I know that my uncle Alvin planted the line of apple trees along the river near to my childhood home. I know that my childhood home was carried from one mile up the road (a place called Hillsbourough) on the back of a Leyland truck some time before I was born. I know that my grandfather was a baker and that he baked the best bread for miles around in a brick oven at the front of the yard. I know that when my Aunt Amy died and I asked what had happened to her, my response to Mom's answer that "God took her" was "Tell God sey me want back mi Aunt Amy yah". I know the names and deeds, as well as misdeeds of many relatives up to three generations back. I know all of this from my mother, the family historian.
I like the history you get from scholars, but I like the history you get from the people who were actually there a whole lot better. So when I walked into the Old Harbour library last week and saw the book "When me was a boy" on the West Indian authors shelf, naturally I grabbed it for a second read. Master story teller Charles Hyatt tells what Jamaica was like in the 1930's - when he was a boy. It is a collection of over one hundred stories each about two pages long, each funny, each conjuring a picture of a Jamaica that was. Tramcars, horse and buggy, Bustamante without a shirt. It uses words like creng-creng, brawta, bankra and gig, from a generation before refridgerators, superstores and video games.
It is written soley in Jamaican creole, which is a hodge-podge of English, Spanish, some African languages, and words we made up along the way. Yes, we rearranged the syntax a bit, and added our own rhythm to the morphology, but Any English speaker can understand it, with a little bit of effort. If you are a Jamaican living abroad this book is a nice mosaic of home, and you will probably remember the inimitable voice of Charles Hyatt on radio reading an episode for the radio programme "When me was a boy". If you are a young Jamaican this will a glimpse of your parents and grandparents days in living colour. If you are not a Jamaican but have an interest in Jamaican culture When Me Was a Boy is touchstone.
Here is a little snippet:
When me was a boy-lickle boy- we didn' have nuh television fi watch so you find that other than when you doin' homework round the dining table or readin' comic book pon the veranda we neva used to inna house much...in fac' the house was a punishment area inna the daytime. When them tell yuh.."walk inside go siddown!" that is like jail. ...Of course when it rain is a different story. Everbody haffi stay inside and the jalousie window blind them haffi shut and the door half turn...
Story telling is a strong tradition in Jamaica, both in theater and in the living room (in some cases on the verandah, under the breadfruit tree, under the moon). How is it in your culture? How much of it is legend and myth, how much actual events?
Editing note: I've found a blog post with very nice pictures of the Kingston that Charles Hyatt might have seen the last of. The whole blog is one woman's fascinating journey into her family's history.