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SATURDAY’S CHILD: Lost tribe of Jamaica


SATURDAY’S CHILD: Lost tribe of Jamaica

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ONCE UPON a time there lived in the Caribbean the Taino people. They gave us words like barbacoa (barbecue), hamaca (hammock), kanoa (canoe), tabaco (tobacco), yuca, batata (sweet potato) and juracán (hurricane).

It was always thought that they were divided into three groups, the Western Taíno (Jamaica, most of Cuba, and The Bahamas), the Classic Taíno (Hispaniola and Puerto Rico) and the Eastern Taíno (northern Lesser Antilles). 

But now speculation about the existence of a lost tribe is increasing among archeologists, historians, anthropologists and the occasional newspaper columnist because of a finding by the Smithsonian Institute.

History is full of “lost tribes”. There were the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, named after the sons or grandsons of Jacob. They were later thought to have been assimilated by the Assyrians but there are also rumours that some of them might have ended up in Japan (because of the similarity of rituals and festivals).  The Mormons also claim that they are among the lost tribes and many people agree that they are indeed lost and should remain so.

Then there is The Lost Tribe of the Andes, which sounds like the discovery of a group of native people high up in the South American mountains, but is really about the hard time a Jewish family had in adapting to American life.  Then there was the Lost Tribe of the Amazon, a group of 35 “uncontacted” indigenous people, the “Tsapanawas” or “Sapanahuas”, who were filmed in June 2014 turning up at a village in Brazil’s Amazon near the border with Peru. 

There was a Lost Tribe in Trinidad but it turned out to be a Carnival band. This wasn’t the same tribe found by the lost explorer who suddenly found himself surrounded by a bloodthirsty group of natives. Upon surveying the situation, he said to himself, “Oh God, I’m history.” A ray of light fell from the sky and a voice boomed out, “No, you are not history. Pick up that stone at your feet and bash in the head of the chief standing in front of you.” So the explorer picked up the stone and proceeded to bash the life out of the chief. He stood above the lifeless body, breathing heavily, surrounded by 100 natives with looks of shock on their faces. The voice boomed out again, “Okay, NOW you’re history”.

The old television series (F-Troop) had some fun with adapting an “X-rated” joke about the lost Fugawi Indian tribe to the Hekawis. This is how the Hekawi tribe got their name. Chief Wild Eagle saying to the young men of the tribe as they prepared for their initiation ceremony: “Many moons ago tribe move west because Pilgrims ruin neighbourhood. Tribe travel west, over country and mountains and wild streams, then come big day . . . . tribe fall over cliff, that when Hekawi get name. Medicine man say to my ancestor, ‘I think we lost. Where the heck are we?’”

This is probably what Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish-born British physician, naturalist and collector said to himself when he arrived in Jamaica in 1687 as the doctor attached to the new Governor of Jamaica, the second Duke of Albermarle. Jamaica was fast becoming a major source of wealth to the British and there was increasing interest in that country. 

According to Wikipedia, “Sloane married Elizabeth Langley Rose, the widow of Fulke Rose of Jamaica and daughter of alderman John Langley . . . . Income from the sugar produced by enslaved African labourers on Elizabeth’s plantations at an area known as Sixteen Mile Walk fed the family fortunes in London and, together with Sloane’s medical revenue and London property investments, gave him the wealth to collect on a vast scale. Sloane encountered cacao while he was in Jamaica, where the locals drank it mixed with water, though he is reported to have found it nauseating. Many recipes for mixing chocolate with spice, eggs, sugar and milk were in circulation by the 17th century.

“After returning from Jamaica, Sloane may have devised his own recipe for mixing chocolate with milk, though if so, he was not the first. By the 1750s, a Soho grocer named Nicholas Sanders claimed to be selling Sloane’s recipe as a medicinal elixir, perhaps making ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate’ the first brand-name milk chocolate. By the 19th century, the Cadbury Brothers sold tins of drinking chocolate whose trade cards also invoked Sloane’s recipe.”

The Smithsonian has now debunked the claim that Sloane invented chocolate milk. It says (Smart News), “But, as with most things, the European who gets credit for inventing something probably did not actually invent it. According to Jame Delbougo, a historian, the Jamaicans were brewing ‘a hot beverage brewed from shavings of freshly harvested cacao, boiled with milk and cinnamon’ as far back as 1494.”

 Who were they, those inventive, intrepid and innovative Jamaicans who first mixed cocoa with milk, and may have even added sugar, to create my favourite drink and drink of choice of millions of people throughout the world who feast on it either at breakfast or just before they go to sleep?

I am convinced that they were the lost native tribe that formed the fourth estate or outpost of the Taino culture. They were the ones who grew cocoa and reared cattle.  They invented chocolate milk before Hans Sloane. They were eventually recognised but long after Cadbury, Fry, Milo, Tono and the other imposters, interlopers and charlatans. They were the Ovaltainos.

Tony Deyal was last seen saying such is the ignorance and disrespect for the inventors of chocolate milk that Seinfeld had the temerity to joke, “Why do they call it Ovaltine? The mug is round. The jar is round. They should call it Roundtine.”