Long ago people uses to be afraid to die because sometimes dey were leaving surviving relatives wid not even nuff burial money foh ah breadfruit coffin, but deep inside dey wanted mahogany casket to show off. Strangely, dat “sham-pain taste wid mauby pocket” men-tell-ah-tea is still strangling us. Ah remember our senior villager “Charles “Pappy” Joyette, ah Boss on meking coffins from scratch, poor people were forced to buy ah breadfruit board coffin foh $ 2.00, crudely built by apprentices at de prisons.
And Pappy Joyette would clean up dat box wid sandpaper and varnish, it looked better dan de breadfruit coffin in which former G.G. Sir Fred Ballantyne was buried.
Today everybody buried wid sham-pain taste and funeral expenses up in de thousands. Death is now ah hell of ah Debt. But hear dis! Back in de early 1950’s, ah humble armer/mason/carpenter with great Vision from de Marriaqua Valley name Nathaniel ‘Bunpan’ Guy, saw de need for ah decent burial foh poor people, and started ah Savings with Death Benefit Society; he named it de Marriaqua United Friendly Society a.k.a. Bunpan Society, wid de Motto “Bear Ye One another’s Burden”.
Members whose penny and four cents were too small foh de banks, were invited to save wid de Bunpan Society. The Society offered ah savings widout interest, and burial money or Death Benefit dat was no more dan $25. 00 at inception. But de Valley had lots ah skilled craftsmen, who together made use of local timber e.g., breadfruit board, and wid ah bottle ah strong rum and few pack ah Empire cigarettes, sometimes worked round de clock’, and within hours ah lovely coffin was delivered free of cost, except dat part of de Death Benefit money was spent on food and drinks for carpenters, grave diggers and of course de traditional Wakes, Third Night, Nine Nights and Forty-night vigils.
At year end, membership death dues is calculated from de total funeral expenses foh all deceased members, divided by de total number of surviving financial members. Bunpan has on record over 22 thousand members. So wid every member paying de same dues. Dey had 505 deaths last year, each member’s dues was ah small 35 cents per person, plus admin costs equal to $ 180. 00 death dues foh de year.
Last year Bunpan paid out over 2.6 million dollars or $ 5,200. 00 for every death. Dat amount has now increased by $ 200. 00. So effective January did year, death benefit is now $5,400. 00. Imagine sixty-eight years ago Death Benefit was $ 25. 00. Bunpan has really come ah long way giving poor people as well as rich people ah decent burial.
Ah overs dat Funeral Homes burying departed souls from $3,500. 00 up. Dat mauby pocket and sham-pain taste is ah “Bee-eye-tea-see-itch!.
Ah powerful example of ah funeral is dat of former head of de Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI (2005 -2013) died on Ole Years Day. Ah smiled at de humility, de lessons to be learnt when ah looked at de simple wooden coffin in which his mortal remains rest. He was 95 years old.
But on de other side ah de coin is Queen Elizabeth II who also died at 96 years last year. But de Queen was laid to rest in ah magnificent casket dat like it got Gold and Silver material.
During a brief, seven-minute homily foh Pope Benedict to a crowd of thousands gathered during a cool, foggy morning in St. Peter’s Square, Francis reflected on the life of Christ, marked by hands of forgiveness and compassion, healing and mercy, anointing and blessing,seemingly drawing a parallel to the same devotion with which Pope Benedict served the church.
Jesus Christ was buried in a rock-cut tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy Jewish follower of Jesus. Dey was no Bunpan Society when Jesus was crucified.
Ah belong to de Bunpan Society and ah done give me family de following instructions: “When ah die bury me deep, put two glasses at my feet’ put ah bottle ah ginger beer in me hand and send me to de Promise Land.”
And wid dat is gone ah gone gain.
One Love Bassy
Bassy Alexander is a land surveyor, folklorist and social commentator.