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The Tambourine in Jamaican Culture

Tambourine in Jamaican Music

The tambourine or timbrel is an important musical instrument in Revival churches in Jamaica. It is also featured in mento, Kumina and Pocomania music.

According to Wikipedia, the tambourine originated in Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, the Middle East and India.

Tambourine in Jamaican Music

Tambourine

The Tainos, Jamaica’s original people, called it the maguey, and used it in celebrations for their ancestors.

There are several references to the tambourine in Jamaican popular culture. In the Anancy story, Tiger Sheep-Skin Suit, Brer (Brother) Tiger plays the tambourine.  Anancy (or Anansi), a spider and a trickster who outsmarts everyone, came to Jamaica from Ghana’s Ashanti people.

Another reference comes in 1837, when Isaac Belisario (1794-1849), a Jamaican artist of Jewish descent, published several paintings on street life, which included costumed dancers and singers who sang to the music of fife, triangle and tambourine.

The tambourine comes in different shapes. The most popular resembles a small drum with several metal disks placed at intervals in the side. To use it, the player shakes the instrument with one hand then strikes it with the other.

Prince Harry Playing the Tambourine in Jamaica

Last year, when Prince Harry was on his official visit to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, he played the tambourine with British vocalist Gary Barlow who was also on the island recording music for an album commemorating the Jubilee.

Foodie Tuesday: Saltfish, from Poor Man’s Food to National Dish

Saltfish & tomatoes

Saltfish is so popular in Jamaica, it’s one of the two main ingredients in ackee and saltfish, our national dish. We eat it fried, roasted, baked, or in stews and at any meal of the day.

Saltfish

uncooked fish

Salt or codfish came to Jamaica by way of Canada – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, to be exact. Back then, planters were looking for food to feed the large population of enslaved Africans who worked on their plantations. It was for the same goal that they imported breadfruit from the South Pacific. Saltfish, as codfish is called locally, was traded for rum and molasses and shipped back to the island.

when saltfish could shingle house…

The first time I heard the expression, when saltfish could shingle house, I couldn’t understand what my mother was walking about. Why would anyone use saltfish to shingle their house? Years before saltfish was so inexpensive and commonplace, people thought jokingly that it could be use for everything, including as shingles for their houses.

Saltfish, flaked

Flaked fish

Not so now as saltfish runs from $5 – 7 a pound. It is more expensive than meat and some other types of fish. To make it attractive, supermarkets sell it in pieces weighing about a half of a pound. You can buy even smaller amount in grocery shops.

Today, approximately 80% of the saltfish, usually hake or pollack, imported into Jamaica comes from Norway. Saltfish maintains its popularity, in part, because of its long shelf life. It also doesn’t require refrigeration. However, it is no longer inexpensive or looked down on as food for poor or lower class people. A staple of our diet, saltfish is on the menu of households in all strata of Jamaican society, and appears in a variety of dishes including ackee and saltfish, or cooked up with tomatoes, calalloo, cabbage, okra, butter beans, or found in fritters.

Chopped ingredients for Saltfish

Chopped tomato, scallion, onion, thyme

Saltfish & tomatoes

Tomatoes

 

How to Make Saltfish and Tomatoes

Ingredients

1/2 pound saltfish
1 large tomato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 stalks of scallion, chopped
1 sprig thyme
Black pepper, to taste
2-3 strips of Scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
Oil for frying

Directions

Soak saltfish in water overnight or bring to boil. Drain and add more fresh water and boil again to remove salt.
Chop onions, scallion and tomato; cut 2-3 strips from Scotch bonnet pepper and set aside.
Drain and add cold water.
Using your fingers or a fork, flake the fish and remove any bones.
In a medium skillet, add oil and allow to get hot. Saute chopped onions and scallions until transparent. Add pepper, then add tomatoes. Stir frequently until tomato flavors the oil.
Stir in the flaked fish. If there isn’t enough oil in the pan, add a little water.
Add black pepper and stir until the ingredients are fully mixed.
Lower the flame and let cook for 5 minutes.
Garnish with scallion or green peppers (sweet) and serve.
This can be paired with rice or ground provisions and can be eaten at any meal.

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A Colorful Stilt Walker

Stilt walker, Montego Bay Airport

I was waiting at the airport to pick up a friend when I saw this stilt walker.  With his colorful costume and height — he looked about 10 feet tall — he was impossible to miss in the crowd of people who, like me, had gathered at the arrival entrance of the airport.

Stilt walker, Montego Bay Airport

Colorful man

I’ve seen this particular stilt walker, or someone else wearing a similar costume, in Montego Bay several times since then. They seem to be part of the entertainment for cruise ship passengers.

According to Wikipedia, stilt walking has been traced as far back to 6th century Greece. Stilt walkers have been seen in countries such as France, Spain, Mali and have been used in a variety of situations from farming and jousting. It’s hard to imagine walking on stilts much less walking and jousting, a 600 year old tradition in Namur, Belgium!

Stilts can be hand-held, strapped on, or made with springs that allow the stilt walker to run, jump, and perform other activities. Stilt walkers are popular forms of entertainment, especially at circuses and festivals.

Hilton house

Hilton house

While I don’t remember stilt walkers being part of Jamaica’s cultural history or repertoire, I do remember that at one time, houses, like the one I grew up in, were elevated. Having a house built off the ground allows air to circulate freely and keep it cool. It also helps to keep out insects and other unwanted pests, and protects the house if there is flooding.

July 27th is National Walk on Stilts Day, an unofficial holiday.

 

Sept. 16th – Linking up this week with Travel Photo Mondays, which Noel of Travel Photo Discovery organizes. 

Pastor Brown’s Eye Catching House

Pastor Brown and Mrs Brown

The first time I saw Pastor Brown’s house, I had my friend stop so I could take a photo. It still is the most colorful and eye-catching house I’ve ever seen. My impression then was that an artist or someone equally comfortable with color lived there. Or someone who was absolutely not wedded to the conventions of design, or an eccentric.

Pastor Brown's descending the steps to his house

An Eye Catching House

My first photo was a quick shot, taken as the car rolled to a halt, the engine still running. My friend and I took off as soon as we noticed an elderly gentleman coming down the steps, his hand pointing in our direction. I was sure he would admonish me for taking a photo without his permission, or tell me I needed to pay a fee. And I felt guilty as we sped away. I felt I had invaded his privacy, something I’m very scrupulous about.

A year later, I was once again in Portland. This time, I was with a couple of my friends who I told about the house. I doubt they could imagine what I was trying to describe. It became one of those you’ve-got-to-see-this situations. When we got to the house, we knew we had to stop, and this time I was able to take it all in.

There was color everywhere, every inch of the house, every surface was decorated. There were also signs.

Pastor Brown's wall

Wall at the Brown house

Pastor Brown's gate

Gate to the house

Pastor Brown's sign

Sign and photos of Pastor Brown’s visit to Buckingham Palace

Pastor Brown's colors

Color everywhere

As we approached the gate to the property, a man waved and called out to us. “Come, come in!” he said, as if welcoming long lost friends.

The house is set back a good distance from the road. We walked down a grade, crossed a stream then walked up another grade to the house, which is set on the side of a hill.

Wall detail at Pastor Brown's

Wall Detail

Pastor Brown and Mrs Brown

Pastor & Mrs Brown

As we got to the steps, the man introduced himself as Pastor Brown. He called out and his wife appeared from behind a brightly painted door and joined us on the verandah.  Pastor Brown proudly showed us around his house. He was clearly proud of the work he had done over the years. He was even prouder to show us photos of his travels. Among them, his pride and joy, a faded photo of him standing outside Buckingham Palace. The way he tells it, it sounds like he actually met the Queen Elizabeth.

Pastor Brown's house

The house

For the record, Pastor Brown is a real preacher. He and his wife were so hospitable I even promised to visit the next time I’m in the area.

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.