On Sundays I would go out with the preacher and read the Bible as he preached to small gatherings. I began to feel I was like John the Baptist preaching to the people of the village and my christian beliefs became stronger to the extent I thought I would grow up to be a preacher myself.
One night while I was asleep at the preachers house, it was about 4.am when I heard a powerful voice calling out to me, ‘Henry, get up and go home’, At first I ignored the voice and went back to sleep, but the voice came again. ‘Henry get up and go home,’ this time the voice was stronger and more demanding and I recognised the voice as that of my great-uncle I was afraid but I felt I had to do as I was told. Not wanting to wake the preacher I immediately got up collected all my belongings and quietly left the house. The moon was shining brightly, the cock was crowing to signal the dawn of a new day, when in the stillness of the morning, I started my journey.
Now and then the leaves of the trees swayed in the breeze forming shadows, in my young mind I was afraid, remembering the stories I had been told of the shadowy ghosts, the rolling calves and the duppies that roamed the night while everyone was asleep.
These beliefs of duppies and ghosts were handed down through generations so in my young mind I was afraid, but this fear did not stop me and I continued my journey. I did not know where to go or the route I should take but I carried on walking. There were no signposts anywhere, neither were there any main roads, only secondary roads and tracks, the houses were scattered throughout my journey, but it seemed as if I was being guided by an invisible hand showing me the way that I should travel.
Sometimes I came across large houses, but most of the smaller houses were wooden shacks made out of wattle and daub for the walls and thatched roofs. As the sun rose and the day became clearer I became less fearful and my journey became less stressful. I must have walked for miles when suddenly at about 10 a.m I recognised just where I was. I was approaching my school in the village of Mauldon about four miles from Maroon Town, when I saw one of my families lorries coming up the hill.
As the driver approached me he stopped, came out of the lorry and shouted ‘Master Henry! Where have you been? Everyone has been looking for you all these weeks. You are just in time, your great-uncle died in the hospital this morning at 4.am in Montego Bay and I am on my way to collect his body from the hospital. Do you want to come with me or do you want to go home?’ I will go home,’ I replied. The driver got back in the lorry and went on his way. I had approximately another four miles to go before I reached my great-uncleâ€™s house, as I continued to walk I could hear the church bells in the distance rolling their mournful sound, signifying to all the people in the village of Maroon Town and the surrounding areas that someone important had died.
When I finally reached the house there was a crowd of people, there was lamentation, weeping and mourning as they mourned the loss of my great-uncle. Aunt Feeney his wife was at the house but was very old and ill, unfortunately she too would follow some months later. My grandparents were Scottish by birth but they were steeped in the Caribbean tradition and Christian beliefs.
It was traditional that when a person died they should be buried no later than the following day as they rise from the dead on the third day after death, we followed the principal of Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
Down in the workshop the carpenters were busy preparing the cedar wood coffin for the burial. It was also traditional that on the first night after death, the bedroom of the deceased should be cleaned from top to bottom and the bed made up with lily-white sheets and the deceased would lay in state for that day to allow his relatives, his friends and people from the villages to come and pay their last respects. No one would sleep that night, as the house would be full of mourners singing hymns and eating – not in celebration, but as a form of mourning – and praying that the dead soul would enter the Kingdom of God.
As I joined the crowd, I looked around to see if I could see my mother or my brother Ronald, but they were not there, only my brother Percy came along later that afternoon. Although I was very hungry I did not eat very much because I too was mourning the death of my great-uncle.
The following day the body was prepared for burial, but just before it was time for the burial to commence there was a delay caused by the late arrival of their daughters from Kingston, Edna and Gertrude. When they arrived the coffin was taken by a carriage hearse, pulled by six white horses in black regalia to Dundee Church for the service. After the service, the coffin was taken back to the house to be buried beside the graves of his brothers and sisters.
Before the burial all the family began to arrive from various parishes all over the island. Apart from the two daughters, there were brothers, cousins and many members of the extended family.
People from the surrounding villages came to the house all day to pay their last respects as this was the custom of the people and still is to this day. On the night of the burial when everyone gathers together it is usual no one sleeps that night.
White people from the villages around German Town, Point, Flagstaff, Tangle River, Vaunsfield and other surrounding areas all came to pay their last respects to my great-uncle. There were also workers from the plantations, the banana cutters and carriers, the sugar cane workers, the workers who tended the cattle in the fields, the truck drivers and black people from all the surrounding villages. The house could not hold them all as they came and went throughout the night. The sound of mournful hymns sung by weeping voices could be heard echoing around the villages, it was the first time in my life I had witnessed the death of any of my family it was an unforgettable experience.
While the body of my great-uncle remained lying in state many hundreds of people gathered throughout the day to pay their last respects. There was weeping and mourning by relatives and old friends while the burial took place and continued through the night after his burial.
by Enrico A Stennett