Submitted by Colonel Buggy
The recent re-introduction of the modified stand pipe and the issuing of buckets by the Barbados Water Authority, have given our Super Highway and Fast Food- reared generation, […]
a small glimpse of what life was like for their grandparents.
Following is an excerpt from a draft of a book that I am yet to get published, or given a title. Some provision titles that I’ve been playing around with are :- A bitter taste of Sugar, Did Mr really Harding burn?, Lord of the great house and Down by the nigger yard.
Chapter 2 The Plantation Great House.
Today more black Barbadians have visited Government House in the 49 years since independence ,that in all of the 350 years prior to that,that we are so happy to brag about and celebrate.
The great house stood aloft, like an English castle, in the midst of the green sugar cane fields, uninviting and foreboding. The message loud and clear and still is in many circumstances. “ DANGER KEEP CLEAR” And to enforce that ‘no -go’ policy was an army of fierce “big breed’ dogs, Alsatians, English bull dogs, the lot. But with all of these pedigreed, expensive and pampered dogs, the plantation owner always kept a couple of common breed dogs. I recall an instance as a boy, coming up in St Joseph, at a time when most, if not all, of the parochial administrations were conducted around the village of Horse Hill. The Post office, the Dispensary, the Almshouse , the Parochial Medical Officer ,or Doctor, the Parochial Treasurer, the Mortuary and the Parish Church.
The road to Horse Hill for many of us was long and winding, through Castle Grant, Branch Bury, Coffee Gully, Blackmans and Tamarind Hall. However this distance could have been reduced by less than a half, by accessing Horse Hill via Castle Grant Gully, near the village of Little Island and emerging on Surinam Road. A few more yards could be further cut, by going directly through Castle Grant Plantation Yard, passing just yards to the front of the great house itself. This is where the fun started. You kept an eye out for the two massive English Bulldogs, and sure enough they would be lying down in the great house veranda, with eyes half closed watching your every movement, and with no intention of disturbing their mid-day post lunch rest. But as you attempted to gingerly tip toe past them, the silence of the day was broken, by the loud and constant yapping of the common breed mongrel, who by this time is making a beeline towards you, with teeth snarling.
The two English bull dogs, seeing this commotion taking place, would very reluctantly get up, to let the master see that they were earning their keep, and proceeded to join in the chase at a slow speed, stopping, and giving up at the end of the yard gap where it joined the public road. Not so with the mongrel. He would not be satisfied until he had chased you down the Braggs Road or the Chimborazzo Road, intent in sinking his teeth in your backside.
The plantation dogs appeared to be almost human in their behaviour, or to put it another way, some of the plantation people behaved just like those dogs. For instance the plantation owner, or manager, would pass someone grazing a sheep or cow on the plantation’s grass which make up the hedge along the side of the road, and would usually pass without saying a word, but along came the plantation watchman, with his trademark size 12 guava stick, and like the mongrel, wanted blood, seizing the animal from the owner and carrying it in “the yard”, where the owner was forced to pay a small fee to recover it.
For some reason, as if I did not know, it was always easier, or preferable, for brown-skinned women to obtain employment in the great house as maids and servants. These women worked literally from sunup until sundown. They got in early to prepare the plantation family’s breakfast, and stayed on late preparing the evening meal,and washing and cleaning up afterwards.
When a great house worker got home, all tired and worn out, she had very little time for her own family. In some cases great house work was a seven day job. The great house family, seemingly, could not care less, as long as their needs were met.
Many a man used to complain that in the course of their jobs, these women prepared some of the finest dishes for the plantocracy, but when they got home, late of course, they would hastily slap something together, and summoned them with a “ Ya food here!”
But still, you had to have some sympathy for these poor women. Some were lucky to have a home and a family to go home to, as a good few of these women were employed as live -in servants. For the live-in servant, it was a liv-ing Hell. Live-in , they called it, but the poor servant was accommodated in a little hut, not much bigger than the average out -house of that day. It was located far from the great house, on the edge of the great house grounds, abutting the nearby cane field. There were no toilet facilities, no electricity, no running water, and was mostly a one door/window combination affair. Conditions were far better for the plantation dogs and other animals. And because they lived in, work started earlier and ended much later, and especially if the plantation family was hosting a function.
Many of these live-in maids were treated with the least respect by the mistress of the great house and her children. The master had his own ideas, and would give these poor women extra duties looking after his personal affairs., especially during those hours when the mistress of the house was comfortable tucked away in her bed. Many a boy friend visiting one of these maid’s quarters after hours , had to jump through the back window, if there was one, or hide under the bed when the master came to collect his night cap.
To many young women, maid work was a way of life,and in those days when jobs for women were so scarce and limited, they had to take anything that came along, the master included.