Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Racial Attitudes In Caribbean Folk Songs ("Jesse Mahon" & "Bungo Moolatta" songs)

Written by Azizi Powell

In the summer of 2011 a blogger using the tag name of MorwenEdhelwenI arrived at a Folk & Blues music website called and started a number of discussion threads* about a host of very old Caribbean folk songs. That blogger indicated that she is a 17 year old Australian of Chinese ancestry whose goal in life is to be a Calypso singer in Jamaica. On one of her earlier threads I shared my suspicions that this blogger's identity might be fictitious. But whether that identity is real or not, I appreciate being able to read the lyrics and learn about the Caribbean songs and singers that Morwen has shared with the world via her posts on that Mudcat site. From 2004-2009 I was a very active poster on Mudcat. I very rarely post there now, but I've publicly thanked Morwen there & on my Cocojams website for helping to raise awareness about Caribbean folk songs through her postings. I've also publicly thanked Morwen for inspiring me to these pages to my Cocojams website.

Caribbean Folk Songs and Caribbean Folk Dances

*A thread is a series of written comments usually on a specific topic or topics. My comment that I referred to above is found on this Mudcat thread: A very uncomfortable question perform other trad

An example of Morwen's Caribbean threads on is Big Big Sambo Gyal

That thread focuses on various examples of Caribbean songs in which a woman is criticized because she isn't good with cooking or housework. The male voice in those songs also may threaten that he might send the woman "back to she ma" if she doesn't improve her cooking and housework skills. Here's the words to and a video example of one of the songs mentioned on that Mudcat thread "Jesse Mahon" (also known as "Pack She Back To She Ma)

Pack she back to she ma,
Oh, pack she hack to she ma,
Such a decent girl like Jessie Mahon,
Pack she back to she ma.

1. A pretty little girl name Jessie Mahon,
She lazy since she born, .
De girl couldn’ cook, she won’ read a book,
So pack she back to she ma.

2. A pretty little girl like Jessie Mahon.
Uh miss she now she gone
De girl couldn’ clean, she was so mean.
So, pack she back to she ma

Lyrics Of Barbados-Jessie Mahon

St Lucia National Youth Choir -Jessie Mahon

Uploaded by Glen Richard Morgan-Lake on Oct 13, 2007

Colors of Love Concert at Sandals Grande (2005)

(Visit the previously mentioned Cocojams page for another, probably newer, rendition of this song by that same choir.)


It's interesting that among the complaints about Jesse Mahone is that "De girl couldn’ cook, she won’ read a book". I wouldn't be surprised if that was a later version of this folk song. The song itself (or more accurately, a version of this traditional song was copyrighted in 1943 as "Pack She Back To She Ma" by Massie Patterson and Lionel Belasco. If I'm not mistaken, both of these individuals are of Afro-Caribbean descent, though they lived in the USA.


These songs are more than a man's lighthearted banter about a wife who is a sloppy housewife who can't cook. Hints as to why "Jesse Mahon" may not have wanted to cook & clean or may not have known how to cook & clean are found in this similar song that was published in a 1904 book of Jamaican folk songs:

Bungo Moolatta, Bungo Moolatta
Who de go married you?
You hand full a ring an' you can't do a t'ing
Who de go married you?
Me give you me shirt fe wash
You burn up me shirt with iron
Who de go married you?
You hand full a ring an' you can't do a t'ing
-Walter Jekyll, Jamaican Song And Story 1904; Dover Reprints


Walter Jekyll noted that ""Bungo" is "a rough, uncivilized African" and "Moolatta" is "the child of two Brown parents, Brown being the offspring of Black and White. He has rather a yellow skin."

And in the notes to another similar song that is included in his book (and whose lyrics are posted on that abovementioned Mudcat thread entitled "Big Big Sambo Gyal", Jekyll wrote that "A Sambo is a child of a brown mother and a black father, being a cross between black and white. The Sambo lady, being proud of the strain of white in her blood, turns up her nose at the black man. She wants a white man for a husband. Failing to find one, she will not marry."


The implication here is that "Jesse Mahon" feels that she's too good to cook and clean for a Black man because of her White ancestry. Note that Jekyll described the offspring of a Brown woman and a Black man. The implication might be that a Brown man wouldn't "marry down" to a Black woman. Yet it's interesting to note that the song suggests that some White men would marry a woman of mixed Brown (or Black?)/White ancestry.

These old Caribbean songs have many more than what we may have been led to believe. It would be wonderful to say that no person of African descent nowadays has such racist (or is it classist?) attitudes about their race, but if I said that it wouldn't be true.

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1 comment:

  1. For the record, I received an electronic message from MorwenEdhelwenI. Morwen thanked me for mentioning her in this post and indicated that the demographical information that she shared is real.