Caribbean Traditional Music || BELIZEAN CREOLE FOLK SONGS

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  • BELIZEAN CREOLE FOLK SONGSAuthor(s): ERVIN BECKSource: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Caribbean Traditional Music (MARCH, 1983), pp.44-65Published by: University of the West Indies and Caribbean QuarterlyStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 01:23

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  • 44




    Work Songs The work song in traditional Afro-American cultures is a call-and-response song in which the lead singer, who frequently does no manual labour, sings out the call while a group of labourers returns the one-line response as they perform the work. The function of the song is to regulate the actual flow of the work. Likewise, working tools sometimes add a regular percussive effect to the rhythm of the song.1

    This essentially African use of song is illustrated by the "digging sings" of Jamaica as collected before 1907 by Walter Jekyll2 and as still used in Trinidad in the 1930s3 and in the Jamaican countryside as late as 1968.4 Roger Abrahams has also studied similar songs used by fishermen in Nevis, Tobago, and St Vincent.5 The call- and-response work song survived into the 1930s in the United States primarily because of the convict-lease system in southern prisons, which preserved the tradition of com- munal labour in work gangs. John and Alan Lomax gave "special attention" to these songs in their important collection, American Ballads and Folk Songs.6

    A Belizean Creole folk song that seems to fit this description is the well-known "KellymanTown":

    Go to Kellyman Town, go tell dehn gal me di bruk rockstone Kellenby!

    Go to Kellyman Town, go tell dehn gal me di bruk rockstone Kellenby!

    Bruk dehn one by one. Kellenby!

    Bruk dehn two by two. Kellenby!

    Bruk dehn three by three. Kellenby!

    Bruk dehn four by four. Kellenby!

    (etc.) - Women of the Baptist family of Burrell Boom,

    recorded by Shirley Warde in 1956-57.

    dehn = those di bruk = am breaking

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  • 45

    - - - 4JJJJJ J 1J J J Lf * J J I el ____ _

    ft Call Response Call Response

    Evidence suggests, however, that "Kellyman Town" cannot be regarded as a truly Belizean work song. Both Walter Jekyll and Martha W. Beckwith have published Jamaican variants of the same song, with Jekyll's appearing as early as 1907.7 Although one Belizean informant associated "Kellyman Town" with Kelly Street in Belize City, the word "Kellyman" probably should be regarded as a Belizean transmutation of the "Gallo- way road" (site of a stone quarry) in Jekyll's variant.8 Similarly, the apparently non- sensical response, "Kellenby!" is probably a slightly altered version of "Gal an boy" of all versions reported by Jekyll and Beckwith.

    Although the lyrics suggest that the song originated with the communal labour of quarry workers, it was being used as a song to accompany a stone-passing game when Beckwith recorded it in Jamaica prior to 1928. Like the other Jamaican digging sings, whose descended variants became used as dance tunes in Jamaica as well as Belize, "Kellyman Town" probably was used for purposes other than the enhancement of labour from the time of its earliest use in Belize.

    Wood Harvesting Activities The only song in my collection that is clearly a call-and-response work song in the

    sense described above is one from Seferino Scott, a native of Orange Walk who had spent much of his life as a woodsman. He called the following song a "log-rolling song":

    Run, Johnny, run, boy, caulkin [?] on your block today.

    Hey, yey! Bur-ah-yin da yagga [?] .

    Monkey play the fiddle and the baboon dance the tune. Hey, yey! Bur-ah-yin da yagga.

    - Seferino Scott, recorded by Shirley Warde in 1956-57.

    Call r^ Response u r

    cjr r icJcr^Jiir^r r^

    iJJflj j s ^ ^ Call ^mm fmmi t Response

    _|_ ^ ^


    j-j -3 ^mm -3 fmmi 1 e_T cj-




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  • 46

    No testimony regarding the precise use of this tune by loggers has been preserved. Research into logging procedures and terminology may help clarify the meaning of "caulking on your block" as well as "Bur-ah-yin da yagga".

    Thus, evidence so far collected suggests that the use of the traditional call-and- response work song has not been as widespread in Belize as elsewhere in Afro-American cultures - a situation that probably derives from the nature of the labour associated with traditional Creole culture in Belize. The economy of Belize has, until recent years, been based on wood-harvesting activities - first logwood, then mahogany and chicle. Yet work songs have traditionally been found in agricultural societies, which require much communal labour, rather than in forest-harvesting cultures, which require relative- ly less. For instance, in Africa the collective work song is common in the cultures of the open savannah, but uncommon in the rain forest belt of the Yoruba, Ewe, and Ibo peoples. Perhaps Belizean labourers have tended to resemble the bush-cutters in Liberia, who sing while they work, but only intermittently and casually.9

    In this casual use of song, working Belizeans have, of course, sung songs with no specific connection with manual labour in their lyrics or percussive effects. Leonie White, for instance, recalls pounding out rice in a mortar and pestle while singing the familiar song from Anancy stories, "Me Elinor, Elinor, gai-na-yo me doh doh." Just as many songs can be used as quarrelling songs, so almost any song can become a work song insofar as it is used to accompany, and therefore lighten, the burden of work.

    Belizeans have also composed songs about work. Many songs, for instance, refer to ordinary domestic labour, whether housework or field work. Some examples are "And I Won't Give a Damn", "And I Work Underneath Till He Come", "Bring Me Half a Hoe", and "You Can't Walk Da Me Planwalk". 10 Of these call-and-response dancing songs, the last two deal with agricultural contexts, which might point to origins or earlier use in communal field labour.

    Along with Seferino Scott's log-rolling song, four others in my collection were used in or are specifically concerned with the logging industry in Belize. Since they document and express the experience of the typical, traditional Creole who hired him- self out for pay in logging operations, these five songs more than any others seem to epitomize the uniquely Belizean contribution to the work songs of the world. Only Scott's is call-and-response; one is verse-and-chorus; the other three illustrate more free, lyrical structures.

    In Scott's song, the reference to Monkey fiddling and Baboon dancing suggests that it may also have been used in an Anancy story. A song by Percy Gillett, which definitely comes from an Anancy story, may also have been used to accompany logging operations. In the tale, Anancy first sings the song, followed by the ladies and then by the children. Gillett sings Anancy's lines in a bold baritone, the women's in a high voice, and the children's in a falsetto.

    0, cut in a row, brother Cut in a row, And a cut in a row. - Percy Gillett, recorded by Shirley Warde in 1956-57.

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  • 47

    m ,__ - ,__^

    Gillett sings this song in the tale, "Anancy and Brudda Crane",11 in which Anancy cuts down the tree holding Crane's nest in order to steal the treasure cached there. Anancy first builds a "conga barbecue" around the huge tree; that is, he constructs a platform large and high enough to enable a gang of woodcutters to chop at the tree with ease.12 The words, of course, call upon a fellow labourer, or labourers, to cut together and/or evenly: "Cut in a row." In the narration proper, Anancy/Gillett echoes the sound of the axes with the words, "Ju jing! jing! de chop!"

    It does not take much imagination or additional evidence to suggest that there may have been some kind of tradition of communal work song in logging camps, and that perhaps Anancy's song was one actually used in real life and then naturally inserted in a story that depicts the animal -trickster as a wood-cutting hero.

    After being pressed several times to si