|Volume No. 1 Issue No. 31 - Friday, November 15, 2002
||Paying Homage to My Grandfather and the Countryside
by: Dr. Emmanuel Finn
Today the economic well-being and living standards of most Dominicans are relatively better than they have been in the last twenty-five years.
Increased and better communication,(cable television, computers, better roads) greater access to secondary education and other opportunities are in more abundance than they were in the 60s and 70s.
This has also meant that the psychological and socioeconomic demarcation lines and boundaries that have existed between country and city folks are now less defined.
The confidence, lifestyles and behaviors of country folks have also changed for the better. One of the ways in which this new prominence of the countryside is manifested is by the rows of architecturally fashionable modern day houses with late model vehicles parked in their driveways in most villages. These once considered unprogressive remote country areas now resemble subdivisions of affluent suburbs.
The countryside has always been a special place to be. To many, it has been part of the fabric of their lives. My eyes always light up excitedly and my heart with contentment, joy and warm feelings of nostalgia whenever I conjure up memories of those good old days growing up in the country.
Playing games of marbles, cricket, top and hopscotch in the main road for hours at times before any vehicles passed by. Peeling dry coffee beans, setting dove traps or hunting birds with homemade catapults were part of daily life.
I have fun memories of haunting for manicou (opossum) in the deep forests with my grand father,cousins and their hunting dogs. Papa Borton owed a World War II double barrel bolt-action rifle. He told me that he found the gun one morning in 1940 at Laronde Bay.
During World Wars I& II, the Nazis imposed an embargo on the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic. The German Navy sank (U-Boats))sank many British and Allied Forces ships which traveled these high seas. Items and cargo from the sunken steamers and naval vessels drifted south and ended up on our shores.
Papa thought that his rifle probably belonged to a British naval commander who met his fate on the high seas probably from a direct hit from a German submarine. Papa's rifle could only fire two shots at a time and reloading it involved rotating the bolt lever upwards through 90 degrees, then pulling it back each time.
I have flash backs of Papa walking towards the La Plaine beach (Boute Sabre) in the late afternoon with this long rifle strapped to his back alongside his (straw made) Knapsack, and his two dogs not far behind to hunt frigates and turtles.
Papa Borton taught me the ways of the woods, mountains, respect for the land and the art of making a dug out canoe for fishing. He also related all sorts of European history and African folklore to me. The conversations and lessons ranged from the village riots, Chemin Letang (Lake road), the slave stories (he heard from his slave grandfather), and the hardships they endured during the embargoes of the two world wars.
My grandfather also showed me the old fashion method of chemical distillation of Bay leaf into Bay oil at his local distillery. In the late sixties and seventies Bay oil was a major source of income for the countryside.
The process of extracting the synthetic oil from the Bay leaf involved a number of laborious steps and it was not for the lazy or undisciplined person. The majority of my summer and spring holidays from high school were spent working in the distillery and in the Bay leaf fields.
Many years later, as a chemistry major in college far, I studied, and tutored students on the modern methods of chemical distillation. During those classes, my thoughts were on my late beloved Papa Borton who was born and reared at the turn of the nineteenth (19) century along the banks of the Sari-Sari river. He and worked the land in the foothills and hollows of the LaPlaine mountains all his life.
I cherish the times I spend assisting papa to lead his cows on the zigzag dirt roads to the Sari-Sari river on extremely hot days for well-deserved drinks of fresh water. Sometimes the cows got away and ended up in someone's Banana field.
Before we set out on these trips on these hot days either to the garden or to lead the cows, papa would ensure that I drank water. The water was stored in an earthenware pot called a goblet. Water was stored in brown goblets to keep it cold, as there was no electricity and very few kerosene refrigerators in the village.
On my home office wall in Washington DC hangs one of papa's priced possession. A certificate that was given to him by the Cultural Committee for Festival Day (Dominica) Re-union in 1988. He was recognized for his major contributions to the culture and community development in La Plaine and the Southeast in the area of Oral History.
Part of inscription on the certificate reads; 'This award affirms that Burton Allan of La Plaine has worked consistently to foster the importance of a greater understanding and appreciation of our past in the process of development.' Three years after he was recognized for helping to shape and retain our traditional cultural heritage, he went to meet his maker at the age of (94)ninety-four.
Also helping to shape my view of the world was the reassuring, informative and friendly voice of Jeff Charles on WIBS radio (Windward Island Broadcasting Service- the precursor to DBS radio).Jeff was the voice of Dominica and the entire island listened and valued his opinions.
His limited daily broadcasts gave me a different perspective and a basic understanding of alternative analysis of events and their impact on social systems. Recently, I had a telephone conversation with Dr. Charles from his home in Northern California. I expressed to him that his radio broadcasts in the late 60 s and early 70 s had a tremendous impact on my early education.
At La Plaine school we waited patiently for the white library van, which came from Roseau every other week. Even though we were only allowed to check out a maximum of two books, we were very appreciative of that service.
However, before the Library van returned, there were informal exchanges of books with other students. This meant that we were able to read more books than what we officially checked out. These books allowed me to travel and explore (imagine) far off places with different culture and realities than ours in Dominica and the rural ('Jean Ova') southeast.
Sundays, Christmas and New Years matinee dances, which were held at my uncles dance hall, were very enjoyable. We danced until the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the music of bands such as the Gaylords, De Boys and Dem, Belles Combo, Grammacks, Liquid Ice, Black Roots, Midnight Groovers, local Jing-ping and Bella groups.
On some clear and windy evenings and weekends, dozens of self-assembled and self- made brightly nylon colored kites danced above the cricket playing field. This popular pastime brought joy and gaiety to restless and sometimes bored village children.
Kite fever was more evident during the Easter and August holidays when kids were out of school. Almost all the young boys were out playing and flying kites. Countless hours were spent running in the breeze with homemade kites. The traditional and ancient aerial art of kite flying was indeed a safe, easy and enjoyable form of entertainment in the countryside.
We spent lazy afternoons in the summer time at the seashore negotiating the unforgiving waves of the Atlantic Ocean, fishing and roasting breadfruits on the banks of the Laronde, Sari-Sari and Taberi rivers. We often waited for the fishing boats to return after a day out at sea. This brought a sense of excitement and adventure and it was a community affair.
I remember a greedy old man sitting on the doorsteps of his small house on hot afternoons during mango seasons. He would shout (in patois) at my friends and I. 'Do not pass in my yard and do not climb my mango tree, and steal my mangoes; I will have the police arrest each one of you robbers and vagabonds.' We always ignored
Mr. Jayrance and got our mangoes leaving him quarreling aimlessly and helplessly. The next day he would forget all about the previous days incident and would ask one of us to assist him out in his yard with some chore. Of course, we had to oblige.
To be continued next Issue
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