The Easter tradition and Miss Mary dry-foot Bwoy

The Easter tradition and Miss Mary dry-foot Bwoy


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Professor Mervyn Morris looks at newspaper articles reporting on his work and mounted in an exhibition at his appointment as Poet Laureate of Jamaica last Tuesday.

WELL, I hope you cracked your egg on Holy Thursday night and read good fortune from the shape of the egg white. Tradition says that by the following day, Good Friday, you should have known what the future holds for you.

I have no doubt that the answers for many will unfold at Caymanas Park over the weekend, and at least one lucky lotto ticket owner will be jumping for joy with egg white all over his or her face.

Breaking the eggshell was one of the popular stories in my generation. Another was the cutting of a certain tree bark from which the sap would flow blood red if broken at 12 noon. I tried this more than once without seeing any blood, but on reflection I realise I must have been barking up the wrong tree. It had to be a physic nut tree, said the elders, and we did not have any of those around. But it’s a striking story, if true, and I hope to catch up with it one day.

And as for the other Easter traditions, long may the beautiful Easter lily remain in place. Easter services would not be the same without those trumpet-shaped flowers adorning church altars and decorating the aisles. Easter lilies bloom worldwide at this time of the year. It is said that the lilies sprang up in the Garden of Gethsemane on the spots where Christ’s blood fell during His agony on the night of the betrayal.

But here comes the genuine Jamaican tradition, the Easter bun and cheese. This is the time of the year when we saturate ourselves with those gigantic Easter buns. Governments of today and yesterday usually have a big welcome for the Easter respite, even as they prepare for the annual budget debate which normally occurs around that time.

Many a finance minister has quietly hoped that the nation, and in particular the Opposition spokesman, weighted down by bun and cheese, would be well sedated come budget time and be unable to give the presentation the close attention it deserves.

The demand from Jamaicans abroad, and the flow of buns to the diaspora capitals in the USA and England are positive proof that this Jamaican tradition is firmly rooted in our culture. The custom may have come down to us from the hot cross buns of the British.

In my childhood, the buns baked by my mother at home were draped with crispy crosses that were themselves a tasty mouthful and added character to the flavour.

Then, of course, there was the fried fish, especially on Good Friday, when cooking was not allowed. Fish was prepared from Holy Thursday and served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Remember that in those earlier days shops were not opened on that Holy Day, and not even the little side window of the ‘Chiney shop’ was left ajar for last-minute purchases. It was a day to stay at home or go to church, and there were no football or cricket matches, street corner gatherings, or outdoor engagements of any kind. In our house the radio was not turned on until after 3:00 pm.

The Easter season, however, has promenaded from those quiet days of reverence to the haul and pull of sound systems, wild parties and carnival in every corner. Barbara Gloudon’s column last week asked the question “Whose Easter is it anyway?” because the secular side is scoring points in the tug-of-war about how to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.

“Inside church the believers gather on Easter day for praise. Outside the sounds of bacchanal challenge the songs of ‘Easter triumph and joy.’ ….We seem to be in one big religious mix-up, mix-up.”

But in spite of the wet n’wild parties, the j’ouvert and the bacchanals, Jamaicans will still be going to church today. The Easter service is, by itself, a religious festival. It’s a custom and a commitment to a faith that will outlive any ‘bare the bikini’, bun and cheese, or crack-the-egg tradition.

“The third day He rose again from the dead. By this He declared Himself the conqueror of death and sin, for by His resurrection He swallowed up death, broke the fetters of the devil, and destroyed all his power.” (1 Peter 3:22).

That is what we sing and pray about on Easter Sunday mornings. If we can say that any one aspect of the Christian faith is more important than the other, it must be the resurrection. Without faith that Jesus rose from the dead there would be no Christianity, no Easter morn.

St Paul affirms in his letter to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.”

The triumph of the love and power of God over the wiles of the devil is perhaps never more marked than it is at Easter when the empty tomb overcomes the cross. So party as we will this year, the church doors will be open today, the message remains the same as it was 2,000 years ago, and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus will continue to thrill our souls with its majestic reminder that “the Lord God omnipotent reigneth”.

Mervyn Morris

Munro boys all over the world will be celebrating Professor Mervyn Morris’ appointment as Poet Laureate of Jamaica.

Morris has a distinguished record at Munro as student, sportsman, later Rhodes Scholar, and master.

He earned his tennis blue at Oxford, and returned to Jamaica to teach at Munro and later to represent his country in the Brandon Trophy and Davis Cup for West Indian and Caribbean and Central American team honours. He was part of the legendary partnerships in the 1950s and 60s with Peter Phillips, Arthur Scholefield, Lance Lumsden, Richard Russell, and a younger David Tate.

On afternoons it was a delight to watch from the school barbecue as he traded powerful shots across the net with Derek Taylor, Peter Morais, Patrick Powell, and his peers Donald Bogle, Richard Roper, David Whitmarsh-Knight, and a few others.

When he took over the English Department in the early 1960s we entered his classrooms with some trepidation, unsure what direction his English Literature courses would take. Sensitive to the developing aspirations of young Jamaicans in the 1960s towards nationalism and a respect for things Jamaican, he shared, for the first time for many of us, our courses on Byron, Tennyson, and Browning with West Indian authors like John Hearne, VS Naipaul, CLR James, George Lamming, Derek Walcott and Claude McKay. Then, to the surprise of all, he introduced us to Louise Bennett’s poetry, something unheard of at a secondary school like Munro in that era.

I still recall his reading of Miss Mary dry-foot Bwoy as the one that locked in my interest to Jamaican literature. He taught us to value Miss Lou as a visionary, a poet, with a command of language that transcended both dialect and ‘good’ English.

I once described him in the Munronian as the master who was perpetually engaging in his favourite exercise on his favourite subject — a discussion on West Indian identity.

Jamaican literature was not on the Cambridge syllabus at the time, but his casual and conversational references left a serious and long-lasting impression which took us from the brink of tripping over a precipice that would have lost us in a maze of foreign and unfamiliar literature and customs. No other English teacher had ever done that.

Thanks, and congratulations to a master of literature whose achievements and teachings over the past 50 years continue to inspire.

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Comments to the Observer or to