SATURDAY’S CHILD: Beating around the bush
Down the islands, Trinis are called “Trickydadians” and many people don’t believe you can trust a Trinidadian. I disagree. It is not because I was born on that island or even because I grew up there. I know the evidence is overwhelming and many shopkeepers rue the day that they extended their “trust” (or credit) to a Trini. Many a proprietor had these cute cartoons bound in an adhesive called passepartout (pronounced “pass-pa-tu” in Trinidad) and covered with glass with the clear statement, “IN GOD WE TRUST. IN MAN WE BUST.” What they didn’t add was, “IN TRINIS WE BANKRUPT.”
Many a fresh young thing, especially in some of the islands, has suffered because she gave more than her trust to some sweet-talking Trini. Even the banks in Trinidad don’t really trust Trinis – the credit they “give” or the money they lend Trinis is like lending them an umbrella which they pay for in installments, but as soon as the rain starts to fall, the banks want their umbrella back.
What was once “Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago” had excess liquidity (more money than they could spend) so they decided on a down-the-islands foray. Before they did that (so my friends in Antigua say), the bank divested itself of its full name and stripped down to its bare initials “RBTT”. Most people believe that the Trinis who ran the bank did not want people to know it was a Trinidadian Bank. However, they were soon found out and in Jamaica and elsewhere “RBTT” was translated into “Run Before Trinis Takeover”. The banks do not trust Trinis to the extent that they refuse to have toilet facilities on their premises in case a Trini hides in the washroom and robs the bank after it closes.
But I am different. I know all that stuff and yet am like the man who told the magistrate, “Guilty your honour, but with a cause.” I have just cause. What I have discovered in the course of many years spent studying the habits of the genus Trinidadianus is that you can trust a Trini – to be a Trini.
This is why when I told a friend of mine that two Jamaicans have found a cure for some types of cancer in the Guinea Hen Weed, his immediate response was, “Tony boy, dem Jamaicans will smoke anything.” Incredible! Here we have a source for genuine Caribbean pride and a Trini trivializes it. It is not that he isn’t impressed. Far from it. However, he has to show his pride through a sideways slant – he has to be a Trini.
Then he asked seriously, “What is this Guinea Hen Weed they talking about?” “I really don’t know what we call it in Trinidad but in Guyana it is known as ‘gully root’,” I replied. I then recited the first chorus of the Guyana calypso of the 1930s by Bill Rogers, “Man Piaba, Woman Piaba/ Tantan Fall-Back and Lemon Grass/ Minnie Root, Gully Root, Granny Backbone/ Bitter Tally, Lime Leaf and Toro./ Coolie Bitters, Caralia Bush Flat o’ the Earth and Iron weed/ Sweet Broom, Fowl Tongue,/ Wild Daisy, Sweet Sage/ And even Toyo.”
“Tony,” he replied, “You know I don’t like racist talk so anything that use the word ‘coolie’ is not for me.”
I stopped him from going off on the usual Trini tangent. “Those are the names of different types of bush. The calypso names almost a hundred different ones, some we don’t know and some we may know in Trinidad by a different name.” I explained that when I was growing up some of these he mentioned in other verses, like black sage and stinkin’ toe, were common and that “datura” is a hallucinogenic and some people used it (and marijuana or ganja) in milk. Needing to have the last word he laughed and said, “You know all these things because you grow up in the bush!”
This is true and I am proud of it. I used to “borrow” my father’s Stephen’s 16 gauge shotgun, walk down our street for about thirty yards, step off the road and I was in the bush looking for game. I was not as bad as the Englishman, astride his horse, shotgun in hand who encountered a totally naked, shapely young lady in the forest. She smiled up at him when his horse skidded to a halt, “What are you doing in the forest?” she asked. “I’m looking for game,” he replied. “We’ll I’m game,” she said teasingly. So he shot her. Even if I was tempted to behave like the Englishman, my hunting friends would have restrained me. What I suspect is that they would have done what the typical Trickydadian does and even though she was not wearing any, try to charm the pants off her.
In those days, almost like it was in America a few years ago, “bush” was the answer for everything. Don’t have a toothbrush? Try some black sage or “coozay maho”. Things are going badly with you and getting worse? Take a bush bath (which, according to the Trini dictionary, is “a bath made with the extract of certain plants, the application of which is supposed to stop a period of bad luck, or cure a sickness”). Recently a Trinidad MP recommended one for the entire government because it was stepping from calamity to disaster without an intervening stage of respite.