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Town and Country

By Dorothy Johnson, Edith Chambers & Icylin Mairs

Jamaican town met Jamaican country at the market and the biggest market was in Coronation Street, Kingston. All the fourteen parishes of Jamaica sent their crops to it. A young girl would walk from Maxfield Avenue, past the market on her way to school and feel the excitement of the beginnings of market day.

There would be old fashioned trucks, like you see in films, loaded up to the top with all the colour of the countryside. Everything busy as the market was being prepared and, when you grew up in the city, it was good to see people from all over the country with their mangoes, yams, sweet potatoes, cocoa, sugar cane etc and the silver drums with molasses in.

All of this country produce coming into town wasn't just exciting to see, it also showed how rich the Jamaican economy was. The factories of Kingston turned these raw materials into products for sale over the whole island and abroad.

There were factories making clothing, hat, shoes, cement, and biscuits. Others made sweets, like the Paradise Plum Toffee factory with its Bust-me-Jaws (mint balls) and grater cake. Some processed the raw materials for export. Sugar refineries for example, turned molasses into rum and granulated sugar. Both important in the export market. Coconut oil and coffee were also processed for export, while bananas were just packaged and shipped abroad.

Many other crops passed through Kingston on their way abroad, which made it a bustling City similar to many others around the world. A built up town with tarmaced roads, buses, trams, trains and planes. Modern department stores round Time Square and modern houses (usually bungalows) with electricity, gas and piped water. These houses were raised off the ground with a veranda all round. The veranda had a tiled floor, while inside was a heavily polished wooden floor with rush mats in various places. The houses were kept immaculate. Outside there were small gardens where people grew tomatoes and herbs.

Smaller towns away from Kingston had less pressure on the' use of land, so the gardens were larger. Savannah-La-Mar (if you said Sav-la-Mar in school you'd get strapped) for example, had similar houses to Kingston but had coconuts, mangoes, breadfruit, bananas, ackee etc, growing in the heart of town. There was always a plot of land at the back for growing family food, with a flower garden at the front. Here, they used calor gas for cooking on.

Out in the country the plots round the houses grew bigger. They not only grew food, but also reared poultry, pigs, goats and even donkeys. Only the main roads were tarmaced, others were made of stone and smaller ones just dirt. When it rained, the dirt roads became mud and because people usually walked everywhere, they struggled. They'd either carry an extra pair of shoes to change into, or go barefoot and wash their feet when they got to where they were going. Mostly it was sunny and this made for a warm open-air country life. They still used horse and carts for transport, even up to the 1960s. Bicycles were popular and cars were becoming that way too, but only for the well to do.

It's a good job it was warm and sunny, because they might have had larger plots of land, but there was no piped water or electricity like in the towns. So Mondays wash took on a different meaning. Nobody had a washing machine and even if they did there'd be nowhere to plug it in. It meant a trip down to the spring to fetch water. This was put in a barrel, wooden tub, or old enamel bath and the clothes were scrubbed by hand in the cold water. Some women, used to go to the river to wash their clothes.

They'd stand in the water and scrub them with soap on top of the stones, rinsing every now and then. The washing would then be taken home to hang on lines around the house.

Bath time was something similar. The tub would be filled from the spring and in they'd get for a bath in cold water. Kids had theirs sitting out in the back yard. The story so far seems to be that there were great differences between life in the town and country. With country folk living an outdoor life, but short on the amenities available to city folk. Yet, we've seen that people in Kingston couldn't be as self-sufficient as those in the country. Also those department stores in Times Square were seen by the locals as for the tourists. Everything was too dear in them, this has got worse now through more tourists pushing prices up even higher.

What's more, when the trams went they were replaced by buses which took longer to get round town, especially if you lived on the outskirts. For those living' near Coronation Street Market, or the ice factory things were easier. But the rest relied on the street vendors, who bought food at the market cheap, then sold it dear off the carts they wheeled round the streets. Some of these vendors also bought ice at the ice factory, and then re-sold it in blocks around the town. Things like this made the cost of living much higher in Kingston. Apart from all this there were a lot of similarities, especially in regard to how food was prepared and used.

Take coconuts for example, there's various things can be done with them. When they are young, they can be taken straight from the tree split open and drank from. At this stage, the inside can be scraped and the jelly that comes out can be eaten. When they are mature, with a hard shell, the hard white insides can also be eaten, or turned into coconut oil, which is good for the hair. Not only this, the hard shells can also be useful. The fibres of the shell can be turned into mats and, in the time were talking about, women used to use these fibres (or hairs} as a cleaner for floors.

Children used to make sweets from coconuts. They'd make what was called cake from coconut and ginger. It would be cooked until it was sticky, then spread on a table with the kids taking spoonfuls as sweets. Another way was to use dried coconut. This would be cooked in the same way as cake, but it had a hard centre. These sweets were called drops.

Another popular use of coconut was in making corn cake or 'Blue Drawers'. This had sugar, coconut, cornmeal, spices, milk and sometimes fruit was put in. It would all be made into a paste then wrapped in a banana leaf to bake.

Home-made chocolate was another treat. They'd get the large seed pods off the chocolate plant, then split them open to get inside at the succulent seeds covered in a sugar coating. This syrup would be washed off and the seeds left outside to dry. Then they'd be parched on a tin over a fire, which broke the outer husk off the seeds. What was left was put in a mortar and beaten with a pestle until it was smooth. When oil began to seep out it was mixed together with the powder to form pastry like substance. Bits were then cut off and formed into dumplings.

This was how it came from the country into Coronation Street Market. The chocolate dumplings were then grated to make drinks out of. To be made into toffees the chocolate had to be refined further at the sweet factories.

There was also homemade ice-cream. People didn't have fridges so they'd have to buy blocks of ice. Turning it into ice cream meant putting the ice into a churn with a winder on it. This churn would have salt rubbed round the inside to stop the ;.ice sticking. Ice would be packed in along with some milk and whatever flavouring was fancied, then it would all be churned and left to form ice-cream
People did use shops for stuff like flour, soap, clothes, hardware etc. and these were always open but there was no pressure to buy, you could just call in to get out of the rain. It was that sort of society. But when there's cashew nuts (expensive in Britain) lying around so freely available that children used to throw them at each other and when green bananas (full of protein and iron) can be plucked off trees, its hard to pressurise anyone into buying.

Yet, despite all this good food, people did need a doctor every now and then. (Perhaps it,was all that home-made chocolate and sweets). These doctors charged half a guinea a visit(10/6d or 52½p), which later rose to one guinea (£l.l or £l.05p) after the prices went up. He'd diagnose the illness, then give out medicine in a pint bottle. This was mainly herbal medicine, which would either 'kill or cure'. Sometimes he sent people to the chemists, or they went themselves as there were no prescriptions. Even the chemists sold mainly herbal medicines, they'd charge I/- or l/6d depending on the remedy. It was good medicine.

Another aspect of life which had similarities all over the Island (and the whole West Indies for that matter) was school. In the country, children started wearing uniforms in the middle grade. In the City, they started at 5 yrs. Every school had its own colour. Girls always wore white blouses, but in different schools, they had different coloured skirts, like navy, black, maroon etc. Boys tended to wear khaki shorts and shirts.

All had exams once a year and were based on the British system. Some of the teachers were British. School books were printed in Britain, but only for use in the West Indies. Even Geography was British, as was History. Everything was "just British".

The children had to stand up for 'God Save the Queen'. On the Queens birthday they had parties with biscuits and so on. Parents would come to the school and the children were all turned out well in clean skirts, white blouses and red ties, boys in smart shorts and skirts. They even had Empire Day, when everybody dressed up to sing the anthem, while the scouts, guides and brownies were on parade to raise the Union Jack. Children got free toffees and other treats on these days, at the Queens Coronation they all got a commemorative tin of toffee.

The children may have had plenty to say during when not at home, but at home they were seen, not heard, They couldn't speak at all when there were visitors in the house they were taught to look up to and look after their elders. These are old values, where the whole family is seen as one unit. Even more than this, whether in town or country each neighbour was the others keeper. Everybody helped each other out. The doors were never shut and women could go out shopping for a whole day without worrying about the house. Neighbours would care for each others children as they would their own.

Perhaps the 'Nancy Stories' have something to do with these old values. 'Nancy's' are little spiders and the term 'Nancy came to be used for little things in general. The stories have morals centring on tiny animals which, in the stories, are said to be able to speak and have feelings. Yet the morals can be easily transferred to human beings.

For example - a big boy is throwing stones at a tiny frog. The boy doesn't know the frog can talk and feel. If the boy would just listen he might hear the frog saying - "What is joke to you, is death to me".

You can draw your own conclusions, but. the Nancy story seems to make a comment on the way the world is run. It appears that the rich and powerful don't listen to the ordinary "little" people. They seem to have little value. Yet, as our story shows, their appreciation of life and each other can be worthwhile to us' all. If people would only listen.


Having shared a small part of my childhood, I will now share some of my thoughts. After living in this country for thirty-six years I have become part of a multi-racial society. If only people could learn to share their lives and cultures, a peaceful, loving, beautiful community would be ours in the future.

Dorothy Johnson