May 3, 2011

Please turn off the lights....

Story Of The Song: Lyrics, Literature Trace Emigration Of Jamaicans

Emigration is a huge part of the Jamaican story. Even before the first wave of post-World War II emigrants to Britain sailed from Jamaica in May 1948 on the Empire Windrush, which stopped in Trinidad before going on to England, Jamaicans were involved in building the Panama Canal, which was finished in 1914.

Writing in The Gleaner in June 2000, Professor Patrick Bryan said: "Between about 1850 and 1930, Panama, Cuba and Costa Rica were the three most important destinations for Jamaicans. But there were other destinations as well - Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In the 1920s and 1930s, others worked in the oil refineries of Curaçao and Aruba. One folksong reminds us that 'Solomon grandpa gone a Ecuador, lef' im wife an' pickney outa door.' Another tells us of the Panama man who returns with a substantial gold watch, which, unhappily, he cannot read."

That second song ridicules the 'Colón man' who has returned to Jamaica with the evidence of his prosperity ("One, two, three four, Colón man a come"), but although he has a watch on a chain, when "you ask him fe de time an' him look up pon de sun".

From that time, then, Jamaican lyricists were engaging with the migration phenomenon, both those who had gone and left their offspring behind, at a time when the term 'barrel children' had not yet been coined, as well as the person who had come back - again at a time when a now common term, 'returning resident', was not a commonplace part of the language.

Read full article here.

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