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Street cries of the world

Street cries were once a popular subject of songs and literature in Britain, continental Europe and elsewhere. Each month from 2018 onwards I'll be scanning and transcribing publications to build this collection.

SKETCHES OF CHARACTER

(No. 1.)

SKETCHES OF CHARACTER,

In Illustration of the Habits, Occupation, and Costume

OF THE

NEGRO POPULATION,

IN THE

ISLAND OF JAMAICA,

Drawn after Nature, and in Lithography,

BY

I. M. BELISARIO

Nothing extenuate, nor ought set down in malice.

Price To Subscribers £1 6 8 Per Number, Colored.
To Non-Subscribers £1 13 4

PUBLISHED BY THE ARTIST, AT HIS RESIDENCE, NO. 21, KING-STREET,
KINGSTON, JAMAICA:

SOLD ALSO BY MESSRS. JAS. WALLACE A CO.
MESSRS. SMITH & CLARK; MESSRS JORDON & OSBORN; L. TREADWAY;
WM. CARVER, AND F. EGAN.


Printed by J. R. De Cordova, at the Gleaner’s Office, No. 36, Harbour-Street.

1837.


NOTICE.

SUBSCRIBERS are respectfully informed, the WORK will appear every alternate month, and be completed in twelve Numbers

ERRATA.

In “Queen or Maam,” line 6, for “Cow-skin,” read “Cow’s-skin.” Ditto ditto, line 24, for “Comple” read “Complete.

PREFACE.

Various have been the reasons, or rather apologies, frequently advanced by writers, for presenting their works to the public: conveying thereby for the most part, evident distrust of their legitimate pretension to favor.

Such precaution, may in some few instances, have a tendency to disarm criticism, or at least, to cause its lash to fall more lightly; but surely claimants for indulgence, would be spared the humiliation of either craving mercy, or having recourse to subterfuge, were they openly to avow their motives for having embarked on the perilous voyage of public approval, and at the same time stipulate for the privilege due to authors, “viz,” that of not seeking more in their works, than they themselves intend.

Shielded as this production it is hoped will be, from the severity of criticism with which a literary work might probably have been visited, still the Artist is not altogether free from apprehension, for the safety of his Bark, launched as it is on the like troubled Sea.

His motives for having intruded on public attention, he unreservedly states to be, firstly, the ambition to acquire repute in his favorite occupation – the Arts; secondly, a desire to hand down faithful delineations of a people, whose habits, manners, and costume, bear the stamp of originality, and in which changes are being daily effected by the rapid strides of civilization; and lastly, the hope of reaping an abundant harvest from, the undertaking, to compensate for the toil, anxiety, and time bestowed on its completion, in a clime so mimical to the furtherance of such an object.

It will be borne in mind, as set forth in the Prospectus, that, he purposes to furnish but “Sketches of Character,” steering clear of Caricature: nature in her ordinary form alone, having been the source from whence all the original drawings were derived, and however amusing her accidental deviations from that course of moulding the human shape, may prove to the admirers of the ludicrous, it behoves not an Artist in this instance, to lend himself to the portraying of deformity!

Whilst your Purveyor, Gentle Beader, disclaims all intention of becoming a Satirist with his pencil, he confidently indulges the hope of being enabled, nevertheless, to provide a series of mirthful, and otherwise interesting designs, combined with strict attention to costume, so varied and picturesque in the Negro Population.

To those friends’ who have aided him cither by useful hints, or the loan of Works, conveying valuable information on the various subjects, on which he will have occasion to touch in the progress of the publication, the Artist thus publicly begs to tender his acknowledgments, such timely assistance having afforded him considerable facilities,

In conclusion, he has also to express his sense of the obligation conferred by the Subscribed, in the liberal support extended to the Work; this he trusts may augur favorably of their future encouragement, by kindly naming it in their several circles – to merit which, his best energies, and close study, shall be unceasingly employed.

KINGSTON, JAMAICA, JUNE 1837.


QUEEN,* OR “MAAM” OF THE SET-GIRLS.

The subject of our first print, is an individual of no less importance in her own eyes, than in the estimation of the lovers of mirth, acting at the Christmas holidays, as conductress of a lively, and graceful band of female dancers, denominated Set-Girls, of whom we shall have occasion to speak more at length, in due course.

This, their Queen, is invested with absolute authority, which, be it remarked, she exercises with unsparing severity, as may be inferred by the Cow-skin whip borne in her hand, in lieu of Sceptre, and gaily ornamented with colored ribbons, as it were in mockery of the purpose to which it is not unfrequently applied – the appendage is highly necessary for the preservation of order in her corps de ballet.

Taking a minute survey of her attire, the most striking points in her coiffure, are the blue ribbon bow of imposing dimensions, and feathers tipped with the same color – these forming the distinguishing badges of the Set to which she is attached, viz. – the “Blues;” there are also the “Reds.”

The ornaments displayed are probably the loan of her mistress; the remainder of the dress is invariably purchased by herself, and at a cost of several pounds. In times gone bye, such was the extent to which expenditure of this kind was indulged in by these votaries of pleasure, that the richest silks, satins, laces, &c. were called in requisition to adorn their persons, nor were the entertainments then given, of a less sumptuous character; these, however, were frequently contributed to most liberally, if not wholly provided, by the families resident in the immediate neighbourhood of the scene of gaiety: the loan of their plate also tended greatly to increase the splendor of the feast, and was seldom refused for that purpose.

During the period of the Earl of Mulgrave’s administration, as governor of this island, scenes were exhibited in Falmouth, the writer has been informed; that were highly entertaining – a description of Masquerade in procession, having been got up, in which his Lordship, with several other distinguished characters, were personated by negroes in full costume, as closely imitating their models in this respect as possible; but alas! they had lost sight of one grand requisite to comple the resemblance, viz: – ease of manner, and consequently, their deportment being strangely at variance with that of their originals, rendered such mimic actions truly amusing. The moment selected for portraying this Prima Donna, is that, in which she may be supposed leading her set-girls – betraying all the pride, and conscious importance of her office, and “tripping it on the light fantastic toe.” Leaving her to the performance of such duty, we will bestow consideration on the youthful band, who form the subject of the succeeding print.

* Since the print was executed, it has been intimated to this Artist that “Queen” and “Maam” are distinct titles, the former claiming pre-eminence, vide “order of procession,” in Red Set-Girls.

Queen or Maam of the Set-Girls

QUEEN or “MAAM” of the SET-GIRLS.
Kingston, Jamaica. June 1837.


RED SET-GIRLS, AND JACK-IN-THE-GREEN.

Having paid all due respect to the Queen, these Damsels, mid their embowered companion, next claim attention; but previously to entering into detailed particulars regarding them, it may not prove altogether uninteresting to the reader to be informed, whence the origin of term “Set-girls.”

It is thus given in a popular work*: –

“Many years ago, an Admiral of the “Red,” was superseded on the Jamaica station, by an Admiral of the “Blue,” and both of them gave balls at Kingston to the Brown Girls; for the fair-sex elsewhere, are called Brown Girls in Jamaica. “In consequence of these balls, all Kingston was divided into parties: from thence, the division spread into other districts, and ever since, the whole island, at Christmas, is separated into the rival factions of the “Blues” and the “Reds,” (the “Reds” representing the English, the “Blues” the Scotch,) who contend for setting forth their processions with the greatest taste and magnificence.”

On the correctness of this traditionary account, it is presumed, reliance may be placed, considering the authority quoted: we shall therefore at once proceed with our notice of these capering, whirling and light-hearted creatures.

All their dresses, it may be observed, correspond in color, &c. agreeably to established rule, those of their Queen, and other Leaders, differing only in the superior texture of the materials. These latter also display a greater profusion of Jewellery than their young followers can boast; yet, however homely may be the earrings and bracelets, they are never dispensed with by the Set-girls – such lovers are they of ornaments. Thus gaily attired then, they sally forth in the morning at ten or eleven o’clock, properly marshalled, and attended by a Band, (as shewn in the “Order of Procession”) and parade the town, with little intermission, till night, when they are invited to enter private houses, to dance and sing, (this is likewise their practice during their excursions by day.) Refreshments, and a gratuity are presented them for the amusement so afforded the families, and they retire to repeat the same elsewhere, till a late hour. There is another Set, denominated “House-Keepers,” who never dance in their progress through the streets.

The sums thus collected, frequently amounting to eight or ten pounds per day, are either divided amongst the Set, or employed in defraying the expences of a Ball and Supper given at the termination of the Chiistmas Holidays, the season of these merry-doings, when they are allowed three days, and also New Years’-day, for their celebration.

The degree uf jealousy heretofore existing between the rival Sets, can scarcely be conceived. The writer has been credibly informed, their animosity some twenty years back, was of so inveterate a nature, that their meetings in public, seldom passed without violent affrays: proving fatal in most instances, to their articles of dress, if not also to their persons, in the struggle for pre-eminence. Such unlady-like conduct in the present day, being regarded as highly indecorous, this description of warfare is rarely witnessed – the parties contenting themselves with the expression of epithets only, without resorting to more striking proofs of their hatred. Profound secrecy is even enjoined the Dress-Maker, on the pattern of the printed cotton selected, and on pain of their displeasure, dare she divulge that or the fashion of their dress, (differing every year) to the opposite set.

Strange as it may appear, they constantly carry opened umbrellas in their nocturnal, as well as day-light rambles. N. B. Stockings in very few instances constitute a part of their attire, with the exception of the Leaders of the Set, who invariably wear them.

The Jack-in-the-Green of Jamaica, differs in very few points from the same description of personage, who accompanies the chimney-sweepers on the 1st May in England – they both travel in cog. The covering of the former, is composed of portions of the leaves of the cocoa-nut tree, attached to hoops, diminishing in circumference to the top, which is crowned by a large bow, with the addition of a couple of flags.

ORDER OF PROCESSION OF THE SET-GIRLS.
Four Grand Masters, to protect the Set.
Adjutant bearing Flag. Hand-drum. Singer.† Tambourine. Adjutant bearing Flag.
Violin. Queen. Triangle. Tambourine. Maam. Hand-drum.
Set-Girls in equal numbers. Commodore.‡ Set-Girls in equal numbers.
Jack-in-the-Green.

* “Journal of a West-India Proprietor,” by the late Matthew Gregory Lewis, Esq. M.P.

† Or leader of the chorus, the Set-girls always singing some unconnected ditty – the specimen given will convey a just idea of these compositions.

‡ A very stout woman is usually chosen to fill this post of honor, but no satisfactory reason has ever been assigned, for the jumble of naval, military, and other distinctions, bestowed on these Commanders.

Red Set-Girls, and Jack-in-the-Green

RED SET-GIRLS, and JACK-in-the-GREEN.
Kingston, Jamaica. June 1837.

SONG

“There is a Regiment of the [. . .] we expect from home,
From London to Scotland away they must go,
There was one among them, that I really love well,
With his bonny Scotch plaid, and his bayonet so shining,
Now pray my noble King, if you really love me well,
Disband us from slavery, and set us at large.”
 CHORUS. – La la la, la la la.

Perhaps the reader’s quickness of perception, may enable him to discover the meaning in this choice scrap, the writer pleads inability, and therefore retires from the attempt The incongruities to be found almost in every line, never strike these folks, on the contrary, they are perfectly satisfied with this style of arranging their ideas, without for a moment stopping to consider, if it be prose, or poetry. – Here we have a lovesick fair-one, absolutely enamoured of a soldier she has never seen, and in conclusion, presuming the King is in love with her.

These Songs arc chanted at the top of their voice, with an accompaniment of instruments, for the most part out of tunc, and played by musicians, rather carelessly dressed.


JAW-BONE, OR HOUSE JOHN-CANOE.

It might perhaps prove almost as fruitless, as it would be a difficult task, to trace the origin of the “John-Canoe.” In the absence then of more positive information on the subject, it is presumed, we may be allowed to hazard the opinion that, this description of Merry-Andrew, was introduced into the Island with the Slave-Trade, having since undergone certain changes in costume, &c. produced, no doubt, by the nearer approach this people had made towards civilization. Yet, with all such attempts at improvement on their own rude mode of habiting these-grotesque figures, sufficient still remained for a long series of years, so monstrous and uncouth in their general character, as to induce the belief, they were derived from an untutored, and savage nation.

By the powerful influence of the March of Intellect, this Christmas amusement, with many others, has been nearly abandoned, leaving but a catalogue of names, to remind one of the by-gone days of merriment in Jamaica, when the streets were thronged with forms as varied, and hideous, as a mind disturbed by “Blue Devils,” could well have conjured up, and the scene might not inaptly have been styled a Tropical Carnival. Some few tribes of Africans, may still be found enjoying their song and dance to the Gumbay, after the manner of their native country, but such instances are rare.

The most conspicuous of those who annually attract public-notice, are the “Koo-Koo,” or “Actor-Boy,” and the “Jaw-Bone John-Canoe.” Of the former Buskined Hero, more in the second number of the Work. The latter, non-descript compound, in half-military, half-mountebank attire, comes under present consideration. His regimental coat and sash, are invariably retained, whatever changes may take place in the other parts of his costume – and as a rule without exception, he (in common with the whole of the John-Canoe fraternity) always wears a mask, with a profusion of dark hair, which is suffered to fall in large wild ringlets over his face and shoulders, giving to his appearance an extraordinary and savage air – scaring, and creating wonderment in the gaping crowd around him.

The* house is usually constructed of pasteboard and colored papers – it is also frequently highly ornamented with beads, tinsel, spangles, pieces of looking-glass, &c. &c. and being firmly fixed on a board, the bearer is enabled to balance it, whilst going through many strange contortions of body and limbs, miscalled, dancing: the position in which he is drawn, will convey a tolerably accurate idea of one of his favorite steps, consisting of rapid crossings of his legs, several times repeated, and terminating in a sudden stoppage, at which point, it requires all the ability of this Posture-Master, to poise his body at one and the same moment, with his paper castle borne aloft, and indeed, it is truly astonishing to witness the celerity, and precision with which this foot of agility is performed: not altogether unlike the movement so rapturously applauded in the Foreign Dancers at the the Opera-House, who, after having executed an extraordinary pirouette, remain, as it were, transfixed to the stage. – Pardon the comparison ye Artistes!!!

* The specimen as given in the print, although a plain one, has been selected, to shew an evident attempt (however humble) at West Indian architecture – the scallopped pillars, being intended as imitations of the same kinds of supporters in wood, to the blaconies so universally attached to dwellings in warm climates.

Jaw-Bone, or House John-Canoe

JAW-BONE, or HOUSE JOHN-CANOE.
Kingston, Jamaica. July 1837.

A rather discordant chorus of female volces, added to the stunning and harsh grating sounda produced by the instruments in the band, constitute the only music.

“And when with none of these they meet,
They dance to the echo of their feet.”

It would appear, that sound, without the slightest attention to harmony, delights these personages, for they are in no way annoyed, should the vibration of a drum even be destroyed by a fracture in the parchment. Their perambulations through the streets, are rendered profitable, by the generosity of the housekeepers and passengers, and the funds thus raised, are, os usual, expended in feasting and carousing. To relieve the chief actor in the scene, one of his attendants carries the house occasionally, and when it i» considered that, his head is covered with false hair, weighing four or five pounds, and his face concealed by a mask, it will be readily admitted, said relief must prove both requisite, and acceptable in a meridian temperature, ranging between eighty and ninety degrees, not to mention, the constant and violent action, into which his whole frame is thrown.


BAND OF THE JAW-BONE JOHN-CANOE.

More primitive instruments in form, (to be styled musical) than those before us, could not well be conceived. and it must be admitted, they are in most excellent keeping with the musicians, whose appearance, clearly proves them, non-observers of the requisites to the outer-man.

The small square wooden frame, over which a goat’s skin is tightly strained, is termed a “Gumbay,”* “Box,” or “Bench-drum,” and by being briskly struck several times in quick succession with one-hand, and once only with the other, produces a monotonous sound with but little vibration: –— it is supported by a Bass-Drum: very unlike that in the band at the “Horse-Guards” in London, certainly, either in its tone, fashion, or the style in which it is played upon by the stately, and noble-looking Black, attached to the regiment. The tattered urchin who upholds the “Gumbay” in front, is by no means an exaggerated sketch, many such half-attired ramblers being daily seen in the streets of Kingston – indeed, female, as well as male negro children, and youths, who are not constantly about the persons of respectable house-keepers, seldom, or never wear but one article of dress.

The instrument from which the “John-Canoe” in the foregoing print derives his title (a novel mode of conferring distinction) is simply the lower jaw of a horse, on the teeth of which, a piece of wood is passed quickly up and down, occassioning a rattling noise† – this would not prove an inappropriate prelude, to the entrance of a gibbering spectre in some theatrical representation. It may be observed of these peripatetic orchestras that, they in general follow, instead of preceding, in the procession.

* Under the same denomination, the African Tribes have an instrument, barrelled-shaped, and of great length, used also as a drum.
† To loosen the teeth, the Jaw is hung in the smoke for several days.

Band of the Jaw-Bone John-Canoe

BAND of the JAW-BONE JOHN-CANOE.
Kingston, Jamaica. Aug. 1837.