of World War II, they think of a foreign, historical event.  Very few will recall Jamaica’s involvement and the effects it had on the nation as a whole.

 

The main causes of World War II were nationalistic tensions, unresolved issues, and resentments resulting from the World War I and the interwar period in Europe, plus the effects of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

The culmination of events that led to the outbreak of war are generally understood to be the 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany and Soviet Russia and the 1937 invasion of the Republic of China by the Empire of Japan.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causes_of_World_War_II

Under the “Bases For Destroyer Deal” established  in 1940 – United States was given the right by Britain to build bases on British possessions in return for fifty (50) mothballed World War I destroyers.  Jamaica, under British possession at the time, was the chosen site for two such bases. Vernamfield Air Base in Sandy Gully, Clarendon and Goat Island Naval Base in Old Harbour Bay.  The deployment of American servicemen to Jamaica marked our Island’s first major contact with Americans.  

Photo adapted from Historical Boys’ Clothing site

Though the real war was far away from Jamaica, we were still greatly affected. Beef was scarce, as farmers had gone to work in the ammunition factories in America and England. Kerosene oil and rice were sold by issuance of tickets through appointed agencies. There were very long lines to obtain these commodities and when you did get to the top, you were allowed only one pound of rice per family per week.

Children had to walk miles to school as some school buses were taken off route for lack of gas. Some motorists had to replace their engines with horses to draw their car. Only people in “Essential Services” e.g. doctors, high-ranking soldiers and policemen were issued gas.

The war ended in 1945, but life on the Island did not immediately return to normal. Ships were still experiencing difficulty travelling the seas as mine traps previously set were not all removed and boats were being sunk.

Mom shared this with me – adapted from her “Memoirs”

‘”Trade was also affected as we had a trade agreement with Briton to take our bananas but when the ships did not come, the bananas piled up on the wharf and rotted and the banana growers lost revenue.

Therefore, they started giving them away free to anyone who had transportation to haul them away.

Many little banana depots sprang up all over the place and you could get a bunch of bananas (9-hand bunch) for a measly 3 pennies. That was good for the population for we were near to starving as most of our food items were imported and could not reach our shores.

We were eating bananas in every conceivable way.

My mother would have two bunches tied up in the kitchen ceiling to ripen and we watched out for them and picked and ate each time we passed by.

We ate green bananas boiled along with meat kind like ackee and codfish. We had fried green bananas, roasted green bananas, green bananas crushed with butter, banana porridge, we made banana fritters with the over- ripened ones.

Can be crushed with butter or eaten with meat kind

Banana Fritters

My mother would grate the green bananas (there were no blenders in those days); she would put it out in the sun to dry on a sheet of zinc and when she beat it out and pass it through a sieve, you got the best quality banana flour.

This was used to make banana cake, banana pudding and banana dumplings. These were all very delicious but after a time it could get cloying.

One evening my mother was having a long discussion with the food vendor at the fence and we thought she was staying too long. So we set to work, Joyce (my sister) and I started eating the bunch of ripe bananas. We were just being brats and we ran up and down the big yard and made space for more.

By the time we got through, we had eaten  7 hands from a nine hand bunch. Then you know for another 10 to 15 years I could not look at a ripe banana without getting sick.”

Do you have a story to tell about life in Jamaica during World War II? Please feel free to share…or comment.