Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pitcherie Inna Hawk Back

That's the best I could do with the spelling of pitcherie. I'm told that it's called the kingfisher in other places. It's a small bird that looks almost exactly like the mocking bird (which I'm told is the same as the nightingale) except it has a longer beak and a devilish look (I swear) about the eye, and some spiky feathers on the back of his head that makes him look like a gangster. We have plenty of both up here, much to my neighbour's displeasure. My neighbour is not a bird hater, but he's a bee-keeper. And bee-keepers and pitcheries are natural enemies because pitcheries eat the bees you see. Nightingales on the other hand only sing their hearts out for you. It's a true thing I'm telling you, Harper Lee didn't make it up. They echo the melody of other birds with their own little embellishments; it's the sweetest sound to wake up to. We mostly hear them in the spring time here.

But I'm telling you about the pitcherie. That is a tallawah bird, boy. I've seen them attack hawks. There will be this huge commotion in the azure world and when you come out to see what's going on, lo and behold this pitcherie will be wreaking havoc on a hawk, a bird two or three times its own size. A bird that country people hide their chickens from, for hawks enjoy a good chicken meal as you might well know. It is such an awe-inspiring thing to see the pitcherie out manuevering the hawk and sinking his formidable beak into the back of shrieking, tormented bird that someone made a proverb out of it.

Whenever a smaller, seemingly weaker person dominates another, or whenever someone pesters another person to distraction, in Jamaica we say to that person, "you come in (you're like) a pitcherie inna hawk back".

Tallawah: "sturdy, strong, not to be underestimated; tough, stubborn." Dictionary of Jamaican English; second edition edited by F. G. Cassidy and R. B. LePage; Cambridge University Press 1967, 1980; page 436.

Friday, June 5, 2009

When Plantain Want Dead him Shoot

I'll have to hazard a guess as to what this well known Jamaican proverb means. Shoot means to put out fruit. Plantain is a cousin to bananas, it can be fried, boiled, roasted or used as a filling in pastry - not usually a pie, more likely plantain tart. It is sweet when ripe and has a mellow flavour. When green it is starchy and bland and the flavour is usually enhanced with salt, pepper, onion or garlic.

After a plantain plant bears and you harvest the fruit, you generally cut the plant down because it will eventually die anyway. If you are too lazy to cut the plant down, you are merely encumbering the ground and having this useless plant compete with productive ones for space and nutrients.

Now, to map an interpretation of the proverb directly to this, I'd have to say that when you feel you've lived long enough, just put on your best show. But strangely that's not how I've heard this saying used. Here is a context in which it might be used - young Susan is blossoming, vivacious and confident, maybe laughs too much in her granny's mind. Granny is worried that some man is is going to come along and pick her cherry (and as far as Granny can see) blight her whole future. So Granny seeing this, hrumphs and issues the cryptic warning; when plantain want dead him shoot.

Or here is another scenario Marlon is extra energetic today and he is up to all sorts of mischief and making a complete nuisance of himself. Pappa is quickly losing patience and will reach for a strap in a moment, but before he does so he prepares Marlon; when plantain want dead him shoot. If Marlon gets the message he will stop the tomfoolery.

Do they say anything like this in your neck of the woods?

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Painted Canoe; Funny and Serious Side by Side

Ok so I'm having my second read of Anthony Winkler's "The Painted Canoe". I saw "Going Home to Teach" and "The Great Yacht Race" neither of which I've read as yet, but I chose "The Painted Canoe". I used the other library card to get "Hop on Pop" from Dr. Suess for the Little Gentleman.

"The Painted Canoe" begins with a point blank description of the unspeakably ugly Zechariah Pelsie. You would think that the description would totally descredit Pelsie and make the reader have no faith at all in him, but it is not so at all. I respect Pelsie and treat him almost as if he's real. For instance, I was telling myself this morning that Pelsie is right; people bother God too much about things they can and should do for themsleves.

Yes, Pelsie is an illiterate, but he is wiser than plenty. In fact, one of the critics who has given kudos to this novel comments that it is an 'exploration of the triumph of folkwisdom over cold scientific criticism'.

I wanted to read something by Winkler because I recently read a review of his reading at Calabash, and I felt like kicking myself for missing only the premiere Literary event in the Caribbean - again. But what can I tell you, there is no way I'm going to tek show off and spend my little much and go down to Senty, and then in the two weeks before payday I'm using my credit card to survive, and be owing Mas Ken my fare. Nope. Next year maybe.

So in this review in the Gleaner, I got a reminder of how intelligent Winkler is. I also found out he is a white dude, not so young anymore, who was often beaten by a black teacher for being of the privileged class in Jamaica. Incidentally, I'd written my last post about Jackass saying the worl nuh level, before I read that newspaper review. Winkler grew up on the privileged side of things, but his behind had the disadvantage of having to face the whip of Mr. Inferiority Complex every week.

I chose to reread "The Painted Canoe" rather than pick something new because I wanted to relive Pelsie stranded out at sea, and Pelsie facing a terminal disease. I needed an antidote to this thread that I had wasted my time reading, and to regain my confidence that some people have an indomitable will to survive, some people construct their own purpose, and all of us, specks that we are, make a footstep in time because we existed. So, as ugly and fool-fool as Pelsie is, he has something inside that drives him to survive even the most daunting odds.

Now Winkler is the master of hilarious, if you don't believe me, see for yourself, here are the first two or so pages from "The Lunatic".