A GOOD ROLE MODEL by Colville L. Petty

By anguillian July 17, 2017 09:51 Updated




(First published in The Anguillian newspaper on 15th April 2005.)
Anguilla has long been renowned for its hospitality which has deep historical roots. The spirit of caring and sharing was born out of the harsh experiences of a resolute people. A history of hardships, brought about by prolonged droughts and famines, a shallow soil and the onslaught of severe hurricanes, gave birth to a culture of interdependence, caring and sharing – of one hand washing the other.
I experienced, especially in those years when I was growing up, what it was like to live in a society where a culture of caring and sharing, of neighbourliness and of man being his brother’s keeper, was dominant. The culture was such that my house was your house, and your house was my house. Your child was my child, and my child was your child. You ate out of my pot, and I ate out of yours.
Etched in my mind with respect to those difficult days of the 1940s and 50s, when poverty was the norm, was that when a mother ran out of matches she usually went by a neighbour for a matchstick or two. Or she would call at her neighbour’s house for a “piece of fire” or a “stick of fire” so that she could light her own fire and start cooking. In those days the main means of cooking was by wood fire, so it was easy to get a lighted stick from under your neighbour’s pot. Incidentally, it was because of that practice that when our older folks pass by a neighbour’s house for a short stay they usually say, on entering: “I only come for a stick of fire”.
“A stick of fire” worked wonders for the unity of Anguillian society. So did the jollification. It was one of the highest forms of expression of community caring and sharing. According to the Collins English Dictionary, a jollification is a merry festivity. But, in the context of the Anguillian experience, it was a festive occasion in which members of the community came together to undertake a particular socio-economic task. In my view, it was a type of economic activity inclusive of an element of merriment.

In early years, the preparation of provision grounds for the planting of food crops was undertaken by means of a jollification. There were no ploughs, so the village men used hoes. They did the hoeing. And as they did so they sang merrily along. I can still hear Joe Labs, Mankin, Kiwee, Biddy and others singing:
Sundown, Ah going home!
Hear Martin bell ring!
I enjoyed watching all of the hoes go in the air in unison, and strike the ground in unison, to the timing of whatever song they were singing. As the men did the hoeing, the women busied themselves preparing the meals. Breakfast was Johnny cakes with “relish” and “stinking weed tea” or bush tea. Later on there was lunch: peas and rice and either mutton or goat meat. But throughout the day, rum was in plentiful supply and the men drank to their hearts content. While the men and women toiled, the village children were happily eating, drinking (no rum, of course) and running around playing games.
The jollification was also popular for the launching of our wooden schooners and sloops. Men, women and children were all there, pulling on the lines to get the boat in the water. As expected, there was food and drink in galore. Again, the jollification, as a means of organising labour, was resorted to when people were relocating their wooden houses which involved lifting them off their pillars and carrying them elsewhere. I remember when Willy Duncan moved his house in 1950.
A noteworthy aspect of the jollification was that no money changed hands. In other words, there was no payment for any work performed. People were happy with the satisfaction they derived from being able to help one another. Our hospitality – our culture of caring and sharing – provided a spirit of oneness.

That caring and sharing were extended to visitors. Visiting officials like doctors, magistrates or ministers of religion, got the full works. They were flooded with fresh eggs, pigeon peas, black eye peas, okras, watermelons, pawpaws, roast corn, liver and lights (plus a hind quarter of meat) and so on. We had a habit of giving them exceptional good treatment. That was our nature: loving, caring and giving.

I now use two episodes of the second world war to highlight what I consider prime examples of exceptional Anguillian hospitality. On 26th June 1942, the Anglo Canadian, a 5,268-ton British motor freighter travelling from “Vizagapatam and Ascencion” to Baltimore, USA, was torpedoed in the Atlantic (25.12N/55.31W) by a German submarine. It had a crew of 50 men. One man died.
Some two weeks later, on 9th July 1942, its 49 survivors came ashore at Island Harbour where they were warmly received and given food, clothing and shelter. The household of Joseph and Caddy Hodge spared no effort in making them comfortable. In fact, the Log Book of the old East End School recorded that Thelma Hodge (Teacher Thelma Hunte), one of their daughters, “was absent from school throughout the day [9th July]” to help look after the sailors. According to Teacher Thelma, the people of the Island Harbour assisted them greatly. Some went so far as to give the sailors their beds while they slept on the floor. By the way, that practice is still with us. I remember Victor Banks, Minister of Finance, telling a political meeting, in 1999, about an occasion when he gave up his bed. He said that he and Chief Minister Hubert Hughes went to the UK on official business and that he (Victor) stayed in a hotel in London while Hubert stayed with some friends in Slough. And that one night when Hubert came to London, to sleep with him, he allowed him (Hubert) to sleep on the bed while he slept on the floor. Victor’s benevolence was reflective of the culture in which he was brought up.

I now come to a second episode of the second world war which speaks to the depth and nature of Anguillian hospitality. One Sunday afternoon, during the first half of the 1940s, a group of young people, mainly from Little Dix and Stoney Ground, were bathing at Shoal Bay when they beheld about seven or eight small boats out to sea. Audrey Rogers was on the beach. She recalled that when they recognised that they were lifeboats they told Lucien Petty to climb one of the coconut trees, take off his merino (undershirt) and wave it to signal the boats to come in. Lucien climbed the tree in a flash and waved his merino in the air.
As he did so, those on the ground had another idea. They called Lucien down and asked to run to Little Dix to see if he could find a Union Jack. Off he went and, about an hour later, returned with one. They hoisted it but by that time the men on the lifeboats were close enough to the shore to see the people beckoning them to come in, and to hear them shouting words of welcome.

As the lifeboats hit the beach the men were surrounded by Anguillians, young and old, who greeted them warmly. They were all sailors from a US ship which was torpedoed by a German submarine. And as they set foot on Shoal Bay, several of them collapsed in the arms of the Anguillians and exclaimed: “Thank God! Thank God!”
A lot of the sailors were too weak to stand up because of the many days they spent, with very little food and water, under a blazing Atlantic/Caribbean sun. According to Audrey, “What they did have were some sardines and chocolates bars”. She said: “Most of them were in very bad shape. One told me that he was from South Carolina. It appeared that there was only one black sailor among them. He was the cook. He was heavyset. He was in bad shape and his tongue was swollen”.
He and others were in need of urgent medical attention. And the only way out of Shoal Bay was by a footpath through the bushes. The sailors were helped along the footpath but conditions became easier once they reached the main road at Little Dix. Immediately, some of them were given something to eat at Joseph Petty’s house. Mildred Smith (Milly) recalled seeing them being fed poached eggs. In the meantime, the sick were taken to the Cottage Hospital, in Pompey Hodge’s truck, where they spent a few nights recuperating.

Surely, the way our people treated the US sailors is testament to the depth and vastness of Anguillian hospitality. The sailors were properly fed. Our people even cooked and carried food for those recuperating at the hospital. Although they were poor, and times were hard, there was no shortage of food for the “survivors” as the sailors were called. To quote Audrey: “Everybody chipped in with something – be it milk, peas or potatoes. And some people even killed animals [sheep and goats] so that they could get meat to give them. Joe Gumbs provided the sodas”.

The sailors spent a few days on the island awaiting transportation back to the USA. Eventually, a red seaplane arrived at Crocus Bay to take them away. They were given a big send off. Among the large crowd on hand to say good-bye were children from The Valley Boys’ School and The Valley Girls’ School. The sailors cried as they departed and were most thankful for the caring they got from a warm Anguillian people.
Our people also cried. They had made friends with strangers. They treated their wounds, fed them, clothed them and gave them shelter. And it was heartrending to see them go, knowing that it was unlikely that they would ever see them again. That is the nature of Anguillian hospitality. Regrettably, though, there are signs that it is waning. But we cannot allow that to continue. Reasons: Firstly, our culture of hospitality and its main components of kindness, of courtesy, of caring and sharing, of love thy neighbour, have contributed much to our social cohesion. They have been the foundation pillars critical to the binding together of Anguillian society.

Secondly, our culture of hospitality is part of our identity – part of what distinguishes Anguillian people from other people.

Thirdly, our culture of hospitality is a major reason for the success of our tourism industry – the main plank of our economy. When it comes to the treatment of visitors, the hospitality of the Anguillian people remains unrivalled. For all of the foregoing reasons, it is incumbent on us to ensure its perpetuation and strengthening and to make certain that Anguilla remains a good role model of hospitality.

By anguillian July 17, 2017 09:51 Updated


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