I’n (I’m Not Going To) Ganh Hang Taday!

     There are people worldwide who have always wished that they could take a vacation, but was always unable to.

     There are those who are able to, but know very little about the place except for the usual tourist routes and attractions.

     There are natives of those places who know virtually nothing of the really exciting things that happened in their own surroundings except for what is in the history books.  DULL!

     Do you know that your great-great-grandparents, great-great- granduncles, aunts, cousins, etc. lived history?  What were they doing on such and such a day?  Washing?  Cooking lima beans with rice and fried fish?  Washing a little brother’s hands?  At prayer meeting?  Fixing a wheel off the wagon?

     There are excerpts of stories of Nassau in the Bahamas the time slot will be from the 1800’s to the mid 1900’s.  They will deal mostly with the eastern end of the island, namely up St. Anne’s way and over Fox Hill.  The people of the stories are White, Black, Jewish, Indian, British, Irish, Scottish, and any other nationality you care to name, sometimes a mixture of several, or all of the above.  Therefore some of the stories will be set in another place eg. 1880’s with Jack the Ripper.

     My mother was five years old and living in the same household when her great-great-grandmother died.  The gr-gr-grandmother was one hundred and twenty one.

     This gr-gr-grandmother brought up her grandchild, (my mother’s grandmother) and she lived in the same household with me until she died when I was twenty-one.  So some of the stories that were passed down from my family members on both sides actually, are the things I write of now.  Names changed for obvious reasons.  All of the stories are true.

     These stories cover every topic.

     Homemade birth control for the poor.  a woman who believed in the powers of her obeah (witchcraft) enough to declare to all and sundry from the gallows at the hanging field by St. Matthews church that she will not hang.

     And so on.

     The stories will have dialect included, with explanations, in order for readers to understand the real flavor of Bahamian life.

 

Noramae

  “Let we sit here on duh wall one minute Leevia,’ said Noramae, “Uh gatty ketch mase’f.”

 Edith, Leevia and Noramae had been to the clinic in Free Town for check-ups because they were all pregnant.  They were walking back and Noramae felt as if she must really sit on the wall at the entrance of Johnson Road before she tried to ‘pull’ that hill.

  The ‘govmint’ pump was at one end of the low wall and they all took turns pushing the button down and holding out their hands to splash the water on their faces.

  “Duh doctor say I have high blood pressure,” said Noramae, “I gatty cut down on duh salt.”

  “Well my blood kina low, so you gat high blood and I gat low.  We shoulda bin able tuh mix up duh two.

  They laughed at this sally.

  “Lord you is somtin’ else Edit,” said Leevia.

  After a few minutes, they headed up the Eastern Road while Noramae ‘pulled’ Johnson Road hill.  On the crest of the hill as she rounded the curve, Miss Brown was just about to come down her steps.

  ‘Boy Miss Brown house look so cool how it buil’ outta wood an’ so high up offa duh groun’; an dah big porch go straight roun’,’ she thought.

  “Goine out eh Miss Brown?” she called.

  “Yes dahlin’.  Goine by Garn tuh carry sometin’.”

  “Oh.  We could walk tagedda den.”

  Finally Noramae got home and barely waiting to push the door to she started stripping off her clothes.

  Her clothes closet was a piece of string running through about two yard of chintz; then up on the wall at the foot of the bed and tied at each end onto a nail.  As she pushed the cloth aside to take a hanger down in order to hang up her clothes, a large black bat flew from among the clothes and straight into her face.

  The neighbors heard her give one long horrible scream, then silence.

  Quick as a flash, whilst running with everyone else toward Noramae’s house, a neighbor remembered seeing Phira jump over the partition that parted the house that Phira and Noramae rented.  Phira had neglected to close the door of her half of the house and as a result of this the neighbor saw her jumping back over from Noramae’s side.  The neighbor didn’t pay much attention at the time because she was trying to pick in some clothes off the line and had to run quickly to catch her baby before he fell off the porch.

  Now as she got to the door of the house and tried to peep between the women in front of her she remembered something else.

  “Noramae an’ Phira doon’h speak,” she said turning her face to the person next to her in surprise.

  “Tha’s true!” replied the woman.

  “I see Phira jumpin’ over Noramae partition taday while Noramae was to duh clennic an’ dey doon’h speak!”

  “Wot she was doin’ over in Noramae side a duh house den?” asked someone.

  Before she could answer someone in front yelled, “Noramae dead!  Call duh Red Cross!”

  “Gal stop talkin’ fool!  You sure she’enh faint?”

  “Oh!  Lord! Looka duh big black bat!”

  “Well das wot kill her!  You know how much she scared o’ bat?”

  “Dat bat een’h (didn’t) cam’ in hyah (here) by hissef,” yelled the neighbor pushing her way through, “Phira put him in hyah.  I see her jumpin’ over the partition from Noramae side bafor’ Noramae cam’ hoom.”

  “Way she is?” asked someone.

  But Phira was nowhere to be found.

 

 

      *       *       *       *       *

During the time that the trial was on feelings ran high.

  The verdict was ‘Guilty of Murder’ and Phira was sentenced to ‘hang by the neck until dead’.

  The day that was set for the execution dawned bright and clear, and everyone who wanted to watch gathered early on the Eastern Parade grounds across from St. Matthews Church.

      But Phira, although still in her cell, had made up her mind that she wouldn’t hang. All the women in the yard where she lived had turned out in full force at her trial.  She knew that none of them liked her; most of them were afraid of her and a few of them were terrified of her.

     She stood up and began to pace.  In another half hour the priest Griffith, from St. Anne’s, the hangman and other officials would be along to escort her to the hanging field opposite the graveyard of St. Matthew’s church.

     “But dis one woman who dainh gonh (they ain’t; they aren’t going to) hang taday!  I done do my tings.”

     She sat on the narrow bunk and stared at the wall opposite as her mind went back to the weeks that led up to the present.  She had been ostracized by the women of the yard and had the support of very few familyand  lodge members; but dat was awright, cos she know how tuh prateck hersef.  Anyway, Noramae deserved to die if she died just because a bat flew in her face.

     The day Noramae died was the day of Anh Lera’s funeral so she hid in the bushes until the yard was quiet for the night.  At ten o’clock that night she went out south to the cornfield (the name given to the graveyard where paupers and non-church goers were buried) and cut off Anh Lera’s left hand because

Joe  the hangman was left handed. 

     She had seen someone over on the south west corner of the grave yard as she went in, but he had his business to attend to and she had hers.  Besides, he couldn’t tell anyone he saw her in the graveyard because they would want to know what he was doing there at that hour.

    Lord!  She felt so tired! Let her get a rest before these people come.  She could think just as well lying down.

     Phira severed the arm from the shoulder and placing it under her arm took it home with her.  She then took the jar of goat’s blood that she’d gotten from the slaughter house that morning to do obeah for someone with and smeared some over her left arm, then dipped the arm of the dead man in the same, chanting these words at the same time.

Dis’ han is dead

Doonh (don’t) have no power

Joe han’ will be dead

At duh hangin’ hour.

 

     A handful of flour and  kerosene oil was mixed together and taking up the kerosene concoction, a bottle of Taffia rum, six candles with some materials and the bloody arm Phira once more made her way to the graveyard.

     Back to Anh Lera’s grave she rested the items on the grave, surrounded them with the candles and lit the candles.  After that it was time to invoke the powers of the Yoruba god EXU SKULL who lies in wait at the graveyard entrance.  There followed a chant and then a request that lasted about ten minutes; a request that the hangman’s arm be paralyzed at the moment that the rope should be pulled.

     Dirt was then taken out of the grave, the items placed inside and the dirt replaced.  Walking out of the graveyard gate backwards she bumped into a man who was doing the same thing.  Startled, they each looked into the face of the other.  Black Sue!  So that’s who was over in the corner all the while.  Without saying a word to each other they both hurried off to their separate ways. 

They knew the rules!

     When she got back home that night she set out for Contabutta in order to stay with her con (cousin) Nydas for a while ‘til things cooled down.  Besides, con Nydas was a Lodge sister too.

    However, when she came back home, she found that the police were looking for her and now there she was; in jail – for murder.  For all the murders she did do – by obeah – she remained free; for a mistake, she was in danger of hanging.

    Phira sighed and turned restlessly.  Well, she had done what she knew.  Any minute now they should be coming to take her to the hanging field and she’d see if see if what her ma taught her would work.

 

*   *   *   *  *

 

     As they approached the area of St. Matthew’s church, they could see scores of people all along the road, on the graveyard wall and all over the field.  There were carriages; horse and drays; donkey drawn carts; women with baskets on their heads who would be on their way to town to sell their wares after it was all over; urchins who had heard of hangings, but never actually seen one and in short all and sundry.

     The priest, policemen, prison officials and hangman formed a phalanx on either side of her.  She looked at the western end of the field where the gallows stood and as the priest intoned the first verse of the 51st psalm, they slowly started on that long walk toward it as whispers broke out on every side.

     “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.”

     “Look at ‘er!  She look like she doon’h (don’t) even cyah!

     “She too wicked!  She was supposed tuh hang long time!”

     “I tell yinna I see when she jump ower duh partition dat day!”

     Phira turned and looked full in the face of Annie, her neighbor.  Then verse 4.

    ‘Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight: That Thou mightiest be justified when Thou speakest, and clear when Thou judgest’.

     “An’ alla dat obeah she like ta do on people turn back on ‘er now.”

     Triumphantly, “Les’ see ‘er get outta dis!”

Verse 11. ‘Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.’

  “I gonh show dem sometin’ taday,” vowed Phira as she mounted the gallows steps.

Verse 14. ‘Deliver me from blood guiltiness, Oh! God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy salvation…’and on to the 19th verse.

  “Does the prisoner have any last words?” Phira was asked as the noose was placed around her neck.

  For a few seconds there was silence as the crowd leaned forward expectantly to hear the condemned’s last words of confession or contrition.

  “YINNA (you all) HURRY UP AN’ DO WHAT YINNA GATTY (have to) DO!  I GATTY GO HOOM IN TIME TUH FEED MY CHICKENS!” were the words that rang out on the early morning air.

  There was a united gasp from officials and spectators.

  For sheer unadulterated gall – Phira took the cake.

  “May God have mercy on your soul,” said Father Griffith fervently as Joe covered her face with the white hood.

  A hush fell over the crowd as Joe adjusted the hood, then reaching up he grabbed the rope to give it a mighty pull.  They saw his body tensed; saw the look of purpose on his face; saw him begin to pull until the slack was taken out of the rope and Phira was on very tippy toe; saw Phira lifted a foot off the ground; then saw the look of surprise take the place of the look of purpose on Joe’s face; saw also when his hands went slack, which meant the rope went slack.

    Phira dropped back to the ground and lay there stunned for a moment.  For that moment no one moved.

  Then, Bedlam!

  Because the law says a person can’t be hung twice and because technically Phira was hung, when all the hue and cry had died down she was free – upon which she stepped calmly off the platform and made her way through the crowd stating that she did say she had to go home in time to feed her chickens. 

copyright©2012BerryRose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Published in: on December 3, 2012 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

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