Barrouallie: Tales of different eras
November 23, 2012
Long ago customs – Part 2

Estate children grew up on the land and ate the produce from it. Hence, there was an abundance of provisions and a bush for everything. I remember my vacation time when my siblings and I were sent to DuBois to spend time with our paternal grandparents Pa and Ma Dalton. One of the first things Ma Dalton greeted us with was “You all had some bush yet?” It really didn’t matter if we answered in the affirmative or not, as we were taken through one hundred and one reasons why we should be given bush.{{more}} Then it was time for some bush, which she picked from her backyard garden, washed, then boiled, after which we were given a cupful each (no sugar this time). We enjoyed those moments if only for the laughter which erupted as each of us noted the discomfort on the others’ faces as the bitter liquid was consumed … Oh, how we giggled, much to the surprise of our grandmother, who was not privy to the joke.

But it was and still is customary to use bush as “tea” and for many ailments. This of course is an ancestral gift. Guinea pepper bush, lime bush, barsley/mint, all made nice “tea.” Soft grease on pepper bush “attacked” boils; soft grease on belladonna bush helped to reduce swelling. So too, they used trumpet bush for cold and many other bush such as fever grass. How about a part of man life? If your baby was “griping”, then the “bud” of the lime soothed that pain and for many who went to the sea here in Barrouallie, it was customary to pull some bush to bathe the skin. Recently, a friend of mine added French (Ticky) thyme as a cure for that sore which is taking a long time to heal.

One of those things which we grew up with also, and, which is fast becoming extinct, is the “wake.” On the death of a loved one, a wake was held on the 3rd, 9th, 40th and year nights. This was a custom which involved the singing of hymns and a feast at the house of the deceased. Wakes, to me, were enjoyable yet frightening.They were enjoyable because of the lively singing which kept me mesmerized and awake into the wee hours of the morning. Then there was the food: cocoa tea and buns and other stuff. The frightening part for me, as a child, was when I heard a particular rhythm and it was announced that the spirit (of the deceased) was approaching – scary isn’t it? We, the young ones, dashed for cover.

These days, funerals have taken on a jump and wave style, which is far removed from the solemn procession which passed through these streets long ago. No longer do we have two distinct lines where the arrangement of males and females indicated the gender of the deceased. Long ago, pallbearers bore the coffin to the cemetery and used wooden chairs to rest their tired arms from time to time.

Then there was ‘singing’ out at Christmas time. At some time during the Christmas season, we were sure to hear familiar voices saying “Goodnight to the master and mistress of this house.” The occupants of the house would then go outside, no matter how late at night (that’s how safe we were) to be entertained with carols, after which the singers would be given a monetary gift. Those were the days … oh, how I wish some of it would come back.

What was Christmas without that pounding at midnight on Christmas Eve? At that time the sweet sound of hammers on nails “pervaded” the atmosphere. What a lively chorus they made, as each neighbour pounded in nails to hang curtain rods.

Remember the dirt/brick oven? No modern day brand stove bakes better bread. Dirt/brick ovens kept the heat and baked bread and cakes for the entire neighbourhood. I remember how bundles of wood were packed into the oven then lit, after which the burnt out logs and ashes were pulled out, then the tin sheets with the loaves would then be pushed into the oven. The oven door was then wrapped with a piece of wet cloth and the heat which remained baked several batches of tasty bread and cakes. Sadly, most of these ovens have disappeared.

Moonlight nights were set aside for ring games…””Gypsy in the moonlight”. Mr Frank Branch reminded me of those played in his era: “Pass the key around Jake Boy”, “Man in the moonlight”, “Man buy pig, pig ain’t have any tail”, and many more.

Finally, I want to believe that Barrouallie is one of the few remaining communities where the Anglican Church bell wakes us at 6 a.m. and tells us when it is 6 p.m. Long ago too, the bell rang at 12 noon. We have grown accustomed to the bell, but how many of us know, for example, that when someone dies the number of bangs we hear will indicate if a male, female or child has died?…Ah, check it the next time around so, by the will of the Lord…Long ago tales will continue in the sea.