Thursday, October 21, 2021

"Little Sally Water" & A Few Other Examples Of Familiar Singing Games & Other Songs In Walter Jekyll's 1907 Book "Jamaican Song And Stories"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a three part pancocojams series on Walter Jekyll's 1907 book entitled Jamaican Song and Story" Annancy stories, digging sings, ring tunes, and dancing tunes.

This post showcases examples that may be very famlilar or somewhat familiar to people in  2021. 

Click for Part I of this pancocojams series. That post is entitled "Racial Referents (Including Color Referents) For Afro-Jamaicans In Walter Jekylls' 1907 Book "Jamaican Songs And Stories..."

Click for Part III of this pancocojams series. That post is entitled "Some Additonal Notes & Song Examples From Walter Jekyll's 1907 Book "Jamaican Song & Story" " 

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, and socio-cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Walter Jekyll and all those who shared this folkloric material with him. Thanks to all and thanks to Project Gutenberg for publishing this manuscript online.

Click for the closely related pancocojams post entitled "Racial Referents (Including Color Referents) For Afro-Jamaicans In Walter Jekylls' 1907 Book "Jamaican Songs And Stories...".


[Pancocojams Editor's note: I added asterisks to separate one example from another.]


 [pages] 157, 158

The Negroes when they get together never stop chattering and laughing. They have a keen sense of the ludicrous, and give a funny turn to their stories as they relate the common incidents of daily life. The doings of their neighbours form the chief topic of conversation here as in most places, and any local event of special importance is told over and over. Presently, after repeated telling, the story, or part of it, is set to one of their dance tunes, and tune and words henceforth belong to one another. This is the origin of the songs which follow. With the explanatory notes attached to them it is hoped that they will afford some insight into the peasant life of Jamaica.

The tunes fall into two main divisions, "dancing-tunes" and "digging-sings," and besides the formal dances, whose steps are thoroughly known, there is an informal kind called "playing in de ring." It may be described as dancing mixed with horse-play. It was in this kind of romping that Parson Puss took part in the Annancy story (No. XXIX.), and perhaps it was hardly the thing for the cloth! Ring tunes begin anywhere and anyhow, and do not necessarily conform to the eight-bar rhythm of the more regular dance tunes.

To the other class of songs belong the "digging-sings" used, together with rum, as an accompaniment to field labour. In March it is time to think of getting the land-158- ready for planting. So, having rented a piece of hillside from a neighbour, if he has none of his own, the Jamaican begins to clear the ground. The biggest of the trees fall to the axe, and the brushwood, or bush, as it is called, is chopped down with the cutlass, a few rod-like saplings being left here and there to serve as supports for the yams, which will by and by climb them like hops. After a few days' exposure to the sun, he burns all the top and lop that lies on the ground, which is then ready for digging. He now calls in some of his friends to help him dig yam-hills—so the phrase runs. What they dig is, of course, holes, to begin with. The loose soil is then piled up into small mounds in which the yam heads will be placed. The object of the mound is to enable the proprietor to see easily at any time how the tuber is getting on, by just "gravelling" it with his hand. As the hills are being dug, the rum bottle circulates, and the digging-sings, which began quietly enough, get more and more lively. The Negro is cheery at all times, but when well primed with liquor he is hilarious. Nothing more joyous can be imagined than a good "digging-sing" from twenty throats, with the pickers—so they call their pickaxes—falling in regular beat. The pickers work faster and faster to the strains of a rousing "Oh, Samwel, oh!" or "The one shirt I have ratta cut ahm." One man starts or "raises" the tune and the others come in with the "bobbin," the short refrain of one or two words which does duty for chorus. The chief singer is usually the wag of the party, and his improvised sallies are greeted with laughter and an occasional "hi," which begins on a falsetto note and slides downwards, expressing amusement and delight very plainly


[page] 184

The pickers fall with slashing strokes to:—

Me donkey want water, rub him down Joe,
rub him down Joe,
rub him down Joe;
Me donkey like a peeny, rub him down Joe,
rub him down Joe, Joe,
rub him down Joe;
Me Jackass gone a pound, bring him come Joe,
bring him come Joe,
bring him come Joe;
Me donkey full of capers, rub him down Joe,
rub him down Joe, Joe,
rub him down Joe.

"Peeny" is the Candlefly, which shines like my donkey's coat. "Bring come" for "bring" is very common, and in the same way they say "carry go," the "come" and "go" indicating the direction of motion.



[page] 190

That informal kind of dancing, referred to in some of the Annancy stories, known as "playing in the ring" or "Sally Water" has its origin in English children's games. Sometimes it is merely a case of hunting the slipper or of finding a key passed from hand to hand, but more often what begins in playing ends in dancing. The nature of this playing in the ring will be best understood from examples.


First, as giving its name to the whole, must stand:—

[page] 191

Little Sally Water sprinkle in the saucer;
Rise, Sally, rise an' wipe your weeping eyes.
Sally turn to the East,
Sally turn to the West,
Sally turn to the very one you like the best.

On the carpet you must be
happy as the grass-bird on the tree,
Rise an' stand up on your leg
an' choose the one that you like the best.
Now you married I give you joy,
first a gal an' second a boy;
Seven year after, seven year to come,
give her a kiss an' send her out.


[page] 192

Another form of this Ring tune is:—

Poor little Zeddy they put him in the corner!
Rise, Zeddy, rise an' wipe your weeping eyes;
Zeddy, turn to the East;
Zeddy, turn to the West;
Zeddy, turn to the very one you like the best.

The boys and girls join hands and form a ring. One—the sex is immaterial—crouches in the middle and personates Sally Water. At the words "Rise, Sally, rise," he or she slowly rises to an erect position, brushing away imaginary tears, turns first one way and then another, and chooses a partner out of the ring. Where the tempo changes, they wheel—a rapid turning dance—and after the wheeling, the partner is left inside the ring and becomes Sally Water.[51]

[pages], 197, 198 

In "Mother Phœbe" again there is no dancing:—

Old moder Phœbe, how happy you be

When you sit under the Jinniper tree,
oh the Jinniper tree so sweet.
Take this old hat an' keep your head warm,
Three an' four kisses will do you no harm,
It will do a great good fe you.

Here the girl inside the ring takes a hat or cap and after several feints puts it on somebody's head, and that person has then to take her place in the ring.


[page] 200

The latter we find in:

Me go da Galloway road,
Gal an' boy them a broke rock stone,
Broke them one by one gal an' boy,
Broke them two by two gal an' boy,
Take up the one that you like gal an' boy,
Ah! this here one me like gal an' boy,
broke them t'row them down gal an' boy.

I go to Galloway road (where there is a quarry). Girls and boys are breaking stones. They break them one by one. They break them two by two, etc. Choosing stones suggests choosing partners.


The first half of the tune which follows occurs in the story of Annancy and Screech-owl (No. XIX.):-

[page] 208

There's a black boy in a ring, tra la la la la,
There's a black boy in a ring, tra la la la la,
There's a black boy in a ring, tra la la la la,
He like sugar an' I like plum.
Wheel an' take you pardner, jump shamador!
Wheel an' take you pardner, jump shamador!
Wheel an' take you pardner, jump shamador!
For he like sugar an' I like plum.

The boy inside the ring chooses his partner, whom he leaves there after the dance. She obtains release by choosing another partner, whom she leaves behind. So there is alternately a boy and a girl in the ring.

"Shamador" is possibly a corruption of "camerado.


[page] 211

A little breathing time is given by:—

Good morning to you, daughter;
What is your intention?
I want to be a teacher.
You shan't be a teacher.
I bound to be a teacher.
Jump shamador, me darling.
What is your intention?
I goin' to be a doctor.
You shan't be a doctor.
I bound to be a doctor.
You shan't be a doctor.
I will be a doctor.
Jump Shamador, me darling.

There is no dancing here. The mother walks round inside the ring, the various members of which she addresses in turn. "You shan't" is emphasised by an uplifted arm swept vigorously downwards and a stamp of the foot. The answers go through the various professions until it is felt that there is a want of something more exciting...


A sufficient selection of Ring tunes has now been given to show their character. The number might be indefinitely increased. Every district has its own, and while some old favourites remain, new ones are constantly in process of making. These supply, or more than supply, the gaps caused by those which drop out.



[page] 216

Turning now to the Dancing tunes, the chief difference to be noted is that they show a more marked departure from what may be called the Jamaican type of melody. Sailors bring popular songs to the seaports, and from there they spread into the country. For a time some of the original words are kept, but before long they get changed. The change is partly due to that corruption of the text which naturally takes place as the songs pass from mouth to mouth, but mainly to the fact that the words, referring as they do to English topics, have no interest here. So we generally find that the tunes are refitted with a complete set of new words, describing some incident which has lately happened in the district, or some detail of daily life. When these reflect, as they often do, upon the characters of individuals the names have been changed and all evidence pointing to the locality destroyed. The same course has been pursued where it is thought the susceptibilities of persons or their relations might possibly be offended, even when there is nothing mentioned to their discredit.

The music consists of three "flutes" (fifes), two tambourines and a big drum. This is the professional element, which is reinforced by amateurs. One brings a cassada-grater, looking like a bread-grater; this, rubbed with the handle of a spoon, makes a very efficient crackling accompaniment. Another produces the jawbone of a horse, the teeth of which rattle when it is-

[page] 217
shaken. A third has detached from its leather one of his stirrup-irons, and is hanging it on a string to do duty as a triangle. The top of the music is not always supplied by fifes. Sometimes there will be two fiddles, sometimes a concertina, or, what is more approved, because it has "bigger voice," a flutina. On asking to see this strange instrument I was shown the familiar accordion.

Their chief dances are the Valse, Polka, Schottische, and Quadrilles in five figures, of which the fifth figure is the most popular, or as they would say "sweet them most." This figure goes either to 6/8 or 2/4 time. The 2/4 figures of the Quadrilles are often used for Polka, and Polka and Schottische tunes are always interchangeable, the only difference being that the Schottische requires a slower time.


[page] 217

The ball opens with a set of Quadrilles:—

1st Figure.

When I go home I will tell me mumma,
When I go home I will tell me mumma,
When I go home I will tell me mumma
That the gals in Jamaica won't leave me alone

This is the production of a white musician to whom the black girls were especially attentive.


[pages] 219, 220

5th Figure.

Me carry me akee a Linstead market,
Not a quatty worth sell.
Oh what a losses!
Not a quatty worth sell.
Me carry me akee a Linstead market.
Not a quatty worth sell.
Oh not a light, not a bite!
Not a quatty worth sell.

The Akee (Cupania edulis), pronounced acky, is a handsome tree producing something which one hardly knows whether to call a fruit or a vegetable. Besides the edible part, the beautiful scarlet capsule contains a substance which is poisonous. Deaths by misadventure through carelessness in its preparation for table occur every year.

The time of these Quadrille tunes will be pretty accurately judged. They would all come under Allegro except the First, which is slower than the others, and it might be headed Allegretto or even Andantino. The Third figure is not much used, and many dancers do not know the step. Its place is generally supplied by one of the other figures. The most popular of all is the Fifth, of which we have many examples to give. The step is regulated by two beats in the bar of six, so we find that they dance it also to 2/4 time...



[page] 252

The lovers' quarrel which comes next is evidently not serious:—

5th Figure.

Hullo me honey!
Hullo me sugar!
Hullo me old time gal!
Oh den, gal, if you love me,
Why don't you write me?
Hullo me old time gal!
Hullo me honey!
Hullo me sugar!
Hullo me old time boy!
Oh den, boy, I wouldn' married you,
Not for a fardin',
Hullo me old time boy!



[page 254]

The next repeats the idea of No. CXVIII., but in the mouth of a girl.

4th Figure.

When I go home I will tell me mumma say,
When I go home I will tell me mumma say,
When I go home I will tell me mumma say
That the boy in the country love me very much."

This concludes Part II of this three part pancocojams series.

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