Posted on

SATURDAY’S CHILD: Tony and the bull cow


SATURDAY’S CHILD: Tony and the bull cow

Social Share

CHICO SMITH  – this one’s for you.

There are more words than things and the English language is one of the worst culprits when it comes to using one word to describe a multiplicity of objects, phenomena, emotions and experiences. “Take the word love,” one Professor said when he introduced the subject of general semantics to my first-year communications class, “We say ‘I love my parents’, ‘I love my wife’, ‘I love my dog’, ‘I love my car’, ‘I love my job’.  Surely, and I sincerely hope not, none of you feel the same way to your car as you do to your wife or, for that matter, your dog or your parents.” 

Pointing out that the language of science is different since there is a specific word for each “thing”, he gave us examples of many “multiple-duty” words like “fix”.  We can fix or repair something, fix or fasten something, fix or set the date for an event, be in a fix or (another example) jam or predicament, take a “fix” or dose of a narcotic, or even be fixated or obsessed. In Trinidad, for example, in the old days when a man and a woman disappeared for a while from an event and the man returned his friends would ask, “You fix up?”

There are many other words with multiple meanings that we in the Caribbean use. There are an increasingly growing number of terms used to describe the various sexual organs, male and female, and almost the same number for the act of sex. In Guyana, the word “lash” is commonly used for the sex act and I shudder to think it is an accurate description of the process. In Trinidad, the word “brush” joined the many others.

So widespread is the common understanding that one of my more metrosexual friends, Stanley, in between classes was using a hairbrush for his long, wavy locks and took the liberty of pointing it at one of the young ladies and asking teasingly, “You want it?” She complained to the principal and, in what one may term a turn of the screw, Stanley was expelled from school.
It was his first but not his last brush with the law.

My father’s family worked in the cane fields and used to “mine” (mind as in “out of his”) animals, basically cattle. Because breeding the animals was a major issue, they talked a lot of bull. The Cambridge Dictionary says that a bull is a “male cow” and further complicates the definition by saying it could also be a “person who buys shares in companies hoping the price will rise, so that they can be sold later at a profit.”

In those days, stick-fighting (what Barbadians call “stick licking” although that now has a different meaning not linked to African martial arts) was a major attraction. In the days preceding the annual Carnival there were stick fighting competitions in many of the country districts, including the rural,
sugar-cane community of Carapichaima, where I grew up. My father, having been separated from his job in the cane fields, decided to open a “rum” shop, which was a rum thing to do, given the reason why he lost his job and many others after that. He, like many other people in the various surrounding communities, loved stick-fighting so he decided to hold an annual competition to attract customers.

Despite not being a customer, I was, as a five-year-old, one of those who succumbed to its lure. In those pre-electricity days, the gaslight, candles and “pitch-oil” or kerosene lamps were by themselves fascinating.  The interplay of light, dark and countless silhouettes and shadows with the drumming, drinking, chanting and the sound of the “bois” or “stick”, some said protected by special spells cast by the village obeah-man, cracking against another still remain with me.

“When ah dead bury mih clothes/ Bury it behind Lily back do’/ When ah dead bury mih clothes…” Or the chant celebrating Joe Pringay, a famous fighter in his day, “Joe Pringay lend me youh bois to play/ Joe Pringay lend me youh bois to play/ Ay ay ay, Joe Pringay, lend me your bois to play…”

The stickfighters were a mix of all the races.  The “King” who defended his crown in my father’s competition, a tall, red man named “Pilgrim”, was the star but my favourite was a wiry, sinuous and acrobatic fighter called “Bull”, who was also among the bands of “Jab-Jabs” who in their striped costumes, wire masks, sticks and whips came tramping down the main road to the Carnival competition with their own chants and whips cracking. There were many fierce and bloody fights among rival groups when the rum, hot sun and rivalry went to their heads and sometimes even the hidden cutlasses came out glinting in the sun.

The whips used by Bull and his friends, the ones that really inflicted the most damage, were “bullpistles”.  They were not named after my hero Bull but were dried bull penises, sometimes soaked in urine (supposedly to make them sting even more).

To give you an example of the effect of a “lash” (not the Guyanese meaning but a “blow” which in Guyana is to get “cuckolded” so not that either) let me tell you a story. A man gambling under a “Banga” tree, a palm which has a thorny trunk all the way to the top, was hit by a bullpistle wielded by a huge policeman. The effect propelled him to the top of the tree.

After the police left, his friends gave him the all-clear to climb down. His reply was, “What? For pickah (thorns) to jook me?” Now, reading that Jamaican Cow Cod Soup is on a List of 20 Weird Aphrodisiacs From Around The World, and knowing that the cod of the cow has nothing to do with fish but is the bullpistle in all its gastronomic glory, I wonder. I know about cow-heel or cow foot soup but cow cod? I hope it will not cause me to climb any Banga tree. At my age that will constitute a close brush with eternity.


• Tony Deyal was last seen appropriately quoting comedian W.C. Fields, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.”