Barrouallie: Tales of different eras
January 4, 2013

Article 9: Tales of the sea: shanty singing and more

One of the significant features of blackfish catching which is notably absent today is the singing of the shanties (chanties). Shanty singing signalled the return of our menfolk from their long trips out to sea.

Our modern day blackfish hunters no longer engage in this practice. Today, I may learn of a catch several days after the fact, or if I happen to see a few people standing on the wharf….a far cry from long ago.{{more}}

Shanty singing was so prevalent that a few of our fishermen were invited to Connecticut, USA in 2002, where they spoke about the blackfish industry and performed these songs. One year later, in 2003, they visited Friesland in the Netherlands, where they took part in a maritime festival. If you are interested in listening to some of these shanties (chanties), you can visit the website of the Barrouallie Whalers, where there are photos of some of our fishermen and recordings of those songs. Many of those men featured on that site have gone to the great beyond, but they have made a sterling contribution to the industry during their era.

In the 1960s too, shanty singing left a lasting impression on a young American Peace Corps volunteer who worked at the primary school back then. My mom recalls that young Mr Stanesco, whom she believed must have been in his twenties at the time, often visited her business place which was located close to the sea. She recalled the young man, who became a “family member”, would often partake of our family meals and listen attentively to the fishermen who would gather at her shop from time to time. The discussions must have interested him to the point where the young Stanesco often made trips out to sea with these fishermen. He blended well with the community until that dreaded day when he received that letter which recalled him to “serve” his country.

Everyone who was around at that time recalls how the tears streamed down his face as he passed the letter around, but the love for the sea and the people he had met here in Barrouallie did not end there. Stanesco, himself a musician, took samples of the shanties with him to the United States, where he made recordings.

So now our fishermen are ashore. The songs have come to an end. They have landed a catch. One of the shanties which I found very amusing was one which carried a line thus:…”Bear away (pull away) yankee, bear away (pull away), who nuh bin off nuh come ah bay”……I asked Kiah, who sang it for me, what that implied, as I chuckled to myself, having interpreted what it meant. I guess the lyrics were self-explanatory, but those were just words as residents got slabs and slabs of blackfish free of cost. Those were days of yore. Of course you can still take your calabash to the bay, but please ensure that you have cash! (smile)

Phillip Charles noted that long ago, the meat was sold in different ways. He explained that the meat which was sold with bone carried prices ranging from $2, $1.75, $1.50, while the boneless meat fetched prices of $4, $3 and $2.50 which the vendors bought and sold to make a living. Today, blackfish is “big money” and, on a number of occasions, the mammals are sold to St Lucians even before they are “landed”. Indeed, the skin is cut into bits and made into crisps (we call them crips, remember how we love nicknames?) and the oil is extracted in the process.

Phillip related that long ago, children were invited to take as much crisps (crips) as they wanted; thus they were free to dip out by the calabash. He remembers also how the “crips” were dashed into the fire to create more flames/heat to cook those that were in the copper at the time. If all of the meat of the blackfish was not sold, then the owner opted to corn, salt and dry the rest of it which he/she later took into surrounding communities to be sold.

Back in the 1940s too, we had established a thriving blackfish oil market. Drums of oil were shipped overseas to be made into soap and shampoo, until somebody got “smart” and decided to mix the blackfish oil with the oil of another whale, much to our detriment and that signalled the end of that aspect of the industry during that era.

Today, however, many young business folks are trying to make a come-back in that particular aspect. We shall speak with those persons and members of the Barrouallie Fish Fest Committee at a later date. Before we leave the sea also, we shall mention the names of some of our fisherfolks who have made an impact on the industry and also mention those who perished while trying to make a living…until…