Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Plants and Poisons - Lore of the Native Americans

The New World’s wild men, the Indians, were said to have a deep lore of secret poisons, too.  Hans Sloane, in A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, St. Christophers and Jamaica, quoted Hawkins as describing poison arrows made with “mansaneel apples together with venomous Bats, Vipers, Adders and other Serpents.” Some writers speculated that the Indians shared this knowledge with the blacks.     
Several writers mentioned poisons which, applied by native Americans to the tips of their arrows, paralyzed their prey almost instantly.  Among these, Richard Madden mentioned the vejuco de mavacure and the juice of the upas tree (antiaris toxicaria) but the upas is native only to Africa, Australia and Asia so he may have gotten it mixed up with one of the varieties of curare which native Americans used for hunting and fishing.  Madden also mentioned woorara as being used by the natives of Guyana.  He claimed that, applied to a wound, woorara produced immediate death, but when taken internally, it took longer to act. The word curare is derived from wurari, a word from Guyana’s Macusi Indians.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Snapshot Saturday - vintage Tortola

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.
A vintage postcard from the 1960s or thereabouts.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Collision - Free Today


Collision - Jean ducked under the roof of the market and made his way, by memory more than by sight, to the corner where Guy and the others waited in a loose huddle for him.  As he walked toward them, the people were one sussurating mass, a dark shifting shadow against the weak glow from the lights of the nearby police station.  When he got closer, the forms became more distinct.  A knife glinted in a man’s hand.  A cigarette flared.
“I thought you had changed your mind.”  Jean heard the critical tone in his brother’s voice.  It was something that was always present when Guy spoke to him.  The distrust was at the heart of their relationship though Jean did not know why.  He was the one who got Guy his job as a groundsman at the Oceana Hotel after Hurricane Jeanne killed the owners of the coffee plantation where he’d worked and it was he who had pulled Guy out, half-dead, from the rubble of their parents’ house after the earthquake. All his life, he’d looked after his brother to the best of his ability but still Guy continued to suspect Jean of planning to let him down.
“I am here,” he said, trying to sound patient.  I’m the one who decided we should leave, so why wouldn’t I come?  But while he’d been the one to make the decision, it was Guy who had planned everything.  Him and Henri, an officer with the Haitian National Police.
“Hush,” someone said.  “A car.”
The group twitched with excitement but the car flashed past the station and disappeared down a side road.  They relaxed again.  Henri leaned against one of the columns.  When Jean looked at the police officer he caught a flash of white teeth.  Jean nodded back.  Henri was a strange man who hit his wife whenever he was full of clairin but, if what they were about to do succeeded, it would be because of him.  He wore something that gave his head an odd shape.  Jean wondered if Henri really thought a hat would disguise him from his police friends. 
“You should stop,” a woman told the smoker. “They might see the light.”  Jean did not recognize the soft, urgent voice.  He peered in the woman’s direction, trying to make her out.  The handles of the jute bag made his neck itch but he didn’t put it down.
“They will not notice if a house is on fire,” the smoker, Yonel, replied to the woman.  “Their minds will be on other things.”
“How do you know?”  Jean placed her voice now.  Sofonie, the baker’s wife, which meant, Etienne, her husband, was here too.  Anything those two did, they did as one.  “How do you know they will not see and just shoot?”  People whispered among themselves, agreeing or disagreeing. “Remember last week in Jacmel?” Sofonie pressed. 
The group quieted.  Everyone knew about the drunken man who waved a toy gun at a pair of officers returning from patrol.  On the news, they’d said his relatives had only been able to identify him by his pinky ring because his face and the rest of the body were shredded by the Uzis and M16s the officers carried.
“I am not waving a gun, stupid woman.”
“Wa la, who are you calling stupid?”  The woman’s voice rose.  “You think I am your child, you can call me stupid?”
“Put it out, Yonel.”  Jean thought the man was right, the police would not notice the light, but one never knew and, anyway, it was a stupid quarrel.
Yonel brought the cigarette to his mouth and they all heard him draw the nicotine deep into his lungs. The group tensed.  Would he put it out or would he risk spoiling everything for them?  Yonel took another deep pull and then the cigarette flared as it dropped.  Someone stepped on it.  Seconds later, they heard a rumble coming closer.  Jean’s stomach clenched.  The rumble was both a sound and a vibration in the ground.  Jean felt both weak and hot.  “Run,” he wanted to cry out but he couldn’t open his mouth.  Run to where?  Bright lights suddenly swept around the far corner, near the new post office and Jean sagged with relief.  Not another goudou-goudou.  A pick-up truck.  The people huddled closer together.  Jean’s breathing grew shallow.  Something small and cold unwound in the pit of his stomach.
“It’s them.”  They repeated it to each other, psyching themselves up.  “It’s them.”
The white and blue pick-up bore the initials NCF on the side.  It sped up to the curb in front of the station.  The two officers in the back jumped out. Jean had expected them to have machine guns slung over their shoulders but they were unarmed. 


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Kishmet Daniels - Caribbean Craftswoman

I went out for a ramble a couple months ago and drifted into the Crafts Alive area - a cluster of shops with vendors selling everything from t-shirts to soursop juice. Most islands and tourist destinations have places like these but, in designing ours, we took a look back at the old chattel houses and then jazzed them up with vibrant colours.

Anyway, the friend I was with drew me along to visit a friend of his, Kishmet Daniels.  Kishmet has been Rastafarian since 2001 and is devoted to the natural lifestyle and to having as little impact on the environment as possible.  Though a high school drop-out at 16, she went back later and got her GED and now she teaches crafts at the Ebenezer Thomas School in Sea Cows Bay.

Kishmet, herself, loves to crochet but it was her ten year-old daughter, Tehsherbbah Williams, who got her started last year on recycling plastic bags.  Now she makes wonderful clothes for her wool dolls using discarded plastic bags.  A doll like the one below takes her about an hour to make.  Her children make the head and feet to them while she makes the body which means they can make several dolls in a day. Kishmet says the dolls are her most popular item and it's clear to see why. They're cute!

The bag below is also made from recycled plastic bags and, these, Kishmet makes herself. Each bag can take her between two and three hours to produce.  She sells the bags for about $25 but the dolls range from $10 to $15, depending on the size.

In addition to the bags and the dolls, Kishmet makes several other things from recycled bags including booties and uses can rings to make one-of-a-kind earrings. If you're ever in the area, check Kishmet out!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Storm Warning - an excerpt


AN EXCERPT - Shirley sat up and flexed her back muscles.  She put her hands on her waist and bent forward then arched back, circled her shoulders.  The pile of carpets beneath her were the cheap kind, hard and without much give, so that when they were finished she always felt like her spine would break in two. 
He was already standing and half into his pants.  She watched him as he put his foot into the other leg of the pants and zipped himself.
“It was good, yes?  Yes?”
“It was alright,” she said, shrugging.  She rose and stepped into her panties, clipped on her bra, dropped her dress over her head, her movements small and precise.
He ducked his head and sweat appeared on his nose.
“Sorry, Shirley.  Sorry.  I know you did not come, not really but I’m late.  Layla, she’s giving a dinner tonight.  Next time I will try to go slower.”
Shirley rolled her eyes.  He had misunderstood.
“Please, Shirley.  I will make it better next time.  You will see.  Smile for me.  I do not want you angry.”
Shirley shrugged again.  She was tired.  People in and out of the shop all day long because in four months it would be Christmas and everyone wanted to make sure they had new furniture, new rugs, new beds.  Nobody wanted relatives visiting for the holidays to think they couldn’t afford to change up the house for Christmas.  The only people Shirley didn’t see coming into the store were the white people and the rich locals who lived in places like Belle Vue and Diamond Bay.  Perhaps they had too many things to consider replacing them every year.  Shirley remembered when the house of an elderly couple in Belle Vue was broken into and lots of silverware and jewellery were taken.  The cops had no luck finding the burglar until one day the woman heard noises in a part of the house they hardly used.  When the police came they discovered that the burglar had been living in the house with the couple ever since the burglary, weeks ago.  Shirley had laughed and laughed when she heard about it on the news.  She, herself, could see every room in her house from the front door.
“It’s okay, Mr. Kabalan.  No problem.”
“Good, Shirley.”  A smile spread over his cherubic face and Shirley felt a flash of what was almost affection for him.  He dug into his pants, took out his wallet and turned his back to her.  When he turned around again he held out a wad of bills.
“Thank you, Mr. Kabalan.”
“Good.  I will see you tomorrow then, yes?”
“Yes, Mr. Kabalan.”
Shirley picked up her handbag and stuffed the money into a side pocket.  She walked past him, out to the showroom and then out to the street.  That was always how it had been from the time she started working at Kabalan’s Furniture Emporium.  Just because they were now having sex didn’t mean she could be trusted to come out behind him without trying to slip a flowered rug under her dress or a velvet sofa into her panties.  At first this had mildly irritated her but now she didn’t mind and hardly even noticed it.  As she walked to the bus stop down the street she heard Mr. Kabalan pulling down the hurricane shutters he used to protect his store from thieves.
When the Pinelands bus came into sight, she flagged it down and got on.  She took a window seat in the half empty bus and opened her bag.  He had given her sixty American dollars.  Usually he gave her a fifty dollar bill but he had given her ten extra because he was feeling guilty he hadn’t made her come.  She slipped the money back into her bag and felt like she could have sung out loud.  She was now making an extra hundred and fifty dollars a week because even on days when he couldn’t get it up and just wanted to lie in her arms and tell her about his problems with his no-good children he still paid her like if they’d sexed.
Eight stops later, Shirley got off the bus.  Although the dark was dangerous in a place like the Pinelands because of kids and crackheads wielding kitchen knives and stolen guns she preferred arriving late.  Twilight forgave a lot in the Pinelands.  In twilight, the McDonald’s bags and KFC boxes strewn on the ground, the sewage water running on the sides of the street and the half-naked little boys with their pee-pees out didn’t look so bad and she could always pretend she wasn’t smelling what she was smelling.
“Evening, Miss Clara,” Shirley called out to a woman sitting in her house, braiding her grey hair by an open window.
“Evening, dearie.  How you do?”
“Good, thank you.”
At the door to the house Shirley and her husband rented she took out her key and let herself in.  Tomorrow she would deposit the money in the bank during her lunch hour but, tonight, it went into a box under the loose floorboard beneath the threadbare rug she had bought second-hand at the Red Cross shop on Mercy Road.  She had begun saving long before Mr. Kabalan reached over to touch her nipples in January and she had felt opportunity in his fumbled caress.  Now she had more than eight thousand St. Crescian dollars in the account her husband knew nothing about.

Available April 25th from most online booksellers.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Girl By the Lake

In a remote Italian town, a girl's dead body is discovered by a chilly mountain lake.  Everybody knew her.  She was beautiful, popular, kind - so why would anyone want to kill her?  Yet, the more Inspector Sanzio probes, the more suspects he turns up in this quiet but suspenseful mystery.

You won't be sorry if you put this on your To Be Watched list.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Snapshot Saturday - the BVI safari bus

Today, I'm once again participating in Snapshot Saturday which is sponsored by Alyce of At Home With Books! Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online.

Our safari bus drivers like to decorate their buses in colorful and fanciful ways and this is one of them,

The back depicts an underwater scene

And the side is a beach scene.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Interracial Romance Before the 1900s

In Jessamine, there are a couple of interracial romances - the main one between governess Arabella Adams and the wealthy black businessman and activist, Leando Joseph, and a secondary one that mostly takes place off-stage between the powerful planter, William Threlfall, and the beautiful mulatto, Katy Lindsey.

Before the 20th century, interracial romances weren't actually all that uncommon in the Caribbean and several accounts suggest that race was not a barrier to love.  During the research for my book, From the Field to the Legislature, about the history of women in the Virgin Islands, I came across a few of those stories and thought I’d share a couple of them.

In 1824, a slave by the name of Kitty, who had been freed by her former owner was said to be living with Benjamin Penn, a white cotton planter.  The couple lived on the small island of Great Camanoes.  They had four children of their own but Penn also supported Kitty’s three other children, presumably by an earlier relationship.  Another account gives the brief story of William Johnston, a white seaman, who purchased a slave by the name of Mary and also his two children with her and freed them.  The family then lived in Johnston's house in Road Town.  Though he never married Mary as far as we know, the union sounds as stable as any common-law marriage could be.

But, throughout the Caribbean, there are many stories of interracial love.

Black sisters, Elizabeth (1772-1833) and Anne Hart, (1173 - 1834) were born to mixed race parents in Antigua and grew up to become educators who did most of their work among the enslaved population.  They converted to Methodism in 1786 and were baptized by the famous, Thomas Coke, himself.   Twelve years later, in 1798, despite opposition from whites, Anne married John Gilbert, a white Methodist lay preacher.  In 1805, Elizabeth married Charles Thwaites, a white schoolteacher who was very supportive of her work as an educator.  Both Anne and Elizabeth continued to advocate for better conditions for slaves and both were deeply involved in their church. 

The character of Leando Joseph in Jessamine was partially inspired by the real-life George William Gordon (1820 - 1865), a Jamaican who was the son of a quadroon slave and a white attorney, Joseph Gordon.  As the son of a slave, George was also born a slave but he was later manumitted or freed by his father.  Gordon taught himself to read and write and was later sent to live with his godfather, a businessman, who taught him about running a business.  At age 16, Gordon opened a produce dealer’s store in Kingston.  He prospered and became the elected representative for the parish of St. Thomas.  He was an outspoken advocate for the poor and for blacks.  Born and Anglican, he converted to the Baptist faith.  There is very little online information about his wife, Lucy Shannon, a white woman.  His letters to her after his wrongful arrest by Governor Edward Eyre are tender declarations of care and concern.
Leando was also partially based on George Stiebel (1820 - 1896), a mixed- race Jamaican, who is said to have been the island's first millionaire.  He started out in shipping but made his fortune in Venezuela's gold mines.  He, too, was married to a white woman, Magdalen Baker, the daughter of a Moravian missionary.  Stiebel's residence, Devon House, is a must-see on any tour of Kingston.

Then, as now, some male and female blacks no doubt sought relationships or marriage with whites out of some dimly perceived desire for the status and prestige they felt it would confer.  Some may have felt that marrying white gave them an entree into white society or that life for their mixed race children would have been easier than for a black child.  Certainly, the slave women who entered into long-term relationships with white men had a lot to gain, including protection from other white men. 

While none of these people wrote the stories of their lives or gave us an insight into their own feelings about race and about interracial relationships, there is also, no doubt, that many of these relationships were deeply felt and brought great happiness to all involved.


Young Englishwoman Arabella Adams was full of hope and optimism when she arrived on the Caribbean island of St. Crescens to take up her first post as governess. But it was 1878, less than fifty years after the British abolished slavery. Dangerous secrets and desires lurked beneath the surface of St. Crescian society. Arabella surrendered to a forbidden love even as the dark clouds of old hatreds and new injustices boiled on the horizon. When those clouds burst over the island, Arabella's hopes and dreams ended and the island was changed forever.

More than a hundred years later, another woman, Grace Hylton, arrives on St. Crescens and takes up residence at Jessamine, the old Great House where Arabella once lived. Ruled by a corrupt political dynasty, St. Crescens is again on the brink of violence and chaos. It falls to Grace to discover the secrets of the past and right an old wrong before the island is plunged into years of turmoil. To succeed, however, she needs Arabella's help.

This is the gripping story of two women from two very different eras who must work together to save the island and the man they both love.  Click here to buy.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Caribbean poetry, Jean Binta Breeze

lovin wasn easy

lovin wasn easy all de time
but nat easy
some a de time...

...wasn easy at all
cep wen
eena de tear up tent
a we blanket
jine wid we glue
we use to watch mawnin star
troo de hole
inna de bamboo shack

an now
ah sad
wen a look back  - Jean Binta Breeze

Jean "Binta" Breeze, MBE, (born 1956) is a Jamaican dub poet, and storyteller. She has worked also as a theatre director, choreographer, actor and teacher. She has performed her work around the world, in the Caribbean, North America, Europe, South-East Asia and Africa, and been called "one of the most important, influential performance poets of recent years."  From Wikipedia.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Sepia Saturday - 2nd March, 2013

Today, Sepia Saturday is going with a worker's theme (or boxes or paper or machines) so I thought I'd go with the workers.  Below is an old postcard from the Aguada Water Works in Cuba.  The card probably belonged to my father who grew up in Cuba and returned for a period of time when he was an adult.