“The young people today don’t know how to do anything! They have no respect! They can’t cook and all they want is technology stuff!” Those are some of the things we often hear from our great- grand-parents, grand-grandparents and even our parents. But have we ever stopped to consider that they don’t know because we did not teach them?
The nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis have a rich heritage from our African forefathers and our British colonial masters. Enshrined in that heritage are our values, culture/ways/norms/morals. Our forefathers passed it on to us through the art of story-telling, proverbial sayings and practices. But have we done the same for our children?
Let us take a walk down memory lane and reflect on how we grew up and then maybe we can answer that question. We just celebrated the Easter Season. As true Caribbean people it is very evident that religion is deeply rooted in our culture and hence guides our thoughts and actions. Remember? “No play no ‘quelbeh’ in yah!” During lent, one could not play calypso music. During Holy Week, no dances or secular activities were held. Good Friday was a day for fasting, church, eating cassava bread, salt-fish and dumpling, flying kites and going to the beach. On Easter Sunday you went to church in all white to celebrate the risen Christ. Easter Monday was a Sunday school picnic.
There were other practices that shaped who we are today as well. Bush tea was an integral part of our food and medicine. There was a bush for every ailment; from cleaning you out after you had a young child, to bush for menstrual pain, blood pressure, diabetes, sore-foot, tooth-ache and even bush bath to wash away the toxins. Those days bush bath was considered ‘obeah’.
Our forefathers were also very resourceful. They knew how to ‘make do’ with what they had. Something we have clearly forgotten. They had no electricity, but ironed clothes with a ‘goose’, cooked on coal-pots, oil stove, gas stove and three-fire stone. They salted meat and fish and hung them out to dry, to preserve them. Cassava was also put out to dry. The child’s job was to look out for rain. “Who ha coco a sun always looking for rain.” That good old ‘doving pot’ to brown up the meat Saturday night for Sunday! Oooh! Dem wood oven bread, with red butter and coconut drops were divine! Don’t forget the banana fritters, potato and pumpkin pancakes, conki, johnny cakes and the ‘can’ a nuts and sugar cake! Also it was important that every young woman learnt how to “tun corn”. Our parents believed in the good old adage, “The way to a man’s heart was through his stomach”, so you had to learn to cook!
Remember the fruits we use to enjoy? Fat Pork, Ghaut plumb, Macco, breadnut, Manciport, custard apple, sugar apple, golden apple, plumb, gynip , silk-fig, stinking toe, tamarind, sour-sop, sea-grapes, cane, coconut/jelly-water, pomserat/dunk, pomegranate, just thinking about them making me mouth water, especially the green tamarind that we use to call ‘babal’.
Guess what? Boring was not a word in our vocabulary, we played from sun up till sun down, especially during the Summer holidays. Remember those games? “Hoop/hide and seek, ladder, skipping, pitching marbles, rounders, plum-in-de-middle, and cricket.” Then there was kite making and flying, platting carito/clatter, making carts with wheels from the fruit of the sand-box tree, rolling tire, ‘going down de bay to swim’, making cricket bats and stumps, spinning top, or simply just running and climbing trees. Oh! Knocking ‘big drum’ on old pans was fun and the girls used to practice to ‘wuk up’ or ‘whine’, to the drum. That was an art! Those were fun days and we were never tired.
If a child failed to obey there was always some sort of admonition that was meant to educate, discipline and guide. As we liked to say, ‘dem old people always a talk in parables’. “Mine, a tired talk to you! Who can’t hear does feel! Fowl wha sleep a roost nah hard to catch! One ting, wha sweet a goat mouth does sour in eh behind! Weh ting start no deh eh does end! Too much company make crab no got no head! Every rope got an end! When you neighbor house pon fire wet yours!”
As a child you dared not respond otherwise you would hear, “Shut up! Don’t leh me bus you mouth! You got a plaster for every sore. Hush leh me hear way de wind a blow from! Just leh me jumbie rest see! You want to be wrong and strong!” Then when you did not answer to one of the rhetorical proverbs, it was, “Answer me in you rude self! You a play forward now you start to smell you piss! Two man crab can’t live in one hole! A bet a hit you two crack, you think the devil horse kick you!” Then you might actually get a ‘tump’, a slap or a box!
Sometimes the ‘saying’ was directed to a neighbor or a friend when, ‘deh no gree’. Mind you, even though you mother and de neighbor ‘nah gree’, that was not your business! “Pickey Nager, nah ha no call in big people business!” So they would, ‘drop words’ like, “ Lawd! Eh ugly like sin! A can’t stand de best bone in him! Mouth open story jump out! You never see fowl bum til de wind blow! Cockroach no ha a call in fowl nest! Dem could take stick and dig in a sore!” “Monkey know wha limb to jump pon! She nough like a brown rice! Muddah! What a calamity! Dem a run race wid me!” Of course the ‘match me’ would be carried in the hand or worn in the hair.
Now we are back to the question. Have we failed to share that rich heritage with our children? What ‘old time ting’ have you taught your child lately? When is the last time the families sat together outside on a moonlight night and told stories? Yes jumbie stories too! Although, ‘jumbie stories’ are better told on a dark night. Let’s make a conscious effort then to start sharing what we learnt growing up, with our children and stop complaining. We can bring back the good old days one child at a time, by cooking some old time food or sharing some old time advice.